Well, it has taken me almost a week to sit down to write this review of out-right one of the best shows that has ever been on television. It has taken me a week to get over the emotional pitfalls and twists of the series finale of The Americans, ‘START.’
If you didn’t have to literally pull yourself up off the puddle of tears in the floor as Philip and Elizabeth looked at Moscow congrats, you are a sociopath. *I* had a hard time processing the bleak, but perfect ending.
The series finale begins as Philip and Elizabeth try to figure out their end-game as it has gone topsy-turvy at the office. In just one of the emotionally charged scenes in this episode the Jennings’ discuss whether they should bring Henry into the light about their true identities. Doing to would seal his fate, he would have to travel to Russia with them, to live out the rest of his life in a foreign country, and most likely crippled by their betrayal.
It is Philip that makes the final call, they don’t tell Henry, they leave their only son behind. “It’s what’s best.” he says grimly, with a face that is possibly the saddest expression that Philip has ever worn in six long seasons. Elizabeth is the emotional one at first, but she too see’s the wisdom in keeping him in the dark. After all they will have Paige, who at this point is an indoctrinated, albeit low-level spy.
Going to get Paige set’s up one of the series best scenes of all time –– the 11 minute parking garage confrontation between Philip and Stan. In one of the talkiest-sequences ever the truth comes out. Stan, who has been sussing out the situation for a while now, meets the Jennings family as they are picking up Paige. At first the charade is kept, Philip forcing a smile of surprise as he asks Stan what he is doing there. After Stan draws a gun there are a few exclamation from Elizabeth, Philip, and even Paige about how crazy he is being, but even so he persists. So, finally it ends. Philip shows his real face, figuratively, and tells Stan the truth. How he was working for his country long before he even understood what he believed. How he became disillusioned by the job, he actually had been just a failing travel agent for a few years. How he had to betray everyone.
“You were my best friend.” says a stunned Stan.
This scene showcased the talent of the entire Americans cast, but it was master-class level work from Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich. When Philip tells Stan he has to leave Henry, the pain is visceral and palpable. The eventual standoff makes you question several times if there will be a dead body in the garage as the scene ends, but Stan let’s his best friends and former neighbor go.
The Jennings family continues their escape, taking time for one final phone call with an unbothered, naive Henry. As the pay-phone drops the faces of Elizabeth and Philip are heart-wrenching. They just spoke to their son for the last time, Paige couldn’t even bring herself to say goodbye.
The next scene is one of the most powerful. With a seemingly banal U2 (With or Without You) song playing, the Jennings’ board the train to Canada as a montage plays showing the other players in this game; Stan, Aderholt, Oleg (all the tears for Oleg’s father and his “why me” gesture to the cloudy Soviet sky), and poor Henry. There is a staunch, tension filled silence as the heavily disguised Jennings give their identification to border patrol officers. This was a clever switch-and-bait sequence. We are holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the Jennings to join Oleg in federal custody, waiting for Bono to start wailing again.
He does when the train starts rolling again, and we breath. But not so fast. In one fabulous take we see Elizabeth start at the window, a look of complete disbelief on her face. Then we see Paige on the train platform, watching it carry her lying, murderous parents away to their fate. Paige watches expressionless, eyes dry as Philip and Elizabeth see their remaining child abandon them as they had to abandon Henry.
Nobody died in this series finale (good thing since the body count for this season was out of control), but for Philip and Elizabeth you have to wonder if death or prison would have been kinder. Henry is forced to go through life never really knowing his parents, relying on Uncle Stan to fill in the blanks. Paige is left drinking leftover vodka in Claudia’s deserted safe-house. She may still have to go into hiding, she will probably be as broken as Pastor Tim feared, Stan is left betrayed and filled with renewed paranoia as Philip has left him with the parting blow that “Renee may be one of us, I’m not sure.” As for our happy couple? They make it to Russia, alone. They look over a modern Soviet Union together, ending as they began. With each other. The Americans was always about the marriage of Elizabeth and Philip. Their children aren’t with them, “We raised them, they won’t forget us.” says Philip in consolation.
“It feels strange”, says Philip.
“We’ll get used to it,” Elizabeth simply says in Russian as they adjust to their new-old home and a brand new start.