Is Elizabeth Jennings starting to get the feels?
Elizabeth (Keri Russell) has been the unwavering defender of the Jennings’ mission in the United States — always strong, even when Phillip’s (Matthew Rhys) faith has wavered. While she has, on occasion, stopped to question some of the methods she’s been asked to use in the execution of her duties, she’s always been able to compartmentalize the reality of her work from any other part of her reality. Until now.
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For roughly four and a half seasons, we have watched Elizabeth move steadfastly in her belief of doing what is in the greater interest of Mother Russia. She has been almost fanatic about it, compared to Philip’s relative whimpering and questioning of what is right and wrong. And that was one of the great aspects of the show, this reversal of tropes and roles that we don’t normally see in these stories, mostly written by men: Usually the man stays true to the mission no matter what, while the woman begins to waver in the face or moral grey areas.
But to watch Elizabeth in “Crossbreed” (Apr. 11) is also to see what a fully realized character looks like. She has been so focused, for so long… But clearly Elizabeth is capable of feeling more.
The first time she cracks is at the top of the episode, while she’s debriefing Gabriel (Frank Langella) on her latest trip to Topeka. After confirming that her scientist really is just trying to save the world, and Gabriel pivoting to now gather information on how they can use his research, he apologizes again for spreading her so thin.
“It’s part of the job, I know.” Elizabeth claims, pausing before she earnestly asks, “Is something wrong with me?”
This is the first time we’ve ever seen Elizabeth outwardly question herself — and, later prompted by a memory, one of the few times we’ve seen her truly drill down on her own introspection, too.
When a pushy Mary Kay saleswoman comes to the door and begins her pitch with Paige (Holly Taylor) — one Elizabeth knows all too well — we see her face harden; she can’t close the door on the woman fast enough. But it’s not the anger from the usual gall of capitalist excess and vanity that we’d instantly assume — rather, it’s the memory it brings up of her once actual friend, Young-Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles).
Inspired by this memory, she dons a wig and drives by Young-Hee’s house presumably to check up on her and see how her family fared, after the inevitable fall out of Elizabeth’s mission. Sadly, the only information she finds from her stakeout is that a new family is living in Young-Hee’s house. Do they still live in the area? Are they still together? Elizabeth may never know their fate.
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Later, we see another moment we haven’t been treated to in a while: A genuinely tender moment between Elizabeth and Paige. Alone in her room, Elizabeth finds Paige reading the Communist Manifesto given her by Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin). Intrigued, she sits down to talk with her daughter about how she likes it — finding that Paige actually agrees with a lot of what the book says.
“What’s it like over there?” Paige asks.
“We have our problems,” Elizabeth confesses. “But everyone is in it together.”
This comment seems big, in that Elizabeth actually cops to the idea that Russia and its communist regime is not perfect. Four seasons ago, maybe even five episodes ago, this sort of reveal would have been unthinkable.
Philip, meanwhile, continues with his flashbacks to childhood, trying to remember what his parents were like and square his upbringing with his relationship to his own children (thanks, est!). Nothing happens fast in “The Americans,” but could Elizabeth moving closer to Philip’s state of awareness be a subtle downshift for the Jennings from staunch Russians to… Something else? Could this be setting up the framework for the next and final season?
…Or, with seven episodes still left in this current season, are we just starting to get paranoid?
“The Americans” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.