With a shortened, ten-episode final season, The Americans finds itself in a position to move towards its end game. “The Great Patriotic War” feels like the start of that descent. I say descent not with a foreboding intent, but at this point, how can I not expect tragedy from all of this. Here’s an episode where seduction is used as an effective tool and violence is brutally delivered. A father puts his daughter in a chokehold, while the mother covers up some of her harsher experiences with sex, to further persuade her child to be on the side of the Soviets by way of a drunken look back at life in the motherland. Even Stan and Oleg are closer than ever to getting caught in the wake of destruction, one that has been six seasons in the making. As much as I want to see the Jennings marriage last through all of this, this cold war is warming up.
I’ll say right now, “The Great Patriotic War” is the best episode of the season so far. I have little doubt I’ll say that again in the weeks to come, but with an extended length and excellent direction from television vet Thomas Schlamme, this is The Americans at its best. All the performances are turned up, as one can match the deep emotional looks with physical actions and dialogue delivery. Main and recurring characters appear and have important moments that will further define what is to come later on. This includes choices made that will not only have certain ramifications but leave me wishing they had not happened because of the ugliness of it all.
The decision to tail Stan yields shocking results this week. I’ve said before that Elizabeth has not been at her peak, without Philip actively helping her in the field. Despite finding success in tracking down the Russian defector, it’s another tragic circumstance. The covert work done to discover where Gennadi and his family are living all leads to slaughter. Elizabeth brutally stabs Gennadi in the throat, only to be found by Sofia, whose throat is slashed in return. It’s fortunate the child, Ilya, was too busy watching Babes in Toyland to notice the murder of his parents, but we once again find innocents forced to grow up alone in the wake of the Jennings’ objectives.
This comes later in the episode and is enough to push Stan for a drink with Philip, something he’s not done for a while, before Renee. Whether or not it’s because of a subconscious suspicion remains to be seen, but Stan is no longer comfortable taking a step back from his glory days. Before then, there’s plenty of focus on secrets, scheming, and seduction. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of Philip. Having been in a tight spot due to family expenses, Philip could use a win, which seems to come in the form of him and Elizabeth making up by way of intimacy. It all seems so natural.
Things take a turn after the fact. Elizabeth’s advances were all a ruse to put Philip in a happier position before dropping a bombshell. She needs him to go to Greece as “Jim” and meet with Kimmy, to involve her in a Midnight Express-type plot that can be used to blackmail her CIA-employed father. This is not an easy thing for Philip, the man who’s given up the harsher spy work and previously had to export poor Martha away from America to keep her alive. And yet, Philip attempts to go through with it. With years put into this awkward relationship, Philip takes a go at Kimmy in a manner everyone was dreading.
By the end of this episode, however, Philip burns down the whole plan. He will not go to Greece, but makes a heartbreaking call to Kimmy. Kimmy has no idea what’s happening, but she now has a weird message to stay in Greece, along with a goodbye from the older man she’s had an emotional attachment to for years. Maybe the Russians still get to her anyway, but it won’t be Philip who helps with this, and this is sure to create another divide between the Jennings.
In addition to all of this, Paige is stuck in the middle. She’s advancing in age and becoming the Russian warrior Claudia has forced Elizabeth to train her to be. Elizabeth’s sympathy for her daughter is buried under a desire to train her to be the best. It’s tough love at its most extreme, which says the same for Philip’s decision late in the episode as well. Meanwhile, Paige is testing her limits as well. The previous week had her establishing a mark through seduction for the first time, though she liked her target. This week Paige finds herself tested in her physical training by engaging in a bar fight. She’s successful but berated by her mother for it.
This leads to an excellent moment in the episode, already brimming with great moments. Philip states, “I want to see what you’ve learned,” to his only daughter in her college dorm room. The two fight, for real, no pads. Philip easily bests her, despite having his daughter sink her teeth into his arm in an attempt to escape his chokehold. “Not bad,” Philip says, as he examines his arm, after relinquishing control of his daughter’s neck. As he exits, we see a dark silhouette walk through an empty hallway, before the elevator doors shine a light on the man who realizes he can’t put another young woman in peril.
“The Great Patriotic War” features all the sins we are used to when it comes to The Americans, with the bonus of body horror. The close-up violence, troublesome uses of seduction, and the helplessness of one participant in a sparring match all contribute the quality of this episode while pointing in towards the direction of finality. There’s rough stuff to behold this week, but it serves a purpose and finds the series at the real start of an endgame.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Things weren’t all dark. Despite the dramatic talk about Soviet casualties during WWII, Margo Martindale has a ball with her drunk acting, later on, providing the episode some much-needed levity.
- Oleg has time to reconnect with Tatiana this week, though she knows the truth about what he’s done to her in the past and speaks to her superiors about possible plans for him. Pray for Oleg.
- Another week, another rise in the body count for Elizabeth. Never help this woman with a lighter.
- Stan lays out the details of a government job for Renee. Still very curious where all this is going.
- “Why would I sleep with someone if I didn’t like them.” – Paige still doesn’t truly know her parents.
- Whether or not Philip is a better fighter than Elizabeth, his match with Paige shows just how in command he can be when pushed or full of emotion.
- I’ll emphasize this again: great direction from Schlamme this week. While we didn’t get any hit pop songs, it’s the visual work that easily shines here.