I wanted to write this sooner, but things got in the way.
Regardless, this episode was a stunning and breathless launch into tomorrow’s finale. But also, most surprisingly, it works perfectly as a two-hander with last week’s episode. The one that brought Elizabeth to her end as the person she knew and left us with someone else.
At first when this title was listed I anticipated this would be one where Elizabeth is caught by the authorities. The last-name-first-name title suggested a process, a way of pinning her assumed identity to her. And, as Stan entered her name into his database at the beginning of the episode, that was still conceivable.
What I hadn’t anticipated was a continuation of Elizabeth’s trajectory (even though that seems blindingly obvious) as she strips away everything she has made herself into in America and examines the person underneath.
Because who is that person? There are flashbacks to her youth in Moscow, training to become a spy, across several scenes that were easily dismissed as time-wasting and frivolous expenses given the diminishing minutes left in the show. But they’re important. Hugely important. Clearly, tomorrow’s episode cannot function without an understanding of who Elizabeth is. Character drives plot. And Elizabeth in these scenes is shown sacrificing humanity for the cause. She is midway through a mission and sees a man asking for help as he lays, probably dying, in the street. It’s biblical in its clarity. But she turns away, thinking that this is the right thing to do. Never compromise the mission, never betray an ounce of her energy for anything but the state.
Then she is admonished. Never let a fellow citizen go unaided. Never, she is told, lose sight of who you are.
And that’s the thing. This is Elizabeth. She has become a cold, emotionless, brutally murderous spy because she every inch of her believes that’s what it takes. Because she sees humanity in a state that fosters coldness, emotionlessness, brutality. And yet maybe it never did. Maybe this was something she missed, all those years ago. That there never was an Elizabeth to lose sight of because she wanted to be the person she is, justifying it as the needs of a cause.
Now, with everything slipping away, Elizabeth Jennings has almost vanished.
She defies her orders and prevents an assassination; she attempts to communicate back to Russia that there is an attempted coup; she confronts her handler to tell her she’s done, no more spying, no more murdering, it’s over.
And Claudia says:
‘I thought I knew you.’
And we all thought we did. Even Elizabeth thought she knew who she was. But she was wrong. Claudia was wrong. We’re all wrong. There is no Elizabeth Jennings. There never was.
The person underneath, the one who hears the coded phrase over the home phone and immediately packs a bag with passports, cash, license-plates but leaves everything else behind – this person is still there. She exists only because of the will of her husband, and (hopefully) her children.
Whoever Elizabeth Jennings was, she’s gone, but Philip still loves the person he’s been married to, and that’s all she has left. His love. She packs their wedding rings and leaves.
This sets the stage for tomorrow’s finale. One which will undoubtedly see Philip and Elizabeth attempt to hold on to the only things they have left: their children. We understand now how this has come to pass, because Elizabeth only a few episodes ago would have had no hesitation to leave them all behind. Beware the story that seems to be dallying in its final moments, it’s inevitably lining all your emotions up in just the right way, so that they can be toppled at just the right moment.
Let’s all take a breath while we can.