Episode M.V.P.: Frank Langella
Frank Langella has been a scene-stealer for years on The Americans, but “Crossbreed” put him in the spotlight as Gabriel’s own crisis of conscience and fatigue with the work he’s been doing joined the chorus of the rest of the characters this season who’ve been beaten down by orders that feel less like work assignments and more like prisons. Langella was a perfect addition to this cast because he’s able to convey so much emotion through the smallest changes in his facial expressions and tone of voice, and that was put to use perhaps better than ever before in this episode.
Gabriel is tired—he’s tired of lying to Philip, he’s tired of assigning Philip and Elizabeth to missions that are breaking their spirit and testing their partnership, and he’s tired of having to swallow his own doubts and concerns because of his job. Langella has played that exhaustion perfectly, slowly allowing it to develop each season (especially after his near-death experience last season) so we truly believe that he wants to go home because the weight of everything he’s had to carry—especially the weight of this latest, major lie to Philip about Mischa—is too much for him to bear any longer.
What resonated most deeply to me in this episode was the sense that Gabriel’s exhaustion with this line of work stems mainly from the fact that he cares about Philip and Elizabeth, and he doesn’t like watching them suffer because of his orders. The first scene of the episode between Elizabeth and Gabriel said so much about both characters’ changing states of mind. As Elizabeth—the closest thing he’s ever had to a daughter—struggled with the fact that he was telling her to continue her honeytrap, Langella moved me with his paternal affection for this woman who he clearly cares about even more as a person than he does as an asset at this point. When Elizabeth asked if there was something wrong with her because she was having so much trouble sleeping with someone who wasn’t her husband, my heart broke for her—for the woman who was trained to see emotional connection as weakness and is having a hard time dealing with the way her love for her husband is affecting her work—but it broke for Gabriel just as much. Langella’s warm, gentle assertion that there’s nothing wrong with her said so much about Gabriel’s relationship with Elizabeth and with his own emotions. There was a small look of knowing pride in his eyes, making it clear that Gabriel isn’t a typical KGB handler; he’s happy that his agents have fallen in love, and he’s proud of Elizabeth for allowing herself to feel so deeply about her husband. Gabriel is so much like Philip—they both see genuine connection as something to cherish—and it’s both lifting his spirit and breaking his heart that his most prized asset is finally learning to open her heart.
Like Elizabeth and Philip, Gabriel can’t shut down his feelings for the sake of his work; he can’t completely convince himself that he’s doing the right thing anymore. And that means it’s time to leave. The scene with him at the Lincoln Memorial was such a gorgeous piece of wordless acting by Langella, a thousand conflicting emotions and the weight of too many lives impacted by his orders and secrets—including the lives of the two people he loves as children—evident in every step he took and every blink of his weary eyes.
Gabriel has always been a fascinating character because he clearly cares about Philip and Elizabeth, but he’s also had to manipulate them to get the job done. He loves them as children, but they’re ultimately not his children; they’re his agents. But it was especially clear in this episode that his concern for them outweighs his desire to put the Center first at this point. His warning to Philip about the Center watching him wasn’t something he should have told him as a handler, but it was something he had to reveal because he cares about Philip and is concerned about him—not as an agent but as a person. It was delivered with a sense of genuine concern that betrayed how much trouble Philip is actually in, which made it even more frightening than if it had been delivered in a purely professional manner.
The professional pitfalls of love—the way our innate desire to connect on a real level as humans conflicts with a career that is supposed to be composed of only fabricated connections—is one of the biggest themes of The Americans, and this episode extended that beautifully into Gabriel’s story. Gabriel loves Philip and Elizabeth; I have never believed that more strongly than in this episode. And he loves that they love each other. But love is testing everyone this season, and Gabriel was one of the first to break under the strain of having to hurt someone you care about for the job. Langella found the sweet spot in that struggle so brilliantly, making me care about Gabriel in this episode more than I ever have. And it all culminated in that beautiful moment he saw Paige—the closest thing he’ll ever have to a granddaughter—for the first (and most likely the last) time. The tears in his eyes and the smile on his face said everything about Gabriel’s humanity even after years of doing such a soul-sucking job, and that humanity moved me to tears right before the credits rolled.