“His life was full of loneliness.”
That’s what Claudia told Paige in the second episode of The Americans’ final season — titled “Tchaikovsky” — when she played a record of the Russian composer. And those words turned out to be hauntingly true as the series reached its conclusion tonight.
The final episode was ironically named “START,” after the nuclear arms treaty that would ultimately be signed by the Soviet Union and the United States, although the summit was not addressed in the show. Instead, we saw Philip and Elizabeth’s flight from everything they’ve known, everything they’ve built. They lost one child. Then both of them.
And yet, in the last image of them together, looking at the cityscape of Moscow, what were they doing except starting over, truly? They were home. But they were strangers. They were together. But their shared life was now hollowed out, filled with loneliness.
To American viewers, rooting for Philip and Elizabeth had the thrill of cheering for the bad guy, but they always believed they were doing the right thing, even when that meant doing unsavory things. Their goal, their ideals, their pledge, was noble. And in the end, by betraying The Center and protecting Gorbachev, they fulfilled their promise.
And in the end, as they knew all along, there was a cost that comes with doing the right thing.
The Americans ended with no bloodshed. No one was killed. No one was even wounded. But for Philip and Elizabeth, losing their lives — especially after taking so many — may have been the easier way out.
Instead, they live. And they live with what they have done, good and bad.
Let’s flash-forward to the final scene: “Colonel …” Philip said, drawing in a deep breath. “I can’t even remember his name now. When they first asked me, he said it would be a hard life. He didn’t want me to think it would be some big adventure.” He looked longingly at the city of Moscow, laid out before him. “I said I wasn’t afraid of that.”
Maybe he is now.
The episode began with Philip alone, hiding at a garage after evading the sting operation that had already ensnared Father Andrei.
Elizabeth arrives with her bag, and they begin making plans. First get Paige, then Henry…but Philip raises a surprising objection. “Henry should stay.”
Elizabeth is aghast. “Leave him here?”
Unlike Paige, Henry doesn’t know about their double life. This will upend him and tearing him apart from everything he does know would be an act of selfishness.
“It’s the best thing for him,” Philip says.
“To be alone? Away from us?” Elizabeth says. “That is not the best thing for us.”
She doesn’t realize there is no “us” anymore.
And with that, the Jennings lose their son.
He is not the first son lost. Back in Moscow, Arkady meets with Oleg Burov’s father to tell him of his son’s arrest with a coded message. “It probably means he’ll be tried for espionage,” Arkady says.
“They’ll trade him back to us,” the father says, seeking reassurance.
“He wasn’t there for the KGB. There won’t be a trade,” Arkady says. Furthermore… “They’re going to come after me, possibly you.”
“What you sent him for, it didn’t work,” the father says.
“I lose one son in a useless war and now this.”
Unless the message that Oleg received reaches Gorbachev, warning him of the KGB effort to undermine and overthrow him, there will be no hope for any of them.
Back in the states, Agent Aderholt is putting the screws to Father Andrei, threatening not just to destroy him, but to also attack the Russian Orthodox church for its part in supporting these Soviet Agents. Unless he reveals the man and woman he was working with.
“In your work, are there people who put their faith in you?” the priest asks. “You’re asking me to let down people who trust me.”
“I have to let down people who trust me all the time,” Aderholt says. “I wish I didn’t have to. But I have bigger things to protect. For me, my country. For you, your church. You’re going to have to choose, my friend, now.”
Father Andrei breaks. He knows only their Russian names, but he agrees to describe their true appearance.
Meanwhile, Stan ducks out of garage-watch duty with his FBI partner to do surveillance on Paige’s apartment. He spots Philip and Elizabeth going in, and then catches them coming out with packed bags.
Paige is already distraught at the news that they’re not only fleeing America, but also leaving Henry behind. Then they get caught, and after all these years, Stan finally knows the truth — although Philip and Elizabeth keep lying, with Paige claiming a bellyache was the reason they came to bring her home, using a car that’s not their own.
“So what happens if I call in this plate?” Stan demands.
“What is with you?” Philip asks.
“Stop moving you f—— piece of s—!” Stan declares, drawing his weapon. Suddenly it’s hands up, all around.
“Stan …” Elizabeth says, trying to reason with him. Trying to play on his doubts. “This is Paige.”
“Just stop, Elizabeth. It’s over. It’s all over,” Stan tells her.
But it’s Philip who decides that, yes, it is all over. “We had a job to do,” he says softly. “We had a job to do.”
As far as confrontations go, they don’t get more heartbreaking than this. We taste every drop of Stan’s range, and below that the sting of his lingering bewilderment.
“You were my best friend,” Stan tells Philip.
“You were mine, too,” Philip. “I never wanted to lie to you, Stan. What else could I do. You moved in next to me. I was terrified. And then we ended up as friends.”
“Friends …” Stan scoffs. “You made my life a joke.”
“You were my only friend. In my whole sh—y life. For all these years, my life was the joke, not yours,” Philip says.
“And Matthew,” Stan says, bringing up his own son, Paige’s ex. “Was that part of this?”
Philip and Elizabeth try to play like Paige had no idea, but she says: “I knew. They told me when I was 16. But Matthew had nothing to do with that. I just liked him.”
“Henry …?” Stan says. For all he knows for sure, there are still so many questions.
“No, he doesn’t know anything,” Paige says. “
“All this time. I would have done anything for you, Philip. For all of you,” Stan says, breaking. Then the rage flares again: “Gennadi and Sophia, that was you.”
“We don’t know who that is,” Philip says, lying again — now to protect Elizabeth.
“F—— liar,” Stan says. Credit some male chauvinism for him blaming Philip without even considering that Elizabeth was the actual assassin.
“He doesn’t even do this work anymore,” Elizabeth says. “He’s a travel agent. He quit.”
“I did all this stuff, Stan,” Philip confesses. “It seemed like the right thing to do for my country. My country wanted me to. I kept doing it, telling myself it was important. Until finally I couldn’t. And I stopped.”
He tells him they’re planning to leave it all now, to go back to Russia. They’ll even lose Henry.
“After all these years of being scared of Americans, we actually have done something that has nothing to do with you, to our own people. It’s a bunch of Russians. They’re trying to get rid of Gorbachev. We figured it out,” Philip says.
“It’s our own bosses,” Elizabeth says. “They were going to fake my reports and make it seem like Gorbachev was trading away military secrets at the summit.”
A new feeling flashes over Stan: recognition. “Do you know Oleg Burov?”
Philip says he doesn’t, but when Stan says Burov was arrested after picking up a dead drop, that ruse falls away. “That message has to get back home,” Philip says.
“I could care less who runs your country,” Stan says. But Oleg’s words in the last episode are haunting him. He should care. He does care. But he can’t do much now. Except … let them go. Let them deliver the message.
“You should hate me. You should probably shoot me. But we’re getting in that car. And we’re driving away,” Philip says.
Paige has one more message for Stan. “You have to take care of Henry.”
“He loves you Stan. Tell him the truth,” Philip says.
They start to back away. And then Philip offers one more gift, although it lands like a punch. And we never really find out the truth. “I don’t know how to say this. But I think there is a chance that Renee might be one of us,” Philip says.
Then they are in the car. Stan is blocking their way. In a lesser show, this might be where the shooting begins. Or where the lawman gets crushed beneath the wheels of their getaway car.
But Stan just steps aside.
The Americans has always done well with period-appropriate music, but the needle drops on this final episode are especially gut-wrenching. First, Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” brings melancholy to the scene of Stan’s return to the garage watch, and his decisions to protect the Jennings family, if only for a little while longer.
We see a final shot of Oleg Burov, trapped in his tiny cell. Then we see his father, looking at Oleg’s son in his crib, while the child’s stricken mother sits in a nearby chair. The expression on the grandfather’s face is benevolent. Has Stan allowed the message to go through? It’s starting to seem that way.
But Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige have a long way to go before they find out for sure. If they are welcomed home, then Gorbachev discovered the truth, and they are safe. If not, if the summit fails and Gorbachev is deposed, they will be traitors.
On the road to Canada, they disguise themselves to look like their fake passports, and bury their other belongings in the woods, along with the fake passport that Henry would have used.
Paige convinces them to reach out to him at school, and the boy is perplexed by the strangely emotional phone call he gets that night.
“I just want you to be yourself,” Philip tells him.
“Okay, I’ll be myself, Dad,” Henry says. “You should probably let mom drive home.”
Elizabeth gets on the line. “What are you doing?”
“Just hanging out.”
“What your father said, I feel the same. I love you, Henry,” his mother says.
“Look, I gotta go,” Henry says. There’s a ping pong tournament going down.
Paige can’t bring herself to say goodbye to her brother, so her dad gets back on the phone.
“I’ll see you next week. Bye, Dad,” Henry says.
Back at FBI headquarters, Aderholt shows Stan the drawings of the suspects that Father Andrei described. It’s clearly Elizabeth and Philip.
“I said it, but I didn’t really …” Stan says, feigning shock.
“I know. I should have listened,” Aderholt says.
Stan makes a vow: “I’m going to kill them.” But what he actually does is drive north, to break the news to Henry personally. And then he comforts the boy. His boy, now.
U2’s “With or Without You,” which (hard to believe) was a new record from the Joshua Tree album in the year 1987, begins to play. The Jennings family stops for one last American meal — McDonald’s, of course. As he leaves with their take-out, Philip looks longingly at an average American family of four, dining across the restaurant.
Stan comes home that night, and he pulls the covers up on Renee. When she comforts him the next day as agents tear apart the Jennings house, he looks uncomfortable, but it is never clear that he acts on the suspicion Philip had.
On the train to Canada, some U.S. Marshals board to check IDs against the fugitive spies the FBI is trying to locate. First Philip passes inspection, then Elizabeth. They don’t know if Paige has, but then the train begins to pull out of the station, bound for Montreal. No disturbances. They’re safe.
That’s when Philip and Elizabeth see Paige standing on the platform. She’s staying behind. They’ve gotten away, but they’ve also just lost their other child.
We see a flashback: Elizabeth with Gregory, her deceased former boyfriend. They’re smoking after making love. Then Gregory is gone. Elizabeth is studying the art in their room. The large painting of a woman done by Erica Haskgard, the one Elizabeth loved but destroyed, hangs over the bed. On the nightstand is a painting done in Haskgard’s style of her two children.
She awakens on an airplane, bound for the Soviet bloc. On the other side of the plane sits Philip, not sleeping at all.
We see Paige go to Claudia’s empty apartment. She pours a shot of vodka, and Tchaikovsky’s “None But the Lonely Heart” begins to play.
Philip and Elizabeth are driving through a checkpoint. The officer has to make a call. They could be killed on the spot. But instead, they are waved through. After driving through morning, they meet Arkady.
There’s no question now. The message will get through. They are being welcomed home. Perhaps, someday, Oleg Burov will be, too.
Another long drive ensues, but as they approach the city at night, Philip asks Arkady to stop the car. He and Elizabeth get out and look over the city of Moscow.
“Who knows what would’ve happened here,” Elizabeth says. “I probably would have worked in a factory. Managed a factory,” she says. “Maybe we would have met. On a bus.”
They are not fully alone. They have each other. And their children …
“They’ll remember us,” Philip says.
“They’re not kids anymore,” Elizabeth says.
“We raised them,” he tells her.
“Yes,” she answers.
“Feels strange,” Philip says, looking at the city.
Elizabeth answers in Russian: “We’ll get used to it.”
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