The Americans Stuns with Heartbreaking Final Episode

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With or Without U.S.S.R.

Warning: Full spoilers for The Americans’ series finale follows…

START,” which marked the end for FX’s The Americans, brought this six-season story to a taut and stoically impactful close. With just this one chapter left, on a shortened season of 10 episodes, there was a lot to address story-wise and, no, not every loose thread got snipped – but what the episode did focus on was mesmerizing and crushing. Namely, Philip and Elizabeth’s decision to leave Henry behind and abandon their entire lives by fleeing back to a home country they hadn’t known in decades.

Ever since the show started, the question of what would happen if the Jennings ever got caught loomed over the series like an inevitable storm. More notably, what would happen to Henry and Paige? After Paige got indoctrinated to the spy life (though, not every ugly aspect of it), things got more complex and compelling and viewers started to worry for both children in different ways. Could Henry be implicated in his parents’ serious crimes without knowing anything about them? When he and Paige were both young, the standing option was they would both just have to escape to Russia with their parents and be told the truth in the aftermath.

Now, apparently, that just doesn’t work. Philip was so confident that Henry was (basically) safe that he was resolute in leaving him behind – alone. Which, in a sense, is how Henry has been operating anyhow. Away at a private school, barely seeing his parents (especially Elizabeth), Henry had been pushed out of the family years back. Legally, it’s murky how Henry could escape unscathed and rebuild his life, though the show has done an excellent job in turning Stan into a surrogate dad over the past few seasons. Yes, all those scenes where Henry was relegated to eating pizza at Stan’s house can finally pay off.┬áTo the point where there’s enough wiggle room now to assume Henry will manage – his psyche scarred and his future unstable, but manage.

Back when we all dreamed this series might hit us with a massive time jump that would give us Henry and Paige as adults, mid-20 somethings at least, Henry was usually an FBI agent in the scenario. Whether or not he became one because he knew what his parents really were was sort of the “solve for X.”

“START” ran about an hour and and 10 minutes minus commercials, and you could argue that there was room to give us more considering how much time we usually spend on The Americans creeping around in the dark or driving down dusky roads, but it’s clear that EPs Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg had a very clear and emotional vision for Philip and Elizabeth’s intense exodus and that throwing too much “Oh, and also”s into the mix might lessen the overall vibe of beautiful anguish.

“You made my life a joke.”

Let’s dig into the phenomenal scene in the parking garage where Stan finally catches and corners Philip and Elizabeth – and Paige. What a stunner. Probably the best scene the show has ever done. It lasts almost ten minutes and it devastates you over several stages. The first part involves Philip trying to nervously lie his way out of things. That collapses quickly and he wrecks us, and everything, with a long pause and then “We had a job to do.”

No one died in this finale. No one had to. When the drama is this good, it can easily stand on its own without a body count. One of the best things this final season did was have Stan figure out, on his own, that his neighbors were spies. Truthfully, it speaks to his skills as a veteran investigator and it lessens the “joke” that his life becomes in the fallout. He could have ignored his gut, because the truth could ruin him, but he was too noble. He’s too obsessively connected to his instincts. And the fact that he brought the idea to Dennis before he found out for real helps protect him. It also allows him, in the end, to let the Jennings go. He was out for truth, not the full punishment of the people he considered to be his close friends.

Philip and Elizabeth, and Paige, all did the smart thing. Philip could have sacrificed himself by running into the gun, perhaps taking Stan out after taking a bullet, but that wouldn’t have felt real. Stan was a friend. The best thing they could do was talk to him and actually explain their lives, motives, and the new reality they lived in where their bosses had become their enemies. The only part they left out, which Stan surely didn’t buy, was “we don’t kill people” – though that could have been just as much for Paige’s benefit.

Oof, then it all circled back to Henry. They told Stan they had to leave him and that they wanted Stan to care for him. It’s another moment that allowed Stan to not open fire. This was such an exquisitely crafted scene that it really does remind you that The Americans is one of the last truly great “Golden Era” shows left on TV.

Oh, by the way, Philip mentioning that Renee could be a spy – where do we stand on this? It was definitely the most perversely amusing moment to come out of this very tense and quiet ten minutes and, assumedly, it’ll send Stand spiraling a little. It’s understandable. Philip does consider himself to be a good friend so he wants to give Stan a heads up. But part of him also has to know that it’ll probably ruin Stan’s relationship with Renee because Stan will never fully trust her or look at her the same way again. Of all the things that weren’t answered in “START,” it’s cool that this one remained ambiguous because Laurie Holden’s character was designed, from the get go, to make us wonder about her alignment. It’s just funny she remained that way until the end.

Now…what the hell is Paige going to do?

Firstly, did anyone else think, right as U2’s “With or Without You” kicked back in on the train, that Philip would look out of the window and see Paige being arrested? Man, it was a relief just to see her off the train and safe. Then the secondary emotion of “Oh no, she’s staying behind” set in. Granted, there might not be an active manhunt for her since everyone will assume the three of them fled the country, but she still can’t be Paige Jennings ever again.

All of this really speaks to the half-measured approach Elizabeth took to bringing Paige into the espionage fold. She never prepared Paige enough for this moment or for the idea that the family could be split up. And Paige never wondered about how Henry would react to having to leave, out of the blue, for a country he didn’t know he was deeply connected to.

I guess Paige has that apartment to drink in for a few more hours until the FBI knocks down the door. After that…she gets treated to sweet oblivion and/or fan fic.

Also, it would be awesome if McDonald’s new ad campaign was: Where Sad Spy Families Have Their Final American Meal.

The Verdict

START” meant the end for Philip and Elizabeth’s lives as covert spies as well as our time with them as characters. It was a spellbinding flight filled with crushing choices and startling swerves, including a fantastic parking garage showdown scene. This finale may have left more than a few balls in the air, but it still delivered a wondrous wallop that crackled with sadness sand urgency.

SOURCE: IGN.com

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