The Americans Finale: Persona Non Grata

The absence of closeness makes you dry inside. – William Crandall

But…still committed. – Stan Beeman

It’s the only thing I had left. – William Crandall

I’ll have to think about it in totality and after a few months have passed, but I believe this was my favorite overall season of The Americans. The Martha storyline, the way the William Crandall arc grew and then climaxed in tonight’s finale, Pastor Tim and Alice, the sheer oddity of Est, and the two sides of Gabriel’s personality were all major highlights and that’s not even stopping to mention Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, who were better than great, as we’ve come to expect from them. They’re the best duo on television.

With that said, I’ll also have to ponder it as a whole, but I believe this was my least favorite season finale of The Americans. By no means was it a bad episode, because this show just doesn’t seem to produce poor efforts. Each finale, including this one, has been solid, so the bar was set high in previous years. The way the fourth season wrapped up tonight left many questions, but the hour as a whole did not quite hit that one spot where you’re left shouting, “Holy shit,” inside your head.

I wish I could have been with her all these years…like them, a couple kids, the American dream…never suspect them. She’s pretty. He’s lucky. – William Crandall

We don’t know whether the Jennings family will end up back in Russia, but it would seem highly doubtful, given that the show has two more seasons left before its final goodbye. I’m not sure The Americans exists without Elizabeth and Philip raising Paige and Henry in Washington D.C., because so much of what we enjoy is the tension and irony of living across the street from Stan Beeman, the proximity of Soviet agents to the federal government and security apparatus, and the difficulties that arise as these two people attempt to bring up American children while working for that nation’s clearest and most dangerous rival.

So, perhaps it’s that feeling that left me a little emptier this time around. The writing was as strong as ever; with William’s conversation from his deathbed with Beeman and Aderholt some of the finest stuff anywhere this year. It’s the future though, because I recognize that even as bold as The Americans is willing to be in terms of defying certain conventions and never being afraid to bring in new characters who speak in nothing but subtitles, I just don’t think they’re leaving. And it was that question that Fields and Weisberg wanted to leave us with. It’s an excellent cliffhanger IF you have any faith that it’s even remotely possible the Jennings clan will hop on a plane to return home.

I don’t.

However, if there’s any team I would trust to make that story work, it’s this group.

The problems pile up. It’s hard to know when it’s too late. – Gabriel

The skill of The Americans was on full display in the first several minutes tonight, as the show depicted William’s last hour or so of freedom. The patience shown here was mastery, as Philip’s stroll into the park was ordinary, William never moved at a frantic pace until he was actually on the run, and the director didn’t rush even the smallest of details. This was a huge moment in the season, and had it turned into more of an action movie, that might have been forgivable, but Weisberg and Fields just wouldn’t have any of that. What we witnessed was a slow burn, with all parties advancing as they should. Philip in the Volvo, William in the four door brown Impala, Stan and Dennis in their vehicle making intelligent decisions and not losing their composure.

Along with Martha fleeing the safe house, leading to Elizabeth socking her in the breadbasket, the William “chase” was basically perfect dramatic television. And, I’m not sure we’ve stopped and applauded Dylan Baker, but this was his night. He played William’s crumbling passion and growing depression to an impossible degree. I wasn’t surprised when he cracked the vial, because he’s a man who has lost all love for his life. He has wasted so much time, and anyone willing to say “no” to a Centre directive (even though Gabriel got him back into the fold) isn’t afraid to die.

Would you like a Coke? – Dennis Aderholt

The line of the season, and there were some doozies this year, came from Aderholt. Because of the circumstances surrounding it, I laughed long and hard for a moment, before remembering Crandall was about to deal with his organs liquefying and oozing through his orifices. Baker having to act in that scenario – nearly spilling the biggest secret of them all in semi-coherence – stole the show. Everybody did their thing, but William, who we never really anticipated becoming this instrumental a character, had the same vulnerability Gabriel showed to Philip on the steps last week. Incredibly solid on the script and the performance could not have been more appropriate.

I felt for this man.

I wanted to help this man.

And then one day you wake up and you don’t want to go into the office. – Philip Jennings

Listening to Philip describe his psychological shift in a way where he seemed not just upset with his current occupation, but angry with himself for handcuffing his future before he fully understood himself was fascinating. Est members could never know what he knows, which leaves a gigantic hole with no way to cross it, he said as much as he could without admitting who he actually was. Matthew Rhys spoke in a fairly monotonous tone, because Philip would have feared giving something away with abrupt changes in tone or volume. He was frustrated, but no one in that room had a clue what he was talking about. This scene was written for us, as if we were the people in the seminar. The bodies we watched on the screen were just there because they had to be.  

You’re a good son. – Arkady Zotov

You’re a good son. – Tatiana Ruslanova

The Rezidentura had a rough week, as we may have seen the last of Arkady Ivanovich Zotov, who was given 48 hours to vacate the building and the country following the capture of William Crandall. Lev Gorn has been a wonderful part of this cast, and it’s certainly possible he will still have some sort of role, but it would make sense that the attention moves to Tatiana as both Arkady and Burov return to Russia. In both cases, I’m sad to see them go, and while that side of the story originally was a bit tedious, it became extremely important and the show did a fine job of giving us just enough of it to make it valuable. Subtitles can be daunting for some, but it’s hard to believe it was bothersome here, or when we experienced a sequence in the Soviet Union. Arkady referring to himself as a cultural attache was a nice touch, especially while the DOJ was preparing to lower a dump truck on his face.

We spent some time in Russia in the finale and we met Philip’s son, who had to prove he wasn’t mentally ill following “anti-Soviet activities” after returning home from deployment in Afghanistan. Semenov Mikhail got through the testing, due to what we’re told are powerful friends, and he finds passports and various currencies left for him by his mother, Irina. He briefly mentions to his grandfather that his dad is a travel agent in Washington D.C., and the show leaves it there. What he does next should be a major side-story in the early part of Season 5. If indeed we lost Arkady and Burov, even if The Americans does give us more of Tatiana, it’s Mikhail that could take over the screen time left behind by Nina and her former Rezidentura colleagues.

Sometimes, don’t you just wish you could go back to being a little kid again? – Paige Jennings

Back at the Jennings house, Paige and Matthew are a thing, and Philip sees danger in the relationship, made worse by the timing of finding out about a make-out session just after Gabriel suggested he leave the country and retire. You had to like Stan’s reaction, as he loves the idea because it’s his best friend’s daughter. Noah Emmerich laughing, even in that sweater, was priceless. I at first thought he might walk in on them and blow a gasket, but instead he reacted like a father who found it, for the lack of a better word, cute.

The Centre would welcome you with honors whenever you tell them you’re ready. – Gabriel

Gabriel is not a football fan. My man dropped this bombshell on Elizabeth and Philip on Super Bowl Sunday, and not just any game, but Super Bowl XXVIII. The Redskins were playing. The show takes place in D.C. Come on man, you couldn’t have told them the day before or once it was clear Washington was about to take that L? Just bust out that Scrabble board and play against yourself for the 8,457th time. Meet them at 10, not at 4. Henry had to watch that boat race by himself. And you call yourself a handler?

Congratulations to Pastor Tim and Alice, both for the birth of their daughter, Claire-Louise, and for them surviving the season. I now actually believe they won’t ever be killed, which is pretty amazing based on what’s taken place over the last two years. The Americans found a way to make it obvious they would die and then within the same season made it equally certain they would survive. Incredible.

Paige remained irritating in the finale, and while what ends up happening to her and the choices she makes are arguably the most important thing left to be determined on the show, I’m not particularly interested in it right now. The scenes can drag, and though Holly Taylor does a good job, I usually look for the cut that takes me somewhere else. I hope the fifth season molds her in a different way, because I want to care more than I do at this point.

It was such a fun season, such a dramatic year, and such a strong package. The Americans is easily one of the best shows on television, and outside of Fargo, it’s definitely atop my list. If the Emmy snubs come again, it’s time to stop giving out those awards. At some point, it becomes their problem, not the show’s problem. And that time came at least two years ago. I don’t have to list the names, but you can’t write the story of 2016’s top performances without naming multiple actors and actresses from this little story about Russian spies living in America in the Cold War Reagan 80s.

We’re left to wonder for the rest of 2016 what will happen when the curtain rises again next year. What will happen to the Jennings family in the wake of Gabriel’s advice? Paige and Matthew? Did William say anything else? Can Stan beat Philip in racquetball? And when does Henry accidentally stumble onto the secret? Not to mention, the real history that we know is on the way in Reagan’s second term.

Speculation, anticipation…I’d have it no other way.

I leave you with the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire,” which was the only real music used in tonight’s episode. Another hauntingly beautiful song from Cohen, whose music always seems the right choice…for anything.

And who by fire, who by water,

Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,

Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,

Who in your merry merry month of may,

Who by very slow decay,

And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,

Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,

And who by avalanche, who by powder,

Who for his greed, who for his hunger,

And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,

Who in solitude, who in this mirror,

Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,

Who in mortal chains, who in power,

And who shall I say is calling?

 

I’m @GuyNamedJason. Follow me there on Twitter. Chat with me there. And give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld.

Written by Jason Martin