“The Americans”: Christ and the FBI come to dinner

Loyalty is a quality much prized by Elizabeth Jennings. Her core identity of being a Soviet citizen informs her decision making and this relentless dedication is her core strength as a person.

Yet, while she has repeatedly lied and upon occasion killed during her service as a secret agent, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is not without conscience. Her lingering PTSD from various missions are echoed in the experiences of today’s real-life American service members, where the moral lines are sketched in gray.

Instead of deploying a remote controlled drone that drops bombs on civilians and combatants alike, Elizabeth employs her professional charm and physical prowess at close range.

This makes her betrayal of Young-Hee all the more tragic, for she knows her targets all too well to be able to easily excuse her actions.

For several months she performed her mission of befriending Young Hee with the ultimate goal of using the woman’s husband, Don, to gain access codes to a highly secure U.S. military bioweapons lab. Deadly pathogens are being manufactured at that lab, and she knows her countrymen are the intended targets should war break out between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

However, when the time comes to finish her part of the mission, Elizabeth initially balks. She had asked her Soviet handler, Gabriel (Frank Langella), to ask the Centre for some kind of workaround, but in a meet-up, she learns her request was turned down.

The order softened not one whit by Gabriel’s offer of a pierogi, Elizabeth carries out the next phase.

Waiting for a moment when Young Hee is out shopping, Elizabeth as “Patty” delivers a bombshell on Don (Rob Yang): she’s supposedly pregnant from a previous staged drugged-out sexcapade with him.

Faced with the results of his apparent actions, he punts, understandably. “You cannot have this baby,” he stammers.

“So you want me to get rid of it?” Patty says with feigned outrage.

“It’s the only way.” This being the decade after the Roe v. Wade decision (and the decade before abortion laws began tightening once more), he knows she’ll have access to that procedure.

“I don’t want your money. I’ll take care of it myself.” Off she goes in high dudgeon, the distress not altogether contrived.

When back home, husband Philip (Matthew Rhys) asks how the revelation went. She says, exhausted, “I don’t know. It’s yours now.”

Days later, his part of the mission unfurls, for, in disguise as a blue-collar blond, he stomps into Don’s place of work with Gabriel in the roles of Patty’s brother and father, respectively. A middle-aged female Soviet operative plays Patty’s stepmother.

The trio is outraged over Patty’s suicide and have come to extract money from Don for the body’s transport back to the West Coast.

They look authentic, as well they should for such a sensitive assignment at a military bioweapons lab. Gabriel, who is playing up his frailty, cries out, “You killed my beautiful daughter.”

A rattled Don feels obliged to leave Patty’s parents in his office while he goes with the brother to a bank to obtain the money demanded.

Left to their own devices, Gabriel and the female operative go to work. She’s the computer specialist mentioned in the last episode, brought in to copy files off Don’s computer as Gabriel carefully looks for the security codes.

After all that, did the plan work? The news isn’t encouraging when Philip talks to Elizabeth. “We didn’t find the Level 4 codes but we copied all the discs, so maybe it’ll come up,” he says.

“Will he tell Young Hee?” Elizabeth asks. Her complete disinterest in the mission to uncover military secrets couldn’t be more evident. How is her friend holding up?

Philip equivocates, but then we hear Young-Hee’s telephone recording to Patty, in which she begs her friend to call her back. Something is wrong with Don, Young-Hee says tearfully.

Elizabeth, knowing she has destroyed her friend and engineered her own supposed demise, can only listen. Listen and grieve.

This Elizabeth-centric episode also explores her roles as wife and mother, particularly in interactions with Pastor Tim.

The man has returned from his mission trip to Ethiopia. While there, he went missing for a time, which unhinged his wife, Alice, so much she accused Philip and Elizabeth of engineering his kidnapping.

He stops by the Jennings home to offer an apology for his wife’s threats. “I don’t feel right about what happened. You felt frightened. I got lost due to my own stupidity. I felt terrified, what with my baby about to be born…I thought about you two and Paige, you being parents…anyway, I’m sorry for what happened.”

Elizabeth graciously accepts and then extends the pastoral couple an invitation to dinner.

On a later occasion, when she drops by the church to pick up Paige from choir practice, she pokes her head in the pastor’s door for a minor heart-to-heart.

“Philip and I have been under a lot of pressure,” she confesses, and for once telling the absolute truth to him. “It’s very hard. I think when Alice accused us of your disappearance-it’s not her fault, but-I really felt like I was coming apart.”

Pastor Tim is empathetic.

Another major character, FBI agent Stan Beeman, is facing his own crisis of faith, which he shares with Soviet embassy official Oleg in one of their secret meet-ups at the shipyard.

He tells Oleg that his bosses want Stan to blackmail his frenemy, but Stan is reluctant to go that direction. He rambles on about the violent death of his partner, Amador, as well as the execution of Nina, the woman both Stan and Oleg loved.

For the first time, Stan comes close to addressing his murder of a young KGB agent erroneously believed to have been complicit in Amador’s death.

“I did something terrible, and I haven’t felt the same since then,” Stan says. He gives no further details than that, for this is more a goodbye moment than a confessional.

He tells Oleg that this is their final visit with each other, for “I don’t want to cause anyone else’s death.”

Newly divorced and lonesome, he’s prone to visiting his neighbors, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, on the slightest pretext. This time, he lands a just-to-be-polite dinner invitation, but this is a loaded minefield, as the hosts well know.

Stan doesn’t know his friends are Soviet agents, but Pastor Alice and Tim do. Not something one brings up over pot roast and polite conversation, but son Henry Jennings enthusiastically brings up Stan’s FBI occupation.

This brings the pastoral couple up short. Dinner for seven, plus the Cold War? The table is definitely crowded.

Pastor Tim is put off by Stan’s off-hand declarations about divorce, while Stan gives Pastor Tim the side-eye about the latter’s belief in social justice.

All parties survive the meal, so count that as a minor victory.

Later, when they’re alone together, Pastor Tim is dubious about the opposing sides in the Cold War somehow occupying neighboring suburban homes.

Elizabeth points out that her family lived in their house “a long time” before the Beemans moved in across the street.

She assays a smooth segue. “We didn’t choose each other, did we?” She then confesses that she’d been afraid she’d lose her daughter to the minister’s faith, then thanks him for his guidance of Paige.

There’s some more spiritual give-and-take, as Elizabeth continues to sound like half-spiritual seeker and half-asset manager.

How real is her interest? She gives us more reason to wonder in the final encounter in the episode between her and the minister. She’s picking up Paige at a charity event being run by the church in a rough neighborhood.

Once again, Elizabeth approaches him. “What do you do if you have something on your mind you can’t figure out?”

“I pray for guidance,” he says.

“What if you don’t believe in God or religion or prayer?”

He responds, “None of those things matter. All that matters is how we treat each other.”

Given how guilty Elizabeth feels about her treatment of Young-Hee, his advice cuts her to the quick.

Time to pick up Paige and walk back to their car. Paige seems tired of being a church kid, which she’s doing as penance for having outed her parents to Pastor Tim.

Elizabeth is okay with the status quo. “Alice accused us of something we didn’t do. That works to our advantage.”

“You pretend to forgive them,” Paige points out.

“We’ll do anything to make things better, including for Pastor Tim and Alice.”

Paige isn’t too thrilled, then switches subjects, slightly, to mention Stan’s son’s revelation that Stan ate out recently with the father of a disgraced FBI agency. “She was a spy,” Paige reports, but being a teen, she’s on to another subject: she’s wanting more practice on her driving skills.

But before Elizabeth can negotiate drive time with her daughter, two muscled muggers pop up to demand money. They’re sleazy and looking to add rape to the evening.

Elizabeth’s not having it. She cold-cocks one attacker and plants a knife into the neck of the other. The episode ends with our focus on Paige as her mother rushes her away from the scene.

Her parents have been downplaying the dangers of their spy work, but now Paige sees what her mother is really capable of.

Paige is shocked. Shocked, and once again having to reevaluate her world view and her parents at the same time.

Revelations keep coming on The Americans

Photo: The Americans Facebook page


Carole Avalon
Carole Avalon

Texan Carole Avalon is a writer and reviewer.