The Americans Recap: Fighting Words

Keri Russell as Elizabeth, Matthew Rhys as Philip, Ivan Mok as Tuan. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/FX
The Americans

The Americans

Immersion Season 5 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 4 stars

“Immersion” picks up immediately after the last episode, with Philip driving home after his final conversation with Gabriel, totally gutted by his handler’s warning about bringing Paige into this line of work. For Philip, Gabriel’s words may confirm his own instincts about the spy game — for himself, much less Paige — but they’re chilling to hear anyway. Project Paige is proceeding apace and there doesn’t appear to be anything he can do about it, especially now that Gabriel is gone and there’s no one to run interference between the Jennings family and the powers that be. Whatever thin illusions he might have carried about easing her along, protecting her from the worst of it, and eventually finding some escape hatch are dispelled, along with the hope that maybe things might work out better for her.

Back home, Philip shares his exchange with Elizabeth and his bitterness surfaces like bile in the throat. When Elizabeth laments that they’re never going to see Gabriel again, Philip says, “I’m glad,” though his sarcasm melts away a little when she reminds him that Gabriel had urged them to go home. Philip concedes the point (“I think he got tired of this”), and a weary tone carries over to the news that Gabriel feels Paige shouldn’t follow in her parents’ footsteps. It’s here that Elizabeth hardens: “Wouldn’t it be a nice world if nobody had to do this?”

Cue opening credits. Cue chasm opening up on the bedroom floor.

Throughout the series, particularly the later seasons, the disparity between Philip’s and Elizabeth’s commitment to their job has been perhaps the greatest threat to their relationship. But their marriage and working partnership has been on firmer ground in season five, in part because circumstances have chipped away at Elizabeth’s resolve. A human mistake led them to kill a colleague, Hans, on a mission to retrieve a biological weapon. An institutional mistake not only resulted in the death of an innocent lab worker, but put their American marks on the right side of history, all while their Soviet homeland is serially inadequate in feeding its own people. (I’d watch a Rogue One–like spinoff series about what happened to the Super-Wheat sample that Gabriel shipped back home. Given what we know about Philip and Elizabeth’s upbringing and Oleg’s current investigation into corruption among grocers and suppliers, I’m guessing the phrase “farm-to-table” will not apply.) And Elizabeth’s relationship with Stobert, with its glimmers of genuine affection, has brought her closer to understanding Philip’s complicated feelings for Martha and the wreckage he made of her life.

Those days may be coming to an end. Elizabeth convinces herself that perhaps they salvaged something out of the Super-Wheat operation. She witnesses Stobert stepping out with another woman in Memphis, which tarnishes his good-guy image enough to snap her back to attention. Based on the evidence, her work on Paige’s physical readiness is further along than we could have possibly imagined. (More on that extraordinary scene later.) She treats Philip harshly after learning that Deirdre broke up with him over the phone, twisting the knife further by suggesting that EST is teaching him that “people’s feelings are more important than anything else.”

Then again, perhaps Elizabeth is looking out for all of them. With Gabriel gone and Claudia back in the picture, Philip has lost an ally, and the new relationship gets off to a rocky start. Philip doesn’t want to talk to Claudia more than necessary; from now on, he’d prefer that she just give them their marching orders and they head out the door. There’s a recklessness to his curt request, however, because Claudia isn’t convinced of Philip’s utility in the long term and is probably looking for assurances from him. Elizabeth seems to recognize that. She admits to Claudia that she and Philip will “never see eye-to-eye” about their profession, but Elizabeth’s choice to sit with Claudia and have a heart-to-heart conversation is existentially important — and out of character. Keep in mind, Elizabeth ripped into Claudia as a favorite pastime in earlier seasons.

Now back to the training scene with Paige. In one fantastic cut, we go from the scene of Deirdre rejecting Philip for not being more “assertive” — as public-phone dumpings go, this one ranks with the camera tracking away from Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver — to Elizabeth swinging a baseball bat at her daughter’s head. A study in contrasts, to say the least. Elizabeth’s decision to share the story about her rape could be read as emotional manipulation, another twist of the arm for Paige to get with the program. But it’s not staged that way. The episode’s director, Roxann Dawson, inserts an odd little pause where Elizabeth seems to lose focus briefly before gaining the resolve to move forward and make this painful disclosure. The Jennings have been parsing out information to Paige throughout this process, offering some operational details while withholding others, but Elizabeth determines it’s time for some harsh truths about her mother — and the world — to get doled out.

The trigger for Elizabeth is Paige wondering when she’ll stop being afraid all the time. This is a parenting moment, however much it dovetails with Project Paige. The only time we’ve seen Elizabeth truly shaken this season is when she found Paige curled up in the bedroom closet because she was too afraid to sleep in bed. That vulnerability would disturb any parent, but Elizabeth’s personal history gives her an added shock of recognition. It seems likely her life’s work is not motivated wholly by ideology, but a need to gain back the power and control that she lost when she was a teenager. When Paige steps in to comfort her, she pushes her away, unwilling even now to allow herself to be wholly vulnerable.

“The more I fought, the better I felt,” she says. “I’m not afraid anymore. And you’re not going to be, either.” It’s time to get back to work.

Hammers and Sickles

• Scary scene of Oleg’s room getting searched by Directorate K, despite his politically connected father sitting in the apartment. Though Oleg has disposed of the blackmail evidence — and the blackmailers have mysteriously evaporated — he may not have contained the whiff of betrayal.

• The casual manipulation and mistreatment of Pasha — a kid who’s only guilty of being stuck with the wrong father — comes to head when Tuan gets Philip to sign off on a proposal to sic the “asshole kids” at school on Pasha in order to apply pressure to his family. Another reminder of the collateral damage of the ends justifying the means.

• Evgheniya’s affair with one of her students seems to rhyme with Stobert’s womanizing, in that the Jennings learn frequently that people have secrets and are not always what they seem. Deirdre’s renewed interest in Philip after he pretends to have a wife is telling on this front, too.

• Elizabeth brings Stobert’s tai chi lesson back home with her. “Looks like slow kung fu,” quips Philip. That gets a smile.

The Americans Recap: Fighting Words