'The Americans' Season 5 Finale Recap: Philip and Elizabeth face "The Soviet Division"


The title of The Americans' fifth season finale is one that will likely resonate with fans, as we now face several long months awaiting the conclusion of this nail-biting series. Technically, "The Soviet Division" refers to the CIA department of which Kimmy Breland's dad has just been named head — but the real Soviet divide here is the wedge that was driven between Philip and Elizabeth Jennings in the last few minutes of the episode, all due to Isaac Breland's surprise promotion.

For the second year in a row, viewers were teased with a possible Jennings family return to the Soviet Union, only for the plan to be thwarted at the last minute. Note to showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields: I'm officially over the "going back to the USSR" red herring, so please don't do it again for the final season. Love, one of your biggest fans. 

Up until the very end of the episode, penned by Weisberg and Fields, it really looked like Philip and Elizabeth — physically and mentally exhausted beyond belief — were going to uproot an unsuspecting Paige and Henry and go home for good. They put the kibosh on Henry's plans to attend boarding school, to which he received a full scholarship; during a brilliant mid-episode montage set to Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," the KGB spies appeared to be saying their emotional farewells to the United States' material splendor.  Philip turned over his racquetball game with Stan to Renee, while Elizabeth gazed longingly at her giant closet filled with sumptuous clothes and shoes — a wardrobe that would be considered too lavish where she's going.

But all that changed when Philip finished listening to the latest Isaac Breland tape.

A quick refresher on the Brelands and their importance to the Jennings' work: Since season three, Philip has been bugging the office of Isaac Breland, a top-ranking CIA honcho. He obtains the tape recordings under the guise of "Jim," a sleazy-looking lawyer who just happens to prefer the company of teenage girls like Breland's daughter, Kimmy. Yeah, it's gross, and Philip knows it.

So, when Philip learns Breland has been promoted to head of the CIA's Soviet division, he's faced with a crisis of conscience: The information is a game-changer, for both the Jennings' mission and their future happiness. We see Philip debate tossing the tape into the river, but he ultimately chooses to have a heart-to-heart with Elizabeth, knowing full well what this development could mean for their marriage.

In the final few minutes of the episode, a forlorn Philip tells his wife about Breland's promotion and reminds her how badly everyone in their family is doing. He makes it clear he still wants to go home, because he knows he's as good as burned at this point. But this new intelligence is just too big for Elizabeth to ignore, and she is unsurprisingly recommitted to the cause. Hey, does this mean Henry can go to St. Edwards now?

Patrick Harbron/FX

This concluding scene paints a grim portrait of what the Jennings family will be up against next season. Elizabeth acknowledges her husband can no longer work in the field the way he once did, but she also feels guilty that her insistence on staying in the United States will likely cause Philip to plunge deeper into misery. Other than continuing to collect the Breland tapes, Elizabeth suggests Philip just run their travel agency going forward.

"I don't want to see you like this anymore," she says as the camera pulls away on the two of them, leaving us to wonder if Elizabeth's decision has single-handedly annihilated the deep, loving bond these two have worked for decades to create.

Something tells me this plan amounts to little more than a Band-Aid placed on a festering wound.

Mission accomplished?

"The Soviet Division" also wrapped up the season-long mission involving the Morozovs. So much for thinking Tuan was just a little shit, huh? This kid is not only a full-on liability, but his cockiness is on such a level of overdrive that even Elizabeth, who saw a lot of herself in her Vietnamese protégé, was forced to lay down some harsh truths we can only hope come to fruition sooner rather than later. 

There's good news and bad news: Pasha did follow through on Tuan's idea to slit his wrists, but he survived, as the "Eckerts" and Tuan arrived at the Morozov house just in time to call an ambulance. As twisted as Tuan's plan was, it still produced the intended result — Pasha and Evgheniya are returning home to the Soviet Union without Alexei, who is too frightened to go back.

But the conclusion of the Morozov story was secondary to Tuan's post-mission confrontation with the Jennings. After Philip and Elizabeth inform the young spy they would be saying good things about him in their report, Tuan arrogantly announces he's already turned in his own testimonial. In it, he criticized the Jennings for allowing their "petty, bourgeois concerns" to jeopardize the mission toward the end. 

Basically, he slammed two experienced agents for trying to save the life of an innocent boy.

As much as Tuan deserves to be on the receiving end of a lethal martial-arts move here, Elizabeth takes a much smarter approach, socking the teenager square in the ego: She tells him in no uncertain terms that he's on a fast track to failure, whether via death or capture. The only way he's going to succeed as a spy is if he gets paired up with someone. Philip and Elizabeth know all too well that the key to survival in this business is having someone to lean on.

Patrick Harbron/FX

If you immediately thought, "Oh God, not Paige!" when Elizabeth suggests Tuan get a partner, trust me, you're not alone. However, if "The Soviet Division" is any indication, it would seem like the natural next step for Paige. She's definitely staying in the United States; she's moved on to more advanced self-defense techniques, including having her own mother accidentally whack her in the face; and she no longer exhibits fear while walking to the parking lot where she was mugged.

Plus, in what was probably Elizabeth's proudest moment, Paige informs her mother that with Pastor Tim leaving, she's no longer interested in "churchy" stuff.

What about everyone else?

Thanks to an overabundance of Jennings family drama, the supporting character threads mostly got the shaft in "The Soviet Division." As neither Oleg Burov nor Philip's son Mischa appeared in the finale, whatever we saw of them in the season's penultimate episode will have to hold us over until season six.

But fans of The Americans got some filling dishes of the Stan — and, wait for it, Martha — variety, which were ultimately satisfying in both cases.

Is she or isn't she?

Whatever the hell is going on between Stan, Dennis, their asset Sofia Kovalenko and her suspicious fiancé, Gennadi Bystrov — who passed a lie-detector test with "flying colors" in the finale — will continue in season six, especially if Renee has anything to say about it. That's because it's increasingly likely Stan's gym-rat girlfriend is indeed KGB. 

Patrick Harbron/FX

First, she conveniently has a pipe burst in her building, necessitating an emergency move-in to the Beeman residence. And then, over a cozy dinner at home, she dissuades Stan from resigning from the FBI's counterintelligence unit, deflecting his lament that "he's tired of feeling shitty" with the smoothest ego massage this side of Moscow: "I can't help but think that your department needs someone like you," she purrs, "who's not afraid to push back and stand up when something's wrong."

She could just be someone who believes in having good people in our nation's intelligence units. But where's the fun in that?

Martha's happy ending

Oh, that feels so good to write after five seasons of the "poor Martha" refrain. If this is the last we see of our dear girl — and don't get any smart ideas, Fields and Weisberg, that doesn't mean it's what I want — I can accept it. Martha has been screwed over by so many people for so long that she's earned herself a bit of joy and, more importantly, love in her life. The fact she gets to be a mother after so many failed relationships and after having exhibited a desire for children with Philip/Clark warms my cynical heart. Martha was always one of the good ones, and she didn't deserve all the shit that got piled onto her.

We are reunited with Muscovite Martha for yet another single scene, with Alison Wright finally getting to show off her Russian language skills — no English is spoken at all. While on a walk with her handler, Volodya, Martha is taken to a playground filled with children. Volodya points out a particularly cute, pigtailed orphanage resident named Olya and pretty much tells Martha, "She's yours."

As she's proved time and again on this series, Wright doesn't even need dialogue to convey the overflow of emotion that emanates from Martha's soul in this scene. The way she smiles gently at little Olya and allows the tears to fall as she realizes she's going to become a mother? It's such a beautiful moment, a giant cascade of warranted happiness that is such a rarity on this show. Though we don't end the season on a happy note, the memory of Martha's good news will help make these long months of waiting at least somewhat bearable.

Season six prediction

It's never too early to start tossing out predictions for how The Americans will ultimately conclude, so here's my latest — subject to change — theory:

Since Pastor Tim has managed to avoid being killed off all this time, I'm not ready to say adios to him, despite his intercontinental move to South America. It feels like he and his family are being placed there strategically to serve as a refuge for Philip, Elizabeth, and possibly Paige and Henry should the Jennings have to go on the run.

Until 2018, Americans fans!

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