The Americans Season 1 Finale Review: Looks Like We Made It

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The Americans S01E13: "The Colonel"

Newly committed spy-Nina made progress turning Beeman while Phillip and Elizabeth’s dubious meeting with an asset resulted in a death-defying escape from the clutches of the FBI. "The Colonel" was a solid season finale that expertly represented a show that's both similar to and far different from the one introduced in the pilot. We are still watching spies be people and people be spies, but across the board, nearly every character has had their world drastically changed from the originally established status quo. The well-oiled, heartless machine of espionage from early on has become something that's simultaneously more compassionate and more exploitative of the human condition. 

Phillip and Elizabeth learned each other’s pasts and worked through the hurt they've leveled against one another; Beeman stepped up out of his straight-laced existence, fell into a romance with an enemy lover, lost a friend, murdered an innocent person, and is now in a slow-motion tailspin; faced with punitive action, timid, low-ranking Nina drew on her untapped cunning and feminine wiles to rise through the ranks of the KGB. Set against the backdrop of the intelligence-obsessed Cold War, in 13 episodes The Americans has successfully "married" the two initially disparate themes of family and spy-craft to the point where it doesn’t really make sense not to think of the two together. What are relationships, but the sharing and withholding of information? What are the two emotional extremes of life, but love and war? Sure, the premise of this show felt like pitch-fodder at first, but in a time where intel is just a smartphone away, where we have 24-hour access to news trumping up the threats to the American way (whatever that is anymore), and where ripples from our nation’s warring past continue to haunt our headlines, the kind folks at FX have created an hour that is both entertaining and vitally important to us all as humans moving forward (even if you think the wigs are hokey).

But let’s talk about the events of this episode, why not? Phillip and Elizabeth were perfect. Whether you know it or not, their marriage is actually/officially an "on-again-off-again" romance, possibly the best one on television today. Between Phillip murdering Elizabeth's rapist in the pilot, Elizabeth letting her husband down gently about the inauthenticity of their arranged marriage, and now her Russian invitation for him to "come home," this show has discovered a new way into the "will-they-won’t-they" dynamic that viewers demand, while maintaining a taut, original, suspenseful drama. Perhaps the most innovative aspect to their uncertain relationship is the possibility of death on either end (Jim and Pam will NOT face this). How romantic is it to be so committed to a shared cause that the end of life might stop your love? 

Case in point, Phillip and Elizabeth’s debate over who should take the kids. Isn’t it the epitome of adulation to feel that your biological, creative partner is better suited to care for your progeny? Or is it self-hatred? At one point Phillip cited Elizabeth's status as their mother, insisting it makes her a better candidate. A nurturer—only, in their case, the less-loved of the two. Still, she bears the title of "mom," and historically, this role is more aligned with kindness and gentleness; Phillip's stance implies that he sees the world to come as a ruthless, unforgiving one, and for Paige and Henry to endure it, they’ll need comfort. Contrarily, that Elizabeth sees her husband (normally an "enforcer") as the better suited of the two to provide comfort is just one of the many ways The Americans has subverted societal roles.  

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Agent Stan Beeman, a floundering man-child in the ways of love. Right? It seems he’s made his family, but refuses to interact with them (I think his only words to Matthew this season were about The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) An individual so used to being someone else would ostensibly find it difficult to behave as the cornerstone of an intimate group, and that’s exactly what’s occurred. That Phillip had a hand in scoring Beeman that sweet Jamaican vacation deal doesn’t necessarily mean his neighbor has infiltrated the FBI agent’s marriage, but it certainly feels like the product of such. Wouldn’t that be a win in this world? Ruining your enemy’s personal life?  Sure, in the Jenningsphere it looks like Elizabeth is pulling through from the awesome car-chase-cum-gunshot-wound, but on that note, Paige also seems to be getting close to figuring out her spy parents? We should all be thankful Elizabeth and Phillip seem to be on the up-and-up, because it’ll take teamwork to handle their children’s growing curiosity, plus Papa Jennings’ fake/real marriage to the tragically enjoyable Martha. Oh Martha. You sure can pick 'em! 

Claudia finished off the season being the most Claudia she could be: ordering Elizabeth "Eggs Florentine," claiming to know her better than she knew herself; slicing and dicing Patterson for the death of Zhukov (who knew she had feelings?!/"You won't be able to move for 20 minutes. Which is 10 minutes longer than you have left."), and advising Arkady for the benefit of Phillip and Elizabeth (who knew she had feelings?!). So far we’ve heard tell of Moscow’s sometimes uninformed, greedy direction to its lower operatives, but only now have we seen higher-ups such as "Granny" and Arkady questioning the authority back home. I have to reiterate how impressive it is that this show has established a world where we care so much about people in their workplace (a workplace that happens to be spying for Russia), that it’s okay knowing how the Cold War played out (spoiler alert: no one attacks anyone with nuclear missiles). It’s not about who wins nationally, it’s about seeing the smaller characters on the frontline survive in spite of their duties, and the everyday demands of human existence.      

So, with an FBI agent in the doghouse, unknowingly watching the kids of KGB operatives (connecting the two families even further), set to Peter Gabriel’s war-critical song "Games Without Frontiers," The Americans both set forth its own criteria and proceeded to stick a perfect landing within its self-identified terms. To view the series and its growth has been a WHOLLY satisfying experience and thankfully the next season can continue from where these first 13 episodes have left off pretty effortlessly. Sure it may be history, but in focusing on the individuals involved, this seemingly limited world has endless possibilities.      


ADDITIONAL INTEL

– Elizabeth listening to recordings of her mother in the basement. Heartbreaking/she sure could’ve used a comforting parental figure. 

– The Jennings children are delightful TV kids. Just naive enough, but also full of individual emotion. 

– Whew, a lot of deaths this season: Robert, Timochev, Gregory, Zhukov, Vlad, Amador, Vasily, Robert’s wife, Patterson, Udacha, just to name a few. Am I forgetting anyone?

– The show is taking it to space next season, apparently.

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