The Americans begins its fifth season with a pair of new faces: Pasha, a Soviet boy who resents his new life in the United States, and Tuan, a Vietnamese adoptee who is eager to help his new classmate adjust.
They’re both newcomers. Tuan and his family just moved from Michigan, while Pasha and his family have defected from Moscow. He is struggling, not the least of which with the language.
“Okay, understand,” Pasha says. “Speak, not so good.”
The boys take a trip to Tuan’s house, where they meet his parents – an airline pilot and a flight attendant, Mr. and Mrs. Eckert. Finally, we see someone we recognize – Philip and Elizabeth.
At the end of last season, they faced the possibility of giving up their lives as the Jennings family and fleeing back to Russia, since they were unsure if their identities had been compromised by the capture of the bio-weapons operative William.
Now, we see that they have doubled down on the American dream. They have a new mission – and a new family. Pasha doesn’t have much to say to them. That’s okay. He will.
This FX series has always been a heavy one, but now it’s carrying an extra burden: the ongoing revelations about how Russian operatives may have compromised a U.S. candidate for president. But we’re skipping ahead to maybe season 35 of The Americans.
The stakes are slightly lower in the middle of 1984, with the Soviet Union struggling to feed its people and the United States blissfully enjoying its summer Olympics. We see this represented by a montage of plentiful wheat fields in the American Midwest, swaying to a Russian-lyrics version of “America the Beautiful” as we see the contrast on the other side of the globe: blighted fields, empty store shelves, rancid produce.
Oleg Burov is fresh off his betrayal of William and the Soviet plans to steal American biological weapons, and his trip back home has raised alarms at the FBI, where Stan Beeman worries his contact may have been exposed.
But it turns out that worry is over nothing. The only higher authority summoning Burov back is his mother, who is still mourning the death of his brother. Now, he’s considering a permanent return through a job with the KGB, investigating corruption in the food market.
Back at the Eckert house, Tuan is watching The A-Team, which he thinks sucks – so we know right away he is not a red-blooded American boy from the ‘80s.
He briefs his handlers, Philip and Elizabeth, on what he has learned about Pasha’s family – particularly his father, who was once an agriculture expert. (We can see the threads of this season coming together – a battle over nourishment. Throughout this episode, we constantly see Philip and Elizabeth griping at their daughter Paige for not eating healthy enough.)
“This dad is a real piece of s—. Hates his homeland, where he comes from,” Tuan tells them about Pasha’s father. “Don’t know how you people let a guy like that get out. You should have put a bullet in his head a long time ago.”
Tuan loves it when a plan comes together.
We get a little window into how the Eckert family operates: The airline jobs give them cover to be gone from home for long stretches, and Tuan roams the house at night turning lights on and off to make it look like a family actually lives there.
Back in the Soviet Union, we see Philip’s estranged son, Mischa (named after his father) venturing to America on purloined passports. He tells the Borders and Customs Enforcement agent that he’s going to Yugoslavia to visit family, but from there he will be boarding a bus and trying to find a way to the United States.
On the bus later, we hear the voice of his mother, narrating through a letter: “I chose the wrong life for both of us. I f I could do it all over again. I’d do it differently.”
She’s the one who left the documents and money for him. “I don’t know what will happen if you go to your father,” she writes. “But I always believed he was a good man.”
What Mischa doesn’t know is that Philip’s handlers, Gabriel and Claudia, are already aware he has gone missing and expect him to venture to the United States.
“When William was caught I told them they should get out, they should go home,” Gabriel laments.
“And?” Claudia asks.
“They’re still here.”
“Nothing scares those two,” she says.
“Everything scares those two,” Gabriel corrects.
At a dinner with Pasha’s family, the Morozovs, Philip, Elizabeth, and Tuan get an earful of the father, Alexei, and his unbridled disdain for Mother Russia.
He tells the couple they are fortunate not to work for the Soviet airline. “The planes are dirty, the passengers are unhappy, and the planes crash,” he says. “It’s just like everything there: dirty, unhappy, and crashing.”
His wife, Evgheniya, tries to hush him.
“It’s the truth. You want food, you stand in line,” he says. “You would not believe what you see in Soviet Union. We shared an apartment with three families. We share bathroom… toilet… You want phone? You pay a bribe. You wait for three years.”
Philip tries to change the subject: “What did you do there?”
“Complain,” Evgheniya says. “Same, like here.”
“You hear me complain about America?” Alexei asks.
Then he reveals what they may have already known, what most likely drew them to him: “I am a consultant with your Department of Agriculture,” Alexei says, meaning the U.S. one. “And I tell them everything about this broken system in the Soviet Union.”
Elizabeth soothes Evgheniya after the meal, telling her she’ll get used to life here as she uncovers that Pasha and his mother are miserable in the United States and don’t share Alexei’s scorn for their homeland.
We get a little of their “official” backstory, saying they adopted Tuan when he was a 10-year-old refugee from Vietnam who spoke no English.
“Tuan really struggled in the beginning, too. You just have to be patient,” Elizabeth says. “[Pasha] will figure it out. You will, too.”
In the car afterward, driving back to their lives as the Jennings family, Elizabeth and Philip can’t help but express disgust for Alexei. “Sorry he had to wait in line to eat,” Elizabeth says. “He’s old enough to remember having nothing to wait in line for.”
“My mother used to make a soup from a few onions and nothing else. It was really just hot water,” Philip adds.
“After the war, my mother always said she wasn’t hungry. I knew. But I ate everything. She was so thin,” Elizabeth says.
There’s a silence.
“We’ll get another chance to go home. It just wasn’t the right time,” Philip tells her.
“What’s the right time?” Elizabeth asks, but there’s no answer.
At home, they catch Paige reading John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, a coming-of-age story set in surreal circumstances. She is falling in love with the boy next door, Matthew, but her mother and father are nervous over the proximity to his father, Stan Beeman. They don’t need the FBI counter-intelligence agent as an in-law.
When Stan drops by with beer – it’s Miller Time! – he confides in Philip that he’s seeing someone, a woman from his gym. Also, he’s thrilled about Paige and Matthew.
Paige reveals she can’t sleep at night after learning about her parents’ secret. “I have nightmares. I keep seeing that guy and that knife in his neck. Do you think about it?” she asks her mother. Chances are, Elizabeth needs to be reminded of who exactly this person was. Oh yeah, the guy who attacked them in the parking lot…
“It will get better,” Elizabeth says. Later, to make Paige feel stronger, she teaches her some self-defense moves, but shoving her daughter around the empty garage doesn’t seem to make the girl any more confident.
Back in the Soviet Union, Burov meets with his new boss, a KGB official who wants to crack down on violations in the food market. He asks Oleg if he’d like to hear a joke: A woman goes into a store and asks: “’Don’t you have any meat?’ The man behind the counter says, ‘We don’t have fish. The place where they don’t have meat is across the street.’”
“Why do we even have a joke like that? We should be able to feed our own people a hundred times over,” the KGB officials says. “But we can’t because there’s corruption. Bribery, favors, double-dealing, fraud.”
Burov’s new job will be to investigate these wealthy beneficiaries of the Soviet Union’s starvation problem. Since he comes from a powerful family, Burov is warned he may know some of them. “Can I assume you are a KGB officer first?” he asks.
“Of course,” Burov replies.
Back in the states, Philip gets a new safe house address and goes to meet Gabriel, who tells him and Elizabeth exactly how William was captured – and gave his own life, infecting himself with the Lassa virus he was trying to smuggle out.
“We doubted him. He killed himself for us,” Philip says.
“He’s a hero,” Elizabeth says.
Gabriel reveals that even though William is dead, “He has one last job.”
Unfolding a map, he shows them Area B at Fort Detrick – which is a real place, a kind a of cemetery for the American biological weapons program.
William is interred here, and their job is to dig him up and retrieve a sample of his infected body, a nice New York Strip slice of his corpse for the scientists back in Russia to study. At last, they’ll have their Lassa virus.
It’s a big job, so Philip and Elizabeth have a whole crew, including Hans, the young operative Elizabeth was training last season. He has been a loyal friend to them and a vital pair of eyes and ears when they are at risk.
As they uncover William’s tomb and extract their pound of flesh, Hans slips at the edge of the open grave. He tumbles down and lands face first on William’s body, slicing open his gloved hand in the process.
He looks up helplessly at Philip and Elizabeth. “It doesn’t hurt,” he says.
We read their eyes behind their goggles and can make out their shared alarm despite the face masks, heavy coats, and rubber gloves.
Elizabeth reassures him. It’ll be okay. He should climb out of the hole and bandage that hand.
As he starts up the rope ladder, she draws her pistol and blows his brains out.
Hans tumbles into the hole, where he will spend eternity face to face with William. Elizabeth and Philip seal the two bodies inside the metal casket, and begin to cover up the remains of a young man who was like a son to them.