Actor’s showcase for Keri Russell in this week’s ‘The Americans’

Elizabeth Jennings spent her first two decades as a loyal Soviet citizen living in her homeland. When she chose to become an overseas undercover agent, Elizabeth may not have understood how deeply she would become embedded within the alien lifestyle of the United States.

Capitalism has its perks, if you’re white, polished, and conventionally attractive. Being female brings a raft of potential dangers, of course. In a bright, bustling café across from the State department building, however, no one looks at you sideways as long as you buy the occasional cup of java.

In short, if you’re not prone to suspicious sweating, you’re golden. Elizabeth has often exploited her easy entry to middle and upper-class locales, as well as her ability to fade into the landscape of public spaces.

In this episode, entitled “Jennings, Elizabeth,” her ease in status gives her time, perhaps too much time, to descend into a sinkhole reverie during her extensive stakeouts.

She is determined to protect the life of Soviet negotiator Fyodor Nesterenko, who is conveying to the U.S. side the goals of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his clique during nuclear arms negotiations.

Elizabeth (Keri Russell) learned last episode that the mission assigned her by a Soviet general in Mexico City wasn’t accurately explained. All this time she’s seen Nesterenko (Alex Feldman) as a traitor who requires investigating in order to determine what all he wants to spill to the enemy.

She since then has learned that the negotiator is a sincere representative for Gorbachev’s plan to radically reduce Soviet-U.S. nuclear arms. Overly optimistic, perhaps, but not a traitor. Elizabeth has told her handler, Claudia, she’s not about to kill the man.

The U.S. always possessed a sizeable tactical and nuclear arms advantage over the Soviets as well as counting on a robust all-oceans navy and tied by military treaties with several second-tier powers.

While the Soviets did have a powerful military with their own web of supporting nations, the U.S.S.R. remained at a distinct disadvantage during the Cold War, despite American propaganda to the contrary.

On U.S. soil, Soviet agents operated on a shoestring footing. Which is why, even if Elizabeth hadn’t gone rogue, she’d be hard put to assemble much of a team for her mission. She is alone and stuck on an interminable stakeout.

In the meantime, the Jennings’ neighbor (and FBI agent) Stan Beeman is hotly pursuing evidence to prove Elizabeth and her husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys), are Soviet spies.

Stan’s friend and former associate Dennis Aderholt has risen to the head of FBI counter-intelligence. Given the recent spate of suspicious killings (two Soviet traitors, three luckless security guards, and a nutty general who attacked Elizabeth), they had been trying to uncover Soviet illegals (aka spies) even before the latest deadly debacle in Chicago.

There, the FBI briefly lost surveillance of a blown Soviet agent, who managed to escape with help from Philip and Elizabeth. Alas, the agent died of gunshot wounds, as did a loyal member of Team Jennings, and a pair of FBI agents.

The FBI’s search for Soviet illegals has spiked from intense into fevered. No wonder Stan (Noah Emmerich), whose brain finally tied together some useful observations, is trying hard to nail Philip and Elizabeth.

Dennis (Brandon J. Dirden) is sending his large crew of agents to check on suspiciously leased parking garages and chases that decidedly don’t involve wild gooses, since one of them involves Oleg Burov.

Oleg (Costa Ronin), a lanky former KGB agent has been taking college classes in the U.S. Because he supports Gorbachev’s faction, he has established contact with Philip in order to learn more about Elizabeth’s mission involving the nuclear arms negotiations. Dennis thinks the time is ripe to pick up Oleg for questioning.

With all this on his mind, Dennis doesn’t buy Stan’s pitch about Philip and Elizabeth. Stan doesn’t give up. He logs on to the then-primitive Automated Case Support database. “Jennings, Elizabeth” doesn’t bring up any criminal records. Philip and his business, Dupont Travel Circle, come up clean as well. Another strike-out.

Speaking of Dupont Travel Circle, Stan pays a visit there mainly to judge Philip’s state of mind, and ends up offering a loan, since Philip reeks of flop sweat from his overdose on capitalistic boomerism.

Philip at first gives Stan a travel pitch but then, when Stan offers him money, he politely turns it down.

Stan and Philip are best friends. Stan isn’t investigating Philip out of personal animosity, so his offer of money seems motivated by genuine friendship.

Stan is a mixed bag of feels right now, but if he had known about Philip that very day leaving a message at a dead drop for Oleg, Stan’s complicated emotions would straight-line toward placing handcuffs on his neighbors ASAP.

Stan’s next move is to call Pastor Tim, now living in Argentina. In a moment of fragility back home, his faithful congregant, Paige Jennings, revealed her parents’ true calling. Pastor Tim, being quite concerned for Paige, eventually came to an understanding with her parents, and when he was hired for his current position, he didn’t look too closely at how the job offer came about.

In 1987, Argentina was still painfully recovering from the Dirty War, a U.S. backed and directed campaign of terrorism against Argentine citizens who opposed the dictatorship.

When a weak democratic government was elected in 1983, some effort was made to prosecute generals on down through the ranks for the arrests, torture, killings and/or disappearances of thousands of people. However, the tribunal process largely failed, due to the continuing strength of the military, and the fact that the U.S. didn’t want the extent of its involvement in the war to be revealed.

Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) has lived in Argentina for three years. A valiant defender of social justice, he is in a country struggling with that very issue.

No doubt he has heard too many harrowing tales during his stay in Argentina and been enlightened regarding his home country’s support of terrorism abroad.

He isn’t a naïve typical American anymore, which renders him unwilling to give Stan any help when the agent calls for intel about Paige’s parents.

Stan doesn’t help his effort when he big-foots Pastor Tim from the start by saying, “This is a law enforcement conversation now.”

Stan doesn’t usually lead off with an “I’m a G-man” attitude. Doing it now has helped wreck his chances.

Pastor Tim answers carefully, saying how impressed he was by Paige, and that while Philip and Elizabeth weren’t members of his church, he knew they loved Paige.

Despite his probable reservations, he isn’t about to deliver Paige’s parents into the hands of the U.S. government, not after what he’s likely seen and been told about American involvement in Argentine atrocities.

Another strike-out by Stan.

Dennis’s men, in the meantime, have nabbed Oleg on a Washington, D.C., street. Fresh from picking up Philip’s dead drop message, Oleg can do nothing but submit to being detained. He knows the FBI cannot quickly decipher Philip’s intel, and he has no intention of being helpful.

Stan has a prior relationship with Oleg, involving their mutual paramour, Nina, who Stan had sex with despite the fact he had pressured her into being a double agent.

Having sealed her doom when the Soviets uncovered her treachery, Stan is perhaps not the ideal man to conduct the interrogation of Oleg. On the other hand, Oleg knows that Stan, by the standards of the FBI, is a fairly honest man, and they’ve dealt with each other before on equal terms.

Stan is puzzled as to why Oleg might be involved in the mysterious happenings of recent months. “What’s so important that’s worth throwing away?” he asks.

Oleg refuses to tell him what’s in the dead drop. Later, however, Stan visits Oleg in his cell, and the two sit side by side. They’ve never been romantic partners, only two members of an ill-fated love triangle, yet the intimacy with which Oleg places an arm around Stan’s shoulder and whispers to him tells us that this is a bromance modern audiences can well recognize.

Oleg tells Stan that “people in the KGB are trying to get rid of Gorbachev. That is what I’m doing here, trying to stop it. They’re trying to make a move. The message is probably about it.”

Oleg then makes an astonishing request for Stan to deliver the captured, yet undeciphered, message to its intended recipient. Naturally, Stan turns him down flat and is rebuffed in return by Oleg, who refuses to decode the message.

Well, Stan has a live Soviet on his hands, so why not flash the photo he has of Philip and Elizabeth. Doesn’t work, for Oleg still won’t betray fellow Soviets.

Stan is dismissive of Oleg’s stated goal, saying, “Your old buddies want to get rid of Gorbachev–I could give a shit.”

Oleg knows he’s up against it on trying to convince this flag-waving American of basic human facts, but he tries.

“I can spend the rest of my life here [in the cell], I don’t know. But think about it: I have friends, a family, my father, my mother, my brother who died in the war [at the hands of U.S.-supported Afghani rebels]. All of us want a better future, just like you. Peace, food to eat, all the same things. Do you think it doesn’t matter who our leader is? This is why I risked all of that. Can you get that through your thick head?”

Being that this is Stan, quite possibly not.

In the meantime, Elizabeth continues her effort to keep tabs on negotiator Nesterenko. She knows that, just because she turned down Claudia’s order to assassinate the man, doesn’t mean he’s safe from danger. The Soviet faction opposing Gorbachev wants Nesterenko dead.

Elizabeth is sitting on an iron bench waiting for the negotiator to emerge from the State department building. She sinks into her memories of an early training mission back home. In a flashback, young Elizabeth comes across a road accident involving a rider on horseback and a man on a motorcycle. Both riders and the horse are sprawled on the ground. Elizabeth has had it pounded into her not to allow anything to interrupt her mission. Not sure what to do, she keeps on walking, but later, her trainer tells her, “You don’t leave a comrade to die in Moscow.”

This bloody mistake haunts Elizabeth. There she is, smoking her thousandth cigarette and feeling bored as hell, when Nesterenko and two associates finally emerge from the building.

Elizabeth calmly resumes her surveillance, alert for anything unusual, when she sees a blonde woman coming across the street toward an unaware Nesterenko. Elizabeth picks up her pace.

The blonde woman makes a subtle, yet to Elizabeth’s trained eye, incriminating move. This is an assassin, about to strike.

Elizabeth pulls out her silencer-equipped gun and shoots the woman in the back. With a brisk, controlled pace, she strides away from the scene.

The woman lies dead on the ground, her wig pulled astray by her fall. We see Tatiana, Oleg’s former lover and an ambitious KGB officer whose career was stalled by her tangential connection to Oleg. She accepted the mission as a means of proving herself to the highers-up.

And now Tatiana (Vera Cherny) lies with unseeing eyes on a foreign street, killed by a fellow agent, both of them actors in a political struggle between two Soviet factions.

Elizabeth has fulfilled her mission of saving Nesterenko, but once again she left a comrade to die on a street, this time far from Moscow.

In no mood for light conversation, Elizabeth next visits Claudia’s safe house to inform the handler that Nesterenko is alive and she has contacted Gorbachev’s people.

Elizabeth doesn’t know that the message in question is currently in the FBI’s hands, and Stan is unwilling to carry out Oleg’s request to deliver the message.

Claudia (Margo Martindale) is appalled. “The people who’ve supported you all these years, [the FBI] will put them in jail, all of us.”

She reacts with contempt to Elizabeth’s observation that “there’s still time for you to get out.”

Claudia doesn’t move an inch. Instead, the supremely tough Soviet agent, who backs the anti-Gorbachev faction back home, remembers how Elizabeth used to remind her of the women Claudia fought alongside in World War II.

Elizabeth is in no mood for war stories. “You lied to me. If you knew me, you’d know never to lie to me.”

Claudia expects to return home, there to fight for her country. “I’m not afraid. You, what’s left for you now? Your house, your American kids, Philip?”

Claudia is studiedly nonchalant as Elizabeth leaves.

Earlier in the episode, the FBI hauled in a Russian Orthodox priest who denied any involvement with the Soviet hierarchy. He wasn’t shy about throwing shade at a fellow adherent, though, which leads the FBI to the ever-philosophical Father Andrei.

Father Andrei is a source of intel for Philip and Elizabeth, although nothing of earth-shattering value. His current role is as a de facto marriage counselor for the couple.

When Philip meets up with Father Andrei, he easily slips into therapy mode. “I don’t miss [spy] work. It wasn’t good for me.”

During their stroll, Father Andrei asks about the state of the Jennings’ marriage. “She feels I broke some of the vows we made,” Philip responds. “She thinks I wasn’t honest enough.”

“She’s not a person who trusts easily,” Father Andrei says. He’s putting it mildly.

Father Andrei isn’t an elite spy, which is why he didn’t lead off with vitally important intel. The moment the priest reveals that his colleague was scheduled to talk to the FBI, Philip knows he’s in deep trouble.

As he begins to walk away, he advises Father Andrei, “They may be watching you…Buy a plane ticket today.”

Philip adopts a restrained pace for half a block, then, convinced he’s been made, takes off full-tilt, shedding his cap after the first corner, then, ripping off his glasses and jacket, he hails a taxi and makes a clean getaway from pursuing FBI agents.

Thing is, though, he knows the FBI probably took photos of him. The day he’s been dreading for decades has arrived.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is at home, unaware the critical message to Gorbachev’s connection still hasn’t been delivered.

Paige stops by for a visit, in no mood for chit-chat. Her boyfriend, the other Congressional intern, revealed that an intern bathetically drunk the other night revealed he’d slept with an older woman who ruined his life.

“This happens right in the middle of the summit,” says Paige, who’s already asked a stonewalling Elizabeth for the truth about secret agent sex. “Was it you?”

Elizabeth denies it twice in an unconvincing manner. She wanted her daughter to serve her country yet at the same time needed to protect Paige from the seamier side of intelligence work, which regardless of what side one works for, is never a pristine experience.

Paige lets loose, calling her mother a whore, but thankfully the script didn’t call for Russell to deliver the usual cliched slap to Taylor.

Finally, Elizabeth responds honestly, “It doesn’t mean anything to me. I had to fight all my life. What was sex? Nobody cared, including your father.”

After a disgruntled Paige leaves, Elizabeth receives the fateful call from Philip.

He is on a public phone, very public, and eager to not be so exposed, but his voice is calm. “Things are really topsy-turvy at the office. I think I’ll be kind of late getting in.”

Her voice just as relaxed, she answers, “I’m sorry to hear that. Try not to wake me up when you come in.”

Immediately, Elizabeth speeds into the laundry room, pulls out a go-bag from the hiding place behind the dryer, then collects from the hidden compartment behind the fuse box passports, license plates, bundles of cash, and, after a moment’s hesitation, the set of rings Father Andrei blessed during their hidden marriage ceremony.

The Americans has ninety minutes to wind up the story next Wednesday. Longtime viewers continue to speculate on social media as to which Jennings will bite the dust—Elizabeth, Phillip, and/or Paige—and over other plot points, such as what happens with son Henry, and will Stan finally see his suspicions be confirmed.

To see whether your own guesses pan out, watch the final episode Wednesday on FX.


Carole Avalon
Carole Avalon

Texan Carole Avalon is a writer and reviewer.