The Americans Season 5, Episode 12 Recap: You Thought Things Couldn’t Get Worse

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Last season ended with Philip and Elizabeth Jennings considering flight back to Russia, for fear of being caught by the Americans. Gabriel urged them to depart, and they resisted. Now, at the end of this season, it’s them pushing the Center to bring them home. This time, it’s not fear of the enemy, but disillusionment with the fight. They want to lay down their weapons and retreat. But after all this, can they ever be civilians again? Do they even know what home looks like now? One thing is sure: They won’t return to a victory parade.
This episode mostly serves to set us up for what may be an explosive finale (and an entirely uncertain final season next year). It pushes everyone to the precipice of their own particular cliff, and now we just have to wait and see who will jump, who will be pushed, and who — if any — will stand their ground.
Oleg’s storyline got more traction than anyone’s this week (FINALLY). Between the talk with his dad, the talk with his boss, and the talk with the PGU, it’s becoming more clear that Oleg has been a rat in a maze this entire season. And as he approaches its conclusion, there’s no prize waiting for him — only a prison sentence and/or execution.
But first, we learn the truth about what’s been going on with his food corruption case (maybe not the whole truth, but as close as we’re ever going to get in this system). At last, the KGB was poised to arrest and convict a number of people involved, when all of a sudden, a government higher-up ordered Oleg’s boss to “hold off.” Ultimately, it seems, they’ve been investigating the government for whom they were investigating in the first place. Sigh. I’m reminded of those hokey old Russian reversal jokes: In Soviet Russia, dog walks you!
Oleg’s own disillusionment and disloyalty becomes even more clear this week, after hearing the specifics about what his mother went through in the camp. He’s been working for the same people who put her through an unspeakable trauma, of which we only hear tidbits. Even as his father offers to save him, to do anything to keep him safe, Oleg seems less torn than ever between self-preservation and self-destruction. Now, he seems determined to fall on his sword, and with the PGU connecting the dots between him and Stan, he’ll probably get the opportunity any minute now.
Oh, Stan! Well, oh, Sofia, really.
In the most painfully awkward meet-the-parents scenario, Sofia brings her boyfriend fiance, Gennadi, to meet Stan and Aderholt. (Oh, Sofia, girl, no!) It’s all polite hellos and frozen smiles for the first few minutes, but then Gennadi suggests that they should probably be paying Sofia more money for her services. (Come on, Sofia. I know he’s dreamy, but come on.) Maybe Gennadi can even pitch in and help them out too! He loves peace and stuff!
Aderholt and Stan later report this to their boss, pointing out that Gennadi is obviously a “dangle” sent by the KGB, and Sofia’s cover is probably long since blown. She’s sunk, they’re sunk, and all for what? This mission doesn’t seem to have gotten them much more intel than they were getting back when they were cornering dudes in public bathrooms earlier this season. They’ve just put a target on a vulnerable woman’s head (and probably her son’s as well). As Oleg (Stan’s symbolic twin this season) says about one of his own targets, Sofia is not a mastermind. “She’s just stuck in something.”
Just when I’d gone back to not caring about Mischa, he returns. This time, he’s not looking for anyone, but someone has been looking for him. His uncle, Philip’s brother, tracks him down at his factory job and brings him home for supper. I’m not sure if this is meant to be setting us up for next season (if/when the Jennings return to Moscow) or if we’re just supposed to feel better about Mischa’s fate, now that he’s found family of some kind. It’s not the same as having a father, but his uncle seems loving, and genuinely thrilled to have Mischa in his home. After all the rejection and abandonment he’s been through, it is pretty great to see this kid embraced. If this is a neat bow on the end of his storyline, perhaps it’s a little too tidy. But I’m not mad about it. He’s earned a little happiness. (And now I can continue not to care about him without feeling bad about it.)
Pastor Tim
Stand back, Buenos Aires! Because, you oughta know whatcha gonna get in me, just a little bit of really bad hair. Thanks to the Jennings, Pastor Tim is heading to Argentina, to stand on balconies and implore the people not to cry for him.
Elizabeth, Philip and Paige. (Oh right, and Henry)
By now it’s totally clear that these two are done with spy life, and we know exactly why. But their visions of home seem a little too daydream-y. Elizabeth smiles at the thought of she and the children taking Philip’s Russian name. She says Paige would do well there — “once she adjusts.” Right now, it must be more fun to fantasize about the homeland they left behind so long ago (and which, they must imagine, has only gotten better, thanks to all their efforts) than to face the reality on the ground. For example: Henry.
As ever, Henry is essentially forgotten until he forces his parents to pay attention to him. He makes them a lovely dinner, to thank them for being cool about St. Edwards. “I know this was all kind of a surprise for you guys, but you’ve been really great about it. And, thank you.” Part of me wonders if they’re thinking about letting him go — and letting him go, for good. Henry has been unknowingly screwed from the start, born as part of a cover story. But now he has a theoretical chance to get out of this mess and begin a life unspoiled by his parents’ work. But only if they cut ties entirely. Can they do that? Would they?
If they have any illusions about Paige, though, they’ll soon be smashed. Watching Paige bob and weave with the laundry bag, juxtaposed with the scene of Tuan’s revelation (more on that in a moment), her transformation seems all but complete. They’ve succeeded in converting and training her to be a Russian spy. How they can expect her, suddenly, to drop all that and instead become a Russian civilian?
Tuan has been the gun on the wall this season, and this week, he’s finally gone off. He’s done everything he could to ensure Pasha’s life in America became a living hell (so his mother will take him home to Russia). But thus far, it hasn’t been enough. Elizabeth tells him they’ll have to rethink this. So, just like Henry, Tuan takes matters into his own hands. He instructs Pasha to slit his wrists, so his parents will take him seriously. (If I weren’t so horrified, I’d point out again that I could really use a break from suicidal teenagers.)
The parent-child dynamics are resonant throughout this season, and Tuan’s relationship to his fake family is clearly a motivating factor here. True, he has a number of reasons for his cutthroat commitment to his mission. But it’s hard not to see this as the extreme, rash action of a child desperate to please the only parents he has right now. What on earth did they expect, recruiting this traumatized teenager to play house, then leaving him alone and isolated for days or weeks at a time. He seems wise and capable beyond his years because that’s often how traumatized kids act. Had they any self-reflection, Elizabeth and Philip would have recognized the danger here long ago. But, that’s not their strong suit.
The three of them head out to save Pasha, ignoring the inherent risk of exposure. Tuan warns them of the surveillance car around the corner, and as they turn it, they melt into their false identity: A smiling family, out for an evening stroll. Still, they pass the surveillance car, and the man on duty looks up. What does he make of this trio, walking slightly too briskly toward the home of a Soviet expat working for the US government? It’s unclear. All we know is they’ve been seen.
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