The Americans Season 5, Episode 5 Recap: "Lotus 1-2-3"

As viewers, we don’t tend to think a lot about episode titles. Sometimes, it seems, the writers themselves don’t either, and then sometimes they clearly consider them a bit too much. (Sunday’s Girls, for example, was titled, “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?” which...okay.) It seems all too perfect, though, that tonight’s Americans, titled, “Lotus 1-2-3” was named after an obsolete computer spreadsheet program. Sure, there’s the handy lotus-insect connection, tying neatly with the infestation arc, but really, this title winks at the other story rumbling underneath this season: This whole espionage thing is starting to seem less useful and more faulty as time goes on. And no matter what side you’re on, it’s a grind.
Exhibit A: Topeka. Phillip and Deirdre sit, crunching numbers in silence at a restaurant. It seems he’s badgered his way into Deirdre’s affections lukewarm tolerance. The worst date ever is followed by the worst, I mean the worst sex we’ve ever seen on this show. As with their interaction last week, this will be painfully familiar to women who have winced their way through uncomfortable intercourse with someone who isn’t paying attention. I really want to like Phillip (full disclosure: that may be, in part, due my massive, unstoppable crush on Matthew Rhys) so I don’t think he’s doing this deliberately. He’s distracted, lost in a memory of his childhood. Here, we see his father bringing home a bag of what is allegedly food, but which looks a lot like horse droppings, or clots of dirt. Knowing what we know about his early life, it could be either, or something even worse. Just before young Phillip takes a bite, the scene cuts back to Deirdre’s bedroom where she collapses on top of him. Cut with the flashback, this awkward sex scene makes more sense to us, and probably to Phillip too. Lie back and think of Russia.
Meanwhile, Henry’s a genius. Oh, did that seem like an abrupt transition? Same! Welcome to this totally out-of-the-blue plot point! Henry’s absence from this season has become so glaring that it’s almost an arc in and of itself. Now we find out it’s just because he’s been really busy doing his math homework. Fingers crossed we’re going something here, but this seems less like the beginning of a storyline and more like an excuse to point out that Elizabeth and Phillip are lousy parents in more ways than one. (Except with their fake son, Tuan. Throwing footballs in the front yard? Mickey D’s?!) With Henry they’re straight-up absent. Who’s he hanging out with? Dunno! What, he’s doing incredibly well at school? Weird! Okay, byeee, love you I guess!
Though Henry will surely suffer just as greatly in the long term, it’s much more acute and complicated for Paige right now. Her scene with Phillip is just as aching as Deirdre’s is cringeworthy. She opens up to her dad about her disintegrating romance with Matthew, explaining with exceptional vulnerability, how impossible it is to get close to someone when you’re holding such a huge secret between the two of you. “Maybe I’m just meant to be alone,” she concludes. That’s a line virtually all teenaged girls say at some point, but she may be the only one who’s not entirely wrong. Either way, her dad doesn’t swoop in to correct her, soothe her, or even pat her on the hand. Jesus, most parents would kill for a kid so open and thoughtful, but all Phillip can do is sit there blinking, with his shirt slightly unbuttoned (sorry, sorry, I’m done).
The only one who’s more grumpy than Phillip is Stan. His job has also gotten considerably less fulfilling this year, with he and Dennis not so much chasing Russian targets as creeping on them in public bathrooms. And as his boss points out, that’s kind of the deal now, keeping the KGB “busy and irritated.” Bo-ring. The only bright spot is his suspiciously enthusiastic new ladyfriend, who everyone is FINALLY coming to suspect is a spy. (That shoulder rub while she’s asking about work? Come on.) If she doesn’t turn out to be one, at this point, it’s going to be one doozy of a letdown. Then again, we now have reason to suspect more letdowns are coming. More on that later.
Also totally bored at work is Oleg, who could not care less about corruption in the food trade. He and his partner go to interrogate the grocery supplier, and Oleg just sighs and slumps around like a kid on a really, really boring field trip. When he comes home to find his parents have procured a bevy of young ladies to have dinner with him (oy vey, parents just don’t understand), he reacts like a kid on a slightly less boring field trip. Still, things aren’t working out in Moscow. So much so that he seems to be taking Stan up on his offer (of what, it’s not clear — but it’s got to be better than this, right?).
Real quick, while we’re still in Moscow — uh, where’s Martha? You can’t just dangle a Martha cameo in front of us and then take her away again. #MoreMartha
Then there’s Mischa, who, with this episode, the show finally convinced me to care about. After his arduous journey to the states, he manages to arrange a meeting with his father. Waiting for Phillip in the park, we see him smile for the first time — and with that, Mischa becomes a fully realized character. For just a moment, he’s excited and we’re excited with him. But it’s Gabriel who turns up, not with his father but with bad news. He cannot see Phillip. Phillip doesn’t and cannot even know he’s there. After all that, Mischa will be sent back to Russia. Another dead end, and this one heartbreaking.
But there’s one final, hollow blow to end this episode. “We got it wrong,” Elizabeth tells Phillip upon returning from her latest trip to Topeka. Ben, the crunchy agri-bro she was working, revealed that his job is not about causing famine, but ending it. The insects in the lab were there to test the wheat for resistance, as part of a project to make food production cheaper and less prone to failure or contamination. Either this guy is somehow on to her and delivering a cover story, or the simplest answer is the true one. The Jennings made a grievous misstep, and killed an innocent man (the lab tech, whose neck Phillip snapped) along the way.
More than any, this episode made me begin to think about the end of The Americans and realize that Elizabeth and Phillip probably won’t go out in blaze of glory or a ball of fire. More likely than likely, they will continue to operate the way they were programmed to, and continue to make these errors until one day, they will be quietly replaced with an upgrade. The world is changing, the technology advancing, and they are advancing too. It’s not that they’re getting too old for this shit, but perhaps too human. Humans make mistakes. Spies cannot.
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