Three things about this episode.
“I wanted to tear the bullshit they were teaching you right out of your head and shove the truth in there.”
The title of the episode refers to the Russian view of World War II. Following Claudia’s lead, Elizabeth takes the opportunity to inform Paige about the different take on history that was missing from her history lessons. But additionally, this builds on Elizabeth giving Paige a corrected view of her childhood. There were opportunities where Elizabeth apparently wanted to tell her about her heritage, about the country of her parents, but couldn’t because of their cover.
This is both an alternate history of Paige’s childhood, but also a fabrication. Elizabeth is propagandising not only Russian history, but their family history, all for the betterment of her recruitment.
The bullshit, of course, is a different point of view. Elizabeth has made it known what she thinks about the westernisation of Russia, and about having to continue with her facade of living in a capitalist society. But as the divisions between her and Philip move to extreme levels in this episode, it’s clear that what divides these characters and their allegiances is the limitations of their own objectivity.
History is written by the winners, and Elizabeth can only conceive (or allow herself to only conceive) of a view where she is in the right, and everything else is bullshit. This episode lets the audience realise the full extent of how bullshit is a catch-all term for everything expendable to Elizabeth.
“Why would I sleep with them if I didn’t like them?”
This goes back to previous episodes’ discussions about Paige realising that espionage often includes sex as part of acquiring, manipulating and extorting targets. However, it also echoes a running theme of the show about how Elizabeth and Philip’s sex lives reflect their internal struggles, not the least as a married couple. To what point is sex with a target cheating on a spouse? To what point can it become a refuge from a sham marriage?
It begins with an enormously layered scene between the two and Paige, discussing their daughter beating up a couple of guys in a bar, to whether Paige should sleep with a potential target or only if she wants him as a boyfriend. Preceding that, we have what is possibly the first tender moment between Elizabeth and Philip in years. Even though they were very much a united couple at the end of Season Five, it’s clear from their performances and the work of the story that the time-jump between seasons that they occupy the same space but not the same life.
The two connecting for the first time this season through sex suggests a possible moment of gentleness that might be worth hanging onto as the final rush to the end of the show begins. And at first it appears to be an easy opportunity to ease the tension between Philip and Elizabeth and for Philip to glean a little more information about her work that he can pass on to Oleg. At first.
(It’s worth mentioning though that while Philip has been effectively spying on Elizabeth, it’s out of a sense of trying to preserve the life they have together and that of their children. He believes that there is a different, better way than killing the enemy and blindly hoping the motherland will reward them. He disagrees with Elizabeth, but he can understand her point of view; it’s not bullshit.)
When Elizabeth turns their morning-after breakfast talk to coercing Philip to sleep with teenaged Kimmy in aid of an absurd continental abduction and extortion, the depth of Elizabeth’s detachment from her marriage is shockingly clear.
It’s almost like a prepackaged lesson for Paige: this is how you use sex with a target to acquire information, how you emotionally manoeuvre them to a position where they can only do what you want. And Philip knows it. He can see it, even before he has to have sex with Kimmy.
And so, thirdly: the breaking of everything.
“She’s just a kid.”
This breaks Philip. It breaks his belief in his marriage, it breaks his belief in the cause Elizabeth still fights for. In two scenes, he hurts and diminishes his daughter in order to try and save her. It might ruin his position in her life, but it might also save her life from becoming like his. She isn’t prepared, she isn’t ready, and she hasn’t been raised for the bullshit Elizabeth and Claudia have been feeding her.
And then he calls Kimmy and hurts and demolishes the role he had in her life. This fly-in-fly-out father figure has sex with her and then destroys their relationship from a phone call, ruining many things at once. But he keeps talking, and tells her. Don’t go near a communist country, don’t let anyone try and force you. If Kimmy is half as clever as she is shown to be, the true nature of his relationship with her over the years has been exposed.
If people don’t ever really change, they just have subtle, incremental shifts in attitude, then this episode marked one small but irreparable shift in Philip that can’t be undone. I can’t even envisage him going home after this phone call.
Elizabeth’s brutal slaying of Gennadi and Sofia while their son watches TV in the next room is as good a portrait of her marriage to Philip as the show has ever created. Maybe she is getting better at her art.
I also can’t finish without acknowledging the scene between Tatiana and Oleg, which reinforces everything else going on in this episode. Former lovers, having to confront the reality that one used intimacy to betray the other. This scene leads me to suspect that there’s still legs in the suspicions about Stan and Renee’s marriage, given that he finally has a revelation that she can work at the FBI in a non-agent role, out of nowhere. This scene has no place in this episode other than to lay future tracks and connect with the rest of the episode about weaponised intimacy. The truly great patriotic war.