The seventh episode of The Americans devotes a good chunk of its running time to an extended heist apprised in the previous episode, “Rififi,” as one that’s destined for failure. Here it ends with four dead bodies and one remarkable dying confessional. A soviet agent (code-named after the episode’s title, “Harvest”) speaks to Philip in two languages. In English he reveals vital information regarding Elizabeth’s mission. In Russian he asks Philip to relay a message to his mother and father. Matthew Rhys—giving just an outstandingly opaque performance—stares blankly at the dying man as he agrees to pass on his message.
What stands out in confession” scene is the striking polarity in Harvest’s feelings towards his parents—specifically speaking, the hatred for his father and the love for his mother. In many ways, we can read Philip and Elizabeth’s feelings for the Soviet Union in a similar way. Elizabeth’s love for her homeland and Philip’s hatred for it have been stances that carved their divergent paths. Elizabeth acts like a devoted daughter and Philip an angry estranged son. Like Harvest, regardless of Philip and Elizabeth’s opinion, both have been invariably shaped by their country. The following scene shows the couple dismembering a body of one of their comrades before dumping her remains in the Chicago River in what, strangely, seems like the most cooperative the two have seemed all season.
Stan, in what is probably the most engaging he’s been all season, confronts Philip about the high stress levels he’s been showing back at home. Stan, an FBI agent, is literally trained to spot this level of stress. Philip lies to Stan, telling him he thinks the travel agency is going down under. The moment tricks you into thinking that Philip is going to reveal to Stan about his Soviet identity, and with Matthew Rhys’s unreadable face we were likely going to see the show curve into a completely different direction. Alas, the show relents. Though it leaves us with a brutally effectual uncertainty that looms over the characters and story.
Among the more subtly uncomfortable aspects of The Americans is the character of Stan himself. A jovial and approachable family man whose profession and “license to kill” makes him just about as deceptive and two-faced as Philip and Elizabeth. Stan, looking after Henry while Philip is out of town, subtly interrogates the young man about his parents’ secrecy, but his tone is so casual that even when he gets a little too personal he retains the illusion of remaining at a safe, comfortable distance. When he confronts Philip about this one has to wonder if Stan is showing genuine concern or professional curiosity towards his trouble troubles.
“Harvest,” aside from the central heist, is less of a great episode than one filled with great individual moments. The blocky storytelling doesn’t ever achieve a defined flow as in “Rififi” or “The Great Patriotic War.” But by making each moment something of a small capsule “Harvest” gives us a more defined sense character and the space they live in. In most television shows this is just a way of housekeeping, but in The Americans it is a powerful framing tool. Each character seems to be on his or her own emotional and physical journey, isolated from one another, only ever occasionally do characters share moments of physical and emotional intimacy. Even when Elizabeth and Philip share a room and (attempt to) open up with one another we feel their fates are invariably severed.
In one heavy-handed, but effectively emblematic moment, Elizabeth again takes up her facade as a nurse. She shows her terminally ill patient, a painter, a drawing of a plane window. The patient, in agony, tells her “You need to bring yourself into it,” otherwise “What is the point?” Elizabeth sits and ponders before her patient dismissively says, “You have no idea what I’m talking about.” The show maybe convinces us otherwise (with the help of Keri Russell’s powerful and expressive looks). However, when the episode comes around to Elizabeth fully indoctrinating Paige into her spy work we’re left to wonder whether the patient had something a point.