‘The Americans’ Finale Caps FX Drama’s Best Season (SPOILERS)

The Americans Season Finale Review FX
Courtesy of FX

“The Americans” has completed its most satisfying season, while striking a blow for that much-maligned staple of serialized drama, the irritating teenage child. Deriving considerable strength from a storyline that saw the central couple faced with a dilemma regarding their daughter, this FX series didn’t tie up many loose ends with its third-season finale, but certainly left plenty of tantalizing threads to explore between now (or really, 1983) and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There were obviously other factors that enriched the season that closed Wednesday (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), including the beleaguered Martha (Alison Wright), who had the misfortune (some might call it hair-raising) to fall for a Soviet spy; and the unlikely partnership between FBI Agent Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Russian embassy operative Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin), joined in their eagerness to find a way of saving Nina (Annet Mahendru), the woman with whom both were involved. Of course, Nina found her own path to redemption in the eyes of her captors, even if that meant betraying others.

Frank Langella also lent an enormous touch of class as the avuncular contact of sleeper spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), whose tasks this season included Philip’s extremely uncomfortable assignment to potentially seduce a teenage girl not much older than his daughter in order to secure information.

Nevertheless, the key issue remained whether the Jennings would allow the Center to recruit their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) for the dangerous life they have undertaken, as well as the hurt and anguish she has felt about having to harbor their secret in the wake of that revelation.

In the end, Paige – who, seeking meaning, had embraced religion over her parents’ objections – spilled the beans over the phone to her pastor, laying the groundwork for plenty of intrigue in season four. And while “The Americans” has always grappled with a certain improbability factor in the contortions engineered to bring Philip and Elizabeth to the brink of detection without abruptly terminating the series (as bloodhounds go, Stan clearly suffers from a faulty sense of smell), there was an inherently human quality in Paige’s plight that was beautifully played and gradually unfolded without belaboring it.

Put another way, and with apologies to “Homeland,” “The Americans” brought the kids into the story with nary a Dana Brody moment in sight.

All told, showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have done an admirable job of working through some awkward patches during the first season, and developing a roster of characters that force the audience to uncomfortably look over the shoulders of what would otherwise be the bad guys. Moreover, they have done so while continuing to explore the outer reaches of the protagonists’ ruthlessness, which has left behind a lengthy list of collateral damage, and generated sequences of sex and violence that at times felt gratuitous. (Case in point: the brutal strangulation of a naked woman, and disposing of her body.)

Such series are always a balancing act, and there have been times along the way when “The Americans” felt somewhat overrated as it piled up critical accolades. For the most part, though, the premise – provocative from the get-go, although the ratings have been relatively modest – has grown richer and more assured, building a support system around the leads that captures how intramural politics and frustrating bureaucracy were unifying elements for those on both sides of the Cold War.

“Grow up,” Langella’s character, in a rare flash of anger, snapped at Philip during the finale. And whatever one thinks about Philip’s ethical struggles, in the best ways, “The Americans” has.

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  1. Steve says:

    Everything about the Americans is brilliant but it wouldn’t be what it is without Matthew Rhys and Keri Russel. All the many actors are superb. The “situations” end with no more dialog than necessary and are highlighted with pauses. The end of a scene leaves the viewer in a conflicted but relieved state – relieved that the scene has ended – but in awe of the execution. Americans takes good, and horrible behaviors to the ridiculous max – with the emphasis on horrible. Yet we are sympathetic to our murdering duo. The only way we should live with ourselves is that, in the end, they die. The Americans is a classic, and as good as any. I record it, but I don’t rush to watch the episodes. It’s betrayal and power is so much, I often take my time before watching the next episode. Screw FX for starting and ending episodes at intentionally irregular times. I missed the end of the season three final because of ayholes at FX programming.

  2. HDbfly says:

    When reading this column, I realized something about Paige’s phone call to Paster Tim. She said, “They’re Russians.” (Unless I’m mis-remembering.) That can be explained away. Maybe not easily, but it could be. She didn’t say “They’re Soviet spies.”

    Also, I thought the murder of Analise (sp?) was totally appropriate to show us what they go through, and it was tough especially for Philip who is, now, having second (or third, or fourth) thoughts about it all.

    The Martha storyline, though. He takes out the bobby pins, cut to black. Did he kill her? Did he tell her the truth? What story did he spin? Poor Martha. What we do for love.

  3. Fox Mulder says:

    I was hooked on the show from the start, watching season 1 on netflix and then picking it up on tv since. It has become my favorite show and I tape it and watch it the next day. It is a great period in history and done well. I think the acting is outstanding and the tension is palpable. Many issues were brought into the finale which felt like it was jumping around and leaving many mysteries hanging, and lots of discussion about how they will be resolved or answered next season. Many think Tim is either a KGB spy watching over the family or that he will be killed. I think the latter would be too obvious, and the former an easy fix. I am hoping for a more compex development.
    I do not agree that Paige will be sent away to keep her quiet. Her parents, especially Phillip could not abide that occurring.
    Where is Martha and how will she react is a big question. I did think when Phillip revealed his disguise that it meant he would have to kill her, but still it remains an open question. How could he be sure if he let her go that she would not panic and tell her boss, etc.? That seemed too open-ended for some viewers.

    As a Christian myself, I think it is understandable why all the Russians would not anticipate that Paige’s faith would make it very difficult for her to accept the situation and go against her faith and make lying a part of her daily life. The agnosticism of the USSR would prevent her parents or Gabriel or even the center from understanding why telling Paige at this time was a mistake. It was misjudging her reaction shaped by her Christian values that are quite developed. It would be worthwhile to bring that out, if the writers even recognized this.

    I will be anxiously awaiting next season. The interaction between Stan’s former wife and Phillip was very clever and there are many options for this to develop. Stan is a very likeable and sincere person and he plays that so well. He is clearly very intuitive and that was recognized by those high up in the FBI and will become a stronger character I suspect. Henry is treated like a younger kid and seems undeveloped. That must change and I suspect it will next season.

    How will Paige be persuaded to accept the truth when now it is too late to turn back the clock? That is the biggest question I have now.

  4. Bob Kane says:

    My second favorite show ( sorry ) after Justified. which I guess makes it my favorite show now. You just knew telling Paige would not end well and the season finale left it hanging as she spilled the beans to her pastor. Looking forward to how that is handled in season 4. You know Martha’s time on this earth is limited.Stan has turned into a real goof ball and how he never suspects his close neighbors are not what they portend to be is not likely. Love “John Boys” character and he does a great acting job in this series.

  5. Matt says:

    The finale was really unsatisfying in my opinion. I thought they could have done with a full 2 hours worth of material to just wrap things up properly. What happened to Hans? How did the center even allow Elizabeth to pull that move without any retaliation? Idk. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything better as a writer, but on the other hand I’m glad they didn’t end with a cliff. It makes sense that they wouldn’t do anything too catastrophic before the final season.

  6. This following was taken from the only critic I respect @BestCriticEver

    The Americans is the best show on television and that’s a fact. The finale was not very good this season, in fact that finale was more like a mid season episode than anything. I think we all kind of wish Paige was never informed, but here’s to hoping the writers can do this an a smart way. The fear I had when Paige was informed is the story would get too complicated and over crowded and that’s what basically happened in the finale. As The Americans were waiting for Elizabeth or even perhaps Phillip finally have Maurice meet his demise instead we don’t hear a peep about that whole story on the finale. The Americans need to get back to the basics. The show needs to focus maybe on one task at hand at a time. I liked the whole we need to “go to work kids, be home for supper” idea. Now Paige knowing is just going to be a mess.We know the show can’t go on much further now and maybe that’s why we don’t like it? The things I don’t want to happen to The Americans is Paige becoming a “bad ass” and beating up grown men like Elizabeth can do. That will cheapen the show and make it cheesy. This is what I believe happens, I believe Phillip ends up sleeping with Stans ex wife and Stan then finds out or finds our period that Phillip is meeting with her. Stan will be fired from FBI but still will stop at nothing to catch Phillip and Elizabeth and he will be the one to expose them. This show is not going to end well for Phillip and Elizabeth, deep down I hope it DOES NOT have a Breaking Bad ending where the “bad guys” you root for “lose” in the end. We know Phillip actually likes being an American. I hope somehow that’s how the show ends. Phillip choosing America over Russia and that my friend would be the most epic finale of all time…

    • Andrea D. says:

      I read somewhere that the writers on;y planned to do it for five seasons. NO idea if this is true, but if it is then maybe all of this stuff will be more obvious by then.

  7. Goodbyenoway says:

    “A certain improbability factor?” I enjoy this show but it long ago jumped the shark when it comes to being anything close to realistic. The situations and characters are mostly ridiculous and the show’s continual refusal to even contemplate how just plain evil the main characters are often makes it seem like a cartoon. This season brought that to new heights or lows.

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