More than ever, this season of "The Americans" is playing with the strong possibility of guilt in the life of a spy, particularly someone like Philip (Matthew Rhys) or Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). The two are at least partially responsible for the deaths of several people who trusted them — Gregory, Lucia, Annelise, Lisa — or who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and didn't need to die — Agent Amador and the old woman Elizabeth met in season 3. But in season 4, and particularly in last night's episode, "Dinner for Seven," the Jennings, and others, are forced to consider the consequences of what they've done.
The episode starts on an optimistic but somber note as Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), back from Ethiopia, visits the family at home and apologizes for Alice's behavior, his hands stuck in his pockets, guilty that the possibility of his accidental death nearly destroyed the family. He puts his hand on the counter, all fingers pointing, and talks about "all the things a parent can mean...," things he doesn't know yet but will soon. The Jennings invite Tim and Alice to dinner, but the good news doesn't stay long: Elizabeth meets with KGB handler Gabriel (Frank Langella) the next day and learns that she has to go forward with her current mission, her request for them to find another way in denied.
Elizabeth isn't as plagued with guilt as Philip, in general — she has always been far more comfortable about what she has to do for her country, going as far as reducing her husband and partner's feelings when he was guilty about Martha being exiled to Russia earlier this season. But she's guilty about what she has to do to Don (Rob Yang) and Young Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles). Don is empathetic but rational when "Patti" bursts into his house in tears, telling him that she's pregnant and it's his: he fidgets with his fingers, hugs himself and says outright, "You cannot save this baby...I will pay for everything." "Patti" leaves, upset, tossing back that she "won't upset your perfect little life." Out of her disguise, Elizabeth heads to Pastor Tim the next day, stuttering that she and Philip are under a lot of pressure but not saying why. "I felt like we were coming apart."
The night before, Philip has his own meeting with an even more downbeat than usual Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), quietly mourning the death of Frank Gaad, sounding world-weary as he notes that his retired boss couldn't have given the KGB anything. "They're animals...they do things you could not imagine." Elizabeth comes home, still shaken by what she and Philip are about to do to Don, and Stan leaves. Philip was shocked by the Gaad news, giving one of his signature haunted looks as he notes that he mentioned the retired Gaad was traveling to Thailand in his last report. The death is through errors — Philip adding something irrelevant to a report, agents getting overeager, Gaad falling on a shard of glass — but Philip looks guilty, recognizing the effect his smallest actions have on the lives of others.
The Jennings aren't the only ones dealing with guilt. Stan meets with Oleg (Costa Ronin), telling him openly that the reason he's not sleeping well is that he keeps thinking about his KGB counterpart ("I'm flattered"). Emmerich's sad sack act could get a bit overbearing in the show's early going, but it's turned more reflective, less self-pitying and more sad about the state of the world. That comes through in his monologue to Oleg about how, when his funny, irreverent friend Amador was killed, he "did something...terrible" (a reference to the innocent agent he murdered), and that he hasn't felt the same since. He's lost Amador, Nina, and Gaad ("I think you guys might've done it") and his wife. "I don't want you on my conscience, too." He promises that this is the last time he and Oleg will see each other, shakes his hand, and heads off...
...to the Jennings' house. They're having dinner with Pastor Tim and Alice (Suzy Jane Hunt), and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) is quick to invite him to the feast. Philip, Elizabeth and Paige (Holly Taylor) all react in ways that anyone looking for something wrong might have noticed: Philip's voice gets higher as he invites Stan in, Paige exchanges a look with him, and Elizabeth gives the occasional harsh look to either of the other two during dinner. The table talk is friendly, though Stan clearly thinks Pastor Tim's social justice-oriented missionary work is odd, and Pastor Tim can't help but let out an amused "huh" when he learns the Jennings' favorite neighbor is an FBI agent. The dinner scene begins and ends with an overhead shot of the table, silverware clinking and conversation halted. Stan isn't paying enough attention to the mood, but there's an unspoken tension as the Americans guilty of treason, their pursuer and the witnesses eat at the same table.
Philip's next act is as "Patti's" brother, with Gabriel playing her father and another agent her stepmother as they walk into Don's workplace, informing him that "Patti" committed suicide. Philip wears a bad wig and mustache with a look of silent fury, Gabriel a cap and a fake cough that barely allows him to choke out an insult to Don. All they want is money for the funeral and body transportation, and Don agrees to leave the infirm-looking Gabriel in his top secret workplace as he gets the money with Philip at the bank, leaving Gabriel and the other agent to get files off his computer and hopefully find the code required to get William into Level 4 (it's left unresolved). Don and Philip return with the money and parting words, "I know nobody can forgive what I did. I'm ashamed and I'm sorry." Gabriel, committing fully to the mourning dad act, can barely look at him as he and the family exit. Don is left alone with his guilt for something that he doesn't know he didn't do, looking as alone as anyone in the show's history not named Martha.
Elizabeth is left stewing in guilt herself, first at night when Philip can't do much more than give her an empathetic look, then the next day as Young Hee leaves her a message, too painful for Elizabeth to finish. "Where did you go? Why don't you call me? Something is not right about Don, he's acting...I need to talk to you. I need to call y-" and Elizabeth slams the phone. She meets with Pastor Tim once more as she picks Paige up from youth group volunteer work. Keri Russell communicates Elizabeth's guilt with the smallest expressions: closed eyes, glances to the side. "If you have something on your mind and you can't stop thinking about it..." to his answer of prayer. "What if you don't believe in God or religion or prayer?" Tim's answer is simultaneously the warmest, most empathetic thing he's said and the least helpful thing he could have said in this exact moment: "None of those things matter. All that matters is how we treat each other." He's given good advice, but given the circumstances, Elizabeth can only mull how she's treated someone she's grown to care about.
She isn't given too long to mull it over, though: on her walk home with Paige, as her daughter tells her about Stan Beeman's trouble meeting with Martha's father after she disappeared (Matthew told her last week), they're met by a couple of muggers on the street. Elizabeth is quick to act, passing one her wallet...not enough to ward him off as he asks Paige how old she is. Elizabeth doesn't need another moment, breaking a bottle over one's head and stabbing the other in the throat, taking her wallet back and running off with a distraught Paige. She didn't have much choice in that moment, but Paige has seen first-hand the physical violence her mother is capable of. Heaven forbid she learns the emotional violence she's inflicted this week.
-This was a good food episode: Gabriel makes pirogi (Elizabeth is too nervous about what she'll have to do to Don to eat), Elizabeth makes a delicious lamb roast, there's promise of grilled cheese...the whole nine yards.
-Also, Paige jokes that she, too, will take the red wine at dinner, to Philip's mock-laughter. It's a nice moment of levity for the family.
-Stan shows up at the dinner to lend Henry "Silver Streak" with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. As someone who believes nothing is as inherently funny as Gene Wilder shouting, I must say, good pick, Stan.
-"Patti" "dies," and Stan and Aderholt looks through the Martha files and learns about the death of Betty Turner, the old woman who was forced to overdose on her heart medication after meeting Elizabeth.
-Good news: "The Americans" was just renewed for two final seasons, giving showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg a chance to wrap everything up purposefully.