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‘The Americans’ Review: Smoking Kills and the Truth Comes Out in a Game-Changing Episode 8 — Spoilers

D.A.R.E. is the one mission Elizabeth should've accepted.

THE AMERICANS -- "The Summit" -- Season 6, Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, May 16, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Eric Liebowitz/FX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 8, “The Summit.”]

Much of what happens in “The Summit” can be summed up in a few simple sentences: Philip tells Elizabeth he’s been spying on her. Elizabeth finally says no to a mission, effectively switching sides in the internal Soviet conflict. Stan is more convinced than ever his neighbors are Russian operatives.

But details matter, as they always do on “The Americans,” and one telling mistake seems to be the damning one for Elizabeth: smoking. People notice that she smokes a lot, and even though she’s covered her ass in every other way imaginable (ways which would’ve seemed unimaginable — all those wigs — before they were depicted in this series), that vague identifier could be enough to be her downfall.

With two 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 Elizabeth deciding to let Jackson live). Some of it will be much harder (like Elizabeth deciding to burn Erica’s painting). So without further ado, let’s get brutal.

THE AMERICANS -- "The Summit" -- Season 6, Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, May 16, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

So, Who’s Going to Die?

To guess who’s going to die let’s first look at who died this week: After a long fight with an unknown form of cancer, Glenn (Scott Cohen) couldn’t watch his wife wither away any longer and tried to ease Erica’s (Miriam Shor) passing with an overdose of morphine. It didn’t take, which left Elizabeth — the only person who knew of Glenn’s plan — to finish the deed herself.

Elizabeth has killed a lot of people in Season 6; nearly one every episode, if not more. But this one really took it out of her. Just the fact that she considered keeping Erica’s painting (the most morbid thank you gift imaginable) is telling of the scene that preceded it.

Elizabeth sees Philip in Glenn. Philip waited too long, as well — he waited too long to tell her about providing counter-intelligence to Oleg and about how he really felt. He, too, had to go to “his meetings” and maybe it was selfish, but he was also just trying to take care of himself. “They tell us what to do and we do it,” Philip says at the start of the episode. “I get it. That’s how it works. But we do it. We do it. Not them. So it’s on us. All of it.”

Philip is saving his soul, and in the end, he tells Elizabeth to try to save hers. All season, Elizabeth has been at her wit’s end, smoking too much (as Philip, Claudia, and now Stan have all noticed) and burning the candle at both ends. She’s barely clinging to life, not unlike Erica was, and she doesn’t even know it.

As the episode progresses, she starts to realize exactly where Philip is coming from (while not forgiving his betrayal). That moment changes something within Elizabeth, and she’s a different person — a different agent — afterward. It’s why she lets Jackson go (when it was obvious she needs to kill him). It’s why she decides to ask Claudia (Margo Martindale) the questions she was taught never to ask.

And it might be what gets her killed. “Keep quiet,” Claudia tells her. “After all these years serving your country, don’t throw it all away now.” Elizabeth’s not trying to throw it away; she’s trying to save her soul. Considering next week’s title is “Jennings, Elizabeth,” it seems safe to assume her most recent choices will have consequences — especially with Stan closing in.

THE AMERICANS -- "The Summit" -- Season 6, Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, May 16, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Cast Spotlight

Matthew Rhys is giving a thoughtful, understated performance in Season 7, punctuating what needs punctuation with an internal authority that’s louder than any increased decibels the Welshman could’ve provided. Just look to the opening scene: This is a big moment. Philip has finally decided to tell Elizabeth what he’s been doing behind her back for the past few months. He’s determined to go through with it this time, but he’s still nervous and tingling with passion.

At one point, he almost lets his emotions get the best of him: After she said, “You love to talk,” really emphasizing Philip’s recent preference for discussion over action, he gets caught up and says he was “trying to get you to be a human being about this.” But that’s as big as he gets. Rhys immediately pulls him back down to Earth, literally looking down as if to gather his thoughts and say what Philip really wants to say: “I would do anything for you. I did, I just did, but not anymore.”

He goes on to say, “They tell us what to do and we do it. I get it. That’s how it works.” The whole time he’s looking down, away from Elizabeth’s eyes, but then he looks her square in the face and adds, “But we do it. We do it. Not them. So it’s on us. All of it.” Part of that line is a devastating reaction shot that illustrates just how expressive Russell can be in silence, even when mixing conflicting emotions. But the audience sees Rhys say “All of it.” And the crack in his voice, the hurt there, that hits home.

The speech is as huge as the moment itself; Philip is confessing his sin while trying to explain why he felt the need to do it. He’s not saying he made a mistake; he’s telling his wife he betrayed her and asking her to accept it. Rhys could’ve gotten huge here; truly massive. He could’ve been shouting and straining. Blood vessels could’ve been bursting in his neck, and he could’ve gone to all out war with a woman he knows is a fighter.

That, though, is not the way to win. He’s not even trying to win. Later, Philip is surprised to hear that Elizabeth has come over to his side of things. He just wanted to be heard, and Rhys gets that without feeling the need to shout.

THE AMERICANS -- "The Summit" -- Season 6, Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, May 16, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Creative Spotlight

It’s time to talk about the wigs! Yes, “The Summit” is filled with great hairdos, from Elizabeth’s blonde, seductress cut to Philip’s ratty nobody who’s renting a Russian movie. But what’s great about the episode is that it takes the time to make honoring the wig work into a plot point.

As Stan and Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) go through old case files to try to pinpoint illegals’ identities, one of their colleagues looks at the sketch artist’s mock-ups of the various disguises Philip and Elizabeth have implemented over the years. It’s not even all of them, but he still can’t believe two people could look this different so convincingly. “It’s impossible — those disguises,” he says.

“Well, they’re either all the same people or all different people,” Aderholt says, pointing out that it’s bad news either way for the FBI — either they’re looking for two illegals who are masters of disguise or many more than that who’ve infiltrated the United States.

If the show wasn’t so convincing in every detail, this scene would be a problem. Fans might agree with the FBI; that it really is impossible for spies to be this good at hiding their identities with just glasses and wigs. Yet not only have we seen six seasons worth of brilliant work from makeup head Lori Hicks, hair department head Peggy Schierholz, hair and wig designer R. Cory McCutcheon, as well as costume designers Katie Irish and Jenny Gering, but every other aspect of the show bleeds with authenticity. Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have given us zero reason to doubt the plausibility of their series, and that’s one big reason it’s clicked with so many fans. The details build the world inside the show and outside the show; this is how it is (or was), and viewers got to wrap our heads around it for six years. Go ahead and give Stan a minute to catch up.

Grade: B+

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

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