Before Dorothy clicks her ruby-slippered heels and chants “There’s no place like home” in The Wizard of Oz, she tells Glinda the Good Witch that she learned something important from her long walk down the yellow brick road: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.”
As the fifth season of The Americans ends, complete with a montage set to the Wizard of Oz–inspired Elton John song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Philip and Elizabeth Jennings also have decided to stop looking further than their own backyard. Prompted by the news that Philip will now have access to highly classified information thanks to the promotion of Kimmy’s dad to head of the CIA’s Soviet Division, the Jennings ditch their plans to retire and move their family to Russia. They finally acknowledge that there’s no place like home, and that home, for them, is not Russia anymore. It’s America.
In some ways, the penultimate season of The Americans — which closed with a trio of tense, strong episodes, but often felt slow in stretches, especially every time it focused on Oleg’s story line — could be characterized as the drama’s Wizard of Oz season. Both Philip and Elizabeth spent a fair amount of time in Kansas, romancing their Agricorp sources Ben and Dierdre. They eventually affirmed their own commitment to each other by officially getting married back in D.C., another way of saying there’s no place like home.
There’s also something slightly Oz-like about the arc of this Americans season. Just as Dorothy realizes that her ability to return to Kansas has been with her all along, the Jennings learn that, in spite of all their talk about wanting to go home, they are already there. Philip and Elizabeth still consider America a place that poses significant danger, and they remain loyal to their birth country. But at this point, the U.S. is also familiar and comfortable, especially to their children. As much as they talk about how well Paige and Henry will eventually adjust once they get to Russia, witnessing Pasha’s suicide attempt — rendered in semi-graphic and upsetting scenes early in this episode — has to have given them pause about what could happen if they force Paige and Henry to blend into a culture so different from the one they’ve always known.
All of those confused, melancholy feelings about leaving things behind and what it could mean are brought to the surface during the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” montage midway through the episode.
The 1973 hit can be heard as Paige leaves her job at the food kitchen, one of the last times she’ll work there alongside the soon-to-depart Pastor Tim; it provides the soundtrack to Philip tagging in Renee to be Stan’s racquetball partner, then walking away from the court right as John sings the lyric, “Maybe you’ll get a replacement”; and it plays as Elizabeth looks around at the objects in her home — the closet full of clothes, the TV, the kitchen built with ’80s-contemporary appliances — with an acute sense of what she’s leaving behind.
“You can’t plant me in your penthouse / I’m going back to my plough,” the Bernie Taupin–penned lyrics say. On first viewing and listen, this suggests that the Jennings yearn to return to their roots and the simpler, less consumer-driven, spy-free life Russia can provide. (The plough reference is particularly apt given all the business this season about farming and crops.) But at this point, they’re fully assimilated. Their roots are here, in the merry old land of their alleged enemy.
The importance of family and home runs through this entire episode, in Pasha’s and Evgheniya’s plan to return to Russia without Mischa, the advice Elizabeth gives to Tuan about getting a partner so he’ll have a support system, and, most significantly, in the moment when Martha finds out she could potentially adopt an orphan girl. (Oh, the look in Martha’s eyes when she realizes for the first time that she could have a daughter, and a chance at an un-miserable future.) Over and over, The Americans — a show about two people working in a profession driven by mistrust — emphasizes the importance of having reliable anchors, whether they are family or places that keep us centered.
Showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, who wrote the first two episodes of the season and the last two, kept The Americans on a low simmer throughout most of season five. While there were certainly some pulse-raising moments — the shooting of the Nazi sympathizer and her husband in episode 11 was a standout in that regard — there were fewer high-intensity action sequences than usual and no attempt to end the season on a cliffhanger like season three’s “March 8, 1983.” Even the ’80s pop-cultural references got dialed back. This has never been a light show, but it felt even more serious this season and, as noted earlier, especially plodding when it turned its attention to Oleg.
Above all else, though, these episodes were fixated on establishing who Philip and Elizabeth have become after five seasons. The answer: a couple now genuinely committed to each other; parents struggling to put the interests of their children ahead of a perilous job (that includes Pasha and Tuan, as well as Paige and Henry); and a pair of very good KGB officers who feel increasingly frustrated, at least in Philip’s case, by the demands of their work.
Now that we know exactly who they are, season six can tell us what ultimately happens to them and presumably answer the key question that has always rattled around within this series: Can a pair of undercover Russian spies live right in the FBI’s own backyard without ever getting caught? If and when we find out the answer, we’ll know whether Philip and Elizabeth made the right call when they decided their future lies right where they’ve always been: undetected in the suburbs of Washington, and one misstep away from having their cover blown.