SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS…if you haven’t finished the series, turn back now Comrades.
So…this is how The Americans ends, with a bang and not a whimper. Well, emotionally speaking that is. Our favorite period piece spy drama found a way to end its run without a hint of physical violence, but with a pay load of emotional baggage large enough to make even the toughest cosmonaut miss mother Russia.
I was lucky enough to get on The Americans train at the beginning of its run, and what a run it was. The characters were deep and deeply flawed and at times it was difficult to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. Creator, show runner and former CIA agent Joe Weisberg kept the viewer rooting for the Jennings in light of the awful things they do.
Weisberg was able to do this because from the very beginning, he made sure The Americans was a program about relationships first and spying and espionage second. All great storytelling, regardless of medium, is centered around relationships and the human condition. The Americans excelled in this arena.
The featured relationships were complex, dark and with almost always came with consequences at the end: Elizabeth and Phillip, Phillip and Stan, Martha and Clark, Kimmie and Jim, Stan and Nina, Oleg and capitalism and mail robot and the viewer’s heart, just to name a few. Many times, these relationships worked because of the opportunities allowed by letting Matthew Rhys and Keri Russel literally slip into other characters, both emotionally and cosmetically. The Americans’ make up and costume department should be in high demand this awards season.
Speaking of relationships, how about that scene in the parking garage? Who would have thought that Stan’s ‘gotcha’ moment would be in a parking garage and that he would be outnumbered three to one?
The best part about the parking garage scene is obviously Phillip’s confession to best friend and Brother in Arms (great placement of the Dire Straits song) Stan. Watching Phillip admit that the jig was up and seeing Stan’s reaction (as well as the reaction from Paige and Elizabeth) was a reward for fans and a long time coming.
This was a ballsy and well thought out moment that in every way rivals Hank’s ‘Come to Jesus’ confrontation with Walt in Breaking Bad. Per usual, the acting was incredible and I was sure Elizabeth, whose killing spree in the final season showcased her dedication to her cause as well as her ruthlessness, was going to pounce on Stan to ensure the safe getaway of her family.
However, that did not have to happen because of the relationship between Stan and Phillip. Phillip tells Stan (mostly) the truth and exploits Henry’s innocence while appealing to Stan’s good nature to get his family out of their predicament.
Phillip’s final gift to Stan in their Bromance? Warning Stan that Renee may or may not be an operative. I believe that Phillip was truly looking out for Stan’s best interest, but the information he bestowed upon Stan has a lot of strings attached as Stan can never fully trust his wife again.
The toughest moment in a finale filled with tough moments? The montage of all of the leads and what their future holds (expertly set against the backdrop of With or Without You) and the phone call leading up to this moment.
As the Jennings say their veiled goodbyes to an unwitting Henry and literally bury their past, their old lives are over and their new lives are beginning. A hard pill to spill, but I would rather see Elizabeth swallow that pill than the pill around her neck (Elizabeth NOT taking the cyanide or giving it to someone else was some great slight of hand).
In disguise for the last time and with their escape plan fully in place, the Jennings board a train to Montreal that will eventually lead them to a plane ride home. In perhaps the cruelest twist of fate, Paige realizes that she can’t/doesn’t want to live in Russia, and abandons her parents at the last train stop before the Canadian border.
In short, the train taking the Jennings to Montreal is taking the Jennings away from their children forever.
As a result, it will be tough (to say the least) for Henry to grow and mature into an emotionally stable adult and Paige will either face a life alone or a life on the run. Or both. These are tough realizations for Elizabeth and Phillip to accept as they return to a country they don’t recognize and where many enemies await.
This is how you execute a finale. You don’t need explosives. You don’t need to shock viewers with breaking the limbs of a corpse in able to fit said corpse into luggage. You don’t need to cut off the head and hands of a former coworker. You don’t even need to fire Stavos. You only need to exploit the emotional cache you have stockpiled over the years and hit the view over the head with sadness, regret, hope and the perfect amount of ambiguity. Duh.
Relationships rarely end well and expertly portraying this aspect of the human condition is perhaps The Americans’ greatest accomplishment.
HAMMERS & SICKLES
- Stan pulling Henry from hockey practice and giving him the worst news possible was a beautifully shot scene. Having no dialogue was a great touch.
- The ambiguity of Renee’s identity was perfectly played. More show runners and producers should trust that their audience can come to their own conclusions. Or maybe not, this is America in 2018.
- The only quarrel I have with the finale is Elizabeth’s dream sequence with Gregory. It wasn’t executed poorly, it just felt out of place.
- Joe Weisberg being a CIA officer for three years is a non story, right? You never know who is reading these things.
- The Jennings handlers from The Center, Claudia and Gabriel were expertly portrayed by Margot Martindale and Frank Langella. There were no bad scenes with either of them.
- Every time I think of Martha, I think of the Tom Waits song by the same name. You are welcome.