THE AMERICANS: “The Summit”

Philip and Elizabeth are leaving loose ends everywhere as questions about just whose will they’re serving are brought into focus. 

We believe in something so big. They tell us what to do and we do it. But we do it. It’s on us. All of it.

–Philip Jennings

In typical The Americans fashion, “The Summit” is smart enough to not deal with real-world events long set in stone. The episode opens with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty already signed and Reagan and Gorbachev basking in the praise for their major accomplishment. Thankfully, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings don’t have to rewrite themselves into history. Besides, they have enough on their plates anyway.

The episode’s Jennings-centric events begin with a family “summit” of their own. Freshly back from the attempted Harvest extraction in Chicago, Philip is emotionally shattered and looking for absolution. He confesses his months-long spying to Elizabeth, telling her about the operation to report on her activities to “a man” (Oleg) in an effort to make sure that the directorate isn’t attempting to undermine Gorbachev. Elizabeth is unsurprisingly outraged.

The scene is a masterclass from both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, whose criminally under-awarded work on the series continues to find new heights. After six years of playing Philip Jennings, Rhys’ acting carries an incredible weight. The amount of pain, confusion, and exhaustion that he can display on his face is astounding. Russell is every bit his equal, showing Elizabeth’s rage with the look in her eyes while her face and voice stay stoic.

The couple scrap about the ethics of Philip’s assignment with him pointing out the extremes of the mission. She’s wearing a cyanide pill around her neck, after all. It’s Philip’s position that while they do what they do for the greater good, the Centre never takes the risks or has to bear the consequences, be they physical, legal, or emotional. The pain of hacking Marilyn’s corpse to pieces last week weighs heavily on him, and he wants Elizabeth to think long and hard about the missions she’s running. Elizabeth, as expected, follows no counsel but her own belief in the USSR.

Two of her missions do come to a head, if not an end in “The Summit.” First is her time nursing Erica Haskard in her role as “Stephanie.” She arrives for work to find Glenn in Erica’s room and Erica spasming and gasping for air. After months of watching his wife suffer Glenn finally administered that fatal dose of morphine he’d been saving to save her from further pain, but his wife’s longtime use of the drug has left her with too much of a tolerance for it to be effective. Elizabeth bids him to spend a few final moments with his wife, and then sends him away so she can euthanize the overdosing, but not quite dead, Erica by forcing her to choke on her own vomit.

As Glenn grieves, he announces that the trauma of the situation has left him too emotionally unstable to work, and he won’t be going into the office anymore. Elizabeth takes one final chance to photograph all his documents, but she’ll have to find a new way to spy on Nestorenko and his meetings with the state department going forward.

For a final goodbye Glenn insists Elizabeth take one of his wife’s paintings as payment for her help and friendship with Erica over the last months. She ultimately chooses the enormous canvas of an older woman that’s sat in Erica’s corner the whole season. Why this painting? Hard to say. Does it remind Elizabeth of herself? Of her mother? Of the pain she endures as part of her work? “The Summit” offers no easy answer beyond that it obviously touches Elizabeth deeply. Reality says that she can’t keep the painting. An enormous painting by a famous artist is too obvious of a clue to keep hanging around the living room, and Elizabeth proceeds to burn it in her garage, but her reluctance to do so speaks volumes about her mental state and emotional connection to the art she described as a waste of time mere months ago.

With Glenn out of the picture Elizabeth enlists the unwitting Jackson, the DC intern she met at a foreign film in “Rififi.” Honestly, Jackson is a moron. He’s far too convinced of his own intelligence and cultural elitism to realize that the job “Wendy” is offering him doesn’t exist. He’s never met anyone else from the company or visited their headquarters, but he’s game to do just about anything to stay in the cultural center of DC and avoid working in the family concrete business. He’s even dumb enough to drop a box off for Elizabeth in a state department meeting after she seduces him the night before, but when he picks it back up the insanity of carrying unmarked boxes in and out of government meetings finally dawns on him. Jackson realizes the box contains a listening device, which Elizabeth attempts to laugh off as an attempt to gain an edge in government contracts, but for once Jackson isn’t biting.

This season we’ve seen Elizabeth’s body count rise higher and higher, exactly the kind of thing Philip was warning her about the costs of in “The Summit’s” opening confrontation. She’s killed at a rate we’ve never seen before, and increasingly indiscriminately. But here, she stays her hand. Perhaps its Philip’s words taking effect, but she decides not to kill the moronic intern she’s duped into government espionage. She tells him he’s old enough now to know what dangers he’s dabbling in. “Forget about this,” she tells him. “Do you understand?” The poor, naïve Jackson admits he doesn’t, but he’s obviously terrified. “Finish school, go home, and join the cement business,” she tells him, and he flees. It’s nice to see Elizabeth not killing someone for a change, but Jackson seems like the kind of loose end who could come back to bite her.

And speaking of loose ends, Philip finds himself tormented by having fired Stavros. He goes to apologize to his old employee, who’s still very upset. Stavros was there from the beginning. He watched Paige and Henry grow up. He was even more loyal than Philip knows, confessing to knowing about Philip and Elizabeth’s “backroom activities” and never calling the cops. Stavros obviously doesn’t know the full extent of what he stumbled into, but he’s yet another loose end in the Jennings’s story at just the wrong time.

After finally realizing the truth last week, Stan continues to probe deeper into it. The FBI is tracking Russian Orthodix priests, a strategy that will surely lead them to Father Andrei (another Jennings connection) in the weeks to come. Furthermore, he’s started showing Elizabeth’s photograph to people connected to spy operations in an extrajudicial investigation outside his normal work. He wants the truth, but he still can’t bring himself to reveal his hunch about Elizabeth and Philip to Aderholt or anyone else in the FBI. Instead, he show’s Elizabeth’s photo to Curtis (an associate of Derek Luke’s Gregory from way back in Season One) who can’t positively identify her, but admits that the woman in the photo is definitely a possibility. “She was beautiful,” he remembers, “and she smoked like crazy.”

Stan remains unable to prove anything definite, but his suspicions continue to rise. Just last week he noticed the incredible amount of cigarette butts on the Jenningses’ back porch as he broke in to investigate their house. His final appearance in the episode finds him watching Philip and Elizabeth’s house from his bedroom as Elizabeth again returns from a late night excursion. A confrontation is definitely coming, and it’s going to be electric.

With the INF summit wrapped, Claudia gives Elizabeth one more assignment. She’s to eliminate Nestorenko, the Soviet who was working with Haskard and the State Department, but again Elizabeth can’t find the will to do it. Philip’s speech must have really struck a nerve. Elizabeth has never been the one to lose her edge or get cold feet about a bloody mission, and now is a rather inopportune time for it to start, much to Claudia’s chagrin. “He just doesn’t seem that bad,” Elizabeth tells her controller. And, truthfully, he isn’t. His guilt has never been part of the plan that Claudia chillingly reveals.

In “Dead Hand” Arkady sent Oleg back to America fearing that forces inside the military were working to undermine Gorbachev and Glasnost. Elizabeth was making military connections so secret that even Claudia didn’t know their secrets. That, it turns out, was a lie.

Claudia has known everything and is a major player in the Soviet military’s plan to undermine and overthrow the General Secretary. Nestorenko hadn’t done anything wrong, but Claudia and her team intended to make it appear he was giving up military secrets to the Americans on Gorbachev’s orders after his death. If everything went right, then Gorbachev would never even return to the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain would draw closed again. Elizabeth’s foundation has always been that she’s doing this work to help her country, but what about when the will of her countrymen and the selfish desires of her controllers no longer match?

Arkady, Oleg, and Philip’s fears about Elizabeth’s work have proved to be completely founded, and now Elizabeth and Philip find themselves in an incredibly dangerous predicament. When Elizabeth tells Philip her discovery he promises to relay the info to Oleg, but Oleg may not have the power to really help them. Their information may save Gorbachev, but who will save the Jenningses? They remain Soviet illegals hunted by the Americans, but now they’re also at odds with their Soviet controllers. If they won’t help Directorate S overthrow Gorbachev then they’re likely on their own, left to twist in the wind. It’s just as Philip said at the episode’s outset. They’re the ones doing the dirty work and left exposed. How prescient those words proved to be.

The Dead Drop

-Finally, all those of owning a station wagon finally pay off, allowing Elizabeth to drive her giant canvas painting across town. I’m sure that one spoke to her, but I’d have picked something smaller. And double if you know you have to burn the painting once you get home.

-Quite the irony that the Russian language film Philip rents from the video store is called “The Garage,” considering how the garage decapitation from the Harvest extraction is currently crushing his soul.

-As close as Stan seems to be getting to confronting the Jenningses, perhaps he should pay some attention to Renee who now has an interview at the bureau! She’s got to be a spy herself.

Just two episodes to go and next week’s trailer previewed a meeting between Stan and Pastor Tim! I can’t wait. See you all next week.

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2 thoughts on “THE AMERICANS: “The Summit””

  1. Why is Philip shopping for a custom fitted suit, when he’s short on money? It suggests a sensible ending.
    Philip plans to give a public talk or press conference, maybe at a TV station or at the Washington Post to announce that a plot has been foiled. He’ll have to admit that he was an agent, and knew of the order to assassinate a Russian diplomat, as part of a scheme to keep the USA and the USSR in a permanent nuclear arms race, while replacing Gorbachev with a pro-military clique. But he and another handful of peace loving folks took risks to support Gorbachev’s peace effort.
    By going public, it seems logical that he and Eliz. will be seen as heroes and pro-American patriots, and receive political asylum. Other folks are left out in the cold–Oleg and family; Martha; Stan, who at the time of the press conference has the neighborhood staked out with 50 agents in unmarked vans. Or, the press conference goes live on TV while Eliz and Stan are pointing guns at each other.
    Just one possibility about the suit. It would be bad for line dancing, as it’d get in the way of putting his thumbs in his belt loops.

    1. Hey thanks for the replies every week. I appreciate you reading. Philip’s suit is kind of baffling. I don’t really know what to say about it. I really do like “sensible” as a word to describe it. If nothing else, Philip WANTS to be a sensible father, husband, businessman, and (possibly even) American.

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