“The Summit” is driven by moments of incredible tension, but somewhat uniquely for The Americans, those moments center on things that don’t happen. Philip can’t reach Henry, he can’t enter Stavos’s home, he can’t make himself feel better. Elizabeth doesn’t get a listening device in Glenn’s briefcase, she doesn’t stop Jackson, she doesn’t kill Nesterenko. The FBI’s finest stare and stare at sketches, unable to move forward; Claudia fails to make a big sell. Those moments of hesitation, indecision, or frustration practically scream for your attention, particularly those connected to Elizabeth—when does she ever hesitate? But they also serve to highlight the few things that are accomplished, each of great importance: Philip gets Elizabeth to think. Elizabeth ends a life and burns a painting. Elizabeth gets information out of Claudia. Philip gets two more assignments as Elizabeth heads out into the dark.
Oh, and one more. “She smoked like a chimney.”
The summit that’s key to “The Summit” isn’t the one in which treaties are being discussed and futures decided. After all those meetings and all that worry, Glenn Haskard doesn’t even attend, as he’s too busy saying goodbye to his wife. No, the summit, or summits, in question are those that bookend yet another top-tier episode in the final season of The Americans. In them, a married couple have conversations that, in shape and tone, will likely sound familiar. One of them has been cheating for months, and is trying to get through to a partner who has all but shut them out. The stakes are both bigger and smaller than that, a fight about a domestic betrayal that could end a marriage or the world as we know it. It doesn’t seem so at first, but Philip does what he sets out to do in the first of these conversations:
We believed in something so big. They tell us what to do and we do it. I get it, that’s how it works. But we do it. We do it. Not them. So it’s on us. All of it.
Philip gets Elizabeth to think and to question. He reminds her that she’s human. And it’s hard not to think that that’s an accomplishment that will prove disastrous.
From there, Philip and Elizabeth spiral off separately, one seemingly accepting oblivion and struggling (and failing) to find comfort, the other… well, the other getting her own Philip arc, writ small. And all the while, Stan’s out there, peering at sketches, visiting old “friends,” looking not at the moon, but at a house, while his best friend watches a movie in Russian. She smoked like a chimney. She smoked like a chimney. She smoked like a chimney.
That’s a hell of structure. What a way to send us into the final two episodes of this series—Philip and Elizabeth each being honest, really honest, but at what seems to be the cost of their marriage, ending the episode on the same side but more isolated from each other as they’ve been in years. As they struggle toward that final scene—alone, but united—Stan keeps toiling away, privately following the hunch he had in the pilot, finally getting a tiny little piece of circumstantial evidence that he knows in his gut means he’s right.
Philip’s slow spiraling takes something of a backseat to Elizabeth’s, here: After all, he seems to be preparing for, even courting, the inevitable. So little happens that it’s easy to overlook exactly how much goes on. Stavos knew something was wrong in that back room! Philip shops for what sure as shit looks like a suit to be buried in! He goes to a video store in what is almost certainly the most lackluster, half-hearted disguise he has ever worn to rent a Soviet movie, which he then watches in the living room while he waits for his wife to come home. He’s killing time, seeking comfort, hoping for absolution. He reminds Elizabeth of her humanity, Stavos reminds him of his disloyalty, and then he sits back down on that couch to wait for disaster.
Elizabeth’s spiral isn’t slow at all. She’s living the routine she’s marched through, tight-lipped and tired, for months. She’s always on, always thinking, ready to grab a paint brush and snap some photos when the whole plan goes awry. “You lied to me for months, because of Gorbachev?” she snaps at Philip, hurling the last word, but it doesn’t seem to be the lie that follows her (like smoke, probably) throughout her day. It’s “It’s on us, all of it.” And for once, in a circumstance seen only a spare handful of times in the course of The Americans, Elizabeth Jennings is well and truly rattled.
It didn’t strike me that Elizabeth was making her way through a Philip arc until she was staring at Jackson in that car. Austin Abrams doesn’t look strikingly like Keidrich Sellati, but Julia Garner doesn’t look much like Holly Taylor either, and the effect is the same. Elizabeth had her hand locked like a vice on Jackson’s arm, and I wrote, “Oh my god, it’s Kimmy Breeland.” And then, as per tradition, I wrote “no no no no no no no.”
And it didn’t happen. Jackson’s a Henry, someone’s Henry, and so Elizabeth Jennings didn’t kill Jackson Barber. Then she didn’t kill Fyodor Nesterenko. Then she asked questions, and went home, and didn’t forgive her husband, and asked him to get a message to Oleg, and went out into the dark to protect a man from the Center. Elizabeth Jennings is, in true Philip Jennings style, going both soft and rogue.
Director Sylvain White keeps things relatively simple, in the way that slash from a scalpel is simple; his best weapons, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, are just as precise. In some ways, “The Summit” is as brutal and unblinking as the most violent chapters of this very bloody series. But the horrors here don’t come from Elizabeth Jennings sticking a paint brush down the throat of the dying Erica Haskard. (Okay, maybe a little from that.) They come from the way the camera lingers matter-of-factly on the works of art that Erica left behind, nearly all of which show a woman, trapped and silently screaming, from behind a window or curtain or veil we can’t remove. There’s no Fleetwood Mac, no car chase, no axe, and no more painting either. There are just two people, between whom something has broken, but who have chosen a side, because they think, and they’re human.
And there’s a man who knows them very well, and he knows Elizabeth Jennings smokes like a chimney.
- The Americans Wig Report: Season 6, Week 8: C+ The Wendy wig is excellent, as is the Stephanie wig (as always), and the little blonde bob from her aborted attempt on Nesterenko was solid. But, like last week’s episode, Philip’s only wig looks thoroughly half-assed. It’s like he just tucked a random wig under his hat without even putting it all the way on his head.
- Was there any Mail Robot? I’m sure Mail Robot was quite busy, what with the all-hands-on-deck situation the FBI’s got going. Perhaps too busy for public appearances.
- What are the odds we all spend the rest of our lives wondering whether or not Renee is a spy?
- Glenn Haskard won the lottery when he unknowingly hired a spy instead of a nurse. He didn’t need a health care professional just then, he needed a death expert.
- Some other great moments: Margo Martindale’s perfect “No” when Paige asks about Gorbachev, the look Dennis shoots Stan after his incense remark, the entirety of that last Claudia/Elizabeth scene—which is, of course, a hell of a lot like that last Jackson/Elizabeth scene.
- “Like those Vidal Sassoon ads?”
- If you haven’t seen The Big Heat, well. It’s good. It’s also an upsetting choice. Roger Ebert: “There is another level coiling away underneath, a subversive level in which Lang questions the human cost of Bannion’s ethical stand. Two women lose their lives because they trust Bannion, and a third is sent to her death because of information Bannion gives her. That may not have been his conscious intention, but a cop as clever as Bannion should know when to keep his trap shut.” You should watch it, and also read that whole piece.
- Hi, I’m Allison, filling in for Erik Adams while he’s on a well-deserved vacation. Alex McLevy will be taking up the mantle next week, after which Erik will be back for what I’m sure will be a tranquil, warmly-lit finale.