[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 7, “Harvest.”]
Does everyone remember “the suitcase”? No? Is that because “Americans” viewers are freshly scarred from its surprise sequel, “the axe”? Before “Harvest” even began, it felt like the seventh episode of Season 6 was building up to something big; with Philip (Matthew Rhys) reluctantly coming out of retirement to help Elizabeth (Keri Russell) on a dangerous mission, anything could happen.
And as is customary with “The Americans,” the unexpected development wasn’t a big reveal or a major death, but two scenes of incredible power: One was “the axe,” where Philip dismembers a dead agent’s body in order to hide her identity from the FBI. The other was a result of their failed mission, as Stan (Noah Emmerich) grows more and more suspicious of his regularly absent neighbors and decides to poke around their house.
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Though Philip using an emergency axe to chop a human body to bits might get more attention, viewers are more likely to remember Stan’s silent and ultimately unsuccessful investigation. Those tense minutes gave fans time to dwell on what feels inevitable: Stan discovering who his neighbors really are, and who they’ve been all along. Imagining the fallout between Philip and Stan — “best friends,” as Stan said early in the episode — is far harder to take than any bloody butchering. Creator Joe Weisberg and co-showrunner Joel Fields are preparing us for the devastation to come; they’re taking their time, letting six years of emotional buildup settle in before it all comes to an end.
With three 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 cutting off Marilyn’s hands). Some of it will be much harder (like Philip cutting off Marilyn’s head). So without further ado, let’s get brutal.
So, Who’s Going to Die?
The pill cometh for… who, exactly?
One of our operating theories, from a thematic standpoint, has been that the suicide pill given to Elizabeth in Episode 1, “Dead Hand,” would be the Chekhov’s gun of the season. Someone was going to take it, and someone still might. But now that she’s told Philip about it, and we’ve seen another agent pop the fateful pill, how does that change things?
For one, Philip’s knowledge of it — and how dedicated Elizabeth is overall — means he’ll be even more aware of when she might decide to do it. If they’re jammed up, he might try to stop her from taking the pill even though she thinks she has to… which could lead Philip to sacrifice himself so she doesn’t.
That being said, right now it seems like Elizabeth understands Philip better than ever. “Your father made a mistake when he committed to this life,” Elizabeth says to Paige. “He was young — younger than you.” She may not let him put himself in a dangerous situation (like they saw in Chicago) again. She may embrace her fate and leave him to protect the kids.
Of course, that’s if they get a choice. That bullet came at Marilyn fast, and things have been moving very quickly in Season 6. With Paige going on a mission at the State Department, everyone is at risk. And that’s exactly where the series needs to be with three episodes left.
I think we maybe don’t talk often enough about how good Noah Emmerich is on The Americans, because he doesn’t always get the flashiest scenes.
But he’s very good.
— Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti) May 7, 2018
I can’t be certain if Mr. VanDerWerff sent this tweet after watching this week’s episode or before (screeners were provided in advance), but it strikes at the heart of Emmerich’s sneaky-great performance, as well as how his turn fits into “Harvest” specifically.
Stan is a classic all-American type: an FBI agent, a family man, and a proud defender of American ideals. But over the years, his Uncle Sam form of patriotism has been put through the paces. He got a divorce. He formed an unlikely relationship with a Russian spy (Nina) and later an unlikely friendship with another Russian spy (Oleg). What he was asked to do to them both didn’t fall in line with the FBI rulebook, and he’s made his peace with that.
Last week (and in the “previously on” segment this week), Stan gave a forceful, fear-based speech to the families gathered for Thanksgiving. It’s the kind of thing many modern guests might snicker at, and thus audience members might have rolled their eyes once or twice, as well. But Emmerich’s performance showed a man trying to hold onto the ideals he’s always believed in; Stan has been tested, but he still doesn’t want to fail. It’s why he went back to the task force with Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden), and it’s why he dug up the old case files from six years ago — when he came the closest to catching Philip and Elizabeth (not that he knew it was them).
In “Harvest,” he’s again overshadowed by a showier scene — “the axe.” But the way he investigates his neighbor’s home features so many crucial choices by Emmerich. Stan doesn’t break through the back door, he carefully picks the lock. OK, so maybe he was just covering his tracks, but what matters is he’s not angry. He’s afraid. He slowly walks through the dark home, reticently feeling the walls of the circuit breakers and passively sitting in Philip’s car. He’s thinking, yes, but he also doesn’t want to find what he thinks he might.
That tells us a lot about Stan. He’s loyal not only to his job (you better believe he’d catch some hell if they found out he’s been living next to Russian spies for over a decade), but he’s also loyal to his friends. He’s torn, and Emmerich portrays that in measured detail. He’s very good, and no one will forget it.
Over the years, “The Americans” has made a lot of headlines with violent scenes, but they always have a purpose. Never a show that’s violent for violence’s sake, Weisberg and Fields infuse purpose into every broken bone and each severed appendage.
Tonight, the nauseating chop job informed viewers about many of the same concepts it always has as well as a few new ones pertinent to what’s happening in that very moment. It showed how well these two work together; what goes into their training and how in tune they are with each other, often without saying a word. Just look at how Elizabeth moved to position the hands and Philip waited for her — that’s a choice by the writers who know what these agents would be doing and why.
In the long-run, it shows a contrast between Philip and Elizabeth. Imagine Philip’s reaction to killing that man on the bus in Season 5, or Elizabeth taking out the turned Russian operatives just a few weeks ago: He’s struggling with it, and she’s only worried about getting away. Sure, she’s affected by it, but the disparity between their reactions to the worst of what the job requires is informative to who they are and who they’re becoming.
As for what “Harvest’s” scene meant to Philip and Elizabeth tonight, it’s all in the pause. After the car drives off and Philip struggles to remove the axe from Marilyn’s neck, he takes a beat. It’s not much, but it’s enough for Elizabeth to see how tired he is and how much the job has taken from him. Five or six years ago, he wouldn’t have hesitated at all. He would’ve been moving at top-speed, as he was taught. Philip finishes the job — he knows he has to — but she sees in the field what she couldn’t recognize in their home: He should’ve never become a spy in the first place.
That’s the big revelation of the episode, and it would’ve never come without so many extremely bloody moments.
“The Americans” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. There are three episodes left in the final season.