WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
They got away.
They being Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, Russian spies forced to beat feet out of the states as the law starts to close in around them. Of all the endings for The Americans predicted, the Jennings actually making it back to Russia was in play, but going in, not an odds on favorite. But that’s what happened Wednesday in “START,” the show’s series’ finale. They talked their way out of being captured or killed by Stan, choose to leave one child behind, was ditched by their other child and in an blue Volvo, slowly crossed back in the friendly, but startlingly unfamiliar confines of their homeland, the country in which they have done so much in the name of.
The finale was intense, gripping, emotional and when the credits eventually appeared, satisfying. A louder, more action-packed finale would have been fun, but The Americans going out in a muted and somber way makes more sense. The spy craft and the action set pieces were always great, but they weren’t where the show made their money and paid the bills. This was a show about a marriage, about a family and about the tension that exists with both.
Here are six takeaways (one for each season of the show) about the finale.
1. (Expletive Deleted) was That Sad
Full disclosure. I never teared up, but if you did, I wouldn’t doubt it. At around the forty minute mark, I found myself only thinking about how dark the finale was, how it was just so tragic. It was more tragic than I think I expected, although in hindsight, I should have seen it coming. The show had been dropping bread crumbs from the jump that when all was said and done, things were going to end poorly for everyone involved. It had too, especially given how brutally real the show had been with the emotions of it’s characters throughout the show’s run.
But man, it was just effin’ sad. Breaking Bad went out on a down note, but at least that was bookended by some signs of hope. Where was the hope here? The Americans ended things by setting fire to everything and everyone it had touched and as was then to be expected, everything and everyone came away burned in one way or the other.
2. The Kids Were Always the Victims
Yes, there were other victims, people like Martha, Young-Hee, Kimmy, STAN!, but through it all, the Jennings’ children, Paige and Henry, suffered the most. So it only made sense that when it came down to it, the show would deliver one more blow to each of them. If we are somehow ranking the two of them, who is more of the victim, it’s hard to do. It becomes a question of what is worse: knowing the blow is coming or not knowing. Is it worst to be able to prepare for something devastating or to be blind-sided by it? You know, see the train coming before it hits you or don’t see it. Paige at least had an idea that this scenario was a possibility, that the family would have to run off to Russia in the middle of the night. But Henry had no clue.
It’s hard to say whose life will ultimately be more devastated by the actions of their parents, but it’s easy to ascertain that levels of severity aside, neither will ever be the same.
3. Stan? Stan. Stan…
When I initially started thinking about how The Americans would end, back towards the end of season five, I was drawn to a Breaking Bad comparison, with Philip as Walt and Stan as Hank. It seemed to be the most logical conclusion that a show about relationships would tear one up right in front of us. I stopped short of thinking Philip would straight up kill Hank, though. I kind of thought that would be Elizabeth. But I wasn’t ruling it out.
I was close.
In the finale, we did get a Breaking Bad-like confrontation between Philip and Stan, but it went in a direction I did not expect. Philip’s admission of his true identity broke Stan. You could see it in his eyes, in his face. And the kicker was the reveal that in the show’s penultimate episode, Oleg had been telling the truth about his mission and his desire for peace. I don’t know to what degree that information influenced Stan’s actions, but his decision to put down his gun and let Philip, Elizabeth and Paige leave was mildly confusing, but mostly tragic; par for the course for the episode.
Again, lots of victims here and you can’t sleep on Stan here is as one of the main victims. His world has been upended and it’s hard to see a path for him going forward, especially one where he stays at the FBI. Between letting them go and what you’d have to assume is a massively shaken confidence in his ability to continue to do his job, where Stan goes from here is a mystery.
And speaking of mysteries.
4. What the Hell The Americans? Is Renee a Spy or Not?
One of the most glaring dangling threads the show had left to pull was whether or not Renee, Stan’s wife, was a Russian spy, a seed planted last season thanks to Philip’s suspicions. Since then, his suspicions have become our suspicions and all of Renee’s actions since then have been seen through suspicious eyes. Dude, and then she said wanted to work for the FBI? Red flags all over the place.
Yet the closer we got to the finale and the longer we went without answers, it seemed as if this reveal was either never going to happen or be log-jammed into the finale, which if that were to happen, would be hard to pull off and not feel forced. So instead, the show hedged. They tried to have it both ways. Speaking with Alan Sepinwall, the show’s creators refused to give an answer when asked if Renee was in fact a spy.
I guess we’ll never know.
5. Did Oleg Deserve Better?
Of course he did, but I think we got Oleg’s proper farewell last week. That doesn’t make any easier of a pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. It was definitely hard to see him slouched in the corner of his cell, but it also made sense. That’s been one of the appeals of The Americans since the first season, that when given the choice, they make the tough decision, which is not always the easy decision. The easy decision was to somehow find a way to free Oleg, to reunite him with his family. But the tough decision was the right one and it was naturally the one they went with.
6. As Per Usual, The Americans Killed It With Their Music Choices
Whether it’s setting set pieces to “Tusk” or “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac and “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins or montages to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or the Queen classic “Under Pressure,” The Americans always seemed to pick the perfect song. Just one more thing they always seemed to do right. The finale was no exception.
First they went with “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits for the montage following the tense (and ten minute long!) parking garage scene and then, as if to really drive their point home, they chose “With or Without You” to play as the Jennings make their escape and then crucially, as Paige decides to bail on her parents. It’s heart-breaking and heart-aching and the music choice is simply spot on. I mean, you get wistful anyways when “With or Without You” plays. Now listen to it while you watch a FBI agent tell his best friend’s kid that his parents were Russian spies and have run away.