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‘The Americans’ Review: A Crafty New Episode All But Confirms a Rousing Fan Theory

Who will die before the season ends? "Urban Transport Planning" didn't get us any closer to that answer, but it strongly hinted at a secret assassin.

THE AMERICANS -- "Urban Transport Planning" -- Season 6, Episode 3 (Airs Wednesday, April 11, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Matthew Rhys in “The Americans”

Patrick Harbron/FX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 3, “Urban Transport Planning.”]

Welp, it looks like Phillip’s (Matthew Rhys) long vacation from spycraft is about to come to an end — and not just because his travel agency isn’t paying the bills anymore. “Urban Transport Planning” wraps up with the retired Russian spy donning his old blonde wig and meeting with Oleg (Costa Ronin), presumably to continue the conversation about spying on his wife.

Speaking of, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) was asked to bring her husband to her next meeting with her private KGB contact, further implicating Philip in the life he wanted to leave behind. But the episode also illustrated why their professional separation has damaged their personal one: The couple can’t talk like they used to, and it’s created an expansive divide. Could Philip getting back in the game help them, or will his mission as a double agent irreversibly shatter what the couple has left? “Urban Transport Planning” pushed further into the darkness, and whether it’s a tough road to reconciliation or the beginning of a bleak end remains to be seen.

With seven episodes left before the series says dosvedanya, IndieWire is taking a look at where things stand after the most recent entry, 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, Elizabeth pulling off those big ol’ gold earrings and broach). Some of it will be much harder (like Elizabeth choking out a security guard). So without further ado, let’s get brutal.

THE AMERICANS -- "Dead Hand" -- Season 6, Episode 1 (Airs Wednesday, March 28, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Laurie Holden as Renee. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

So, Who’s Going to Die?

Rumors of Renee’s secret identity — Stan’s (Noah Emmerich) beautiful and attentive girlfriend, played without a drop of duplicity by Laurie Holden — have been running rampant since she oh so conveniently showed up in his life, but never has her suspected secret agent status felt more certain than when she asked to join the FBI in Episode 3.

Posing the topic by playing up to Stan’s ego (oh, your job is so important and it really means something), Renee doesn’t even stop when she’s told the age cutoff eliminates her from consideration. “You know everybody,” she says to Stan. “Maybe they can make an exception.”

De-nied! The audacity of even asking feels a lot like the kind of risks Philip and Elizabeth were pushed to make when progress on a mark slowed down, and she’s never shown similar interest before.

So how does this relate to who might live or die before the season ends? If she’s a spy, she’s either going to help the Jennings or hurt them. When the proverbial poop hits the fan, Renee will play a significant role as Stan’s unsuspecting assassin, Elizabeth’s unexpected assistance, or a sharp thorn in Phillip’s side. How will it play out? You’ve got me, but this scene seems like a glaring reminder she may not be who she claims.

THE AMERICANS -- "Urban Transport Planning" -- Season 6, Episode 3 (Airs Wednesday, April 11, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Cast Spotlight

It’s always difficult to choose sides between beloved characters, but “The Americans” writers are making it fairly easy for American audiences to side with Philip. It’s not that they’re purposefully making Elizabeth into an antagonist — she’s still a hugely empathetic figure, but she’s also shouldered with a lot of instinctually off-putting decisions because she’s defending a warrior’s mentality instead of embracing the possibility of peace.

In this episode alone, Elizabeth questions the legitimacy of The Washington Post (a claim that sounds a lot like “fake news!” when heard in 2018), berates her daughter during a moment of weakness, and kills an oblivious man because he says one thing he shouldn’t. The latter point is easier to forgive, given it’s part of the job and similar duties are clearly wearing on Elizabeth, but time and time again she’s been put in positions that are difficult to defend from an American viewpoint.

But Keri Russell is handling it all in stride. She’s given scenes like the very first shot of the episode — Elizabeth cleaning the blood off her face — to convey an exhaustion that doubles as resiliency. It’s never hard to understand where and why Elizabeth does what she does; on the one hand, we’ve all been overworked with a short temperament, and on the other, Russell builds an honesty into each outburst. She’s not merely snapping at Paige; she’s protecting her. She’s not ignoring Philip; she’s trying to save him the burden that nearly broke him. She may not be fully aware of what it’s done to their relationship, but she knows what she wants. It’s hard to tell her she’s wrong, for that, even when it’s easy to hope she comes around to Philip’s way of thinking (which, for the record, feels highly doubtful).

THE AMERICANS -- "Urban Transport Planning" -- Season 6, Episode 3 (Airs Wednesday, April 11, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Mathew Rhys as Philip Jennings, Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Creative Spotlight

Let’s talk about the opening conversation. Mimicking (but not repeating) the silent divide illustrated at the beginning of the premiere, the pre-titles sequence outlines how Philip and Elizabeth are on opposite pages (no pun intended), as well as how their ideologies have shifted since the start of the series.

After the near-disastrous mission (where Elizabeth ended up with brain matter all over her face, and Paige left her post in the car), Phillip tells his daughter she needs to engage with her emotions. His experience at EST (the group now known as The Forum) told him “it’s better to feel bad and go through it than to pretend not to feel anything.”

Conversely, Elizabeth orders Paige to do the opposite. “No, you don’t get to talk about what you thought or how you felt or anything else — not now,” Elizabeth says after returning home. She’s prioritizing her daughter’s safety over her feelings; she’s accepted that Paige is a spy now and needs to be treated as such, whereas Philip is willing to listen to his daughter and hear her complaints; if she wants out of the game, he’d be fine with it.

After Paige leaves (Elizabeth tells her she has to, while Philip was ready to relent and let her stay the night), the couple briefly starts to communicate. They talk about the mission, but when the censor Elizabeth is after comes up, she clams up. “I can’t,” she says, with an apologetic look but steadfast tone. She’s not supposed to discuss her mission with anyone, and because she’s following orders, she’s also hurting her marriage.

The divide is again astutely outlined halfway through the episode when Elizabeth returns home with some Russian home-cooking for Phillip. He just ate a full meal of Chinese food and at first resists the delicacy offered by his wife. But as an unspoken means to make peace, he samples it, savors it, and tells her as much. She repays in kind by confessing to how much she hates feeling like an American: When she’s cooking with Claudia (Margo Martindale) and Paige, “it just feels like [home],” she says. “Then I walk out of there, and it just hits me in the face: here. […] I hate it, Philip.”

He clearly doesn’t feel the same way. The two aren’t having an all-out brawl, but we can sense it’s coming — possibly even a physical showdown — and scenes like these make it clear why they’re divided as well as what’s dividing them. “Urban Transport Planning” was written by Tracey Scott Wilson, and the whole team deserves applause, from creator Joe Weisberg to co-showrunner Joel Fields to Joshua Brand, Justin Weinberger, Peter Ackerman, Hilary Bettis, and Sarah Nolen. This is a finely crafted piece of drama, and the devil’s in the details. What’s coming may hurt, but this bunch has more than earned the pain.

Grade: A-

“The Americans” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. There are seven episodes left in the final season. 

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