I apologize for making like the Statue of Liberty and disappearing for a while, but between a wonderfully long Disney World vacation and the holiday weekend, I haven’t had much time to write! But before I get back to writing, I think we should all take a minute and share a collective happy sigh over the news that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys welcomed their new baby into the world earlier this month. Congratulations to them!
Title: Dinner For Seven
Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
Consider this a cumulative M.V.P. award for Russell’s outstanding work in the last bunch of episodes. Her performance throughout this Don/Young Hee arc has been a thing of layered, complex beauty—some of her best work on this show to date. And her performance in this episode was no exception. Russell has taken Elizabeth to an intensely vulnerable place in these last few weeks, and she’s done so in a way that feels true to this character, who still believes she’s not supposed to have emotional reactions to her job. Elizabeth isn’t going to break down sobbing over losing someone she considered a friend, and she’s not going to have a heart-to-heart talk with anyone about what she had to do to a beautiful family. Instead, she’s going to show her guilt, grief, and emotional exhaustion in the tiniest but most heartbreaking ways: crying even after she leaves Don and doesn’t need to act heartbroken anymore, closing her eyes tighter when Philip holds her, and hanging up the phone with shaking hands when she hears Young Hee crying. This is what happens when Elizabeth’s carefully compartmentalized emotions start seeping out of their compartments, and it’s fascinating to watch her begin to struggle with the idea that the human cost of what she’s doing—including what she’s doing to herself—might be too much.
Russell was brilliant throughout this episode, but her masterfully subtle take on Elizabeth’s emotional awakening was best shown through her scenes with Pastor Tim. In their first interaction, Elizabeth was clearly still seeing him as an opposing force. Her posture, her tone of voice, and her choice of words were all careful and professional. In their first scene alone in the church, Elizabeth’s softness still felt like an act, and we could see she was still dealing with him as a potential threat. However, by her final scene with him, those lines between sincerity and artifice were blurred in the way only this show can blur them. The way she searched for words, the soft way she spoke, and the lost look in her eyes made me believe at least some part of her was really trying to get advice about finding clarity and comfort when things feel overwhelming. Of course, part of her was probably saying those things to keep him close and to manage him like any other asset. However, Russell played that moment with just enough vulnerability that I could feel the truth in what Elizabeth was saying about her mental and emotional state.
Elizabeth’s growing vulnerability and clear unease with what she’s been asked to do contrasted so well with the episode’s final scene, which reminded us that she’s still a trained killer who should be feared. The way her body snapped into action so instinctively was amazing, and I was captivated by the feral look in her eyes as she protected herself and her daughter and also by the businesslike way she dealt with the aftermath—with just a hint of concern in her eyes about what her child just witnessed. Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most fascinating female characters on television, and the woman who brings her to life each week deserves every bit of recognition imaginable for bringing such powerful complexity to this role.
Favorite Scene: Philip is everyone’s support system
Philip Jennings has much more empathy than your average Russian spy, and that’s what makes him such an incredible character. It’s also what makes him a genuinely good friend and a loving husband. And his ability to feel for those around them when they’re going through hard times was at the center of one of the most layered scenes in the very layered “Dinner for Seven.”
When Stan opened up to Philip about Agent Gaad’s death, I couldn’t stop studying Matthew Rhys’s expression as Philip took in that information. Even before the scene in which he directly tells Elizabeth as much, the barely perceptible flickers of shock and then worry on Rhys’s face told us that Philip believes he contributed to this horrible loss for his friend. And this scene reinforced the idea that there is a real friendship between these two men—even if it was built on lies. Both Rhys and Noah Emmerich’s ability to make us believe the friendship between Philip and Stan was so important, because it made Stan’s brutal assessment of Russian operatives that much more uncomfortable. That monologue—with Stan telling Philip that the Russians murdered his boss and have done things far more terrible that he can’t talk about because it’s “classified”—is basically this whole show in a nutshell. He’s right; the Russians have done terrible things. But one of them is sitting on his couch right now being a real friend to him and crumbling inside under the weight of the fact that something he said in a report might have gotten a man killed halfway around the world. This moment was tense, difficult to watch, and even a little bit humorous in a darkly ironic way. But it was also a genius look at the very heart of The Americans—the idea that one of the “monsters” Stan is talking about is actually a human being and not just some stereotypical cog in the Soviet machine.
While Philip’s connection with Stan played the most important role in this scene, it was his connection with Elizabeth that moved me the most. It broke my heart to watch the brief flash of sadness cross Elizabeth’s face when Stan called Philip his friend, knowing she just destroyed the only relationship even close to a friendship that she had. And it was so important to see that she was too emotionally exhausted to pretend anymore; she needed to just be herself and let her real emotions out, which is why she wanted to get away from Stan and the act she has to put on with him. Elizabeth not being able to hide her emotions in front of an FBI agent is a big deal and a sign of how broken up she is by this mission.
But when Stan left, there was no need for Elizabeth to hide anything. With Philip, she was finally free to stop being a spy and just be a woman who needs comfort. I don’t know what it is about Philip holding Elizabeth when she’s feeling particularly vulnerable, but it always moves me. It’s always so poignant to see her let her superspy guard down for one brief moment and seek comfort from the one person who she can lean on with the full weight of her broken heart, knowing he understands. I loved that they rocked back and forth in that embrace; it’s such a naturally comforting gesture, and it made the tone of that embrace even more intimate. They both needed a moment of real connection after causing so much pain to others because of their work, and, as usual, they found it with each other.
• I also loved the scene in this episode between Stan and Oleg, with the two characters presumably saying goodbye to each other forever. It honored their complex relationship perfectly, even if it had me wondering if Stan was still trying to turn Oleg somehow.
• The titular dinner scene was worthy of its own post—there was so much going on! I loved that Henry inviting Stan in and Elizabeth pretending to be okay with it felt like it could have been a scene straight out of an annoying sitcom, with the added bonus of introducing an FBI agent to two civilians who know there are Russian spies living in this house. What was uncomfortably funny on one level was actually horribly tense when you thought about the life-threatening implications of what was happening.
• I had to smile when Pastor Tim had to ask if Henry could hear their conversation. Kudos to the show for always explaining how he can’t hear what’s going on, even if it does feel like a running joke at this point.
• Speaking of Pastor Tim, this was the first episode in which he actually felt like a person and not just a source of conflict or a plot device. It was nice to see Kelly AuCoin get a chance to breathe some humanity into this character, and for the first time, I actually was happy to see him on my screen instead of wishing he would just go away.
• I really hope this is the last we see of Don, because my heart can’t handle any more scenes of this poor man having his life destroyed all because he has access to some codes. I almost wanted to fast-forward through his scenes in this episode, because I knew they would make me physically uncomfortable. What a horrible operation, and it seems (unless the computer files pan out) it was all for naught—just like Philip killing the security guard on the bus earlier this season.
• I love when this show brings back moments from past seasons to haunt our characters. In this episode, it was the horribly sad death of Betty last season and its connection to bugging the Mail Robot. Moments like that make me sit back and applaud the expert plotting at work here.
• Did anyone else get the feeling that Paige might be working Matthew like another asset? At first I was worried about her having a crush on him, but the way she talked to her mother about Stan telling Matthew about the death of his secretary felt more like an agent reporting to a superior than a girl talking to her mom. And Elizabeth’s conflicted reaction was definitely about more than just the mention of Martha. It seems she might be having even more doubts about exposing her daughter to the world of espionage.
• What is Paige going to think now that she’s seen her mother in action? On one hand, Elizabeth showed that she will do anything to protect her daughter (much like Philip said in his speech to Paige about his own mother), but she also can no longer hide the fact that she’s been trained to kill and this wasn’t her first time using lethal force. Any predictions for how Paige will react to this latest revelation?