Warning: This post discusses plot points from Wednesday’s series finale of The Americans. Reader discretion is advised.
For six seasons it’s been impossible to watch FX’s The Americans without wondering what the end game could possibly be for Reagan-era Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), whose seemingly quiet suburban lives were a cover for espionage and murder.
On Wednesday night, we got our answer in “Start,” the 87-minute finale written by showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, which defied my belief that this thing could only end badly by ending very well indeed.
Oh, not exactly happily. Or justly, if your sense of right and wrong demands that murderers and spies should be punished under the law, no matter what their motives were or how well they wore their wigs (or packed a suitcase).
After executing an escape plan that hadn’t included a harrowing parking-garage confrontation with their no longer friendly (or clueless) neighborhood FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), Philip and Elizabeth — do we call them Mischa and Nadezhda now? — escaped to the Soviet Union with their lives.
But without their children, who are, it seems, the Americans their parents never could be.
Paige (Holly Taylor), who’d already turned her back on the family business, in the end turned her back on her parents, too, slipping off the train on the U.S. side of the Canadian border to choose a highly uncertain future in the land of her birth rather than leave her brother behind.
Her brother, innocent, away at boarding school, and, as always, out of the loop, wasn’t given that choice. I imagine Henry (Keidrich Sellati) spending holidays with Stan in the years that followed, and now in middle age, still haunted by that last phone call with his parents and by the memory of his eagerness to get them off the phone so he could get back to his friends. Or maybe all these years later, in 2018, he’s just grateful to have been left behind?
Will Renee (Laurie Holden) be there next Thanksgiving, too? Because Philip’s parting gift to Stan, along with Henry, was this comment about Stan’s second wife, who’s lately been so interested in getting a job at the FBI herself:
“I don’t know how to say this, but I think there’s a chance Renee might be one of us. I’m not sure.”
Way to light the fuse, buddy.
A few other quick thoughts about Wednesday’s finale, which I suspect I’ll be thinking about for a while:
- The Americans was at the top of its music game, with Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” and U2’s “With or Without You” used to heartbreaking effect. (And thanks to the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever for mentioning Tchaikovsky’s “None But the Lonely Heart,” which I’d missed.)
- I don’t know why Stan let them go, but I’m choosing for now to believe that it was the prospect of watching over Henry, a kid he loved like his own, that tipped the scales. Because that might be the only way he could live with himself, and Henry’s going to need him.
- I’ve seen Elizabeth kill again and again, and I still found her denial — was it as much for Paige as for Stan? — pretty convincing. She’s as good an actress as the woman who plays her.
- Philip talking to Stan about friendship was killer, but Rhys’ finest moment had to be the one where he stopped fighting and just said, “We had a job to do.”
- I’d first seen the finale a few days ago, and that parking-garage scene (and, really, most of the episode) still had my heart pounding.
- Does this mean that the Jenningses saved Mikhail Gorbachev? And if so, does that mean Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) will eventually get to go home?
- When The Americans began, part of the point was to show that time could change our perception of onetime enemies. That that hasn’t entirely worked out in the real world isn’t the writers’ fault, of course, but recent seasons have resonated with me differently, despite the 1980s setting.
- My favorite finales are often the ones where the major characters survive but we just don’t see them anymore. At a time in television when nothing can be guaranteed to stay dead, it would probably be good to make that the rule.
- I’m not saying I want a Paige and/or Henry spinoff, but I could see myself being curious about the Jenningses’ return to a homeland they barely recognize.
Your thoughts about the finale?