It wasn’t catastrophic. There were no major deaths. No Jenningses were harmed — physically — during the 70-minute series finale of “The Americans.”
But it was a thoroughly satisfying ending to six seasons of espionage, marital struggle, and ideology. The last episode of the FX show stayed true to the tone of the entire series, with waves of heavy emotion and lots of secret nighttime crawls, as Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige escaped the country — well, not Paige, ultimately. Paige snuck off the train mid-journey, unwilling to leave America for a strange land. She was Martha, in a way, if Martha had had a choice.
The centerpiece scene, some 12 minutes long, came about a third of the way in, in a grim parking garage, when Stan Beeman, feeling betrayed and played for a fool, caught Philip, Paige, and Elizabeth and confronted them. “Just stop,” he yelled at them as they feigned ignorance about their true identity. “It’s all over.”
“We had a job to do,” Philip says, twice. It’s the only thing he could say to justify his family to Stan — who has a similar job to do. And in the long run, Stan did understand. Despite his hatred toward Philip, his best friend, and his shame at being deceived, he let the Jenningses drive away, moving away from their car as they passed by. He also agreed, tacitly, to take care of Henry — a turn that the “Americans” writers had been setting up for years, as we saw a special father-son bond slowly develop between them.
During that garage scene, as Stan and the Jenningses stood figuratively naked before one another, it seemed as though the whole series had been building up to this face-to-face, just as “Breaking Bad” built to the more violent but similar confrontation between Walt and his DEA agent brother-in-law. That’s a lot of anticipatory pressure on a single scene, but it worked beautifully nonetheless. I continue to marvel at Noah Emmerich’s fine work as Stan. Philip’s last gesture to him was a caring one: “I don’t know how to say this,” he said in parting, “but I think there’s a chance Renee might be one of us. I’m not sure.”
I’m not sure, either, even if Gabriel once said she wasn’t a spy. But Stan did not seem willing to let Philip’s warning close him off to his second wife. The last we saw of him and Renee, there seemed to be warmth. Was there betrayal lurking deep in Renee’s eyes as she watched FBI detectives disassemble the Jennings home across the street? Is there a sequel series coming our way?
The other pivotal scene was on the train, when Philip and Elizabeth each separately saw Paige standing on the platform, while “With or Without You” by U2 blasted on the soundtrack. “Without you,” was Paige’s choice. Always independent, she stayed true to herself, leaving her teary parents to their escape and stopping in to see Claudia — now gone — and have a slug of her vodka. As the camera slid back from Paige, alone with her drink, I had all kinds of feels — but not despair. She has always been able to take care of herself, since her parents always focused more on their ideological demands than her needs.
One of the best pleasures of the finale was the closing moment between Philip and Elizabeth. At last, they were on the same side politically, after she worked to save Gorbachev. Now safely in Russia, talking quietly about whether their children would remember them, they were a team.
“It feels strange,” he said to her about their fate. “We’ll get used to it,” she responded in Russian, an optimistic note in the middle of desolation, a signal that this couple set up by the KGB would now be together by choice. The end of the Cold War was in sight, as Philip and Elizabeth stood looking out over their homeland, ready for peace — even if, as we know, history may have other plans.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.