Where We Left Off:
Last week, Stan called up Pastor Tim and asked about the Jennings family and if there was anything he needed to know, but Tim held onto their secret. Elizabeth remembered her training (specifically, learning dead drops) and flashed back to seeing the scene of an accident, and leaving without intervening, thinking she was in the right. Her handler told her never leave a fallen comrade behind, which she remembers when she prevents Nesterenko from being assassinated, leaving the would-be assassin (Tatiana!) dead in the streets of DC. Stan tried to convince Aderholt that his neighbors are the illegals they are hunting, but he didn’t buy it. Philip was almost caught during a meeting with Father Andrei and had to flee on foot. After being arrested, Burov confessed to Stan why he was really in America, and tried to persuade Stan to help him in his mission. Elizabeth confessed to Claudia that she burned the KGB’s plans regarding Nesterenko, and alerted Gorbachev’s people. Paige confronted Elizabeth regarding sleeping with the intern, called her a whore that Philip can’t stand, and stormed off, leaving the family dynamic even more shattered than it had already been. Just as the FBI gives the order to take down every suspected garage/safehouse under surveillance, Philip calls home and gives Elizabeth a coded message. She hangs up and immediately packs to leave their entire life behind in a matter of moments…
What Went Down:
We open with Philip getting to a safe house to wait for Elizabeth after the phone call he made to end the previous episode. The weight of his entire world collapsing onto him is evident in his every move and facial expression. Stan and a fellow agent drive around, on their way to stake out one of the safehouses. He stops to call the Jennings house and the travel agency, and obviously doesn’t reach them. Elizabeth arrives in a rush and they discuss the exit plan. They need to get Paige and get out of town, but they disagree on Henry. Philip says his future is in America, and they need to leave him here. It’s a devastating thought, but it’s the best thing for him. Elizabeth struggles, before the realization sets in. This is what they always had to be ready for, and now it’s at their doorstep.
Aderholt questions Father Andrei, trying to get him to spill the beans on Philip, showing him photos from the meeting in the park. Aderholt tries to play on his convictions, reminding him that the Communists are only using him and consider church an enemy of the state. Philip and Elizabeth steal a car and swap the license plates. At the stakeout, Stan says he needs to check out another lead and will return in a few hours. He’s off to watch Paige’s apartment, knowing in his gut that Philip and Elizabeth are on their way there. In the car, Elizabeth admits to Philip that she killed an officer of the KGB. He asks “What were you supposed to do?” The metaphor speaks volumes.
Oleg Burov’s father meets with Arkady Ivanovich, who tells him that Oleg has been arrested in DC and will likely be tried for espionage. His father points out that obviously whatever reason Arkady had for sending Oleg to America, it didn’t work. He’s lost one son to the physical war and another to the Cold War. Aderholt switches strategies, trying to threaten to burn Andrei and the Ortodox Church for their KGB ties. All he has to do is give up the illegals. Andrei doesn’t want to let the people who trust him down. Aderholt understands, but they both have bigger interests to protect, country and the Church. Aderholt says “You were meant for better things, we all were.” Another line that encompasses the whole series. Andrei has to make a choice, right now. He gives Aderholt the Russian names of Philip and Elizabeth, and says he has seen them outside of their disguises once. Sketches forthcoming, and it’s about to get really, really real.
Stan watches as Philip and Elizabeth arrive at Paige’s apartment. They come in and tell her it’s all over and they need to leave right now. Henry isn’t coming, and Paige can’t process it because, as we’ve always known, she simply isn’t cut out for this line of work. They know that Henry will hate them for abandoning him, for all the deception, for an entire lifetime of lies, but they have no choice. They leave with Paige, and Stan intercepts them in the underground parking garage!!!
He immediately starts grilling, directing his questions at Paige. She says her parents are taking her home because her stomach hurts, but knowing that she’s a college girl, Stan smells bullshit. He asks about the car, and Philip says it’s a dealership loaner. Stan calls him on that too, drawing his gun and calling Philip a fucking piece of shit, ordering him to the ground! He says “It’s over. It’s all over.” Philip decides to come clean, saying they had a job to do for their country. The look on Stan’s face as his suspicion was confirmed is heartbreaking.
“You were my best friend.”
“You were mine, too. I never wanted to lie to you. Stan, what else could I do? You moved in next to me, I was terrified. And then we ended up as friends.”
“Friends? You made my life a joke.”
“You were my only friend, in my whole, shitty life. For all these years, my life was the joke, not yours.”
Stan accuses them of using his son Matthew, but Paige insists that she really did like him. They tell him Henry knows nothing. Stan would have done anything for Philip and his family, and he knows that. They deny involvement with Gennadi and Sofia, which Stan knows is another lie, and he tells Paige a lot of people have been killed by Soviet agents in the area the past several years. Philip and Elizabeth deny that too, still lying in the face of being caught red-handed.
Philip really lays his soul bare. He doesn’t even know why he did the work for all those years. He told himself it was important, until he couldn’t anymore. He really did quit and has been a regular old travel agent for years now. Paige never breaks her gaze at Stan, and Elizabeth never breaks hers at Philip. This is incredibly powerful stuff. Philip needs to run away from the place he has lived for decades, if Stan will let them. He needs to abandon his own son. He doesn’t even know what to expect back home, because after all the years of doing the work, the most important piece of information they uncovered was on their own people. Philip tells Stan about the KGB’s plan to upend Gorbachev, confirming what Burov had told him. They deny knowing Oleg, but they likely never knew his real name anyway. They tell Stan the message needs to get back home, that world peace depends on it.
“I don’t know why you should trust me. You should hate me. You should probably shoot me. But we are getting in that car and we’re driving away. I wish you’d stayed with me at EST. You might know what to do here.”
Paige tells him he has to take care of Henry, and Philip confirms how much Henry loves Stan and wants him to tell Henry the truth. They get in the car, and just before he climbs in, Philip drops a bombshell that rocks Stan’s world even further.
“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.”
They start the car and Stan contemplates what’s just occurred. He moves out of the way, letting them go!!!
Dear God, that’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in television history. No joke or exaggeration.
Once they drive away, Philip assures Paige they can trust Stan and Elizabeth tells her there are passports waiting for them. They need to become new people (and get a new car) before getting on a train into Canada. She wants to see Henry but her parents say no. They can call, just to talk, if they are careful to act normally. Stan brings coffee back to his partner at the stakeout, knowing full well they are waiting for people who will never show up. Oleg sits in his cell, contemplating his decisions, and we cut to his father, having just told Oleg’s wife about his fate. The Jennings clan get their new passports and dump every scrap of their old lives into a pile in the woods. There is even a new passport for Henry, which goes into the pile in a gut-wrenching moment.
From a pay phone, the family calls to give Henry the goodbye he doesn’t even realize. Philip can’t act as normally as he asserted in the car, telling him how proud he is and that he just wants Henry to be himself. Elizabeth gets the phone and echos the sentiments, but Paige can’t bring herself to talk to him. It’s an absolutely devastating moment in an episode already full of them. Back at the office, Aderholt shows Stan the sketches produced from Father Andrei’s memory. There is no doubt it is Philip and Elizabeth, and Aderholt says he should have listened, and Stan plays it off well, saying he never really believed his own hunch. Aderholt gives him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, but the damage that has been done to Stan is irreparable.
The fugitives stop at McDonald’s, the quintessential American success story, for food on the go. Philip ponders staying behind for a year or two, to try and make contact with Henry in the future. U2’s “With or Without You” begins to play, as we get one last musical montage in a show littered with so many great ones. Stan returns home, devastated. Philip observes a happy American family eating together at McDonald’s, no doubt more intact than his own will ever be again. Stan looks over Renee as she sleeps, hoping desperately that she is who he wants her to be, not who Philip thinks she might be. The broken family hits the road., boarding a train for Canada. Stan stands outside their house while the FBI sweeps through it. He was always so close. Renee consoles him in their driveway, and he clearly can’t help but consider Philip’s warning. The last shot we see of her is a look of ambiguity on her face. We, like Stan, may never know where her loyalties truly lied. But the way she watches the FBI load up files from the house across the street practically screams in silence.
With U2 still playing, the train stops at a checkpoint, with border patrol checking IDs against multiple pictures and sketches of Philip and Elizabeth. They all pass the inspection. But the train begins to move, and as Elizabeth looks out the window, she sees Paige outside! SHE GOT OFF AND LEFT THEM BEHIND!!! SHE ABANDONED THEM LIKE THEY ARE ABANDONING HENRY!!! I AM FUCKING CRYING RIGHT NOW!!! Philip, who had been seated in another car, immediately rushes to be with his wife. They need each other more than ever. Dear God this is too fucking much. Stan goes to visit Henry at his school, pulling him off the ice at hockey practice to tell him what has happened. I can’t take this.
Thankfully, we cut away to a dream sequence, where Elizabeth, pregnant with Paige, lies in bed with Gregory, smoking cigarettes. She is surrounded by artwork reminiscent of what she saw at the Haskard house, as well as a framed picture of Henry and Paige. She wakes up on the plane to Russia, and looks to Philip across the aisle but he can only look out the window, the ocean of pain that separates them too terrible to cross. There can be no healing, at least not yet.
Paige returns to Claudia’s apartment, where she spent so much time the last few years bonding with her mother. She gets the vodka out of the freezer and drinks. It was never about changing the world for her (bright and starry-eyed as she may have been), it was always about feeling closer to her mom. And now that is gone forever. Philip and Elizabeth cross a checkpoint in a car, back in their true home now after decades undercover in the United States. They drive through the night, meeting Arkady Ivanovich on the side of the road at daybreak. He will drive them the rest of the way. Late at night, Philip asks him to pull over. He and Elizabeth get out and survey a city they used to know, but hasn’t been home for a long time. Philip recalls the man who recruited him, recalling that the man said the life would be hard, not a big adventure, but he wasn’t afraid. Elizabeth speculates what may have happened to them if they had never left Russia. Maybe they would have met on a bus. A monumental fact that can’t be overlooked is that they are speaking English to each other, despite being back “home.”
“They’ll be okay.”
“They’ll remember us. And…they’re not kids anymore. We raised them.”
“We’ll get used to it.”
The last line, spoken by Elizabeth, is the first thing said in Russian and the last line of the series.
I am broken.
Thoughts on the Series:
The Americans deserves to go down as one of the great dramas in television history. It is one of the most underappreciated shows of the past two decades, and in the age of peak television with nearly unlimited choices, remains nearly unmatched in terms of writing, acting and execution. It found its footing quickly, and never strayed from its vision of being a show about parenting and marriage, as opposed to being a simple spy show that would have lost its luster rather quickly. From top to bottom, this is truly a remarkable achievement, and the finale, for me, ranks among the all-time greats. This is not the finale I expected, but it is the one the show and its audience deserved. We didn’t get a single drop of blood, but the devastation was, in a way, far worse and more widespread. This is remarkable, essential television.
What did you think of the series finale?
Will Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell finally win the Emmy Awards they deserve?
Where will The Americans rank among the all-time great dramas?
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