Accolades for ‘The Americans’ series finale
Jeffrey Neira/FX

In a satisfying episode, The Americans wrapped up its six-season run by answering a few, but not all, questions that might linger for long-time viewers.

Would Philip and/or Elizabeth Jennings, Russian spies living in the U.S., be gunned down? As for their collegiate daughter, Paige, who has been training to walk in their footsteps, would she still be alive by the closing credits?

And what about their clueless FBI neighbor, Stan Beeman? Thumbs up or down?

This is a show well versed on displaying the sometime gruesome side of spy work, as demonstrated by one episode’s infamous stuffing of a (dead) woman into a suitcase.

“START” gives us the life and death answers, while other plot strings are left not so much hanging as allowed to float in ambiguity.

Not so ambiguous is the show’s focus on the complexity of marriage, and on the many types of loyalty we espouse–all of which is potentially more damaging than the gun battles another show might have staged for the valedictory address.

Philip (Matthew Rhys) has during the show’s run been a competent yet increasingly fragile agent, so much so that when the final season kicked off, we learned he has been mostly retired from the game and concentrating on building up his travel agency.

That the agency is sputtering along and he is crushed by massive debt is eloquent proof of how Philip is ill equipped for boom-or-bust crony capitalism.

His whole-hearted embrace of the U.S. had overlooked the country’s inherent socioeconomic woes then and now.

During this final season, Philip was drawn into de facto spying on Elizabeth (Keri Russell) upon the urging of ex-KGB agent Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin). Burov feared that an anti-Gorbachev Soviet faction would sabotage upcoming U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms negotiations.

For her part, Elizabeth had been told clandestinely by a Soviet general that he suspected a negotiator might be about to reveal military secrets to the U.S. Given a cyanide pill necklace for in case of capture, she has struggled with multiple missions over the past months without the support of her husband.

Philip being all about peace, love, and understanding these days reluctantly uncovered what he could and passed it on to Oleg. Last episode, Elizabeth listened to a tape she’d made of the suspicious Soviet negotiator and learned to her amazement that he is anything but a traitor.

A further revelation from her Soviet handler revealed that a political faction in the Soviet Union planned to slant Elizabeth’s reports as a means to topple Gorbachev. This is not what Elizabeth signed up for all those years ago. For the first time in years, she and Philip are on the same page.

Such solidarity is vital, for the FBI’s counter-terrorism division is close to uncovering the identities of the Soviet spy couple.

Stan (Noah Beeman), newly suspicious, had already tried without success to convince old friend and counterintelligence boss Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) to look into Philip and Elizabeth’s background.

Now the weakest link in the Jennings spy operation has been captured. Father Andrei, a Russian Orthodox priest, had occasionally met over the years with Elizabeth or Philip to share minor intel. Crucially, he conducted a secret marriage ceremony for the couple, who were undisguised throughout.

When Philip reluctantly responds to a message from Father Andrei, he realizes the priest is probably being surveiled. He manages to evade capture and is able to phone Elizabeth to deliver the coded “time to bug out” message.

She grabs the go bag from their laundry room hidey hole and meets Philip at the leased garage which they for many years have used as a transit point between home and mission.

Elizabeth is quickly working out the plan to collect their children when Philip says quietly, “Henry should stay. He’s been doing so well at school. His future is here.”

Elizabeth cannot compute. “Leave him? To be alone, away from us? They [FBI] would tear him to pieces.”

Philip lays out the facts. “Henry doesn’t know the truth and America is where he grew up. It’s awful, but…”

Elizabeth is a quick study, and while she has never been the outwardly maternal type, her little gasp tells us all we need to know about the depth of her feelings. The way she bursts into tears then quickly turns away from Philip underline this core truth.

Next, they need a ride. After hotwiring a car and changing out its license plates, off they go. Elizabeth admits that she killed a KGB officer, “left her to die in the street.”

Last episode, Elizabeth committed the murder to protect a Soviet arms negotiator. As proud as she is of her Party membership, the connection to her homeland runs even deeper. She dismissed many of her killings as being necessary for the survival of Mother Russia. Harder to do so with a fellow countrywoman at the other end of the gun.

Now, she and Philip are en route to pick up their daughter, Paige, a college student who lives in a D.C. apartment building. While Paige (Holly Taylor) began learning the spy trade, Elizabeth seemed loath to mention the seamier side of her work. Paige had been destined to work a low-risk position at the State department, not to go on the run with her parents.

Philip and Elizabeth left the transit garage just in time because Stan and a fellow agent have set up a stake-out point in a building across the street. Stan, however, is far too antsy for the duty, so he leaves to make a few calls, confirming that Philip is not at work, and the Jennings’ home phone is going to the answering machine.

In the meantime, Father Andrei (Konstantin Lavysh) has been hauled in for questioning by Dennis, who spouts the usual U.S. tropes about freedom of religion (Christian).

“Don’t kid yourself,” Dennis says. “They [the KGB] are not your friends.” As if an FBI interrogator could be considered a friend in this situation.

Although Father Andrei resists at first, he eventually provides a clear description of Nadezhda and Misha, our eponymous heroes.

Last episode’s capture, Oleg, continues to rot away in jail. Being that he was caught with a Soviet-encrypted message, he will be charged with espionage.

Over in Moscow, Arkady Zotov, who once ran the KGB unit in Washington, D.C., is tasked with breaking the bad news to Oleg’s father, Igor.

Igor, who already lost one son during the Afghan War, is at first disbelieving, then tries to bargain his way to a solution. Arkady (Lev Gorin) sadly tells him that since Oleg wasn’t captured during an authorized KGB mission, his chance of being traded for a Soviet-held inmate is probably remote.  Igor (Boris Krutonog) knows he has to go home and tell his wife that she may have lost another son.

No wonder our last image of Igor is him thrusting his arms into the air using the universal sign for anguish.

Philip and Elizabeth have no intentions of giving up, for they, with no little effort, have convinced Paige of the necessity of fleeing. Paige can’t see why her brother can’t come with them. In the parking garage, they’re confronted by an angry Stan, who easily dismantles the Jennings’ story about Paige not feeling well.

Finally, he pulls out his gun and snaps to Phillip, “Stop moving, you fucking piece of shit.”

The dialogue between them could stand as a capsule summary of the series. Phil admits the truth. Stan is furious over both the depth of their friendship and the fact that Philip was a deep-cover Soviet agent the entire time.

Finally, Stan, who bears a distraught expression, orders the trio to get down on the floor. Philip knows he can’t, because then Stan has the advantage over them.

With a deep sigh, Phil says about his mission, “It seemed like the right thing to do for my country.” Philip emphasizes the phrase, “my country,” then proceeds to explain how he dialed down his service to nothing (not mentioning the recent uptick).

When Philip reveals the anti-Gorbachev plot, Stan, who last episode acted scornful toward Oleg’s similar explanation, tells them about the claim. Stan hasn’t cared about intra-Soviet politics for he believes U.S. propaganda about the Soviet Union being a faceless dictatorship devoid of nuance.

Stan stares at his friends, desperate for a reason not to do his job.

Paige bursts out, “You have to take care of Henry.”

Phil agrees, saying, “You love him, Stan. Tell him the truth.”

And so the trio tucks into their car, but before they leave, Phil says something a best friend cum Soviet spy would say, “There’s a chance Renee might be one of us. I’m not sure.”

Stan’s second wife has been a walking red herring for the duration of her time on the show. A devastating possibility for Stan, who is already reeling from having his worst fears confirmed.

On the road, Philip initially dismisses Paige’s request to call Henry, saying, “They [the FBI] might think it’s a signal.”

This time, Elizabeth backs her daughter. “Or he’ll look innocent.”

They don’t have to push too hard. “We have to sound completely normal,” he advises.

First, they stop to unearth their passports and disguises, which is where they change out their cover-purchased rings for the ones they exchanged before their eventual betrayer, Father Andrei.

Also dumped is the cyanide pill necklace, thus disproving the gun/pill Chekhov parallel. Apparently, you can wave around a cyanide pill at the beginning of the season, and not be obliged to use it before season’s end. Who knew?

Dire Straits’ wistful “Brothers in Arms” winds through the ensuing scenes, where at a wintry payphone, Phil calls his son (Keidrich Sellati), but hardly follows his directive to sound completely normal.

“You know how proud we are of you, and how much we love you…I just want you to be yourself, because you’re great.”

Elizabeth is in classic stiff mode, but her voice breaks as she speaks. “What your father said, I feel the same. I love you, Henry.”

When Paige is unable to fake normalcy, Philip finishes out the call with Henry none the wiser. Their escape continues.

Back at the FBI, Stan meets with Dennis, who presents him with the bombshell drawings of Philip and Elizabeth. Good thing Stan used to work undercover. He is able to convincingly portray a man who feels betrayed, probably because he does feel that way.

He commits to the greater lie of his complicity, knowing he’ll have to play it out for the long run. Lies also to his wife, who wonders why the FBI has swarmed the Jennings’ house across the street.

After Stan leaves, Renee lingers in their driveway, an enigmatic expression on her face. Red herring to the end.

Having boarded Amtrak, the trio finds seats in separate cars, their disguises turning out to be complete successes when law enforcement officials okay their passports.

Next stop, Montreal.

The train back in motion, Elizabeth casually looks through the window only to see Paige standing by the track. Paige is sad, but resolute.

Elizabeth can only watch her daughter dwindle into the distance, their choices already made. Philip makes the same discovery from his perch further down in the train. He hustles to sit next to Elizabeth, their anguish palpable.

However one feels about their actions as Soviet operatives, they don’t know how the Cold War will end. They believe they will never see their children again.

Elizabeth, who hasn’t had a decent night’s rest in three years, it seems like, drifts off to sleep. She finds herself lying in bed next to Gregory (Derek Luke), an American radical with whom she had an affair during the difficult early years of her marriage to Philip. The late Gregory happened to be an art collector, which leads Elizabeth into seeing a portrait by the late Erica, a cancer-stricken artist she cared for this season.

The image looks to be executed in impressionistic charcoals of a woman who could be a stand-in for Elizabeth’s mother, then she sees a similar style in a small drawing of her children. They seem younger, more pensive.

While Elizabeth endures a restless sleep, Paige has arrived at the safe house previously used by Soviet handler Claudia for training and cultural sessions.

One assumes Claudia has already made a stately dash to freedom. Paige, however, is for the moment done with high drama and hustling anywhere.

She may be about to be arrested, she may not. In the meantime, she draws a bottle of vodka from the fridge and tosses back a shot.

She decided to stay in the U.S. because this is where she belonged, and where her brother lives. Who were The Americans of the title all along? Paige and Henry.

Tchaikovsky’s “None But the Lonely Hearts,” plays in the background as Philip and Elizabeth drive across a frozen landscape. They’ve crossed into the Soviet Union, their ultimate goal of freedom, although achieved at a cost neither imagined.

They are met near a wooded area by sympathetic Lev, who drives them into Moscow. When Philip asks Lev to stop the car, he and Elizabeth step out for a view over the river toward the twinkling lights of downtown Moscow.

In spare words, they speculate what would have happened if they hadn’t gone into espionage. “I probably would have worked in a factory…Maybe we would’ve met on a bus.”

She knows what’s on his mind. “They’ll be okay.”

“They’ll remember us,” he responds, “and they’re not kids anymore. We raised them.”

He gazes out at the city across the water. “It feels strange,” he says.

“We’ll get used to it,” she assures him in Russian.

The putative bad guys of this tale didn’t pay the ultimate price for their actions in a foreign land, which may come as a disappointment to some viewers.

As with U.S. service members, who may on occasion experience morally gray moments during their tours overseas, it all depends on the home being bombed as to who sees whom as the villain.

The Americans asked us to spend time with a 1980s spy couple—and their clueless FBI neighbor—to witness how they dealt with the darkness in their lives, thereby enlightening us as to what unites us in ways beyond mere lines on a map.

Well worth the reminder.


CONTRIBUTOR

Carole Avalon
Carole Avalon

Texan Carole Avalon is a writer and reviewer.

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