This article contains spoilers.

The love we share

Seems to go nowhere

And I’ve lost my light

For I toss and turn I can’t sleep at night…

So moans Marc Almond at the end of the verse in his band Soft Cell’s skeevy soul cover “Tainted Love,” which was both one of 1981’s biggest hits and the soundtrack for one of the most brutal spy-action sequences yet seen on FX’s The Americans.

The show’s season premiere made it seem like Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) were moving away from getting their hands dirty for the motherland. But this week’s episode finds them back in dire situations, and especially, making tricky choices about protocolo. They debate, but ultimately recoil from, the prospect of making the most cold-blooded move of their career: killing Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), to whom Paige (Holly Taylor) has passed on the secret of the Jennings’ identities. The sentiments in Soft Cell’s hit — used as the episode’s centerpiece — seem to reflect back on their crisis of faith.

The scenario of the song — which blares on a punkish young woman’s Walkman, while Philip strangles a security guard on the cross-airport bus who comes too close to finding the Glanders vial — could apply to a number of the lethal relationships on The Americans. There are the specific, tumultuous interactions between Philip and Elizabeth, Paige and her parents, the Jennings and Gabriel (Frank Langella) that we could unpack, but the real conflict at the current moment in the show, is between Philip and Elizabeth and their “cause.”

For decades their devotion to the KGB has been their sole focal point. Everything else about their life in D.C. is a sidebar, or more often, an outright ruse. But in tonight’s episode, the Jennings’ devotion comes to a point of crisis. Elizabeth has always been the Center’s most dutiful servant; now, nightmares of Paige’s potential grief after Elizabeth kills Pastor Tim haunt her, and cloud her judgment. As she explores the possibility of setting up a freak accident for him involving some form of arson, she grows closer to Paige than ever before, and Elizabeth becomes horrified by her own natural impulse to destroy everything that threatens her safety.

Earlier, the chilliness Gabriel projects in casually delivering news of her mother’s passing raises skepticism in Elizabeth about the Center’s devotion to her; ultimately, it finds her at home crying in her daughter’s arms — the one who she knows has just betrayed her. This is the episode’s most unusual moment, since Elizabeth so rarely breaks her facade. It’s proof that her sense of her “bearings” — as Gabriel puts it earlier in the episode — has been thrown off. For the first time, she seems to be seriously doubting her career choices.

Now both Philip and Elizabeth — just like Marc Almond — can’t sleep. Philip wakes up in a cold sweat imagining bashing in the face of his bully at the age of 10. He confesses this to Elizabeth, and the feelings of guilt and alienation he re-experiences through the EST seminars. He is imagining, over and over, the moment he became a killer. The memory of this has spilled over into every second of his life; it defined his professional ambitions. But the relationship between him and the Center — his sense of “duty” — has been irreparably weakened. The well has been muddied, and he can’t put off confronting his regret and self-disgust anymore.

Paige and Elizabeth, grieving

So in “Pastor Tim,” both Philip and Elizabeth look at themselves straight on. They huddle in the front seat of the car together in the episode’s final moments, each certain since they are now definitively in “trouble,” something has to give. One of the options, of course — as Philip says earlier in the episode when Elizabeth discovers that Paige has ratted them out to Pastor Tim — is to “run away.” But on The Americans — and anywhere on dramatic serial television — it’s never that simple.