As expected from the title, liberty or freedom to choose, is a theme in season four episode eight of The Americans. “We take freedom for granted,” David Copperfield states as he makes the Statue of Liberty disappear in his magic act. As the episode opens, freedom is exactly what Martha (Alison Wright) is about to lose. She studies a jar of Jif peanut butter with the realization that it is the last time that she will see it and all that she has known to this point in her life. She has been left with no choice but to leave her country and go to a communist society with few freedoms.
While Gabe (Frank Langella) tries to be reassuring, Philip (Matthew Rhys, who also directed the episode), knows that he is responsible for Martha’s fate and his anguish is visible on his face as her plane leaves, bound for Cuba.
At the EST session that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) attends, the leader tells the group that people feel trapped and stuck in a box that they can’t get out of. He adds that if they could get out, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. Elizabeth’s dedication to serving her country, while it places constraints on her choices, defines her life. Perhaps her fear of what she would do without her mission contributes to her attacks on Philip for his appreciation of EST. She tells Philip that EST “makes you look at things,” and “that it makes you question.” Elizabeth doesn’t want to question her loyalty to the Soviet Union and the KGB, however, so she denigrates the program as simply a money making scheme that is “so American.”
Many who have participated in EST (Erhard Seminar Training) do come to question their life choices. Werner Erhard developed EST when he came to the realization that what he thought was so important in his life was not important. He thought, “My God, I’m free. What—free—what does that mean to be free? Free to choose, free to create a life that was worth living.” – From Werner Erhard, 2005, Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard.
Philip is questioning the work that they do, and is perhaps more “American,” as Elizabeth suspects. He has been feeling deep regret about Martha. He defends Martha when Elizabeth calls her ”simple.” Underlying Elizabeth’s anger with Philip is her belief that his feelings for Martha went beyond how they should regard their “assets.” She believes that he should share her dedication to their work. Philip, however, would like to have more choice in his life. As a start, he wants time to play hockey.
Elizabeth’s frustration spills over into a harsh confrontation with Paige (Holly Taylor) during which she reminds her daughter that Paige’s indiscretion in confiding in her pastor about her parents’ true identities has put the family in danger. In no uncertain terms she tells Paige that she has no choice but to become more involved with the church and Pastor Tim. While Alison Wright gave performances in the last few episodes that were worthy of an Emmy nomination, there is no better acting than Keri Russell’s in her blow up with Paige and the earlier one with Philip.
Elizabeth’s derisive comment about EST being “American” is indicative of Elizabeth’s strong connection to the country of her birth. The experience of being an immigrant is another theme in this episode. David Copperfield makes the point that his mother was an immigrant who saw the Statue of Liberty when she arrived in this country. Elizabeth and Young Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles), both immigrants, sneak into the movie The Outsiders at the theater.
Realizing the level of stress that Philip and Elizabeth are experiencing, Gabriel very perceptively gives them a break from assignments for a time. After a seven month time jump, we find that Philip is indeed playing hockey. Gaad (Richard Thomas), who has left the FBI, seems both relaxed and happy. n the course of a discussion of the agency, Gaad encourages Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) to try to turn Oleg Burov by using the deaths of both Nina and his brother. This storyline and that of Young Hee, will no doubt be explored in the future.
Sadly, Elizabeth’s demand that Paige spend more time with Pastor Tim and his wife has done damage to their parent-child relationship. In the final scene, her parents look very concerned when Paige gives a summary report of her time with Pastor Tim and wife in an icy monotone.