The Americans Review: A Roy Rogers in Franconia

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How did you know how to do that? – Paige Jennings

Choice can be a tricky thing in our world. How often are decisions made with a false sense of option? Similarly, how many times does a choice lead to reflection, or even regret? There’s the idea of fate, and thus the idea that one’s choices were determined long before they were made. In The Americans, choice plays a central role on a weekly basis, but maybe no episode defined that one concept more directly than tonight’s penultimate fourth season installment.

Paige’s choices have become somewhat limited, due to the knowledge of her parents’ secrets. She originally made the decision to get involved in a local activist church, but she no longer has any other available path. When she and Matthew engaged in their 13-second kiss, that was a choice. As she returned home, her parents brought forth a line of questioning that reminded her just how little control she actually has over her life.

Both Elizabeth and Philip gave up their freedoms to dedicate everything they had to their country. In that pursuit of perceived honor, they’ve both murdered people, sometimes even innocent individuals, or at the very least altered their lives. Don’s choices have decreased due to his non-encounter encounter with Elizabeth, and Gene’s choice to breathe was snuffed out due to his proximity to Martha when her position within the FBI was threatened. Gregory made choices, Sandra made the call to leave her marriage, and Nina decided to take a risk that got her killed.

This is one of the deadliest pathogens on the planet. Just say it actually gets out there, and I play a part in that? – William

William tried to carve an escape from a choice he made years ago, the decision to buy into the Russian propaganda and begin working as an operative in the United States. But, our decisions and actions are often vulnerable to one overwhelming force.


This man, placed inside a laboratory in order to advance the Soviet cause through the development of deadly, deplorable, disgusting biological weapons, began to question what kind of people would ask this of their own citizens. He began to wonder why it was necessary to create something so destructive and what kind of world would be left behind if viruses so inhuman were allowed to exist. When he refused the directive, then told Philip to tell Gabriel the truth, he knew it could cost him his life, but he couldn’t bear to have a hand in what might be to come.

But, Gabriel sat him down and played to his nationalism and his desire to find a wife and have an actual family. He offered William a chance to go home, even if it was never a real choice. And how did Gabriel know that strategy would work, that the idea of family and a true life would actually work to keep William on the payroll for a final mission?

Because Gabriel, perhaps more than anyone, knows what a choice entails.

I used to think I’d do better — serve the Centre better — if I kept to myself. You work alone, there’s no one there tearing away at you, weakening you. But, you go to shit anyway. And you’re still alone. – Gabriel

He sits on the steps, bears his soul to Philip, and tells the story we have quietly known for quite some time. This is an extremely lonely man, but one that made the decision to stay on his own so he could be more steadfast and less open to manipulation through another. But, even when we’re alone, the voice inside of us speaks, and thus we can still be miserable. Now an old man, his life is nearly over, and he recognizes how many days he’s deprived himself of happiness. Gabriel is broken and empty, his memories filled with missions, orders, and deceit, and as he makes the pitch to William, he’s offering what he himself desperately wants and what he knows would have sold him on anything under the sun.

Oleg had to make a pair of choices tonight, one he’s still considering, and the other when he meets with Stan and gives him extremely sensitive intel on Russian biological programs. Is it possible that Burov is the single most decent person on the entire show? No question he’s done bad things, but consider how he fought for Nina, how he stood up to his father, his relationship with Beeman, his willingness to think through every situation, and this moment, where you can see the terror and apprehension in his face as he knows how awful this virus could be.

I’m getting worried, Stan. All those brains with what they are doing. Without the right resources, they get their hands on things they can’t always handle in the right way. – Oleg Burov

To what degree does he still believe in his country’s work as it’s cost him so much? Burov is a man who should have zero options, but has found a way to unearth hidden passages to free will. It’s Andy Dufresne stuff, and maybe he gets captured this time, but he allows his brain to work outside the purview of the system. Never did I expect him to have become such a compelling figure when we first met him on the show, but he’s become indispensible in many respects.

They ought to tear this whole goddamn building down. – Stan Beeman

And fire everyone who works in it, including us. – Dennis Aderholt

The FBI has discovered who William Crandall is (the five year old died in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I currently live) and the bureau is closing in on him. What’s sad about it is how desperately the fake William has tried to get out of doing what he’s likely about to get caught doing. He’s committed crimes and done plenty in his past that should put him behind bars, but if you believe in rehabilitation and second chances, he was growing into the ideal candidate. However, thanks to the Mail Robot, the discovery of the device inside it, the woman on the inside recruited at a Roy Rogers, and Burov’s tip, we’re all set for the confrontation that will assuredly serve as one of the major backdrops in the season finale.

It was on this night that Paige irritated me more than at any time before, but mainly because of the front half of the episode, where her shock to find out her parents’ job was dangerous strained all reality. While I realize that it was a different time and we’ve watched mom and dad decimate people for four years, Soviet spies in America would seem to be a pretty cut and dry job where the word “danger” would be written in the first sentence of the description. She couldn’t possibly be that stupid.

If she were that clueless, why would she have thought her folks (or their handlers) had something to do with Tim’s disappearance in Africa? Why would she have been so concerned that they would kill him and his wife earlier in the season? Did she not see The Day After, which defined Cold War stakes plainly and succinctly? We know she did, because we literally watched her as she viewed it. So I admit, that bothered me. She’s not an idiot, but she was written to be one tonight. But good for her on the kiss, even if she knows she’s potentially getting involved with the son of an FBI agent. Being the daughter of Soviet spies does make that a bit questionable, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and guess what, she didn’t CHOOSE her parents and their allegiances.

The sit-down with mother and daughter was a powerful scene though, and Keri Russell was again exceptional as Elizabeth laid out why she is who she is and talks of how much she’d like Paige to see where she grew up. It didn’t feel essential to the plot, but it was a nice spot to illustrate how deeply Elizabeth loves her homeland, even though that was never in question.

With one episode left in a stellar fourth season, The Americans has given us no reason to doubt a satisfying conclusion to this portion of the story next Wednesday. Just as tonight’s episode was written by showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, next week’s is as well. Does William finish the mission or does the FBI foil the plot? What happens with Burov and his decision on Nairobi? What role do Elizabeth and Philip play in the finale, and where does their daughter figure into the proceedings? Do Tim and Alice end up in the wrong place at the wrong time? Will there be a second kiss? What about Martha’s father, especially after that phone call to her mother? Who dies? What song ends the season? Does someone drink a Miller High Life? Does Gabriel try his hand at a strip club, just for a night of debauchery, and end up sitting next to Aderholt by the stage?

So many questions. Our answers are soon to come. Not sure on those last two. We’ll decompress together next week.

I’m @GuyNamedJason. I’m calling about your daughter.

Written by Jason Martin


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