SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The Americans series finale.
The Americans will always be one of the greatest television shows ever but tonight’s series finale was not one of its greatest moments.
Lacking the tension that has defined the show from its 2013 debut up until tonight, hobbled with inconsistencies and stumbling with sentimentality over and over like a roadside sobriety test drunk, the Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg-penned end to the sixth and final season of the FX Cold War drama was lukewarm at best.
Such an unfortunate and tepid close is a sin in a sense, betraying the foundations of a great series so the Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys-portrayed long time Soviet moles could effortlessly escape the snare of incompetent American authorities. Long faced but bottling up the loss of their children by choice and circumstance, the disguised duo took a jaunt across the Atlantic from porous Canada, avoided Interpol, and made it back to the seemingly welcome embrace of the still Mikhail Gorbachev-led Mother Russia.
After spending the previous years building up such complex and fraught Reagan Era relationships and a labyrinth of allegiances, especially between the couple themselves, tonight’s over 90-minute “Start” episode was a methodical march that didn’t know how to maintain the pace and standard the series had long set for itself. Instead, the end of The Americans went from A to KGB just to apparently check off boxes and wrap this thing up.
It was a cheat and lazy writing from a series that never pandered and clearly lost its usually disciplined and near perfectly paced way.
The Americans would have best served all by putting the script for the finale in a drawer and letting the exceptional penultimate “Jennings, Elizabeth” episode of last week end the series. That fierce row between Russell’s emotionally and ideologically chastened character and her spycrafting daughter Paige, played by Holly Taylor, that was then the coded call from Rhys’ Philip Jennings to Elizabeth informing her that they had been blown would have been suitably draped in Sopranos ambiguity.
Instead it was spinoff set-up central and the Keystone Cops with the hunted Jennings and their pursuer and next-door neighbor FBI Agent Stan Beeman forced to appear like the sulky amateurs we just spent six years learning they are not for narrative rookie twists. No need to robustly recite chapter and verse every part of the mainly decorative finale but surely viewers could have been given more credit.
Are we really supposed to believe that as the FBI has eyes on all aspects of the Jennings’ American life, including the posh boarding school of their blissfully unaware son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and the failing travel agency, they somehow weren’t watching Paige’s nearby college dorm? Does it seem plausible on such an important case that Beeman could ditch his partner and just leave a stake-out? Aren’t you dumbfounded that the almost always circumspect Philip and Elizabeth would simply drive to their daughter’s pad, walk in the front door, convince her to flee to the other side of the Berlin Wall with fake passports and walk back out to the parking garage with her like they were dropping by for coffee.
Of course not, if you’ve been watching The Americans the past six years. Even more unlikely is the set piece that went down in that parking garage that the Jennings sauntered back into.
It wasn’t that the semi-retired but still well-honed killing machine known as Philip Jennings talked FBI agent and his supposed best friend Beeman out of taking them in. It’s that he plaintively and unbelievably convinced the Noah Emmerich-portrayed character to lower his gun and betray everything he believed in about the battle between America and the then USSR simply because he asked him to. Oh yeah and then, before getting in the stolen car, Rhys’ Philip threw in that Stan’s soulmate of a new wife might actually be a KGB agent herself. A possible reality that a potentially espionage cuckolded Stan went home and tenderly tucked into bed later on.
Will all those lack of suspension of disbelief and shark leaping moments, perhaps the lamest part of the ending of The Americans is that none of it smells like a real ending. What it does reek of is another FX show – Mayans MC, the upcoming spinoff from Kurt Sutter to the 2014 ending Sons of Anarchy.
The snap decision tonight just before the Canadian border by Taylor’s well-trained Paige to peel off from her parents and end up drinking vodka in their handler’s now abandoned D.C. apartment pivots to more Americans to come for me. Having literally become an adult on TV, Taylor, as I have said before, has the chops to pull off a sequel of sorts that could find her embedded in the American political establishment of the 21st century awaiting her battle mode orders from Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall imminent in real life, a failed coup against Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union officially within four years, not to mention Boris Yeltsin’s reign of error and the rise of Putin, the bloodless return of Russell and Rhys’ characters to at least some portion of the KGB and chilly Moscow itself screams out “мы вернемся” rather than “это конец,” even if Fields, Weisberg, FX boss John Landgraf or no one else knows the revival plan yet.
Perhaps Philip takes some of the lessons he learned floundering at capitalism in America and mixes them with his natural ingenuity to grab the reigns of industry in the wild Yeltsin years. With ruthless Elizabeth still by his side, the still somewhat sensitive character could end up as an oligarch trying to do good for his nation and backing a certain former KGB colleague to take over from boozy Boris.
Whatever form it takes, it is obvious that there is more story to tell for The Americans and tonight’s so-called finale will hopefully be consigned to the dustbin of TV history soon enough.
But let’s also be honest – ending a series is hard and few have done it well.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, so many shows never really get to the plan their goodbye as one day the network, streamer or cabler just pulls the plug. Still, that may be preferable to a series that knows the end is coming and tries to craft a conclusion over multiple weeks of television. with all the crushing weight of anticipation
Simply put, almost no ending is going to make every fan of a show a happy camper.
With the exceptional exceptions of 1990’s Newhart, Six Feet Under in 2005, the previously mentioned The Sopranos in 2007, which took years to reveal its true brilliance for many, and 2008’s The Wire after five seasons, most series enders fall short of the target.
In that context, The Americans ender has a lot of company in the annals of finales, but that’s the problem with this end – The Americans was never like everybody else, it was one of the greats and that got lost in translation tonight.