[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 4, “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup.”]
Who thought a montage involving Paige making out and Philip line dancing could be so heartbreaking?
Thus is the power of “The Americans,” as showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg almost simultaneously doled out pleasure and pain in a bone-chilling fourth episode. Philip (Matthew Rhys) clung to his simple pleasures while he could, retreating to his favorite country bar to kick off his boots with coworkers before snacking on potato chips over a pile of mounting bills. Paige’s (Holly Taylor) date turned from a fun night out to a professional conflict as she stared at her sleeping beau’s valuable ID badge. And then there’s Elizabeth (Keri Russell): so close to getting what she needs, only to be left with nothing yet again.
She’s tired, and we’re scared. Much like joy and sorrow are contradictory emotions, each Jennings family member is living contradictory lives. Philip loves the very thing that’s crushing him, both at work (his expanded business) and at home (the wife he’s been asked to spy on). Paige wants to treat her training like an education, making her spy school into an extension of college life, but she cannot blend the two (like she wanted to at the end of her date) if she hopes to survive either. Elizabeth is overtaxed at work, and it’s affecting her personal judgement. Philip had to call her out for putting Paige’s life in danger, and even when she realized she’d done just that, Elizabeth barely reacted.
With six episodes left before the series says dosvedanya, IndieWire is taking a look at where things stand at the present moment, but also honoring the little things done consistently well throughout the series — the bits we’ll miss most when it’s all said and done. Some of it will be hard (like, Philip telling Henry he can’t afford to pay for private school anymore). Some of it will be much harder (like Philip giving up his line dancing outings after he fires his staff). So without further ado, let’s get brutal.
So, Who’s Going to Die?
Normally, when someone poses the question, “Which parent would when in a fight?”, before answering you’d consider who was taller or stronger, who had a longer reach or who was in better shape. That’s because usually a) it’s a purely hypothetical question, b) you don’t have to factor in combat training, and c) it’s not a dad fighting a mom. But it’s becoming more and more apparent that Elizabeth is going to throw down with Stan (Noah Emmerich), so we better start placing bets.
In Episode 4, Elizabeth and Claudia (Margo Martindale) targeted Gennadi Bystov (Yuri Kolokolnikov), the hockey player and Russian courier who defected to the United States last week. He hasn’t been getting along with his fiance, Sofia (Darya Ekamasova), who also defected, and the couple wants Stan to return as their FBI handler, perhaps to again advise Gennadi on how to best serve his perturbed bride-to-be. That means Stan will be checking in on the couple regularly, and if Elizabeth’s plan to tail him works out, he could lead the Russians to the man they suspect has betrayed them.
That connects Elizabeth and Stan a little too much for our comfort. Given its the final season, as well as Elizabeth’s exhausted state, it’s easy to see how these two could come into conflict (or, worse yet, Paige could see Stan on the job). So, who ya takin’? Stan, the FBI agent with a new wife and diligent attitude to the office, or Elizabeth, the killer KGB spy who’s never met a man who could take her down? No matter what, we’re not going to like the answer, but it’s time we accept the inevitable conflict.
Well, look who’s back! It’s everyone favorite wannabe cradle robbee, the formerly underage Kimmy (Julia Garner). Now a college student in Michigan, her relationship with “Jim Baxter” (a.k.a. Philip in disguise) is less disgusting than it was, even if our skin still crawled when she asked if he was seeing anybody.
Garner has gone onto big things since her extended arc in Season 4. In recent years, she’s been on “Girls” and “The Get Down,” but 2017 saw her break out even more thanks to a charming turn in Netflix’s “Ozark.” She’s got some Emmy buzz going for the Jason Bateman drama, as well as her performance in the Paramount Network limited series “Waco,” which hit earlier this year.
Seeing her in Episode 4 (which, given Kimmy’s upcoming trip, could be her last appearance on the show) is a nice reminder of how many talented actors have boosted and been boosted by “The Americans.” There’s Garner, Alison Wright (who’s now in “Sneaky Pete” and the upcoming “Snowpiercer” series), Annet Mahendru (“Nina” snagged a guest spot on “Tyrant” and voices a character in Netflix’s “Neo Yokio”), Vera Cherny (who was in the drama series “Startup”), Wrenn Schmidt (“The Looming Tower”), Katja Herbers (“Westworld”), and so many more.
There’s no need to strain for a cameo parade in the final season, but this scene was an effective, effortless way to bring Kimmy back in the fold. And as an added bonus, it helped us to remember the many other impeccable supporting performances that got us here.
“The Americans” has always found extraordinary ways to examine ordinary relationship dynamics — or, more specifically, American archetypes. It’s in the title, after all, but Fields, Weisberg, and the writing team consistently find ways to infuse their spy story with positions every Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith assume in their daily lives. Often they’re tied to the time period, but they still hold parallels to today.
Let’s look at the Jennings from a macro perspective, sans interference from their roles as Russian spies. Philip is the businessman. He’s running point at the office and handling the finances at home. He’s struggling and feeling the pressures of providing for his family. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is doing her own thing. She’s working, too, but it’s a different kind of work, and it’s not covering the costs of Henry’s boarding school. In fact, they’ve even officially divvied up child-rearing responsibilities by gender: Philip is in charge of their son, and Elizabeth is handling their daughter.
Viewing the family from this perspective puts an odd twist on evaluating their status. After all, if that’s all there was, we wouldn’t be talking about who’s going to die every week. This viewpoint is much closer to how the Jennings see themselves: They’re aware of the life-or-death risks, but they can’t think about them constantly or even expect them to happen. They don’t know an end is coming (meaning a climactic encounter, be it between each other or with the American government) or that the end is coming (meaning the end of the series). They’re merely trying to get by, as a family.
But there’s a different between getting by and truly living. For a brief moment there, Philip and Elizabeth were happy. The job was taxing, but they loved each other, and they loved their family, and they were committed to doing the work. That dynamic feels like a long time ago, and it was, whether you measure in diegetic years or TV seasons.
Odds are there will be a way to see the ending in similar terms: the destruction of a family or the preservation of one; the progress of life or its finite nature; the American dream achieved or destroyed. Fields and Weisberg likely won’t fit it neatly into one box or the other — that’s never been their style — but they’ve always found a way to make this outrageous spy story resonate on a deeply personal level. It’s something everyone can appreciate, even if they’re not Americans.
“The Americans” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. There are six episodes left in the final season.