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The Americans - Rififi + Harvest + The Summit - Triple Review

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When Hank realises the truth about Walter White in Breaking Bad, the audience were left aghast. Sure, you can feel the impending emotional overload once the credits roll, but that moment is focused heavily on being dramatic.

For a long time, we’ve speculated about when Stan Beeman would have his Hank Schrader moment. When the best friend of a Soviet spy would finally uncover the truth. Finally, in “Harvest”, the fourth-last ever episode of The Americans, it happens.

The Americans has always found a way to complement its drama with emotion, and the plot is often the secondary focus to watching the characters feel something. So it’s no surprise that there is no crescendo for Stan, no sucker punch moment in which he knows beyond all doubt that the Jennings couple aren’t American.

Instead, there is heartbreak. Plain and simple heartbreak. The scene sends a sinking feeling to the stomach and then drives a spear through it.

Everything about The Americans is a slow burn and this, even within the context of one short scene, feels like something of a slow burn. From the second Henry says that his parents’ middle-of-the-night work “always is” important, there is no doubt over what comes next. Of all the ways in which Stan could happen upon the truth — a slip-up from Philip. Elizabeth or Paige; some good investigative work; hell, even Philip straight up admitting it — this is the most gut-wrenching.

Even as Henry has transcended from being the kid left in the corner to play video games to the teenager smart enough to do well at a private school, he has never been brought into his parents’ work. The biggest tragedy is that he’s the innocent member of the family, the one completely oblivious to the whole truth even though he sees very clearly the question marks that surround his family. He could ask questions, sure. But he’s smart enough to know that there’s no need to get involved with whatever they’re hiding and so, quite understandably, he lets it lie and allows himself to carry on with his life as if nothing is happening.

He doesn’t realise how seismic a comment he is making — and why would he? On its own, his response would be pretty meaningless. But after the conversation Stan has with Philip, and the suspicion he has that his neighbour is hiding something, there is only one connection to be made. Paranoia is never usually a good look — Stan, at least, refrains from wearing a tinfoil hat as he investigates his theory — but here his scepticism is justified.

By the end of “The Summit”, the truth is clear. Philip and Elizabeth disappear in the middle of the night. They go to a faraway state at the same time as an illegal is being tailed in another faraway state. Elizabeth smokes heavily — too heavily. They are the quintessential American couple.

A couple of kids. American Dream. Never suspect them. She’s pretty. He’s lucky.

Those, if you’ll remember, were William’s dying words. They’ve hung over the show since he said them, teasing us as to when Stan would finally realise their significance. When he hears them as he looks at the Jennings family photo, it’s clear that there is no turning back. This is how the curtain comes crashing down, how Stan uncovers how severely he has been duped over the last seven years. This, folks, is how the series ends.

It’s made even worse by the fact that Philip and Elizabeth have been divided over his betrayal. Over the years, they’ve had plenty of problems, but this feels like one that — ordinarily, at least — they cannot recover from. Ironically, the fact that Stan is now hot on their tails could reunite them, even if just temporarily for their own sake, and the sake of their children.

At the time, Philip’s decision to report on Elizabeth to Oleg felt like a terrible decision, but his admittance at the beginning of “The Summit” was an even worse choice. Being honest is an admirable quality, particularly in their line of work, but it hasn’t served him well here. Her anger isn’t an overreaction; while he was acting in her best interest, she has plenty of reason to hate him for it. She can more than take care of herself, even if lately she’s done a shoddy job of it.

By the end of the hour, she hasn’t forgiven him but does want to get a message to Oleg. Elizabeth, the most loyal spy imaginable, seems to have flipped.

“After all these years serving your country, don’t throw it all away now,” Claudia tells her. It appears as though she has, or is trying to, and it all stems from something the Centre asked her to do. Getting close to Erica inadvertently allowed her some introspection through the drawings she did as Stephanie. It’s telling that when she takes Erica’s huge painting and prepares to burn it, she hesitates a moment. Not only does she feel bad about destroying the prize possession of someone who has just died, but she finally gets it. As she sits alone in “Rififi” and sketches the television, it’s clear that all what Erica has been trying to teach her comes through.

Erica was talking about the subject of the sketches when telling Stephanie, “There's a moment when it's not you seeing it, it's... I don't know... something comes through. You need to bring all yourself to it. And then that'll let you get out of your own way.” But through that, Elizabeth is able to see herself clearly for the first time in a while. And sure, she had something of a push from Philip, but she makes the decision not to kill Nestorenko like a human being. Not a robot, not a mindless slave of the great Soviet Empire. A human being.

It’s the most crucial piece of development she’s had for a long time, a development that could wind up saving her life. Quite where her communication with Oleg will go is anyone’s guess, but her departing words indicated that she was going to go a step further than simply not killing Nestorenko — she’s going to prevent any other illegal from doing so. If that’s the case, then her deciding to cut and run surely cannot be too far behind.

But with just two episodes left, anything is on the table. Now that Stan knows, Philip and Elizabeth are in more danger than they’ve ever been. The only thing you could reasonably predict? That the ending, like the beginning of the end, will be truly heartbreaking.

Notes:

In amongst her anger and self-realisation, Elizabeth fails to safely extract a fellow illegal and has to sleep with an enthusiastic, na├»ve 21-year-old intern in order to get an audio recording of an important meeting. I like that Jackson was smart enough to quickly see through the lie and also that Elizabeth let him live. After the season we’ve seen her have, some mercy is just about required.

Paige says she isn’t afraid to die but that she is afraid of being alone. That feels like some horrible foreshadowing, whereby she ends up separated from her parents and her brother in the bleakest of bleak endings.

Philip had to fire a few employees to keep the travel agency afloat, including Stavos, who reminds Philip of his loyalty. “Whatever was going on in the back room, I never called the police,” he says. “And I never will.” That final line saved his life. Probably.

I see you, The Americans, with your comment from Claudia about Elizabeth’s smoking habit coming shortly after Stan’s contact indirectly implicates her as an illegal. That felt gratuitous; use it as a tease before Stan goes to the Roy Rogers, but don’t double down on it afterwards.

Renee has an interview in Personnel at the FBI, helped by Aderholt. “They’ll want to know if you’re a loyal American,” Stan tells her. I’m still not convinced that she is, and there’s a part of me that wonders if the final scene of the series will be her meeting a handler after the Jennings are arrested/killed/sent home, thus continuing the cycle. I don’t know if I’d like that ending.

It’s worth noting that all three main actors — Rhys, Russell, and Emmerich — are superb across all three of these episodes. Where are their Emmys, Television Academy?

Was Mail Robot’s appearance in “Rififi” his last of the series? I hope not.

Apologies for the delay and subsequent triple review. I’m hoping to have pieces for the final two up within 24 hours of airing.

What did everyone think of these episodes? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

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