The Americans Season 5 Finale Recap: We Know Something They Don’t

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
How can this continue? That’s been the question hanging over this entire season (perhaps the whole series) of The Americans, both within the show and its viewership. How can these two people continue fighting and killing for a cause they barely believe in anymore, especially when it’s become apparent that they may have done far more harm than good — even by the standards of their own distorted ethics? And how can the Center keep them on track, as such? Indeed, how can the Russian government sustain such a complicated covert mission when they cannot quell corruption at home, nor even keep their people fed? How can Elizabeth and Philip, now fully awakened to these realities, possibly remain loyal soldiers?
This finale throws that question back in all our faces, making it clear we’ve been mistaken the entire time. The real question is: How can they stop?
We pick up right where we left off last week, with the dreadful discovery of Pasha’s suicide attempt. Having invited themselves in, the Jennings and Tuan, along with the Morozovs, discover the unconscious boy, lying with his arms in two sticky puddles of blood. Everyone swings into action — Philip not even bothering to exclaim or look surprised as he begins wrapping up Pasha’s wrists while Elizabeth calls 911 and Tuan stares blankly. The three of them barely bat an eyelash when Alexei rushes outside and returns with the man from the surveillance vehicle. Later, he tells Philip this man is there to protect them, as defectors. Doubtful but, who the hell knows? We can’t exactly trust the Center’s intel nor Elizabeth and Philip’s judgment at this point.
Because even after this gruesome scene, they are still convinced it’s time to take the kids “home.” In fact, they’re somehow even more convinced. Once they find out Tuan’s horrific tactic was successful, and Evgheniya will be taking Pasha back to Russia — without Alexei — they plead with Claudia to do what she can to keep the Morozovs united one way or another. Alexei claims he can’t return to the USSR without risking his life, and he’s probably right, regardless of Claudia’s lukewarm promises that it’ll be fine. They’re in an impossible situation.
Yet, the Jennings still don’t recognize their own mirroring predicament. They form a plan to schedule a family trip to Europe, keeping their children (Henry at least) in the dark up until the moment before crossing into Soviet territory. Sounds a lot like the way Alexei tricked his own family into forced defection, no? And how did that one work out again?
True, the Jennings aren’t the Morozovs, Henry isn’t Pasha, and Moscow isn’t suburban Virginia. But, at the risk of coming off as a bourgeois American snot, I’d say it might be even harder to uproot a kid from suburban Virginia (who’s just gotten into his dream school) and stick him in Moscow. Especially when he’s stuck with parents who pay way less attention to him than Pasha’s do. Henry is neglected, smart, and incredibly self-reliant — and he already has reason to be angry, especially after Philip unceremoniously rescinds his permission to let Henry go to St. Edward’s. Now, throw in the trauma of having his entire life and identity pulled out from under him. He’s not Pasha waiting to happen. He’s Tuan. There’s no avoiding the fact that this is a no-good, very bad idea — and yet, Elizabeth and Philip manage to avoid it.
So, it’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road time. This song-based sequence is as poignant as the “Lay Your Hands On Me” one was ominous. It finds the Jennings family saying goodbye and seeking closure (again, except for Henry, who is busy on the computer). Paige shares a last laugh with Pastor Tim (thinking he’s the only one who’s leaving) then bravely marches through the parking lot where she and Elizabeth were attacked. It seems the training has worked (though not without a cost. Paige does get backhanded by her mother). She’s still battling her fears, but now she’s stronger than them.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth stares into her closet, so full and so well organized. Is it shock or awe on her face? Sipping coffee in her kitchen, she looks around as if suddenly aware that her cover story has become her life, her home, her children, whose faces hang in frames on every wall. Even if she brings them with her, she’ll be leaving this version of her family behind. Not to mention her TV and her dishwasher, which the camera pauses on for just a moment. Oh sure, the stuff represents the life Elizabeth is about to lose. But something tells me it’s about the stuff too. She’d never admit it, but we all know that once you have a dishwasher, there’s no going back.
Philip has essentially been mourning for years now, so there’s not as much for him to say goodbye to at this point. Yet, his apparent final racquetball game with Stan is a sad, nostalgic moment, harkening back to the early episodes and reminding us that these guys really do have a kind of friendship. When Renee shows up to take his place on the court, he smiles and walks away.
(By the way, I’m not spending too much time on Renee, because it sure seems like we’ll be hanging out with her more next season. But, between the convenient flood in her apartment, forcing her to move in with Stan, and her dismay over him considering leaving his position at the FBI — yeah, she’s 99.9% a spy. Right? I mean, right?)
Then there’s Tuan’s goodbye with Elizabeth — part showdown, part maternal lecture. The Jennings offer to suggest another line of work for him, in their report to his people. It certainly seems intended as a kind, parental gesture, to save him from going down the path they did. But, angry teen that he is, Tuan bites back. No, he doesn’t want their help, and in fact, he’s written his own report, detailing their lapses in maintaining their cover (read: they did a shitty job being his parents). If nothing else, Elizabeth is excellent at ignoring her failings as a parent, so she sits him down and tells him he can think whatever the hell he wants about them, but as for Tuan, she says: “You’re not going to make it...You will fail.” At least, he will if he decides to go solo. She urges him to tell his people to send him a partner. “A woman?” Tuan asks. What he needs is a mom. Under different circumstances, Elizabeth would like to be that mother to him (“I wish we could take him with us” she laments). But instead, she does her best to teach him a lesson with the circumstances she’s got — and it’s a good one, all things considered. If Tuan isn’t getting out, then at least he shouldn’t go it alone.
(Speaking of adoptive mothers, the KGB has given up on matchmaking with Martha and instead they’re just giving her a kid. As with Mischa’s story last week, it’s unclear if this scene is setting us up for next season or if it’s just the happy ending Martha — and we — deserve, after all she’s been through. Listen, you know I’m not complaining about more Martha. I’m just wondering where we’re going here. Perhaps a spinoff? Martha ‘n Me? Weisberg, let’s talk.)
One thing that does seem clear about next season is that we’ll have more Sofia and Gennadi, the former hockey player turned government courier turned FBI informant. And possible dangle. This week, he passed his polygraph with “flying colors” — but, then again, so did Nina. And so did legendary Russian operative, Aldrich Ames. So.
After nearly an hour of goodbyes and long looks, the twist emerges: Kimmy’s father — whose every word Philip has access too, thanks to the bug in his briefcase — has been promoted to head of the Soviet division of the CIA. Yahtzee.
“Maybe they can find someone else to get the recordings from Kimmy,” Philip says after breaking the news to Elizabeth. But this suggestion is so meager, so flat and pathetic; Philip knows it’ll never fly. Even if the Center would agree to this request (highly unlikely), Elizabeth couldn’t stand to simply hand this off. Even Philip can’t bring himself to let this, the biggest fish they’ve ever caught, off the hook. He came close, but as his EST instructor says, he is a machine, trained to respond. Unwilling as he is, he can’t override his own programming. Complicating matters is his inconvenient and growing humanity. He’s a machine who’s learned to love, and his loyalty now lies with his family and his wife — who will never override her own programming.
“I can’t,” she says, seemingly horrified at the words coming out of her own mouth. “I just can’t.” Even with her own happiness and that of her entire family on the other side of the scale, Elizabeth’s allegiance to the Soviet cause weighs more than anything else. They’re not going anywhere. In light of all this, it now seems painfully obvious that they never were.
“Maybe you should stop,” Elizabeth says, suggesting that she continue the work while he goes into semi-retirement. But this too, is a fantasy, of course. “You need me, Elizabeth,” Philip counters, echoing her own words to Tuan. It’s not possible to do this without a partner. It’s not as simple as “divided we fall.” Spouses can divorce, but they were bound together by government order, long before love and marriage. For better or worse, they are united.
Like them, we, as the viewers, might have let ourselves believe a little in the rosy if uncertain life that lay ahead for the Jennings. But surely, we all knew in the back of our minds, that even if they left the US, there would be no bright future waiting for them in the USSR. The USSR itself has no future to speak of. We’re just a few years away from the wall coming down. Philip and Elizabeth are remnants of a tragic, failed experiment. Even as they come to understand that, they know there is no going back, because there is no “back” to go to. United or not, it’s all about to fall down.
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