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The Americans recap: Elizabeth finds out The Center has been lying

“You lied to me for months because of Gorbachev?”

Any argument that contains this sentence is not one that’s going to be resolved easily. With only two more episodes after this before The Americans complete their mission once and for all, Philip has decided to come clean to Elizabeth. He confesses that he has been leaking information about her activities to Oleg Burov — some guy from back home who says The Center is trying to undermine the U.S.S.R. leadership.

She absorbs this with a lot of heavy silence.

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him you’re the most dedicated, loyal person ever to serve the organization. I told him about the sensor. I told him you were looking into one of our negotiators that you thought was a traitor.”

“So all those times you were pretending to be worried about me, you were actually getting information?” she asks. But before he can really explain, she adds: “Go to hell, Philip.”

Elizabeth spends most of this episode trying to triangulate access to an upcoming meeting between the Soviet negotiator, Nestrenko, and the American diplomats. That involves trying to bug Glen Haskard’s briefcase, but also setting up a backdoor in Jackson Barber, the young intern in Sen. Sam Nunn’s office.

Elizabeth is hard at work setting up a honey trap for the young film aficionado, and she also persuades him to write a report about his activities with the Senator as part of a bogus job opportunity. He falls for both easily.

The Haskards prove to be a dead end. When Elizabeth shows up to care for Glen’s ailing wife, she found he has botched a euthanasia attempt. She is suffering worse than ever, hissing out ragged breaths.

“I waited too long. I was selfish. I had to go to my goddamn meetings,” he laments. “She was hurting so much she actually said that to me. She was right. I called my office and I’m done. I can’t come in anymore. Now this.”

So much for that source. But Elizabeth urges him to leave the room. When he’s gone, she looks around at Erica’s paintings, kisses her forehead, and chokes her out with a paintbrush.

After allowing Glen some time alone with her body, she goes through his bag snapping photos of documents. Later, he summons her back upstairs and asks her to take one of Erica’s paintings. Elizabeth is reluctant; not because she doesn’t want one, but because she knows she can’t have keepsakes like that. Whatever she takes will have to be destroyed.

Or does it? She strips the canvas off and bundles it into a locker at her safe house. Elizabeth can’t bring herself to destroy something so beautiful.

No wait, yes she can. She thinks better of it, decides the risk is ridiculous, and burns the thing to ashes.

Now it’s time to work Jackson, and she lures him to a hotel for a seduction — and a favor. The next morning, she just needs him to use his clearance to deliver a sealed box to a certain room at the State Department where Nestrenko will be meeting with American negotiators.

Jackson, thinking it’s just documents for someone else, agrees. No problem.

Over at the FBI, Stan is doing everything he can to track down the “illegals” who staged the failed extraction in Chicago. The witness sketches of the perpetrators don’t match up, but Stan nourishes his hunch about Philip and Elizabeth by bringing her photo to a former source who once worked with the agents.

But the cashier at Roy Rogers can’t pinpoint Elizabeth as the woman he knew. All he can say is “she smoked like a chimney.” That’s enough to keep the ember of Stan’s suspicion burning hot.

Philip, feeling guilty about firing Stavos, goes to see his former employee. But all it does is generate some anxiety. “I started working for you when the business was small. I watched your kids grow up,” Stavos tells him. “And whatever was going on in the back room, I never called the police. I never said anything to anyone. And I never will. I was raised to be loyal.”

Uh oh. Stavos…bad move, man. Way to put a target on the back of your head. But not this time. This is the first episode in a while to not have a body count.

Later, Elizabeth asks Jackson to retrieve the box he planted. The meeting, she said, had been cancelled so she needs that paperwork back. But when he arrives with the box, it’s open. He checked inside, suspicious about what she had asked him to do.

He found the recorder. “You had me bug a meeting at the State Department,” he says, stricken and incredulous.

Elizabeth tries to make some excuses, but Jackson isn’t buying it. Ordinarily, he’d already be dead. But this time….Elizabeth can’t burn the painting.

“I want to go,” he says. And she lets him.

When she listens to the recording of Nestrenko, she is shocked: He’s not doing anything to undermine the U.S.S.R., just engaging in above board negotiating to reduce nuclear proliferation. It all sounds very honorable to her.

So when Claudia tells her that Nestrenko needs to be assassinated anyway, she hesitates. For the second time, she can’t bring herself to kill.

“He seems like a decent man. Not a traitor. We haven’t seen or heard of anything…“

“It needs to be done whether you’re convinced or not,” Claudia tells her. That’s when Elizabeth learns the truth: She has been manipulated, not to serve her country, but to aid a coup.

“Back home, we have a leader who has no sense of our history, no sense of our ideals, no sense of how we’ve sacrificed to build a great nation and the price we’ve paid,” Claudia says. “He’s giving it all away.”

Then she says that The Center will be doctoring her reports to make it seem like Nestrenko is selling out the country. That will give The Center the leverage it needs to oust Gorbachev.

“He probably won’t even come back home,” Claudia says.

The Dead Hand situation…it was real, but it was also a ruse to get Elizabeth to cooperate.

“After all these years serving your country, don’t throw it all away now,” Claudia tells her.

Back home, Elizabeth finally brings up the subject of Philip’s betrayal again. But now, she’s on his side. (Still pissed, though.) “I need to talk to your guy. Just tell me how to get in touch with him.”

Philip says he’ll deliver the message.

“Tell him that what he’s worried about is happening,” she says. “The leaders at the Center are trying to get rid of Gorbachev. They want me to kill that negotiator they were worried about. But he’s not bad. They want to falsify my reports to make it seem like he’s trading a way a highly classified military system.”

Then Elizabeth is off again, now on a mission to protect Nestrenko.

Philip tells her he also got word from Father Andre. He’s in trouble.

“I can’t,” she tells him. “You meet him. Maybe he’ll give you absolution.”