The Americans: Series Finale Review

THE AMERICANS: SEASON 6, EPISODE 10: START

    I did all this stuff. I don’t even know why anymore. It seemed like the right thing to do for my country. My country wanted me to, and I kept doing it, telling myself it was important, until finally I couldn’t, and I stopped. I’m done with that now. I have been for a long time. – Philip Jennings

    You were my best friend. – Stan Beeman
    You were mine, too. – Philip Jennings

    Hi Henry! What your father said, I feel the same. I love you. – Elizabeth Jennings

    It’s funny. I expected far more fireworks than we got, because I forgot this was The Americans and not a mundane, stock drama built on regular tropes and tricks. From the beginning, this series was a slow burn, and never rushed its story, its characters, or its largest moments. Although this final season has been filled with highlights, it’s never flown off the rails or felt like it was too much. It’s why I respect the team behind this show so deeply. They did it their way. Right to the end.

    And, in the process, they may well have just finished up one of the ten best dramas of all time. Certainly it’s in my top ten, and probably my top seven. As I received emails from some of you last week giving me your theories, some that differed from mine and some that were identical to my own thoughts, I had the advantage of knowing how it all ended. I had to remember that as I jumped to, “Boy are you going to be surprised” or “Man you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.” I was just as clueless as you guys and gals, so luckily I checked myself.

    So that was it.

    No, it wasn’t the greatest or most jaw dropping series finale ever, and I’m sure some will find much to dislike. Initially after finishing it, I felt I wanted more, but as I’ve spent a few days reflecting on it, I think for the most part, they nailed it. This was still an excellent episode, and The Americans proved itself to be worthy of six years of our lives as consumers of entertainment. It was special, it was unique, it was different, and it was unforgettable.

    It turns out the shade of grey mentality that has always been the lifeblood of the series kept going to the bitter end. “START” culminated, ultimately, in the confrontation in the parking garage, where Stan Beeman’s worst fears were realized, but where he listened, weighed the consequences of the decision he had to make, and then allowed the Jennings family to drive away as free people.

    The sadness and betrayal exhibited through Noah Emmerich and Matthew Rhys’ performances as they showcased the friendship that was once opportunistic and partial, but had become more encompassing and surrounded by love, was palpable and tremendous. Philip Jennings sees Stan as his best friend, just as Stan has always seen his neighbor in the same light. He has watched as Beeman helped raise his son and daughter. He has gone to countless meals in that house, shared countless Miller High Life longnecks, and he’s been able to confide in Stan at times, though never completely.

    Circumstances made the friendship difficult, but these were two men who did want to do the right thing and who came at that desire from different places. However, they both believed in country, and whatever their respective version of patriotism required. I can’t intimate strongly enough just how spectacular this entire sequence in the parking garage at Paige’s building was, because “perfect” doesn’t quite cut it. It’s hard to rank anything, but I haven’t seen many scenes that affected me as this one did. It wasn’t just captivating. I felt like I was there. The timing of the dialogue was flawless, and watching this friendship come to an end was riveting. It’s hard to pick out the best parts, because the entire thing was a masterpiece.

    It was impossible not to feel so bad for Stan when he knew for sure it was Philip and Elizabeth hurrying their daughter out of the apartment. He’s had it rough, and I’ve always joked in these reviews that he can never have nice things. This was the prime example. As imperfect and clandestine as it had to be, Philip and Stan became legitimate friends. They were closer to brothers than neighbors, and each needed the other as a sounding board, a rage pillow, a source of rebuke, and occasionally a racquetball partner.

    We always knew it wouldn’t end well for Stan and the Jennings as a collective group, but we should have understood and predicted that Beeman saw value and growth in Philip, and even when he discovered the truth, he bought the story of two espionage agents from the Soviet Union. And, here’s what’s even better about it. He wasn’t a rube. He wasn’t an idiot. So many shows would have had this backfire on him, but here, Stan trusted Philip and Elizabeth, and he let them go. He knew what they did, but he let them go, because a past doesn’t always define a person.

    In the case of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two Soviet nationals born and indoctrinated into oppression and communism, they never knew another way. They weren’t given the choice we’re blessed to have in the United States. And they were taught the Americans were the enemies, and that it was always to be country over everything, including God (the opiate of the masses) and the family unit. It was about collective salvation, which never works. Once they got here, as we watched the six seasons unfold, we witnessed Philip’s increasing awareness that, in some ways, there WAS another path, and maybe it wasn’t evil after all.

    Season 6 brought Elizabeth to a similar place, and although the series ends with her still very much conflicted, and in some ways with her husband in the same condition, Stan Beeman chose to give these two people a clean slate. He forgave them in his own mind, knowing there was so much he would never understand about their upbringing, and believing in their redemption. He canceled their debt, trusted that the past was the past, and allowed them to have a future. And, the story was believable, and if they were right, it might also be Stan’s duty to make sure the information got to its destination.

    Did he think of his own mistakes? Did he consider Sandra and how he cheated on her, neglected her, and missed out on so much as he focused on work? Did he consider Nina, Oleg, or any number of other questionable moves that cost him in previous years? We don’t know, but we can consider those things, and if there’s a lesson to be learned in that moment, it’s that forgiveness can be absolute, even when the sins are egregious, as long as love and trust both exist.

    Stan took a risk, and if he’d been wrong, who knows what might happen? He let murderers and conspirators walk away from justice, but he may also have figured out that they had been punished for DECADES. They’ve been sentenced, not to death, but to life under a Communist regime. What would a jail cell or an execution do? Why not give them a chance? He loved these people. That affection triumphed, and in that moment, we got to my secondary takeaway from the finale.

    Outside of military responsibility, it cannot be country over all. Nor should it be. Priorities must be in order, and for Philip, then later Elizabeth, and perhaps even Paige, each had a choice. Everybody in the series made choices, with Oleg’s being another key component in the shade of grey conceptual framework of The Americans.

    Many questions were simply not answered in the finale. It’s left up to interpretation, which isn’t altogether original for a series ender, but in this case, I was left with a feeling of completion, even if I might have hoped for a few more pieces of concrete to walk on as I said goodbye to The Americans.

    One of those open threads is Renee, who we see just enough of to get the feeling she is indeed working for the Soviet nationalists, but just as Philip said to Stan in the garage, “I’m not sure.” If you wish to believe it, the evidence is there to go with a Beeman-style hunch. If you don’t, you can try to avoid it. It certainly appeared that Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields want you to think she’s dirty. As we see her stare across the street to the FBI raiding and tearing the Jennings home apart, the camera lingers long enough on her face that it’s impossible not to see the intent of the scene.

    Why did Paige get off the train? Is she still trying to stay loyal to the cause, even after what happened in the garage? Is she unable to just leave her younger brother behind? Her motivation doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as what it meant for her parents. This is THE feeling, above all, that I had as I watched this wonderful show come to a close.

    Philip and Elizabeth Jennings came to the United States as spies for the Soviets many years before. When they arrived, they were given everything. They brought nothing along with them of any real consequence. Through their time in Washington D.C., they fell in actual love with each other, past the scheme, and also raised a family together. But, as they left the country that had become their home away from home in 1987, they left with the very same stuff they came with.

    Nothing. Just each other.

    With Paige on that platform walking the opposite direction, we see Mikhail and Nadezha not as Philip and Elizabeth, but as Mikhail and Nadezha. How difficult must it have been to know in that moment they were seeing their only daughter’s face in person for the final time. How gut wrenching must it have been for them to realize what they took from Paige and how much they neglected Henry in service of the only thing they knew. How empty the feeling of leaving the kids behind. And, probably, how thankful they are that Stan Beeman exists.

    All this time. I would’ve done anything for you, Philip, for all of you. – Stan Beeman

    He saved their lives. He saved them from a life in prison. And he saved their children for years, and is set to do the same again as we see him go to Saint Edward’s and finally tell Henry…something. We don’t know exactly what he says, but the look on Henry Jennings’ face tells the story of a boy who just found out six seasons of material in one scene.

    A few minutes later, Elizabeth and Philip meet with Arkady Ivanovich Zotov, climb into his back seat, and we’re off to the overlook on the road for that last shot of the two of them looking at both the past and an uncertain future.

    I could write about some of the other details of the episode with a bunch more words, but it’s all tangential and unnecessary to the emotions I felt watching “START.” Brandon J. Dirden sold despair and disappointment so well as he placed the sketches in front of Stan, not knowing Beeman had already made his choice and confirmed his suspicions. Oleg’s father getting the bad news from Arkady, then having to tell Burov’s wife and child. Maybe he got out. We don’t know exactly. Aderholt leaned on Andre and got what he needed. Elizabeth had some crazy dreams on an airplane. Plenty happened. Even the Est mention made sense, employed at the right time to speak to the friendship and the history between Philip and Stan.

    Stan’s pay phone move was an awesome, simple way for Beeman to show his skill as a gumshoe in government spook’s clothing. As soon as he placed the first call, we knew immediately the result of it. But, when it was time to make the other kind of call, the one to either let his former neighbors escape or to take them in (probably would have had to kill them), he listened to the story of the two sides of the Gorbachev issue and was able to make the choice to let people he really didn’t want to take down go, but also to do what was right for the United States as well as the Soviet Union. Beautifully done and impeccably written, again that scene is going to stick with me for a LONG time.

    As always, the licensed musical selections were exceptional. Dire Straits overlooked classic, “Brothers in Arms,” comes directly after the parking garage confrontation, U2’s “With or Without You” connotes the shaky possibilities for a family moments away from fracturing forever, and also Stan losing his friends. Back in Russia, Takako Nishizaki’s version of Tchaikovsky plays. It’s the sixth of his romances, namely Op.6: No.3 Why? Portions of the larger Op.6 arrangement are the composer’s translation of an 1869 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe poem, “None but the Lonely Heart,” and the words are worth your time.

    None but the lonely heart
    Can know my sadness
    Alone and parted
    Far from joy and gladness
    Heaven’s boundless arch I see
    Spread out above me
    O what a distance drear to one
    Who loves me
    None but the lonely heart
    Can know my sadness
    Alone and parted far
    From joy and gladness
    Alone and parted far
    From joy and gladness
    My senses fail
    A burning fire
    Devours me
    None but the lonely heart
    Can know my sadness

    Wow.

    My pastor was speaking about a recent trip he took to the Middle East to assist in Christian outreach and he mentioned the slogan of the airline he and his colleagues used to make the journey. “It’s only foreign if it’s unfamiliar.” Philip and Elizabeth look out to the city they once knew (but do they know what it is now), almost in a state of shock due to the loss of both Henry and Elizabeth, they talk about whether they would have met, where they might have worked, and reassure themselves their children will not forget them. Where was home? What’s foreign to them now?

    These two people went through hell, also brought hell to many in their path, and gave decades of their lives. And, as The Americans takes its final bow, we see them back in the exact same place from whence they came, having nothing in their hands other than each other. Perhaps that’s enough. But we realize neither of them believes the price was worth it. The last words spoken on the series come from Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, appropriately speaking the sentences in Russian.

    “I feel strange.”

    “We’ll get used to it.”

    You have to imagine similar words emanated from their lips when they originally made it to the United States and looked out over the Potomac River for the first time.

    I can’t say enough how much I’ve enjoyed these last few years writing on this show. I can’t thank you guys enough for taking the journey with me, writing or messaging your own theories and thoughts, saying kind things about my work, or saying not-so-kind things, but simply engaging with me on this long trip to D.C. I’m truly going to miss this place…but maybe not the Glanders.

    Let us raise our glasses of kvass one more time…to Joe and Joel, to Martha, to Nina, to Gabriel, to Claudia, to Arkady, to Burov, to Dennis, to Renee, to Matthew, to Frank, to Sandra, to William, to Mischa, to Sofia, to Gennadi, to Chris, to Tatiana, to Erica, to Kimmy, to Gregory, to Father Andre, to Pastor Tim, to the Mail Robot, to everyone in between – the love interests, the marks, the victims, the perpetrators, the agents, the bystanders, and the operatives left behind.

    Last but not least, we toast Stan Beeman, Paige, Philip, and Elizabeth Jennings.

    Bravo to you all.

    (And to Henry. Felt it would have been a mistake to include him, rather than making it seem like an oversight or neglecting him, and fixing it at the last second. But I’m going to miss dinner champ. Poor kid. Take it out while on the forecheck my man.)

    To The Americans.

    Dasvidanya.

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