This post contains mild spoilers through Season 5 Episode 7 of The Americans.
“Who’s she?” Philip asked Elizabeth. They were spying on Ben, the scientist helping to develop a strain of pest-resistant wheat that the couple wanted to claim for Russian uses—and the man with whom Elizabeth, disguised as “Brenda,” had been having a relationship. They had not counted, as they watched him from a phone booth, on catching Ben meeting a woman who was not Elizabeth—greeting her, kissing her, guiding her into a night club. Philip dragged out his question (sheeee), seeming to understand, in an instant, all it might suggest.
“Don’t know,” Elizabeth replied. She paused, unwilling to allow the revelation to compromise their mission. “Let’s get it.”
This would normally be an exceedingly odd conversation for a married couple to engage in: wondering about the man who might, in so many other contexts, have represented a threat to their marriage. But of course Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are not an ordinary married couple. And The Americans is not a show that subscribes to the traditional logic of romantic partnership. In its universe, marriage is work—not in the capitalism-inflected, self-help-oriented way that became so popular in the 1980s, but in the more literal way: The Jenningses’ job is their marriage, and vice versa. In their world, and in their relationship, work and love are entwined so tightly that it’s pretty much impossible to tell where the one ends and the other begins.