Arts & Culture
Review: The Americans Series Finale
Groundbreaking series ends on a perfect note.
The following post contains spoilers about the series finale of The Americans:
One of the remarkable things about last night’s series finale of the brilliant FX series The Americans was how inevitable it felt. I say remarkable because in the weeks and days leading up to the finale, I joined many other fans in engaging in rampant speculation about how it would all play out. My theory: Russian superspy Elizabeth (Keri Russell) would somehow get killed. Her husband, reluctant superspy Philip (Matthew Rhys) would survive and run away with their teenage son Henry. And their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), a chip off her mother’s block, would continue on in the family tradition, working with KGB minder Claudia (Margo Martindale). Also, loveable FBI agent Stan (Noah Emmerich) would have no clue that his live-in girlfriend, Renee, was likely a Russian spy herself. Oh, how wrong I was. Instead, the series ended on a much more poignant and subtle note. And when I watched it, I thought, “Yes, of course. Of course this is how it ends.” This is what great art does: It plays out in such a way that feels essential, bedrock . . . inevitable.
The ending was a play on the show’s title. In the beginning of the series, you could put ironic air quotes around “The Americans.” They weren’t Americans at all, but Russian spies pretending to be Americans, pretending to be a real married couple—with two real children whom they did love but who also doubled as props. But as the series went on, Elizabeth and Philip really fell in love—in a way that was rooted in respect and deep trust. Philip was always more enamored of both Elizabeth and America, more tempted to become the thing they were pretending to be, but Elizabeth was a true Russian patriot. Everything she did was for Mother Russia. She bled red.
The final episode contains a brief, and it first somewhat curious flashback to Elizabeth and her lover Gregory (Derek Luke), the agent she loved before Philip. It shows Elizabeth, languorous and post-coital, telling Gregory that she never wants children. Oh, the best laid plans . . .
By the series finale, you can remove the air quotes around Elizabeth and Philip. They are Americans, they are parents who love their children more than life itself, they are a real married couple.
There were lots of great details in the finale. The scene in the parking lot, where Stan’s hunch is confirmed and he finally catches them, was as intense, as emotional, as thick with betrayal, sorrow, and suspense as anything I’ve ever seen on TV. I especially loved that the emotional stakes were really between Stan and Philip, two men who loved each other. “You were my best friend,” moaned Stan. “And you were mine,” Philip replied truthfully. I watched that scene on the edge of my seat, not knowing how it would play out—rooting, impossibly, for both sides to emerge victorious. And when Stan glumly stepped aside, let them escape, tacitly promised to look after Henry, it felt perfect.
But the best moment came at the very end. Philip and Elizabeth are back in Russia, being driven to Moscow by KGB agent Arkady Zotov, and they’re both exhausted. They’re sleeping against each other, as married couples do. Paige, who they expected to join them in Russia, is not with them: She came to her senses and hopped off the train and went back to D.C. (We don’t know her fate, but I have faith: Paige is very resourceful.) Henry is at school, finding out for the first time that his parents are spies. (Spin off?) They ask Zotov to stop the car. They look out over the Russian skyline. It’s foreign to them.
“We’ll get used to it,” Elizabeth says, half-heartedly.
But they are not home. Home is America. Home is where their children, who they likely will never see again, are. And now, the only home they have is each other.