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The Americans recap: With one episode left, the Jennings family is near exposure

Who is Elizabeth Jennings? Who is she really?

That’s something the character has been trying to keep hidden from the world since the beginning of The Americans, but she may finally be figuring out the answer for herself.

The penultimate installment is called “Jennings, Elizabeth” because that’s what Stan types into the Automated Case Support database at the FBI as the episode begins.

Nothing. He finds nothing. No past or current investigations involving her.

He also finds nothing about Jennings, Philip. Or their business, Dupont Circle Travel.

With only one more episode left in the series, there are bound to be consequences now that bring a sense of finality to a show that is bound to finally expose the Jennings family for who they really are. But what’s surprising is how this episode allowed some of the major figures — especially Elizabeth — to fundamentally change who they are.

While Stan is typing their names into his FBI computer and dropping by to peruse the travel agency, Elizabeth is monitoring Nosterenko, the Soviet arms negotiator who is being targeted by The Center for assassination for no reason except to destabilize Gorbachev during the nuclear summit.

Elizabeth refused to kill him, but she knows The Center will simply dispatch someone else to do the deed. So she’s on stakeout duty.

While she keeps her vigil, we begin to see flashbacks to her youth, as a young trainee. First she’s sitting in a grim apartment, then she is walking the street when she stumbles on a horrific accident. A motorcyclist who collides with a man on horseback.

One of the men is still alive, begging for help, but young Elizabeth darts away. Later, she tells her handler that she was following protocol: Never do anything to distract from the mission. But her trainer says that only applies in America. “You don’t leave a comrade to die on the street in Moscow.”

After popping in on Philip at the travel agency, Stan then places a call to Pastor Tim, who is looking tan and fit in Buenos Aires, where The Center set him up with a cushy flock to get him away from Philip and Elizabeth. He knows their true identities, although they softballed what they really do.

Stan pesters him with a few awkward small-talk questions, then gets to the heart of it: “This conversation should stay between us. I’m speaking to you as a law enforcement officer now,” he says. “Is there anything I should know as an FBI agent about the Jennings family? Anything about them that concerned you?”

“I’m not sure what you’re looking for, but I’ve always been impressed with them,” Pastor Tim says.

Stan persists. He’s certain something is wrong with Philip and Elizabeth. He tells Aderholt, “The way she rushed out of town on Thanksgiving, and he headed out the next day, right when everything was going down in Chicago. Left their kid here alone. On Thanksgiving. Who does that?”

Aderholt assures him: “Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are not Russian spies.”

Stan still can’t let it go.

Elsewhere in Washington, Oleg Burov picks up dead drop left by Philip, but he’s being closely watched by the FBI. They decide to pick him up and discover the document, although they can’t decipher it.

“This sends you to jail for 20 years, 30 years,” Stan says. Since Oleg came back to the U.S., two FBI agents have been killed, an Air Force general dies under mysterious circumstances, and three workers have been killed at a government warehouse. They’re going to try to pin it all on him. Somehow.

But Oleg won’t snitch, even when shown a photo of Philip and Elizabeth. Instead, he levels with Stan: “People in the KGB are trying to get rid of Gorbachev. You need to help me.”

“Your buddies want to get rid of Gorbachev, I could give a s—,” Stan replies.

“I can spend the rest of my life here,” Burov says, looking around his cell. “But think about it. I have friends, family, my father. My mother, my brother, who died in the war. All of us want a future, just like you. Peace. Food to eat. All the same things. Do you think it doesn’t matter who our leader is?”

Stan blinks. “I’m telling you this is why I am here,” Burov tells him. “This is why I risked all of that. Can you get that into your thick head?”

Elizabeth’s mindfulness pays off. As Nesterenko is walking into the plaza of a nearby building, she notices a blond woman moving fast toward him with a weapon concealed in a newspaper.

Elizabeth puts a shot in her back before the assassin can pull the trigger, and then she darts away in the confusion.

The would-be killer is Tatiana, Oleg Burov’s betrayed friend and lover. She was never cut out for this kind of work. She dies on the steps, her wig slipping off, her eyes staring up at the American sky.

Elizabeth beelines straight to Claudia’s apartment. “Nesterenko is alive,” she says. “I stopped it. And I also contacted Gorbachev’s people. I told them everything you were planning. It’s over.”

Only…she doesn’t know that the message to Oleg was intercepted. Still, this scene between Claudia and Elizabeth is a turning point that can’t be reversed. Elizabeth is now working against The Center.

“They’ll take apart the Center’s leadership,” Claudia says. “The people who supported you all these years. They’ll put them in jail. All of us. “

Elizabeth tells her to flee, to escape while she can. But Claudia intends to go nowhere but back to Russia, either to fight or face the consequences.

“I thought I knew you,” Claudia snarls.

“If you knew me, you’d know never to lie to me,” Elizabeth says.

Claudia tries to hurt her the only way she has left. “The damage you’ve done is indescribable. Far worse than all the good you’ve done over these years.”

Elizabeth just leaves her. And Claudia goes back to eating.

Philip has another meeting set up, this time with Father Andrei. They talk about the tension in the Jennings house, the upheaval in the marriage.

“I haven’t been as honest with her as I should have been,” Philip says.

“I’ve had the privilege of talking to your wife for several years now. She is not a person who trusts easily,” the priest says. “There must be something between you she thinks is worth staying for.”

Then Father Andrei tells Philip that the FBI has been questioning other clergy in the orthodox church. He fears he may have been outed by a rival.

Philip is aghast. Father Andrei should have told him this from the start. He is most likely under surveillance. Probably photographed. The conversation ends abruptly. Time to run.

“Buy a plane ticket if you can,” Philip says. “Take care, Father.”

There has never been a strolling scene as tense as this. Philip moves steadily out of the park and down the street, staring hard at every passerby. When he gets far enough, he breaks into a sprint. And…he was right.

“Suspect on the move! He’s on the move!” the agents cry into their walkie-talkies as they give chase.

Philip manages to hide, then slip away, but there’s nowhere for him to go. He has no idea how much of him they saw. They have his photo now. Back at FBI headquarters, Aderholt says it’s just a matter of time before they develop it.

At the Jennings house, Paige arrives in a foul mood. She talks about her college friends, and the boy who works in Sen. Sam Nunn’s office who got drunk and said he was seduced by an older woman who coaxed him into bugging a State Department meeting.

“Was it you?”

Elizabeth scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

If she knew Paige, she would know not to lie to her.

“No wonder Dad can’t stand to be in the same room with you,” Paige said, wounding her mother in ways Claudia can only imagine. “Were you doing this the whole time.? How many times, how many men? You’re a whore. Does Dad know he married a whore.”

Then the cruelest cut: “I should have done what Henry did — get as far away from you as possible.”

“That’s enough!” Elizabeth snaps. “It doesn’t mean anything to me. I wasn’t brought up like you were. I had to fight. Always. For everything. Sex. What was sex? Nobody cared. Including your father.”

Paige leaves on the same stormcloud she rode in on.

Then a phone call: Philip. Telling her things are “topsy turvy” at work. That’s the signal, one Elizabeth has been dreading for years.

She hurries to the laundry room where there’s a duffel bag hidden in the wall. Some clothes and supplies for an emergency escape. Philip is on the run, and now she must join him.

Just before this, we saw a final flashback to the youth of “Jennings, Elizabeth.” Her trainer tells her: “You must make the right choices over there. But the most important thing is, we do not want you to lose who you are.”

Stan doesn’t know, yet. Philip might. Her daughter won’t. But Elizabeth herself is finally finding out who she truly is.