Elizabeth Jennings is Becoming Unhinged, and The Americans is Only Getting Better

(Episode 4.09)

TV Reviews The Americans
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Elizabeth Jennings is Becoming Unhinged, and <i>The Americans</i> is Only Getting Better

I vividly remember when The Day After aired. I was too young and wasn’t allowed to watch it. My parents didn’t want me watching The Love Boat, so a movie about nuclear war was right out. But its airing dominated the zeitgeist in a way TV can’t now. Today we have too many channels, streaming options and shows for any one TV event to completely take over.

I loved how the airing of The Day After was an undercurrent to all the action—a reminder of how high the stakes truly are. When The Day After aired on November 30, 1983, the threat of imminent nuclear war was frighteningly real. “I just hope we’re all together when it happens,” Paige tells her dad. “And quick. It’s better if we get wiped out straight away.” More than her peers, Paige knows nuclear war is possible and feels a personal responsibility about it.

Last week’s time jump brought the breakneck pace the show had been operating under to a screeching halt. And the episode floundered a bit, as the series struggled to regain its pace.

Elizabeth has done so many bad things by this point in the series. Drugging Young Hee’s husband and sexually assaulting him is definitely in Elizabeth’s wheel house. I would expect nothing less from her. But what changed is the look of sorrow on Elizabeth’s face. Clearly Young Hee filled in Elizabeth’s life what Martha filled in Phillip’s. Through their work, they both found someone who understood them and brought them, however briefly, some sort of happiness. Even though Young Hee doesn’t know it, she and Elizabeth both share the experience of being immigrants in the United States, raised by strict, unforgiving mothers. In another life, Elizabeth and Young Hee could have been real friends.

What I truly love about Russell’s portrayal of Elizabeth is that I absolutely believe she could do anything at anytime. When Young Hee left her children with Elizabeth, it crossed my mind that Elizabeth could kill them. Elizabeth puts her country above all else. I still fear she could harm Paige. In many ways, Elizabeth is a woman becoming unhinged right before our eyes.

William has another horrific biochemical weapon—this one will liquefy your organs (good times!). He tells Philip, but wants him not to tell the Centre about it. “I don’t trust us with this,” he tells Philip. Russia struggling, compared to the U.S. Is a recurring theme. “Our technology is way behind. It’s dangerous,” Oleg tells Vera after sharing a story of sunlight being mistaken for nuclear missiles.

William is disillusioned and aware of the foibles of his own government. At least, he tells Philip, the Americans have containers that work. The Day After makes Philip think that William is right and they shouldn’t turn over the virus. But Elizabeth, ever loyal, believes they must give the virus over right away. “They are making this to destroy us,” she tells Philip.

The Jennings also continue to get in the good graces of Pastor Tim and his wife. Philip has arranged Pastor Tim’s travel to Ethiopia, but the good reverend is still worried about Paige. “She seems sad. Burdened,” he tells Philip.

Throughout the episode, Philip teaches Paige how to drive. Once again, these are the kind of scenes the show excels in. It’s a typical right of passage for every teen, yet nothing about the Jennings is typical. “Pastor Tim likes seeing us together. It makes him think we’re more normal,” she tells her dad.

“I’m going to miss her,” Elizabeth tells Philip mournfully about Young Hee. With only four episodes left this season, I’m already missing the show.

Stray observations:

The Americans/i> is the rare TV show where we know there’s a lot happening that we simply aren’t privy to. For example, Philip is clearly still meeting with Kimmy (and doing heaven knows what else with her), but we haven’t seen her all season. At some point that stops becoming an interesting storytelling device and gets a little irritating. I need an update on Kimmy.

So Oleg and Vera are a couple now. Interesting.

So funny to see Elizabeth stressed over her legitimate job.

“He didn’t give a shit how we got the job done as long as we stopped the Russians.” When Stan finally figures out who Philip really is, he is going to need so much therapy.

Do you think this really is the last we’ve seen of Martha? I’m worried about her in Russia.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal ®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.