As we’ve seen time and again in the many, many fictional accounts detailing the life of a spy, sometimes sacrifices have to be made in order to achieve the task at hand or ensure that the long term goals of a covert operation remain viable and productive for as long as possible. So far in The Americans, that has largely meant creating a marriage and a family as the perfect cover for plotting the destruction of the United States of America.
But in the case of deep-cover Soviet spies the Jenningses – and especially Elizabeth – amidst all the sacrifices for the Cause and the constant reflection of duty for the motherland, the realization of how good her Soviet-sanctioned fake marriage to Philip was didn’t really hit home until she watched while her fake husband – in a wig crying out for some Grecian formula – fake-married (under the assumed name of Clark Herbert Westerfeld, no less) his asset to make sure that she continued to aid his snooping on Agent Gaad and the rest of his office.
The marriage of Philip-as-Clark to Martha, with Elizabeth and Claudia/Grannie in attendance, is possibly the saddest and most outlandishly hilarious thing The Americans has managed to pull off during its fantastic first season. It is, in its own weird way, a culmination of all the unpleasant things that have acted against the Jennings’ marriage and, more importantly, their relationship with one another.
It’s familiar territory for both. As Misha and Nadezhda, they entered into a union for the sole purpose of fulfilling a duty, and now, as Clark, Philip’s doing the exact same thing. The only difference is the other side is not complicit in this endeavor, and despite his attempts at keeping the marriage as concealed as possible (they can’t tell anyone, or even live with one another), Martha simply won’t budge on the nuptials unless Clark agrees that her folks can be made privy to the happy couple’s plans.
The poignancy of the ceremony, the meaning behind the oath Clark and Martha vow to one another is enough to make Elizabeth take pause, think and eventually confront Philip about what it is that made their relationship last as long as it did, and why she never felt as strongly about it as perhaps he once had. “It was touching,” she tells him before wondering aloud whether or not things would have been different if they’d participated in the more conventional aspects of becoming a married couple – i.e., having an actual wedding and speaking the vows.
During last week’s ‘Covert War,‘ it seemed as if Elizabeth’s own Cold War against Philip had been warming up some – she stopped by his motel room long enough to sip a thank you beer and find out he’d rented an apartment before she could give him the all-clear to move back home. Now Elizabeth finds herself picking Paige up from Philip’s apartment and lingering long enough to notice it’s adorned with pictures of the family he used to come home to.
For a guy like Philip, family comes first – something he demonstrated by killing Timoshev in his garage, instead of introducing him to Stan Beeman down the street – which is more than can be said for Elizabeth’s newest asset Sanford Prince, who winds up being arrested for delinquent child support payments shortly after recruiting a chicken hawk-hating colonel who’s fed up with the Reagan administration. Prince is every bit the debt-ridden delinquent gambler that allowed Elizabeth to sink her claws into him, asking $50k for the colonel’s information that’s apparently so good the Center is backing up Claudia’s go-ahead on an incredibly risky plan to exchange cash for intel on the anti-ballistic missile shield.
While Elizabeth’s juggling Philip’s second fake marriage and Prince’s desire to score some quick better-not-be-for-poker cash, she’s also fielding questions from Paige about her feelings for Matthew. Surprisingly, the sudden and very real threat of usurpers in their respective relationships (fake, imagined or otherwise) brings the normally squabbling mother-daughter team together. And while many people see the things they need to see in others, Elizabeth admits the vague “it” was there when it comes to Philip.
As the lies begin to pile up, it seems there’s a finite reserve for keeping things buried and away from prying eyes or a guilt-ridden conscience. Caspar Weinberger’s maid comes clean about the clock in his home office, while Nina gives Arkady a succinct breakdown of her transgressions with the FBI as well as her renewed commitment to the motherland.
This unburdening is a necessary catharsis for these characters; it keeps them from sinking into the darkness that constantly threatens to swallow them whole, something Stan Beeman seems incapable of doing. But in the end, no amount of unburdening is going to keep them safe from each other.
The Americans will air its season finale ‘The Colonel’ next Wednesday @10pm on FX. Check out a preview below: