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An acting showcase for The Americans is enhanced by shocking family secrets

Matthew Rhys (Photo: Patrick Harbron/FX)
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“Crossbreed” is the type of Americans episode that makes you want to grab an Emmy voter by the lapels and scream, “What do these people have to do to win a trophy?” Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Frank Langella would all be justified in submitting it for the academy’s consideration this year; the Claudia-Gabriel interlude means that character actress Margo Martindale will actually have some screen time to show for her Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series award this time around. The director is an actor herself—former Klingon Roxann Dawson—and Stephen Schiff’s script provides meaty, moving material for Russell, Rhys, and Langella. Sweetening the deal: the jaw-dropper of Paige meeting Gabriel.


The quiet, confident work that Frank Langella has done on The Americans could go unnoticed. Consistency often is. But there’s nothing like the line “I’m just tired. And old,” to make you realize you’ve been taking the Tony winner for granted. Without ever raising his voice above that reassuring purr, Langella stirs so many feelings in “Crossbreed.” There’s heartbreak at his reluctance to leave Elizabeth and Philip. There’s anger at the fact that he never told Philip that Philip’s father worked in a Soviet prison camp. There’s the gratitude in his eyes as he rounds the corner to find that the Jennings have brought Paige to meet him. Holly Taylor plays this moment well, too, with the unease of a kid who can’t grasp the significance of this event, but is too polite to let it show.

It’s meaningful, and it’s a little bit disturbing, too. The meaningful-if-a-little-bit-disturbing sounds of ’80s Peter Gabriel set the mood, but whereas “Games Without Frontiers” once represented her curiosity about her parents’ activities, “Lay Your Hands On Me” is the sound of confirmation. Forgetting that he’s kept both of his kids in the dark for most (or all) of their lives, Philip tells Elizabeth, “My own parents, I didn’t know anything about them at all.” Paige is learning a lot about her parents, but in a way that perpetuates the cycle that has so deeply unnerved Philip. This soul-crushing work is the family business.

The exchange in the Camaro could be Matthew Rhys’ Emmy-ceremony clip, though it might not have enough flash for the occasion. There are probably too many pauses in the “logging camp” conversation with Gabriel, but that scene is dynamite nonetheless, every facial gesture another controlled demolition. And it’s not just the revelations about his father. Philip would like to think that there is some distance between the person who snapped the lab tech’s neck, buried Hans, and folded Annelise up into a suitcase. But this news about his father suggests that brutality on behalf of the state is in his blood. If The Centre didn’t already have a lot of troubling information on Philip, it certainly seems like they’re going to get more now.

It’s more than anyone should have to bear on their own—it’s why Philip gets so much out of EST. Elizabeth remains skeptical, but she’s never seemed closer to accepting the idea of self-improvement (or the worth of a self removed from a whole) than she does in “Crossbreed.” She laughs through Gorp Guy’s initial tai chi instructions, but the camera slowly pushes Gorp Guy out of the frame, watching as she focuses on the movements. She and Philip both laugh off the session she uses to case Dr. Semel’s office, but she brings up an actual trauma: the attack outside the food pantry. She fudges some of the details, but there’s a hint that she’s a little relieved to let some of this go.


For Russell, “Crossbreed” is a show of dexterity. The episode’s agricultural title suggests identities splintered across idealogical and geographical lines; the many aliases Russell plays this week are like a Tatiana Maslany-style triathlon for the actor. The differences between Elizabeth, Brenda, and Miss Sinclair are palpable, in the spirited way Russell approaches Brenda or the closed-off body language of Miss Sinclair. There’s a sense of authenticity from those personas, though the truest outer expression of how she’s feeling on the inside might be the stringy-haired creeper who’s lurking outside the house where Young Hee and Don no longer live.

Eventually, what seems to benefit her the most is the honest, open discussion of Marx with Paige. Elizabeth lights up when her daughter—American by birth but Russian by blood, a combination of Elizabeth’s determination and Philip’s compassion—expresses her interest in Pastor Tim’s copy of Capital. Season five is kind of hitting this theme over the head, but it all comes down to family. That’s the leverage Beeman and Aderholt use over the woman they contact in the park; it’s what’s on Oleg’s mind as he heads to the roof to destroy the blackmail materials. And it’s what the Jennings abide by when they lead Paige into the safe house, cementing a legacy that might be distasteful—but at least it’s family.


Stray observations

  • The Americans Wig Report: Season 5, Week 6: B-. Some heavy lifting is done on the part of Elizabeth’s disguises, but Philip, buddy—we have to talk about the facial hair on this “trombonist from your cousin’s ska band” look. And what’s going on with those eyebrows?
  • The Americans Wig Report: Season 5, Week 6: A. To quote that other Peter Gabriel song, it’s a knockout.
  • Was there any Mail Robot? Six weeks into season five, and I’m on the verge of pulling up to FBI headquarters with a boombox and a copy of So, ready to blast the building with “In Your Eyes” until Mail Robot agrees to come out and talk to us.
  • Henry and Stan are starting to give me Walter White Jr. and Hank Schrader vibes. Philip better be extra careful about wearing that goatee.
  • Sure, Elizabeth seems to get something out of her visit to Dr. Semel, but she also unleashes a major eye roll as she exits the office.
  • A charming moment between Russell and Rhys: the way Elizabeth and Philip volley “hmms” while discussing Semel and whether or not he asked about Elizabeth’s dreams.

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