Last week’s episode of The Americans is tough to top. It was the best of the season, and led to a new theory about how Oleg Burov may fit into the overall Elizabeth/Philip puzzle.
This one has more tension than some previous episodes, but it returns to place-setting for action that may take place in the final episodes of the season.
Philip returns home after learning about his father, who was a guard at a brutal prison camp. Gabriel said goodbye by informing him that maybe recruiting Paige was not a great idea.
She has been staring across the street at Matthew’s house after breaking up with FBI Jr., and Philip tells Elizabeth he questioned Gabriel about Stan Beeman’s new girlfriend, Renee. Is she a KGB operative, sent to get close to the counterintelligence officer?
(SIDE NOTE: I may have a new piece of evidence to back up that theory, but that will wait until the end of this recap, since she wasn’t even featured in this episode.)
Gabriel said he didn’t believe she was, then suggested Philip was losing it.
Elizabeth says she’ll miss Gabriel. “I can’t believe we’re never going to see him again.”
“I’m glad,” Philip says, surprising her. “All those years by our side, I just think he was doing his job.”
“He can do his job and still care about us.”
“He’s worried about Paige. He told me she shouldn’t do it.”
“He told you?”
“Yeah. Just came up.”
“Wouldn’t it be a nice world if nobody had to do this,” Elizabeth says.
The next day, we see their son Henry playing video games in the living room with his friends, including the girl he told Stan he kinda likes. Stan is there too, but tells the Jennings parents he was sworn to secrecy about Henry’s new crush.
They want to know about Renee.
“She wants to take me skydiving,” he says. “I’m trying not to die before Matthew graduates from college.”
Yikes. That sounds like foreshadowing.
Back in Moscow, Oleg Burov runs afoul of Major Kuznetsov, from Directorate K, for Kontrrazvedka – counterintelligence. “We’d appreciate your permission to search your apartment,” the major says.
Burov is stunned. “Because your father is a minister it requires special permission. It’s a lot of trouble to get. But some issues have come up, and we need to look into it.”
“What issues?” Burov says, keeping his cool.
“I can’t tell you that. But if we could just come up?
“I have nothing to hide,” Burov says. “But I can’t give you permission to tear up my father’s apartment.”
No need for that, the major assures. They just want to see his room.
Burov complies, and the men set to work not just searching his quarters but dismantling the woodwork. His parents keep their distance, but are alarmed.
“There’s nothing there,” Burov tells his mother.
“They find things even when there’s nothing,” she says.
Ultimately, they leave with no further confrontation. Burov’s father wants answers, but his son persuades him to let it be.
Back in the U.S., Elizabeth is spending time with Evgheniya, the miserable wife of agriculture expert and defector Alexei Morozov. She’s busy teaching Russian to CIA agents. “It’s hard. But good,” she says, and tells Elizabeth they’ll all be gathering at one student’s home for a Russian potluck dinner to practice their rudimentary language skills.
The Center is eager to learn more about these operatives. “Some get upset when don’t say word right,” Evgheniya says. “Another just sit there. Another think he boss. Another is big sex guy.”
“Like a ladies man?” Elizabeth asks.
“Women like him,” Evgheniya says.
Hmm. This seems like someone Elizabeth may get close to. Or perhaps Evgheniya has beat her to it?
Elizabeth and Philip take this information to their new handler – Claudia, who has appeared on the show as a confidante to Gabriel but hasn’t had contact with the Jennings family since season 1, when suspicions led her to torture them – and Elizabeth ended up breaking her face open.
“Good to see you,” Claudia says, not convincingly. “You’ve been doing beautifully.”
She wants them to keep up their honeypot trap with super-wheat growers Stobert and Kemp until the center is sure the plant samples they sent are satisfactory.
Meanwhile, they plan to monitor Evgheniya’s class and ID all the operatives she’s teaching.
The meeting ends abruptly in the awkwardness, and Claudia tries to figure out how to fix it. “Let’s do this differently,” Philip suggests. “You tells us what to do, and we’ll do it.”
“You don’t want anybody inside your heads. Fair enough. Not my strong suit anyway,” she agrees.
Elizabeth and Philip leave, but carry the weight of the tense encounter. “Back when Gabriel was shooting people at home, what do you think she was doing?” Philip asks.
Last week’s episode revealed that Ben Stobert, whom Elizabeth was actually starting to like, is having another affair on the side. She says she plans to defy Claudia and cancel her trip to see him until they hear more about the sample.
Philip offers to do the same with Deirdre, who is miserable. Elizabeth thinks he’s just doing it to give her cover, but we know better.
FBI agents Aderholt and Beeman have a meeting with their new TASS contact, Sofia Kovalenko, who can’t stop looking over her shoulder. She’s helping them for the money, and to give her son a shot at freedom beyond Soviet oppression.
“My son has imagination,” she says. “One day he wants to be a fireman, the next day police, a doctor. I want him to be what he wants. He can be whatever he wants here.”
The FBI will pay her $500 a month, divided between a college trust fund and an account of her own. “If things go well, we’ll give you more,” Aderholt says.
She tells them the office is very close-knit, although nobody likes Yuri from GRU, the Russian foreign military intelligence agency. “He thinks he’s a big man and he knows everything, but he knows nothing,” she says.
“So it’s not different from the FBI then,” Aderholt jokes.
Beeman coaches her on how to concoct a story to explain her absence from work when she meets with them. She’s more interested in getting help from them so a dentist will fix her teeth.
Elsewhere, Elizabeth cancels on Ben Stobert, and Philip calls to postpone a meeting with Deirdre, although she does him one better.
“Listen. You’re a really sweet guy, but… I just don’t see this going much further,” she says. “I just need someone more, I dunno, assertive.”
Back home, Paige and her mother’s training has gone to the next level. Simple punches in the garage are now a complicated battle involving a baseball bat.
“You’re getting there,” Elizabeth says.
“I’m sick of being scared,” Paige says.
“I was scared like that for a long time… When I was 18, a man – I was raped. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I didn’t tell anyone for a very long time,” her mother confides.
Paige tries to embrace her, but Elizabeth pushes her off.
“I trained as hard as I could every day,” she says. “I imagined that man’s face every time I fought, and the harder I fought the better I felt. I’m not afraid anymore, and you’re not going to be either.”
Back in Moscow, Burov tells his boss, the colonel, about Directorate K searching his apartment. “I did something. I went to the archives… got a file, without authorization,” Burov confesses. “It was a family matter. I found out some things about my family. I was trying to get more information. I shouldn’t have done it.”
“That won’t look good,” the colonel says. “But they wouldn’t search your apartment over it. They’re going to be careful with you. Because of your father.”
Before Burov can leave, the colonel asks: “What were you looking for?”
“My mother…” Burov says. “She spent five years in a camp.”
The colonel tries to reassure him. “Sabotage was different then. You could be accused of sabotage if you took a pencil from your office… You didn’t know?”
“She was pardoned.”
“Your father, you’re lucky.”
At the Jennings house, Elizabeth is practicing the tai chi relaxation technique she learned from Stobert – what Philip calls “slow kung fu.”
He tells her Deirdre broke up with him, and Elizabeth assumes he didn’t try hard enough with her, still feeling regret over what he did to Martha.
“I didn’t tank it. I tried my best, but it doesn’t always work,” he says.
She thinks EST has been teaching him people’s feelings are more important than anything else.
“Nobody has ever said that. I think a part of myself I’ve never thought about.”
She tells him he could win back Deirdre if he tries.
The next day, Elizabeth and Philip are tracking Evgheniya and follow her to what looks like a motel, where they catch a photograph of her kissing a man who is definitely not Alexei.
“You think he’s one of her students,” Philip asks.
“I hope so,” Elizabeth says. She’s right.
“He’s SIS — one officer Bruce Taubner, mostly like going to be deputy chief of the CIA’s Moscow station,” Claudia tells them.
The KGB wants Evgheniya back in Moscow so that when Taubner is there, she can be too – continuing the affair, and providing blackmail material.
Speaking of breaking up families, Elizabeth asks Claudia: “So where have you been?”
“I went home for a while. Spent time with my daughter and grandchildren. Haven’t seen them in years. The grandchildren didn’t remember me. I don’t know what I expected.”
Claudia asks about Paige – allegedly just to ask, not prying for information. But her questions have an uncomfortable probing feel.
Elizabeth gives her the “fine” treatment. “Paige is figuring things out,” she says. And the relationship between her and Philip? “Things have been good,” Elizabeth offers, and there’s no more where that came from.
Elsewhere, Philip has accepted his wife’s challenge and is taking another run at Deirdre, leaving her a message in which he offers up something potentially alarming. “I just didn’t want to get off onto the wrong foot when we met,” he says. “I don’t know how to say this, but… I’m married. Things haven’t been going well, and it’s complicated.”
“Gus…?” Deirdre says, picking up the phone. It worked. Maybe because now she doesn’t have to worry about him becoming too attached.
When Philip and Elizabeth meet with their “other” son, Tuan, they tell her about the plan to break up the Morozov family and send Evgheniya back to the U.S.S.R.
Tuan offers an idea. Some thugs at school have been hard on him and Pasha, the Morozov boy. “One of them kind of likes me. If I got in with them, they could make things really bad for Pasha,” he says.
“Bad enough that his mother will want to take him home to Moscow?” Philip asks.
“I’m the only friend he’s got, and if I’m not there as much and these guys start coming after him. Maybe,” Tuan says.
That’s dark, tormenting a teen, ruining his family. This is what Elizabeth hated about her work on Young Hee last season.
Okay, on to the final scene — and that new theory about Renee…
The show ends on a mellow note. Elizabeth and her daughter, out for a walk. Paige brings up the rape and says she doesn’t know how she could ever get over it.
“Other things become more important,” Elizabeth says.
“Do you like what you do?” Paige asks.
“I wish I didn’t have to do it. But I’m proud to help my country.”
“If you didn’t have to serve your country like this, what would you do?”
“I never thought about it much,” Elizabeth says, but she has. “I’d want to be a doctor.”
For once, it would be nice to feel like she’s really doing something good. Instead of doing cruel things for the right reason.
Okay — so that new piece of intel on Renee…
This comes from a sharp-eyed Americans fan who prefers to stay anonymous but emailed me to say that in the previous episode, when Stan and Renee are watching Breaking Away on TV, she’s telling a story about traveling across country with her friend Jenny. They stop in Bloomington, Indiana, Renee recalls, “because Jenny went to school at U of I.”
But Indiana University in Bloomington goes by the nickname IU. You can see it all over the school’s Twitter feed. U of I is how the University of Illinois is typically described.
Is this just a minor glitch in the writing, or a clue that Renee’s story may be just another of the type of phony, overly detailed background stories we’ve seen Philip and Elizabeth deliver over and over again?