“Urban Transport Planning” amps up on the ambiguity as more and more character motives start to interweave into a more unsettling conflict of interest—the most disconcerting of these must be the ones between Oleg, Stan and Philip. As we know, Philip is being courted by Oleg to forfend his wife’s current mission. Oleg, however, is being seduced by the FBI’s Stan, a friend and neighbor of Philip’s, into seeking a political alliance. The polygon conflict formulates exactly what The Americans sixth and final season seems to be pushing in front of us, that the lines between friend and foe and ally and enemy are tenuous, indefinable and unknowable.
Elizabeth—barely recovering from her disastrous Rennhull meetup—keeps Paige alert with some tough love, while also keeping her close with Russian cuisine. A great moment, shared between Elizabeth, Paige and Soviet contact Claudia, involves making Russian stew. The moment processes into less comforting territory when Elizabeth brings Philip some leftovers. He, like Elizabeth, compliments the smell. Philip, however, can’t eat the food because he’s already stuffed with Chinese takeout. A moment of small conversation becomes a scene of ultimate clarity. Philip, entrenched in his American identity, is no longer fulfilled by Elizabeth’s nostalgic sentiments of Soviet heritage—especially when Russia’s capitalistic future is so much clearer to him.
Elizabeth, herself unable (or refusing) to see the momentous changes happening in the Soviet Union, resembles a helmsman attempting to steer a sinking ship. The showrunners of The Americans, however, aren’t merely fatalists illustrating Elizabeth as a Soviet-loyalist drowning in patriotic fanaticism, but a dedicated woman trying to strengthen communist ideals being perverted by an emerging capitalistic pragmatism.
The third episode, while omitting the espionage high-wire acts, keeps the conflicts numerous and tensions high. It does, however, suffer from the occasional wheel-spinning. This season’s obvious portents, Philip and Elizabeth’s growing discord and Oleg’s dwindling sense of alliance, are ideas well-tackled in the previous two episodes and only seem to be stretched rather than further explored here. We do, however, get the occasional standout bits. A personal favorite of mine is when Philip, inside his travel agency, give his employees a sales pep talk that would put most salesmen to shame.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, seems to be mostly redundant, her nearsightedness and the implications behind her refusal to accept the changing world are growing more and more obvious (and less interesting); this is spelled out more clearly in the episode’s final moments as she kills an innocent, a murder that the series’ has become so familiar with one can’t help but feel the staleness of its impact—especially when the previous episode ended on a far, far more effective act of senseless murder. It doesn’t help that the scene is underscored by a hideous misuse of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”
Philip, on the other hand, seems to have made a complete transformation as a character: from his cold, sterile Soviet persona to a wholesome family man. He’s no longer playing a part, but embodying a fully formed personality shaped by consumerism and capitalism. If the third episode excelled at anything, it was convincing us that Philip and his understanding of human relationships, along with his pragmatic sensibility, his arching sense of morality, were sorely missed in the second episode.
The sixth season, in general, seems to be missing the series’ domestic exploration (The Americans’ strong point) with the family unit now broken up. In the previous season, it was reformulated as a spy game between Elizabeth, Philip and their “adopted” Vietnamese son. The results were startling, unsettling and were even granted touches of satire. Here, its relegated as background noise. Paige has her moments but barely emerges from the story as a fully defined character. Henry seems to have been almost completely written out of the main story. Elizabeth and Philip manage to make developments on their own, even interweaving in interesting ways, but episode three shows there is only so much you can build up toward something before the drama suffers.