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‘The Americans’ Review: ‘Jennings, Elizabeth’ Brilliantly Keeps Viewers Teetering on the Edge of Chaos

There is only one episode left of "Americans, The" and Episode 9 (aptly) leaves a lot to wrap up in a hurry.

THE AMERICANS -- "Jennings, Elizabeth" -- Season 6, Episode 9 (Airs Wednesday, May 23, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron /FX

Keri Russell in “The Americans”

Patrick Harbron/FX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 9, “Jennings, Elizabeth.”]

It’s happening, people! This is not a drill: At the end of “Jennings, Elizabeth,” the title character gets a call from her husband, packs a go bag for the road, and she’s on the run!

After a tense hour packed with close calls — decisions that, had they gone the other way, would’ve ensured the Jennings’ capture instead of merely triggering their flight — the penultimate episode of the series started the countdown clock that will end next Wednesday night: Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are ready to skip town, but who do they tell and who will come with them? Paige (Holly Taylor) is livid with her mother and might resist packing up with her parents right now. Henry’s (Keidrich Sellati) school might be too far away.

And what about Stan (Noah Emmerich)? His theory (that the Jennings are Russian spies, a.k.a. the truth) has been rebutted at every turn, but he’s following those famed officer instincts and doggedly pursuing his hunch. Now that there are “surveillance photos” of Philip’s meeting with the priest, will Stan finally get the confirmation he fears? That’s only the tip of the iceberg for Episode 9, as Oleg (Costa Ronin) and Claudia (Margo Martindale) face even more dismal fates.

With one episode left before the series says dosvedanya, IndieWire is taking a look at where things stand right now, 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 Pastor Tim choosing not to rat out the Jennings). Some of it will be much harder (like Oleg choosing not to rat out the Jennings). So without further ado, let’s get brutal.

So, Who’s Going to Die?

THE AMERICANS -- "Jennings, Elizabeth" -- Season 6, Episode 9 (Airs Wednesday, May 23, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Brandon J. Dirden as Dennis Aderholt. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Well, it’s come down to this: With one episode left, all the main characters are still alive. Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, Henry, Stan, Claudia, Oleg, and even Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) have a legitimate shot at survival, which leads us to ask the inevitable, self-defeating question: Will any major character die on “The Americans”?

It’s worth noting a long-time member of the cast did face an untimely (and unexpected) demise this week: Tatiana Vyazemtseva (played by the excellent Vera Cherny) falls victim to Elizabeth’s bullet as one agent betrayed her mission while the other followed it to her death. Tatiana was a complicated, oft-jilted, and uncompromising character, but frankly it’s surprising she survived as long as she did. She pissed off quite a few people.

But even with her death in mind, the core cast remains intact. Though it almost certainly jinxes things in the worst possible way, viewers should consider the chance that no one dies. Perhaps someone is captured (like Oleg, who it seems will not be returning to Russia anytime soon). Maybe the family is split up (like Claudia, left to her own resources after Elizabeth’s decision to switch sides). They’ve all made it this far, and despite asking the above question every week for the past nine weeks, there’s a better shot than ever that no one dies in “The Americans” finale.

What’s the flip side of that? Anyone could die. Everyone is at risk, and that sets up one pulse-pounding final hour.

Cast Spotlight

THE AMERICANS -- "Jennings, Elizabeth" -- Season 6, Episode 9 (Airs Wednesday, May 23, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

How can you not talk about Russell, Keri in an episode titled “Jennings, Elizabeth”? Though there are a number of remarkable scenes in Episode 9 worth breaking down, let’s focus on the culmination of her internal journey: the lie that proved to be Paige’s final straw.

Throughout “Jennings, Elizabeth,” Russell is called on to convey a lot through silence (a skill she’s mastered over these six seasons). She’s watching and waiting for one of her fellow agents to make a move on Gorbachov’s negotiator at the Summit, Nesterenko. She’d been ordered to take him out, but instead resolved to protect him last week.

That gives Elizabeth ample time to reflect on her choice and the resolve building behind it. She repeatedly flashes back to her KGB training in Russia, when she let a man die in the street after a motorcycle accident. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to help him,” she tells her handler. “We are not supposed to stop on an operational run.” But she’s reprimanded: “You don’t leave a comrade on the street to die,” the trainer tells Elizabeth.

Those were the stakes Elizabeth faced in Russia. She was willing to let an innocent man die not to expose her cover. So when her daughter comes to her, brokenhearted that her mother has been lying to her — specifically about sleeping with Jackson (Austin Abrams) — Elizabeth isn’t willing to stop, not at first.

“Was it you?” Paige asks.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Elizabeth says.

It’s a simple exchange, repeated and elevated as Paige pushes her mother to admit what she’s done. But what’s amazing about Russell’s performance is that an audience can differentiate the lies, too. Paige claims she’s always been able to tell when her mother is lying, “and I know now”; that line requires the audience to see the lie in Russell’s face, as well. Everyone watching has to understand Paige through Russell’s expressions, and she manages to toe the line beautifully. At first, she’s extremely convincing, but with a slight, telling hesitation. Then the accusations wear at her with every repetition.

Eventually, “That’s enough!” And the dreaded vein springs to life, tenfold. The outburst is representative of everything Elizabeth has been keeping from her daughter, but it’s the escalation of lies within the scene that really hits home. Russell is incredibly precise. She’s so physically in tune with each beat of the scene, it could almost be silent. (But then we’d lose out on the heartbreaking lines, “Sex? What was sex? Nobody cared, including your father.”) By the end, she is silent; standing in an attack pose, flexing against the kitchen island as if it’s the only thing holding her back and holding her up.

Russell is Elizabeth Jennings like few other actors have ever inhabited a character, and she’s leaving the role at the top of her game. (Emmy, please.)

Creative Spotlight

THE AMERICANS -- "Jennings, Elizabeth" -- Season 6, Episode 9 (Airs Wednesday, May 23, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Margo Martindale as Claudia. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Since actors can be creative, too… aw, screw it. There’s no point in feigning some excuse to talk about Margo Martindale’s performance; it demands our collective attention in Episode 9, and that’s what will be discussed here.

Martindale is the only actor to win an Emmy for “The Americans”; an injustice that should be righted this year, but that’s not to say the thespian behind Claudia is undeserving. Here, she shows off all she’s got without even standing up. When Elizabeth tells her that she’s killed Tatiana and exposed Claudia’s plan to the Center, her handler unleashes emotional hellfire.

She questions Elizabeth’s loyalty to her country. She tells her the damage she’s done is “indescribable” and is “far worse than all the good you’ve done over the years.” She comes after everything Elizabeth has built over the years, and eventually her family. “What’s left for you now? Your house? Your American kids? Philip?”

Martindale puts the slightest of inflections on the word “American,” emphasizing a particular brand of failure on the proud Russian mother, and then reveals her true feelings for an agent who abandoned his duties by lumping Philip in at the end. And yet you can tell Claudia’s grasping at straws. Her imposing front is just that: a front. It’s in her training, and Martindale methodically delivers the insults.

But when it comes time to speak for herself, she falters. With a slight twitch of the eye, Claudia says she’s not afraid. She is, and Martindale knows it. She’s been betrayed and is lashing out at Elizabeth because of fear. Martindale lets that emotion simmer under it all, as the typically unreadable Claudia finally exposes her true self. As Elizabeth walks out, Claudia tries to go back to her meal as if everything will continue according to plan. But her watery eyes betray her. She’s panicking.

With one episode left, so are viewers. There’s a lot to wrap up in a finale that’s set up to be a fast-moving thriller. What’s next is anyone’s guess, but what’s come before is all but perfect.

Grade: A-

“The Americans” series finale airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Yes, that means there is only one episode left in the final season.

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