This post discusses the April 2 episode of “The Americans” in detail.

“The Soviets are going to take it left, right and sideways over the next 20 years, now that we’ve got a president that can handle them,” Andrew Larrick, whom Elizabeth and Phillip suspect of murdering their friends, tells the couple when they meet with him under false pretenses. “Whatever I did, I’ll make up for it in Nicaragua.” His voice is bitter when he explains how close he was to catching the people who were blackmailing him and how deeply he resents the fact that someone else found them first and authored the massacre he wanted to be responsible for.

(Credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX) Keri Russell plays Elizabeth in “The Americans.” (Credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX)

The scene puts us deeply inside the minds of Philip and Elizabeth’s victims for the first time in quite a while. And what they find there emphasizes the extent to which the Cold War was profoundly personal. Larrick has suffered 3½ years of blackmail about his sexuality — it makes sense that he would want a personal solution to what, for him, has become not just an ideological crusade but also a source of individualized suffering. When Arkady joked about Ronald Reagan scaling the walls of the Rezidentura in a cowboy hat earlier this season, he was expressing how ridiculous Reagan’s macho seemed. But Larrick’s fervency for his president shows us just how appealing that image could be.

He is not the only character being guided more than emotions than ideology in this episode. Lucia, the Nicaraguan operative Elizabeth saved earlier in the season, has fallen for her mark, Carl, a congressional aide. After she and Elizabeth work together to steal ARPANET files, Lucia initially believes her relationship with the aide can continue. “Carl has the ear of a powerful government official,” she tells Elizabeth. But Elizabeth does not allow her to indulge in sentimentality. “Why would you risk something for him?” she tells Lucia. “Oh, because you like him. That’s okay. It happens.” 

Lucia clearly admires Elizabeth, even as she resents Elizabeth’s penetrating insight and probing questions into her motivations. And so she decides to kill Carl, in part to prove to Elizabeth that she can. But she finds a twisted sort of compromise, dancing with Carl as the bad batch of drugs she gave him starts to take effect, holding him while he has a seizure and dies. Rather than indulging her emotions in life, she expresses them in death.

At home, Elizabeth unwisely decides to breach the wall between her relationship with Phillip and his sham marriage to Martha. She starts obliquely, telling Phillip, “Martha told me that Clark was a wild animal in bed. Isn’t that funny?” But she remains suspicious that her husband is more passionate with his fake wife than with his real one and insists that they have sex while he is in character.

If her aim was to prove to herself that Phillip is all hers, Elizabeth ends up dredging up a very different set of associations. After Elizabeth goads Phillip into being rough with her, he — without thinking — replicates her rape. In a season where she has already repurposed the assault for an operation and freaked out after being attacked from behind during another mission, to experience these flashbacks with her husband is overwhelming. Elizabeth wanted to prove that Phillip could have sex with her the way he does with Martha, but she ends up finding out that she is the partner with limits.

Even Claudia, that doughty warhorse of the KGB, confesses to Elizabeth that her own feelings may have interfered with her work.

“I got involved with someone while I was working with Emmett and Leanne. I didn’t plan on it, but this business can be lonely,” Claudia explains. “I didn’t tell him who I really was, of course, until one day I did. I trusted him. I don’t know that he betrayed me. But ever since the murders I’ve been plagued with the thought that he told someone, that I may have compromised the safety of my own agents. No one else can understand these relationships. If something were to happen to you or your family–.”  Claudia pauses before telling her, with unusual solemnity, “Goodbye, Elizabeth.”

I hate to think of this remarkable character dead by suicide. But in a game this personal, one that requires so many compromises and sacrifices, women like Claudia, Elizabeth and Lucia can do as much damage to themselves as anyone else could.

Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.