[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 5 finale, Episode 13, “The Soviet Division.”]
Before we dig into the heartbreaking final moments of the Season 5 finale, in which dreams were shattered by reality and the Jennings entered a dangerous new relationship dynamic, here’s a theory– nay, an adamant belief:
Renee is a goddamn Russian spy.
That’s right! Stan’s girlfriend (Laurie Holden) is exactly who Philip thinks she is, and she’s going to be a big problem in Season 6.
Now, we’ve been on Philip’s side throughout most of the Renee chronicles, but the finale stoked the fire for our favorite TV father. Ol’ Phil needs a friend right now. He had a very, very bad day, and he’s had a very, very bad year. Bros stick together, and we’re sticking with our bro.
But even beyond macho loyalty, there’s plenty of good reasons to see Renee for what she is, given that a) she’s a very attractive, very fun, and very intelligent woman who just kind of fell into Stan’s lap (not that Stan is undeserving of good things — it’s just he didn’t have to try that hard) and b) a Russian spy knows another Russian spy when he sees one. Philip called it early, and his instincts aren’t as shoddy as his patriotic convictions.
What Philip couldn’t see — the fateful kitchen conversation — sealed it, though. Ever so slyly, Renee shifted the conversation from caring about Stan’s well-being to appealing to his sense of duty to stay. Despite the human toll this job has taken on Stan, Renee acknowledges the price while saying he’s got a responsibility to pay it. “Your department needs someone like you,” Renee said. “If you don’t do it, who will?”
Anyone else, Renee! Literally anyone else in the FBI can do Stan’s job, and do it very well. It’s not like Stan’s in Philip’s position. (God knows Aderholt, played by Brandon J. Dirden, could stand for a promotion.) If a new creepy pedophile with long hair showed up at Kimmy’s house to collect the tapes from her dad’s briefcase, well, it might set off a few alarm bells.
There are other reasons, not the least of which is how Philip’s genuine friendship with Stan has stopped yielding important intel on the FBI, meaning the Center might feel the need to send in another agent. Philip’s general softening has affected more areas than he (or we) may realize, but the Center has certainly noticed.
And this leads us to the tragic ending of Season 5. After spending a year dwelling on the necessity of a partner you can trust, the two people who believe this the most split up. Think back to Elizabeth’s speech to Tuan (Ivan Mok) about why he needs a wife (a.k.a. an arranged marriage with another Russian spy). She told him he would die without one, and she meant it. Now, Elizabeth is voluntarily allowing her own union to separate. To save Philip’s soul, she’s willing to risk her life.
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one Philip needs to believe can work. But just as we saw their head-in-the-clouds plan to move back to Russia come crashing back down to earth, so, too, will this one. While Philip taking some time off from spycraft may not seem as crazy as pretending to go on vacation and secretly starting a new life in Mother Russia — kids in tow, oblivious to the fact that they’d be labeled traitors and barred from ever returning to America — it is. These two work as a team, and it’s not the physical demands of the job that necessitates two people work it: It’s the mental taxation.
“It’s not just me having a hard time,” Philip said. “It’s you, too. The kids. We’re allowed to have a life.” No, you’re not, Philip. The belief that they can have a life separate from their work is a lie, but it’s one of necessity. They have to believe they’re free, independent people who are just doing their jobs, even though there’s no escaping its trappings. They will either live out their lives as Russian spies in America, or return to Russia with their children, ruining their relationship with them and likely Paige and Henry’s lives in the process.
But, as parents, they have to believe that’s not the case. They can’t feel helpless, or they might give up. It’s the idea that Elizabeth and Philip are having a hard time that they need to deal with. Elizabeth needs to be able to share the weight of their responsibilities if she’s going to survive — literally and emotionally. Part of Philip’s pain is that it built up over time, when he tried to deal with his faltering belief in the cause on his own. That’s not how a marriage works. It’s not how a partnership works. It’s not how they can or should work.
We’ll see how their new dynamic takes shape when the final season (gulp) begins next year, but for now, there’s more cause for concern than ever. After a slower season than usual, “The Americans” scared us in its final moments. And not just because Renee’s a goddamn liar.