Thursday, June 7, 2018

"The Americans" Finale Gets It Done

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell
"Philip" and "Elizabeth"
Back in the USSR

This post will contain spoilers about the final episode of "The Americans".  You've been warned.

Regular readers know that I have been a steady watcher of the FX series "The Americans" from Day One.  Those same readers also know that I have felt that the series lost a bit off of its fastball a few years ago and went on for two and maybe even three seasons too long.  That said, in Episode 10 of Season 6, the final episode of the series, "The Americans" hit one out of the park with the bases loaded.

The show opened with Philip (Mathew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) realizing that the jig was up and that they had to lam it out of America and get back to the USSR, and that the only way to do this was to leave their son, Henry, behind.  "He doesn't know anything, he belongs here, he's an American" says Philip, and Elizabeth, who has spent this entire season killing anything that moves and showing no interest at all in her son, shows some trace of Mother Love, something that has been sorely missing from her character for six seasons.

There then followed four critical scenes:

  1. Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige ready to take off and make one final phone call to Henry at his New England boarding school.  They have to act like it is just another call while knowing that they will most likely never see or speak to him again.  Henry pretty much brushes it off because he has to get back to a ping pong tournament being held in his dormitory. It was wrenching.
  2. Dim bulb FBI Agent Stan Beeman has finally put two and two together and confronts the fleeing Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige in an empty parking garage. He goes all by himself with no backup, talks tough with the Jennings while brandishing his gun at them and then proceeds to let Philip talk his way out of the whole thing.  "Hey, you moved in next to me" Philip tells Stan, as if to say that this is all Stan's fault.   Paige then tells Stan that HE has to now take care of Henry, and Philip drops the bomb that Stan's wife just might be, although he's not really sure, a KGB agent.  In their final conversation, the Jennings' pawn off a kid on Stan and effectively ruin his marriage.  Stan then lets them drive away.  Stan Beeman was without a doubt the dumbest and most ineffective law enforcement agent in the history of television.
  3. While traveling by train out of the USA into Canada, all passengers are being checked by Border Patrol agents with sketches of the fleeing fugitive spies.  It is an incredibly tense scene as the agents look over the passports of the disguised and separately seated Philip and Elizabeth before determining that these are not the people being sought.  There then follows a simply stunning scene when Elizabeth looks out of the now moving train window and sees Paige standing on the platform.  Keri Russell's reaction as she realizes that her daughter has abandoned her and is going to stay in America is simply brilliant.  The entire scene is played out with virtually no dialog and with U2's "With Or Without You" playing on the soundtrack.  The entire scene deserved multiple usage of the Pause/Rewind/Play button.
  4. Throughout the six seasons of this show you knew that you were watching bad people and in the interest of justice being served, you knew that Philip and Elizabeth would need to end up either dead at the hands of American law enforcement or imprisoned for life.  It didn't happen. The Jennings make it back to the Soviet Union, but forever separated from their children, and with the knowledge that the country that they have served all of their lives is soon about to be changed forever, and in fact, the USSR that they have known will soon cease to exist.  Perhaps it is a fate worse than death for them.  In the final line of spoken dialog of the series, Elizabeth simply says "We'll get used to it."
I don't always agree that long running TV series have to end with everything tied in a bow in a Grand Finale of an episode.  The final episode of "Seinfeld" was a bomb, the finale of "The Sopranos", while not a bomb, was ambiguous and unsatisfying, but I think that the creators of "The Americans" got it just right.  The Jennings do get punished for their various crimes and sins, although maybe not in the way we like.  There was no cutesie fast forward of an epilogue to tell us Whatever Became Of those who remain behind.  We'll never know what became of Paige and Henry, or, for that matter, Philip and Elizabeth.  In it's own way, this becomes a very satisfying ending to this series.

(I have my own speculation as to what happens to one of the characters.  Henry remains at his New England boarding school, continues to excel at ice hockey, earns a scholarship to a big time hockey school, and gets drafted by the Washington Capitols.  After a long and distinguished career with the Caps, the aging NHL veteran Henry Jennings becomes a friend and hockey mentor to the Caps' young rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin.  How's that for irony?)

So "The Americans" now comes to an end.  I never missed an episode, and while maybe the series should have ended a season or two earlier, the terrific final episode made it a most satisfying series to have experienced over the years.

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