Oh, what a difference a vacation can make. It’s a general rule of thumb that when life starts to weigh you down, it’s important to take a little break. Just look at Barack Obama: One month out of the White House and he’s kiteboarding on private islands, crushing million-dollar book deals, and just generally all handsome smiles.
At the end of last season of “The Americans,” the Jennings were given a shot at a much needed vacation -- and like the Obamas, they definitely deserved it. For four seasons, we have watched Philip and Elizabeth lead double lives, stuff people into suitcases, get high with rebellious teens, go through rehab, seduce strangers, and take bullets. Philip even confessed in an EST class that he no longer found his job satisfying. Elizabeth became uncharacteristically attached to Young Hee, the housewife of an asset she was working for access to a bio-medical facility, actually lamenting that she didn’t have friends.
The Jennings deserved a vacation. They needed EPCOT.
And so, in the opening scenes of Season 5, we find Philip and Elizabeth back in true form, wig-deep in a new operation as the Eckart family, complete with new adopted son, Tuan. The mission this time is to get close to a consultant from the Russian Agriculture Department on loan to the American government who’s “here to tell them everything about how things are broken in Russia.” This, plus the "Amber Waves of Grain" comparison between American and Russian wheat fields after the cold open heavily suggests that the larger, overarching mission this season will be targeting food supplies.
Gone are the missile attacks and biochemical weapon scares of past seasons. We’re now, apparently, in the food scarcity phase of the Cold War.
But if everything seems back to normal on the professional front, there’s been a shift when it comes to the family dynamics. The Jennings kids, it seems, are becoming a little more self-sufficient -- and spending more and more time across the street at the Beeman household. After returning home from “work” one night, Philip and Elizabeth find Paige putting away leftovers from dinner at Stan’s.
“He’s eaten like 100,000 meals over here. I don’t think he’ll mind me taking a few slices of leftover pizza," Paige grumbles when Philip asks about the food.
“Does he feed you vegetables?” Inquires Elizabeth, turning on her mom-dar.
“On the pizza," she deadpans.
Given Paige’s budding/troubling new relationship with Matthew Beeman, it remains to be seen if this new-found comfort next door is intentional reconnaissance, part of the Friendly Next Door Neighbor cover, or purely the need for a babysitter.
Contrast this with the Eckerts having dinner with their new Russian neighbors: It’s an interesting juxtaposition to see Paige and Henry left to their own devices while Philip and Elizabeth play family elsewhere. It’s almost as if we’re getting a glimpse of what could be their reality, should they bring Paige, and inevitably Henry (it’d be great to see him do more than just play on his computer), into the fold and let The Centre train them. Tuan is definitely a kid cut from a similar cloth as his make-believe parents: An orphan from Vietnam, he spends much of the episode incensed that the Russian consultant he’s tasked with monitoring could find anything to complain about in Russia, and generally hating everything the US has to offer.
Another shift is happening with Oleg Burov as well, who's now settled back into his life in Moscow living with his parents. After fulfilling their wish and moving home, Oleg has been placed in a new department and tasked with rooting out corruption within the KGB. A task, he is warned by his new supervisor, that will reach many people who have probably eaten at his family’s table, given their party prominence; a task that means anything discussed in his new office needs to stay in his new office.
“I’m assuming you can be KGB first,” the Colonel asks Oleg, implying that loyalty to the job will need to come before family loyalty. Having given up the offer to be a double agent for the FBI in the States, it now appears that Oleg may be choosing sides after all, this time between his family and his government.
And just in case we forgot about Philip's long lost son Mischa, we're reminded in a quick scene that he's still on his way to Washington with nothing more than a vague note from his mother (along with travel documents and cash) about what his father does. Should he actually find Philip, how will his presence affect the Jennings clan? Given Misha’s anti-Kremlin past, what will he think when he learns his father is a spy for the very government he rebelled against?
“The Americans” has always done a good job of silently pitting family members against each other, if not physically, then emotionally. Husband against wife, parents against children, family against government...
Watching everyone's evolving roles and allegiances will be interesting see play out: Another family vacation may soon be in order.
"The Americans" airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.