The most harrowing moment on The Americans this season comes in the eleventh episode, “Dyatkovo.” Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) are tasked with going to Newton, Massachusetts to kill a Nazi colluder who’s been living in hiding for decades. Now a beloved wife, mother and grandmother, the woman must confess to her husband, who thinks she’s “wonderful,” that when she was a teenager, Nazis came to her village and she was forced to kill for them to save her own life. There’s a split second when the viewer thinks—hopes—that Philip and Elizabeth will spare her life. The genius of the series is that, even after all this time, we think—hope—that this mission will be different, that this sobbing woman, begging for her life, will live to dote on her grandchildren. But no, Philip and Elizabeth do what they always do, what they are trained to do, and unceremoniously execute the couple.
So, while deeply disturbing, the moment was not shocking. Every year, I come up with a list of the season’s most shocking moments, but this season contains no grand confession to Paige (Holly Taylor) that Philip and Elizabeth are spies, no major character’s death (although, RIP Hans), no sad exile to Russia (#poorMartha). The shocks this season were smaller—we see both the mail robot and Kimmy Breland (Julia Garner), who I choose to believe Philip is still not sleeping with—and subtler, as a family slowly unraveled.
Here are Paste’s picks for the 10 biggest shocks of The Americans’ fifth season:
I’ve often wondered if the showrunners regretted giving Philip and Elizabeth two children, since so much dialogue this season has been spent explaining Henry’s absence—he’s always in the library, out with friends or in his room studying. (It’s a good thing the series takes place in the ‘80s. If it took place today, Henry would have a lot more extracurricular activities, and I don’t see Elizabeth as a soccer mom.) So, when a giant version of Henry first appeared this season, I actually checked the credits to make sure Keidrich Sellati was still playing him. Coming off a significant growth spurt, it turns out that Henry is smart and wants to attend boarding school. At first, shipping Henry off to boarding school could seem like an easy way not to have to deal with his character. But instead, it sets Henry up for a chance at a normal life and allows the writers to juxtapose his blissful naïveté against Paige’s traumatic reality.
Once again, we see Elizabeth and Philip dispatched to ensure unsuspecting targets in ongoing relationships, and Philip is tasked with romancing Deirdre Kemp (played to perfection by Clea Lewis). Deirdre loves work and Lotus 123. She finds Philip a little clingy and desperate. (Is he the Martha of this relationship?) So, she unceremoniously dumps him over the phone. She only becomes interested in him again once he tells her he’s married. Elizabeth, meanwhile, starts up a relationship with Ben (Brett Tucker), who turns out to be dating someone else at the same time he’s dating “Brenda.” Have Philip and Elizabeth lost their touch?
Is Renee (Laurie Holden) a spy sent to infiltrate Stan’s (Noah Emmerich) life? After all, she does seem a little too perfect for the lovelorn Stan. And, as Philip points out, he and Elizabeth have told the Centre so much about Stan that it would be easy for them to create his perfect woman. After the two couples go out on a double date in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Philip frets that Stan could turn into another Martha situation—once again, he could ruin the life of someone he genuinely cares about. Stan finding out the truth about the Jennings was largely put on hold this season—there was no garage snooping, no near-missed sightings. Is Renee a spy? Will Stan finally learn the truth? All mysteries, it appears, we will have to wait to play out.
I love Costa Ronin and would love him on the show forever, but with the FBI, CIA and the KGB after him, it’s a miracle Oleg’s made it this far. The FBI wants to use the fact that he worked with Stan (in a failed effort to save Nina) as leverage for more information. The KGB thinks he’s the reason William Crandall (Dylan Baker) was captured. The walls are closing in on him. As he stood looking out from the bridge in “The World Council of Churches,” I thought he might jump. But that’s not Oleg’s style. And he wouldn’t do that to his mother. Can he survive another season, though? I’m doubtful.
The most confusing moment of the season comes in the premiere, which shows Philip and Elizabeth in a new home with a brand new son, Tuan (Ivan Mok). Of course, the whole thing is a ruse; Tuan is also a spy. He’s been sent to befriend Pasha (Zack Gafin), the son of Alexei (Alexander Skovikov) Morozov, a Russian defector and agriculture expert, and his wife, Evgheniya (Irina Dvorovenko). It turns out there’s a line Philip and Elizabeth won’t cross. They’ll let Tuan make Pasha’s life miserable, but when Tuan convinces Pasha to slit his wrists to get his parents’ attention, Philip and Elizabeth race to the Morozovs’ house to stop him.
Philip’s son, Mischa (Alex Ozerov), escapes the Soviet Union, risks his life and makes it to the United States. But instead of a joyous reunion with his father, he meets Gabriel (Frank Langella), who tells him he cannot see his father and must return home. “If you love him, you must forget this,” Gabriel says. When we next see Mischa, he’s working in a factory in the Soviet Union. This is quintessential The Americans, zigging when you expect it to zag: Instead of seeing how Philip reacts to seeing his son, Philip doesn’t even know Mischa was there. It’s once again a story of missed opportunities and how much the Jennings have sacrificed for their country.
Once Martha (Alison Wright) was shipped off to the Soviet Union, I wasn’t sure we would see her again, and I was like 50% sure she was dead. So when she appeared briefly in a desolate grocery store in the “The Midges,” I was delighted that poor Martha was still alive. When she appeared again in “IHOP,” we got to see her sad life—in a drab apartment, eating bland food, with no friends and no family. When Gabriel (Frank Langella) comes to visit her, she tells him, “I understand everything now, Gabriel. All of it.” And the sad truth is, she does. She left America telling Clark “Don’t be alone,” still clinging to the idea that their marriage was not a sham. But now, months in a foreign land with plenty of time for self-reflection have revealed the truth—her marriage was a lie, she is a traitor and she will never see her dear parents again. I would love to think that there somehow could still be a happy ending for Martha. But that’s so not how this show rolls.
In “The World Council of Churches,” Paige throws the cross she’s been wearing around her neck in the trash. Elizabeth chases after her—not to tell her daughter she doesn’t have to abandon something that was once so important to her, but to tell her she has to wear the cross until Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) is out of the country. The moment is a gut punch. Since learning her parents’ big secret halfway through Season Three, Paige has slowly moved closer to the spy world. She secretly takes pictures of Pastor Tim’s diary, arranges with her parents to get him get a job offer he can’t refuse, breaks up with Matthew Beeman (Danny Flaherty)—after learning how to lie to him from her parents—and begins self-defense lessons with Elizabeth. Maybe once she learns how her parents routinely kill people she’ll have a change of heart, but for now, Paige is decidedly siding with her parents.
Over the course of the series, it’s been Philip who’s wavered. I often thought he would be the one to defect to the United States: Tell Stan the truth and let the chips fall where they may. But Philip is committed to his family and to Elizabeth. What changed this season is that Elizabeth wants out, too. Maybe it was killing the poor, unsuspecting lab guy. Maybe it was executing a grandmother in Newton, Massachusetts. Maybe it was yet again having to sleep with other people in the name of the job. She and Philip are contemplating a move back to the Soviet Union. But how will that work? Will their children still be Paige and Henry Jennings? They speak no Russian and are used to the comforts of America. This is the first time the Jennings are in agreement about their spy future.
This entire episode was a revelation. Elizabeth and Philip quietly renewing their vows, committing to one another above all else. Paige becoming a spy, secretly taking pictures of Pastor Tim’s diary while she babysits his daughter. The pages of Pastor Tim’s diary proving that he says one thing to Paige while thinking another. As the family goes to the basement darkroom to develop the pictures (Henry is at the library, I’m sure), Pastor Tim’s words are slowly revealed. “The damage is done. She doesn’t even know how much she’s suffering.” Pastor Tim, the one man Paige thought she could trust and confide in, has repeatedly lied to her. He thinks her parents are abusing her and that she is, in effect, already damaged goods. This triggers the final arc of the season, which leads to Paige’s defection from religion and the Jennings’ possible move back to the motherland.
The Season Five finale of The Americans airs tonight at 10 p.m. on FX. Read our episodic reviews here.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for 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 (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .