Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t seen The Americans Season 1, Ep. 10 – “Only You”.
Gregory’s last wish was to live for a purpose, to die knowing that his life had made a difference in the world. And to his mind, he did. We might never know what it was that made him dedicate his life to the cause, but it was his life’s work and dying for it granted him his final wish. But, Gregory’s (and Amador’s and Vlad’s) death has everyone else questioning just what it is they’re fighting for.
For the majority of the series Philip has been portrayed as a sympathetic character, pining after a woman who doesn’t love him, while Elizabeth has been portrayed as cold, unmoved by his constant adoration. This episode didn’t make Philip unsympathetic, by any means, but it finally explained why Elizabeth can remain so indifferent. Like Gregory, Elizabeth craved a life that meant more than what her circumstances would provide. As a woman in Russia she had few options, but serving her country and its cause overseas gave her a sense of value that nothing else could. Similarly, Gregory as an African American during the Civil Rights era in the United States had very few chances to succeed and found a way to serve a cause within the KGB. This shared experience bonds Elizabeth and Gregory and lets them understand each other in a way that Philip could never compete with.
Claudia reasoned that exfiltration to Moscow would be hard at first, but that eventually he would grow accustomed to it. Like Beeman determining that all hotel rooms are the same, Claudia assumed that all exiles would be alike and Moscow was the safest option. But what Gregory tried to tell her, and what only Elizabeth understood, is that it wasn’t Moscow that was the punishment, it was the lack of purpose he would be left with.
His death obviously shook Elizabeth, but it affected her more than just losing a loved one; it has her questioning what her own choice would be in the same situation. As hard as she fights for her homeland, is she really prepared to return to it, to the limited life she would have without this job? She doesn’t see America as a utopia the way Philip paints it in his mind when he dreams of defection, but she may now see it as the only place where she can live a life of intent. And if Philip actually understood her, this is the argument he would have used rather than waxing poetic about the American dream.
For weeks The Americans has been illustrating the frustrating nature of a war fought in the shadows. Everyone is so certain that there is a war going on, and a purpose behind it, that they let their suspicions get the better of them. They find a fight because they are looking for one; it doesn’t exist for any other reason. But it finally it looks like the characters may be realizing how fruitless their efforts are.
Beeman killed Vlad out of anger. In his mind he saw it as revenge; an eye for an eye. But he also did it because he doesn’t see the KGB as people similar to him. He sees them as “bad guys” and it took Nina (whom I think he genuinely cares about) talking about her own loss, humanizing Vlad, for him to see that Vlad’s death was just as pointless as Amador’s. Even with Gregory (who he believes is actually responsible for killing his partner) dead there is no justice done. It’s just another life lost to assuage a perceived threat.
The Americans, while billed as a spy thriller, is at its best when it pushes those thrills to the side and focuses on what drives these characters and examines the significance of their circumstances. And this is what made “Only You” the best episode of the series and got me excited again to see where this show will go.
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