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The Americans recap: A rescue mission ends in a bloody mess

After weeks of tension, it’s now even more grueling that Philip and Elizabeth are back on the same side. “Harvest” may be one of the most tense episodes of the entire series, and with only a handful left, it sets the stage for a truly dark finale.

Philip has pledged to join Elizabeth and her accomplice Marilyn in Chicago, where they are seeking to extricate a fellow undercover Russian who has been detected and is under constant surveillance by the FBI under their operation codename “Harvest.”

But the job is overwhelming, and they can’t do it with just the two of them. They don’t think they’ll save their target. They’re not even sure they’ll survive themselves.

So Philip volunteers to rejoin the cause and help. The episode begins with him asking Stan to look after Henry until the boy returns to school when Thanksgiving Break ends.

He makes up another story about a monster client that he has to help Elizabeth with, but Stan is dubious. “Is something going on?”

Turns out, his spider-sense has been tingling for a while. “I used to ask myself…

this guy and his wife coming home at 3 or 4 in the morning. How hard can they possibly work?” Stan asks.

Philip decides to make up another story, although it’s not really made up. It’s just not what’s bothering him. “I’ve been wanting to tell you…” he begins. “The business is falling apart. And I think it might be going under.”

He tells Stan he’s embarrassed. And Stan buys it. For a little while. When he drives Henry to take the train back to school a couple days later, he starts to get even more suspicious when the boy reveals that he has no other family, and never met the “Aunt Helen” that Elizabeth went to visit a few years before.

Philip arrives in Chicago, and it’s the most tender he and Elizabeth have been in a long time. “I feel a lot better about our chances with you here,” she says.

She tells him about the poison pill she’s been given, in case of capture, but not about the Dead Hand project she’s working on. Philip wants to flush the pill, but she won’t allow it.

We don’t know the plan to rescue the Russian agent, so the operation plays out with more suspense. Anything could happen. Philip and Elizabeth recruit some day laborers to tie up a city street, then a ballet of cars begins.

The Russian is being tailed nonstop by the FBI, so Philip and Elizabeth maneuver a shuttlebus beside his car, then block the view of the FBI with a shipping van. “Mother’s expecting you,” Elizabeth says.

He hurries from his car into the van, and the FBI takes a few moments to catch on. They pick up fast, though. Before Elizabeth and Philip can get far, the FBI agent calls in the extraction.

Marilyn is waiting a short distance away in a van, and as soon as they swap vehicles, the FBI pulls up and blocks the street. Two agents begin firing, and Marilyn, who is behind the wheel, takes a shot to the skull.

Elizabeth takes the wheel, Philip takes out the agents, and they manage and escape, but their mark has been hit. Bad.

He tells Philip a few parting messages: an expression of love for his mother, a wish that his father dies horribly, and intel for The Center that the sensor schematics are on an Air Force base in France.

Then he takes. It’s an ugly death.

In a parking garage later, Philip and Elizabeth dispose of their dead. The Russian agent they don’t need to worry about. The FBI was on to him. But Marilyn…poor Marilyn.

In one of the most gruesome scenes ever filmed on the show, Philip uses a fire ax to hack off her hands and head. They’re almost spotted at one point by someone going to their car, but thank God, that person doesn’t notice the nearby dismemberment.

It’s a sickening end to a nauseating failed mission. Philip and Elizabeth are disgusted and depressed. They cast Marilyn’s head and hands into a ravine, and leave the rest of her body sprawled on the parking lot floor.

Back at the FBI, Aderholt is incensed. “You were right. All of it,” he tells Stan. “You said everything we do turns to s—. Now we have two of our guys dead, and no illegal.”

When Stan hears it was a man and woman who escaped, he begins to put the pieces together. That night, he goes home, but crosses the street to Philip and Elizabeth’s house. He picks the lock, he prowls around. But…he doesn’t find anything.

When Elizabeth gets home, she has to leave for another job. The nurse, who is getting drawing lessons from dying Erika Haskard. She sketched the airplane window on her flight back, and offers it up as her homework.

“There’s a moment when it’s not you seeing it. If something comes through,” Erika gasps, “you need to bring all yourself to it, and then that lets you get out of your own way.”

This seems to haunt Elizabeth. All she’s doing is getting in her own way. Later, she meets with Paige and tells her the mission was a debacle.

“We were in a car, the FBI…Marilyn was shot,” she says. But Paige is relieved to hear her father made it.

“I thought you said this doesn’t happen a lot,” Paige says.

“It doesn’t. But it can. And it does,” her mother answers. “You’re going to have to make a decision to commit to this work or get out, because this is what we have to do. It’s a commitment you have to make for life.”

Is Paige willing to “give up friends, and relationships, and your life, if you have to?”

“I don’t really have any friends,” Paige says.

Okay, Elizabeth says. Then it’s time for Paige to apply for an internship at the State Department.

The episode ends on a melancholy note by showing Philip, who seems to be trapped in many memories of the past lately, recalling the night just a few years ago when he and Elizabeth truly married.

It’s a testament to the The Americans, that happy moments like that only make the darkness more impenetrable.