“The Americans” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Eleven: “Dyatkovo”

I marvel at Irina Dubova, the actor who plays the ill-fated “Natalie Granholm,” whose sad fate occupies the final reel of the episode and whose hometown, “Dyatkovo” gives it its name. The weight placed on this guest player’s shoulders, to bear the brunt of the hatred and horror and violence that has been brewing for episode after episode all season long. The need to lie convincingly, and then lie unconvincingly, and then tell the truth unconvincingly, and then tell the truth so convincingly it tears your goddamn guts out. “Natalie” was once someone else entirely—a teenage girl whose family was murdered by the Einsatzgruppen, the roving killing squads responsible for conducting the Nazi Holocaust on the move throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. She was gang-pressed into working for them afterwards, you see. And worse than accepting her punishment from Elizabeth and Philip, tasked by the Centre with executing her for the crime, is the idea of this happening in front of her American husband. “Please don’t hurt him,” she says. “Please, he doesn’t know,” she says. “He thinks…I’m wonderful,” she says. Christ.

“There was no reason,” she says of her survival among the Nazis, when her husband has returned home and finds himself at the mercy of the Jennings alongside her “Nothing made any sense. They give me food. I was obedient, helpless.” Quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly, I found myself crying over this woman, along with this woman, a minor character we’ve never seen before tonight and, as was becoming increasingly apparent, would never see again. “The first time,” she continued, “they gave me so much to drink I could barely stand up.” Thinking that I knew where this was headed, I started crying harder. “The first time…?” one of the Jennings asks—at this point my notes begin breaking down too—and Natalie-not-Natalie replies “…that they shot them,” and my understanding of the horror reverses course yes, but it deepens as well, as does my sobbing. That the Nazis assaulted her, violated her person, seems drearily likely. But they forced her into complicity with their violation of others, too—countless others, vast unmarked graves full of others. This is what she decides to tell her husband and her killers about in her last minutes on earth—what she did, or was forced to do, to others, not what others did to her.

I reviewed this week’s devastating episode of The Americans for the New York Observer.

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