(Editor's note: This recap contains spoilers from season five, episode eight of The Americans, "Immersion.")
"Wouldn't it be a nice world if nobody had to do this?" — Elizabeth Jennings
Yes, you read that correctly. That quote is attributed to Elizabeth, not Philip, Jennings. For all the Centre's worries that Philip, with his emotional issues and EST meetings, would be the one to blow the Jennings' mission, the latest episode of The Americans suggests even his Cold Warrior wife is having second thoughts — and, eek, feelings! — about spying on the United States that could become serious cracks in her steely veneer.
Season five's eighth episode, titled "Immersion," is a slow-burn installment that demonstrates the series' strength in maintaining audience intrigue despite limited action. Honestly, not much happened. The biggest development mission-wise is Evgheniya Morozov — whom Philip and Elizabeth have been trailing to get close to her CIA-employed Russian-language students — is having an affair with one of her pupils, which makes the unhappy housewife and her American-intelligence lover ripe for KGB blackmail.
In secondary plot news, over in Moscow, the KGB suspects Oleg of possible treason. Back in Washington, Stan and Dennis have succeeded in getting Sofia Kovalenko, the frightened Russian mother they've been after, to work as their informant. Reminder: They're interested in Sofia because she works for TASS, a Russian news agency.
As always with The Americans, the real concern in episode eight is how the spy lifestyle is affecting the members of the Jennings family. After Gabriel's 11th-hour bombshell that Paige shouldn't be indoctrinated into her parents' world, Philip and Elizabeth spend most of the episode trying to figure out where to go from there. Not making things easier for them is the reappearance of their old handler, Claudia (played by Margo Martindale), who has replaced the now back-in-the-USSR Gabriel.
Although Claudia has remained a periodic presence on The Americans for the past few seasons, mainly showing up for scenes with Gabriel, she hasn't been directly involved with the Jennings since she informed them of the Centre's wish to make Paige a "second-generation" KGB officer in the season two finale. So, things between the agents and handler are tense, to say the least.
Toward the end of episode eight, Elizabeth has a one-on-one meeting with Claudia, who presses her for updates on Paige. There was a time when Elizabeth was almost giddy at the idea of her daughter working alongside her for the Soviet cause. But now, after witnessing Paige's own inner struggles for so long, Elizabeth isn't terribly forthcoming — certainly not the way she was with Gabriel, though it's not like Elizabeth would ever completely open herself up to Claudia after she administered that vicious beating on her elderly handler back in season one.
Part of Elizabeth's issue in "Immersion" is how her daughter forces her to face her own vulnerabilities. Having moved on from a little breakup martial arts to full-on basement sparring with her mother, Paige is frustrated that she still feels scared after season four's mugging. This prompts Elizabeth to do something very out of character, so much so that Keri Russell takes a pregnant pause before making Elizabeth's big reveal — there is no question she's carefully weighing the pros and cons of this decision. With her eyes carefully averted, Elizabeth tells Paige she was raped by her KGB superior when she was 18 years old.
It's great Elizabeth is opening up to her daughter in this way, because her maternal desire to help Paige stop feeling afraid does come across as genuine. But that's not the point of this scene: It illustrates how Elizabeth, despite insisting she's no longer terrified after decades of training, still has an unmistakable fear in her eyes.
Episode eight's mother-daughter bonding features two of the best Elizabeth-Paige scenes of the entire series. In addition to the heart-wrenching basement scene, the episode concludes with Elizabeth taking Paige for a walk, ostensibly to cheer her up about Matthew Beeman. But their outing quickly turns into a therapy session for the KGB officer, courtesy of the teenager's ever-present shrewd questions. Paige isn't buying her mother's story that she never thinks about the rape — we know she's right, because Elizabeth had a nightmare about it in season four — which pushes Elizabeth to admit it does still linger in her subconscious.
But what Paige is even more curious about is what her mother really wants out of life. She asks two questions that throw Elizabeth, who's never had to think about such things before, for a loop. The first is whether she enjoys spying for the Soviet Union. It's an excellent bookend to the episode, as Elizabeth answers with her opening-scene lament and adds one of her old, reliable patriotic platitudes: "I wish I didn't have to do it, but I'm proud to help my country."
The second question is a bit harder to answer, because you get the feeling Elizabeth has never had a reason to aspire to anything other than serving the Centre. Paige asks, "If you didn't have to be a spy, what would you be?"
Elizabeth's response offers up a multitude of interpretations — once again, it's tough to know if she's being real. She says she'd want to be a doctor, on which Paige astutely and hilariously calls bullshit: "You have no bedside manner!" Over five-plus seasons of The Americans, Elizabeth has given no indication of having some sort of dashed dream of becoming a doctor. My thinking is she might be planting seeds in her daughter's head for another life direction, especially now that Gabriel has voiced doubts about Paige joining the KGB.
What's also interesting about these last few lines of dialogue is they appear to be influenced by "Brenda Neal's" world-hugging conquest of Ben Stobert. See, Elizabeth claims she doesn't want to be any ol' doctor: She'd want to practice medicine in a third-world country, where her lack of bedside manner wouldn't be an issue and she'd be helping people who really needed it.
I also have to wonder — and I'm going to be doing this from now until the series concludes in 2018 — if this is Elizabeth's attempt to protect Paige by putting her in a situation far away from her parents. Should Philip and Elizabeth ever be arrested, Paige's connection as an accomplice could be lessened if she were off on the other side of the world working with Doctors Without Borders.
The Americans airs on FX at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesdays.
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