We’ve reached the penultimate episode of the final season of The Americans: Jennings, Elizabeth. The title refers to a FBI data base search run by Stan, which comes up empty. I was not surprised: the many wigged spy has always excelled in staying off the radar screen. That time, however, has come to an end. It’s time for the end game of this great series. My withdrawal symptoms increased dramatically after re-watching the episode.
I try not to use anachronistic music in my Americans recaps. But every rule was meant to be broken, especially when a title is so spot on. From 2001’s Houston Kid, Mr. Rodney Crowell:
It’s spoiler break time. See you on the other side.
Topsy Turvy is an important code word for Spy Family Jennings. It means it’s time to bug out and hit the road, Jack. Philip’s never coming home no more no more no more.
The penultimate episode boils things down to series essentials: Elizabeth, Philip, Oleg, Claudia, Stan, and Dennis. Two recurring characters get curtain calls and it’s curtains for one of them.
The Stan Track: Our favorite feeb cannot shake his suspicions of his neighbors. It’s about more than barking dogs, unsightly yards, and loud parties: he thinks they’re Russian spies. I wonder what Nextdoor would make of this? Get off my lawn, Russkies.
Stan plays a visit to the travel agency thereby unnerving Philip. Stan offers Philip a loan to keep the Stavros-free business afloat. The offer is rejected. I think it was done to tamp down any suspicions of this odd visit. When Stan asks after Elizabeth, Philip tells him they had a fight about work. He just didn’t tell him which job it was about. Crafty spy lie, dude.
Stan runs a primitive computer search and comes up empty. So, he picks up the phone and calls our old pal PASTOR TIM. Btw, I have an annoying habit of saying his name in a loud girlish voice. The things Dr. A has to put up with.
PASTOR TIM is wearing a new, less shaggy wig. It gets hot in Argentina, y’all. He is cagey with Stan who informs him that he’s calling as a law enforcement officer. PASTOR TIM doesn’t exactly lie to Stan but he’s less than candid. Just think that Elizabeth wanted to whack him and his annoying wife Alice back in season 4 because she thought he’d blab. I’m glad that PASTOR TIM got a curtain call, I hope to see Martha and Gabriel next week.
Stan approaches Dennis about his worries. Dennis suggests lunch, which is never consumed. Stan outlines the strands of his suspicions, Dennis is dubious and breaks out in song:
Sorry about that. This is The Americans, not Cop Rock.
Stan doesn’t have time to get past Dennis’ suspicions. There are Russian Orthodox priests to be interrogated and major characters to be swept up by the Feebs. Oleg Burov, come on down.
The best quiet scenes in the show are between Stan and Oleg. In a formal interrogation room, Stan plays the “you have a family” card to try to get Oleg to give up the DC area illegals. Oleg is made of sterner stuff; even when Stan implies that everything that’s gone wrong since his return is his fault. It does not work: Oleg is a man on a mission.
Oleg and Stan have a fabulous scene in a holding cell wherein Oleg whispers to Stan the REAL reason for his DC sojourn. Stan is dubious. He informs Oleg that he doesn’t give a shit who the Soviet leader is, but the seed has been planted. We know from the Turkey Day soliloquy that Stan is a Reagan fan, I wish Oleg had said “But your president cares. He thinks of Gorbachev as a partner.” This may sink in by the series finale.
Curtains For Tatiana: Tatiana is, of course, Oleg’s former spy girl friend. We saw her go off on our wayward spy back in episode 5. She denounced him for being a squishy liberal and blamed him for wrecking her career. She won’t have to worry about that any more.
Elizabeth may have turned down the assignment to kill Goby’s man Nesterenko, but she knows that the Dead Hand dead enders will call on someone else to do the job. She spends the first half of the episode following Nesterenko. Then she notices a woman in a blond wig carrying a rolled up newspaper running towards the diplomat. Elizabeth shoots her dead. The wig falls off revealing Tatiana’s black hair. It was one of two great set pieces, worthy of Hitchcock or DePalma, in the episode. We’ll get to the other one in a bit.
Cooking With Claudia: Elizabeth has one more scene with Claudia who has cooked up a pot of ukha, which is a fish stew. Claudia likes stews as much as I do.
Elizabeth tells her what happened and faces a torrent of disappointed abuse from Claudia. Claudia tells Elizabeth she’s betrayed everything she’s fought for and her personally. Elizabeth is scornful over the lies she’s been told, “If you knew me, you wouldn’t lie to me.” A line that will come back to haunt her when she meets a certain baby spy.
I kept hoping Elizabeth would either re-enact her season one beat down of Claudia or shoot her between the eyes, but there was no bloodshed. Instead, she urged Claudia to run. The veteran spymaster says she’ll go home to keep up the fight for Stalinist dictatorship: “We’ve beaten our enemies before, we can do it again.” Holy Putin foreshadowing, Batman.
Lying Liars and the Liars Who Tell Them: Another day, another anachronism as that’s the title of a 2003 book by Al Franken. It certainly fits the big scene between Mama and Baby Spy. Paige has had some disturbing news. Her intern friend went to an intern party (congressional, not medical) and had an encounter with a sloppy drunk intern from Sam Nunn’s office. That’s right, it’s our buddy Jackson, the Marietta Cineaste.
Jackson was so wasted that he spilled the beans about the honey trap and the beautiful older woman who tricked him and ruined his life. Mama Spy got no credit for sparing his life, apparently. Paige demands that Elizabeth tell the truth about the encounter but she lies and then spysplains. Paige is not amused, especially since Mama Spy told Baby Spy that honey traps were rare. She calls her mother a whore. Not nice, it should have been Spy Whore.
Elizabeth finally erupted and told her daughter the truth. Paige is shattered and leaves the family home distraught. At that point it looks as if they’ll be permanently estranged. Then, Philip calls and their world is turned upside down. In a word, topsy turvy. More on that soon.
Philip’s Spy Sprint: Philip meets in a park with KGB fellow traveler Father Alexei, his beard, and cassock. I hoped that Philip would ask the Father this question, “underwear or commando?” but he didn’t. So it goes.
What neither man intially realizes is that the FBI is following the priest. When the possibility dawns on Philip he told the father to book a seat on the next flight our of the country. When Philip spots the feebs, he breaks out in a spy sprint. Philip is one fast spy: all of his racquetball games with Stan pay off in that moment. He’s able to elude his pursuers, get in a cab, and get to a pay phone to call Elizabeth. There’s your second thriller set piece.
When Philip gets ahold of her, the code word topsy turvy is uttered. It means it’s time for Spy Family Jennings to run, something Philip has previously urged on his wife but this time she prepares to bug out.
I’m not quite sure how they’ll play the final episode. There’s an excellent chance Philip and Elizabeth will escape. They’re past masters at getting out of tight corners BUT I want, nay demand, a scene between Philip and Stan. It’s not enough for our favorite feeb to learn he’s been played for a fool, I want to see it.
One thing I’m certain of is that we should expect the unexpected in the series finale. They’ve spent 74 episodes messing with us, why would they stop now?
The last word features another anachronistic song but it’s a slippery slope, once you start, you cannot stop. The song is by Todd Rundgren and is from 1989. It’s dedicated to Spy Family Jennings and their life on the run: