The Americans premiere recap: 'Dead Hand'
“Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win.”
— Crowded House “Don’t Dream It’s Over”
A few years have passed.
The Americans begins its final season in the year 1987, but this super-sound of 1986 opens the episode as we see Elizabeth engaged in a series of new assignments — some dull, some sexual, some dangerous — while Philip goes about the mundane work of operating their cover: the travel agency.
The Berlin Wall will fall in two years, but as the song suggests, there is another one being built between these two Soviet agents. They were once partners; now they lead increasingly separate lives.
The toll became too much for Philip last season, but he must remain in the United States as part of Elizabeth’s cover.
“I wish I could just run off and go watch Henry play hockey right now,” she tells him. “Have a good trip.”
Instead, she ventures off with daughter Paige to watch Russian television shows with their handler, Claudia. Paige is being recruited for a new generation of operatives, but her brother is still unaware of what his parents really do. Or, in his father’s case, did.
Paige is already supplying information. One of her professors at college has information about American summit, and she drops this on them: “He spent the whole class talking about the Soviet SS-20. It’s got a range of 3,100 miles, can carry up to three independently targetable warheads, each with an explosive power of 150 kilotons, and it can be launched from the back of a truck.
She adds that in the final minutes of class, the professor said if an upcoming Reagan-Gorbachev arms summit is a success, “there won’t be any SS-20s anymore.”
“So you learned all that for nothing,” Claudia jokes.
“It’s hard to trust the Americans. There’ s a long history of these kind of negotiations,” Elizabeth tells her daughter, as she takes her keys and heads back to college. “Keep your eyes open.”
Elizabeth can barely do that herself. After unspooling updates from her ongoing missions, Claudia asks Elizabeth: “Are you sleeping?”
There are nine weeks to the summit, and now they have added another task to Elizabeth’s full plate: “You have a meeting in Mexico tomorrow morning. I don’t know who it’s with or what it’s about,” Claudia says.
Back in Moscow, Oleg Burov gets a visit from Arkady, his old boss. Oleg has survived. He has a wife and child now, and is a high ranking official in the Department of Transportation, which his father oversees.
He has escaped scrutiny for his past betrayals, but Arkady needs to call in a favor. “I know what they think you did,” he says. “You’re lucky they didn’t shoot you.”
Arkady assures him this isn’t a trap: “I understand why. There was something more important to you than the little games we play. I need someone to take that kind of risk again. “
The Soviet regime is full of “people who don’t believe in Gorbachev,” he says. They are planning to undermine the arms summit
“Today I found out a general in the Strategic Rocket Forces was being in put in touch with one of my officers in Washington. Theyr’e going to meet somewhere in Latin America.”
“I met her husband once,” Arkady says. “I‘ve spent lot of time with his file. He’s different. He thinks like us. I can’t reach him on any official channels or they’ll know. I want him to find out what she’s doing. Stop her if necessary.”
“Spy on his wife?” Oleg asks.
“Be aware of his wife, let’s say,” Arkady says.
“This whole country’s dividing up right now. Gorgabchev can’t get rid of the leadership of the KGB. He doesn’t have the power.”
The summit must be a success.
“Who wins there may decide who wins the whole country.”
Oleg’s wife doesn’t want him to go. “You barely got out alive,” she says.
But Oleg believes in Arkady. “I trust him. If he says I can make a difference, he’s telling the truth.” He packs his bags. He’s off to America. Again. (Recap continues on page 2)
In Mexico City, Elizabeth sits down in a restaurant with General Kovtun, from the Stretgic Rocket Forces. He tells her about a program the Soviets have been developing called “Dead Hand.”
In the event the Americans strike the Soviet leadership, Dead Hand is a computer-driven response that will launch a counter-attack against the United States. The deep state of Mother Russia is concerned that Gorbachev is willing to trade this tool away as part of the negotiations, and he wants her to monitor one of the emissaries involved in the negotiations, Fyodor Nesterenko, an officer at the foreign ministry.
Why Elizabeth? She’s currently working an American negotiator named Glen Haskard, serving undercover as a nurse for his ailing wife. “If you find out they are making this trade alert us immediately. Gorbachev will be gone in 24 hours.”
Elizabeth accepts the assignment, not that she has a choice.
“You know about Dead Hand now. You can’t be arrested,” the general says. He slides a jewelry box across the table. Inside is a necklace. Inside the necklace is a poison pill.
Back in the states, we see a dinner between friend and neighbors. Philip and Elizabeth are with FBI Agent Stan Beeman and his girlfriend, Renee (who we all still think is working with the Soviets, right?). Agent Aderholt is there with his wife and new baby. They’re all debating the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.
After dinner, Elizabeth overhears Renee complaining to Aderholt’s wife about how Stan is so hush-hush about work. “I still don’t feel I understand what’s going on,” she says.
“Welcome to the FBI,” Aderholt’s wife says.
At Haskard’s house, we see Elizabeth arrive in the guise of a nurse. She brings food. She makes small talk about his wife, Erica.
“She was bragging about you. Said you are saving the world.”
“I wouldn’t say that. But it would be nice someday to know I did my part. If we don’t blow ourselves to bits,” he says.
The next day, Philip gets a dead drop and translates the message. It has been a while since he has been contacted, but a new meeting has been set up.
From there, we get a time jump and see the different teams at work. Paige is running surveillance at a restaurant. Elizabeth is monitoring Haskard from her car.
Paige gets pinched by a security agent for the Navy because she’s parked in a secure zone. Really, the guy just wants to flirt with her. And he takes her student ID as a means of forcing her to meet him for a date on Saturday.
Afterward, Paige is horrified. She has blown her cover. But her mother reassures her. It was a fake ID. A fake name. A fake address. Yes, it had her real photo, but so what? “This is part of it,” Elizabeth says.
But when Paige drives away, Elizabeth gets into her own car and tells her partner to drive her back.
She finds the security officer walking home at the end of the night on a lonely street. After asking for a light, she stabs him to death in the neck and retrieves her daughter’s lost ID.
Turns out, it was a bigger deal than she let on. But Paige can’t know that.
In a park in another part of the city, Philip goes to the meeting and encounters Oleg Burov, who gets right to the point. They need him back.
He tells him all about the conflicts within their government.
“Many are not interested in all the changes that are happening, and Gorbachev doesn’t have the power to get rid of them,” he says. “Some very powerful people want to get rid of Gorbachev.”
They need Philip to monitor what Elizabeth may be doing on behalf of those people.
“It’s possible she’s being used by those trying to stop all the progress we’re making. Or she’s one of them,” Burov says. “We want you to find out what your wife is doing, and tell us. And if you have to, stop her.”
Philip is appalled. Burov tells him about his own wife and child. “If I’m arrested I’m finished. If they catch me and send me back, I’ll be shot. I’m here because the future of our country is being decided right now. You know that. I’m sorry you have to make some tough decisions, too.”
Philip is already home by the time Elizabeth gets there. She is shaken from her recent kill, but wants to close off, not open up. Philip, on the other hand, wants to tell her what happened to him tonight.
“I know you love to talk, but you don’t have to sit here and wait for me until 1 a.m.,” she says.
“I know how tired you are, but I need to talk to you,” he says.
“If you knew how tired I am, you wouldn’t still be talking.”
She goes to bed. He never gets to tell her. Chances are, he never will.
This seems to be the endgame for The Americans. It’s no longer Philip and Elizabeth versus the world.
It’s Philip and Elizabeth versus each other.