'The Americans' Season 5, Episode 11 Recap: Has Elizabeth come to a momentous decision?

'The Americans' Season 5, Episode 11 Recap: Has Elizabeth come to a momentous decision?
Keri Russell as Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys as Philip in 'The Americans'
Source: Patrick Harbron/FX
Keri Russell as Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys as Philip in 'The Americans'
Source: Patrick Harbron/FX

(Editor's note: This recap contains spoilers from season five, episode 11 of The Americans, "Dyatkovo.")

Ever since their disastrous mission to Oklahoma that resulted in an innocent man's demise, the Jennings — especially Philip — have been grappling with the emotional consequences of killing people. The Soviet spies have managed to avoid further assassinations since then, but unfortunately, duty calls once again in Tuesday's episode, titled "Dyatkovo."

This time, the guilt that's been encroaching upon Philip's psyche — even before he went all WWE on Randy, the Oklahoma lab worker — reaches its apex. It also looks like a switch flips in Elizabeth, who up until now has always been able to kill and move on without regret.

In episode 11, the Jennings take a breather from most of their ongoing missions to focus on a new assignment: Track down a Russian woman who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII and now lives outside Boston under a new identity. Philip is skeptical from the moment Claudia gives them their orders, mainly because all they have to go on is a single photo of the war criminal in question. Given their limited evidence, no amount of post-war hospital records or clandestine picture-taking of their suspected target is enough to convince Philip that Newton, Massachusetts, resident Natalie Granholm is the same person who helped to execute Soviet prisoners.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, seems far more confident they have the right woman. However, she's also understanding of her husband's hesitation — and when Philip tells her, in no uncertain terms, that he won't carry out the Centre's orders to assassinate an elderly New England grandmother unless they're 100% sure she's the Russian traitor they're looking for, she agrees. What follows is a head-spinning sequence that takes up the final third of the episode.

Dinner for four

Philip and Elizabeth, disguised in what can best be described as 1984 vagrant chic, sneak into the suburban middle-class home where Natalie and her American husband, John Granholm, live. The Jennings interrupt Natalie from setting the dinner table, hold her at gunpoint and spend the next several minutes questioning her about her wartime activities.

Elizabeth is at her vicious best in this scene, slapping the old Russian woman across the face and accusing her of having "the blood of over 1,000 soldiers on [her] hands." Her tactics are a necessary evil: Natalie is steadfastly insisting she isn't the woman they're looking for, so much so that for a time, it really is impossible to know whether the Jennings have the right person.

When the Jennings take a break from the interrogation, we see they've reached an impasse. Philip thinks Natalie is telling the truth; Elizabeth disagrees. But that's not the real issue here — Philip knows that no matter who this woman is, he can't go through with killing her. We don't even need much dialogue for him to convey that sentiment, because all he says is, "Even if it is her ..." before trailing off. His somber eyes do all the talking for him.

Irina Dubova as Natalie Granholm in 'The Americans'
Source: Patrick Harbron/FX

It's only when John's about to come home that Natalie, realizing the man with whom she's spent the last 40 years is about to find out about her sordid past, finally tells the truth. But even then, it's still possible she's just saying what Philip and Elizabeth want to hear. The real shift occurs when John is mere seconds from walking in the door and Natalie resorts to tearfully pleading with her captors. Seeing the change in her demeanor, it's then I'm convinced Natalie is indeed Anna, the Nazi collaborator from Dyatkovo, Russia.

Instead of frantically repeating she isn't Anna, she calmly tells her husband, Philip and Elizabeth about what happened to her during the war. Though she's guilty of murdering her countrymen and ashamed of what she did, she claims she had no choice: The Nazis killed her family and made her dig their graves, before they threw the bodies in "like garbage." Because they inexplicably allowed her to live, she did what she had to do to survive. That meant allowing the Germans to ply her with so much alcohol that she barely had control over her motor skills, let alone the ability to resist being compelled to shoot Soviet prisoners. 

In a twisted way, the necessity of ensuring Natalie was Anna wound up making the last part of this mission impossible for Philip. Natalie was forced to reveal her humanity because he needed to know she was the person they sought. She was just a 16-year-old girl coerced into committing heinous crimes, trying to atone for her past by living a quiet life as a wife, mother and grandmother.

Now that she's a person to him, Philip cannot pull the trigger. As Natalie and John — who, despite his wife's confession, understands that what happened during the war wasn't her fault — beg for their lives, Philip stands before them, gun at the ready. But he's unable to follow through with his orders.

Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in 'The Americans'
Source: Patrick Harbron/FX

Elizabeth, who now realizes her husband wasn't kidding about his inability to kill people, unsurprisingly brandishes her own gun to finish the job. What is unexpected, however, is that she hesitates for a split second before putting bullets in the Granholms' heads.

As the camera slowly pans away as the Jennings stand over two dead bodies, there's no doubt they've reached a turning point in their careers as KGB officers. It's not just Philip this time — they're both shattered over what they had to do.

Now, we've been teased a Jennings family return to the Soviet Union before, but this time it feels like the pieces are moving into place for it to actually happen. Philip and Elizabeth got married — all they have to do is file Father Andrei's paperwork upon their return to Moscow — and they've also agreed to let Henry go to boarding school if he's accepted. The only wild card is Paige, but since she knows her parents are Russian spies, an overseas move shouldn't be too much of a shock.

In the car ride home, Elizabeth builds upon her earlier moment of doubt when she expresses a desire to "get out of here" and "go home." She knows Philip has been falling apart inside for a while, and she's realizing she herself can't keep doing this job anymore. Even Cold Warriors have their breaking point.

Martha and Mischa could use some company, that's for sure.

The Americans airs on FX at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesdays.

Mic has ongoing coverage of The Americans. Please follow our main The Americans hub here

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Sarene Leeds

Sarene Leeds is a part-time Arts Editor (and full-time TV fanatic and new mom). She has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, EW.com, Vulture, Money.com, Flavorwire and Mental Floss. Sarene lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and daughter.

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