Wow. Now that is how you end a season. Mystery: answered. Big bad: neutralized. Love triangle: concluded. Stakes: raised. Written by Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields and directed by Daniel Sackhelm, "Echo" was everything that's great about The Americans crammed into one hour, yet it never felt overburdened. In a season that questioned whether a spy family could ever become real family, we’ve organically returned to that central conflict, as introduced so many dead-drops ago. Fighting all along to protect their children from the family business, Philip and Elizabeth inadvertently brought Paige and Henry closer than ever to a danger they thought they'd escaped. Though they've jumped through hoop after hoop fulfilling spy duties and fending off threats to the little ones, the Jennings efforts' to keep Mother Russia outside the home proved more futile than they realized.
While the mission to retrieve RAM samples via sticky-shoe was an early success, it came at the expense of Fred’s life. Just as Philip deduced, the asset appeared exhilarated by his dedication to the Cause, even as he spent his final moments in a D.C. phone booth. The Americans has made a name for itself with its excellent music montages, and the use of Golden Earring’s "Twilight Zone" in "Echo" kickstarted an energetic sequence featuring the untimely demise of Fred and the arrest of Pastor Tim. Chalking up a death before the credits sequence was a first for the show, and it set an unpredictable tone for the rest of the hour.
Coincidentally enough, the music video for this song was conceived after the band’s guitarist read Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity—true Wikipedia fact!):
Paige, in her know-it-all teenage way, once again mounted her high horse to teach her family about civil disobedience. "If she said one more thing about non-violent resistance," Philip later remarked, "I was going to punch her in the face." Like parents do, they allowed their daughter freedom, while behind closed doors they exercised their own liberty to dismiss Paige’s American passions. "She thinks a church pastor being arrested for loitering is some kind of hero," muttered Philip before zipping off to see Martha. Last week the two newlyweds discussed the prospect of (not) having children, and this week their conversation was much the same. "I am who I am, Martha," Clark stated, in the ironic way that only a disguised spy husband can. "I’ve tried not to hide myself from you," he continued, leaving audience members to roll their eyes en masse. Martha thankfully has survived another season, even after many suggested she’d be next to go. No family for you Martha, but congratulations on your new "Ladysmith" (technically a Smith & Wesson Model 642LS)!
How "on theme" it is that Larrick’s been AWOL via "family leave." This show doesn't miss a beat. After an abrupt Jennings family vacation to the woods near Jared’s exfiltration spot ("There’s A LOT wrong with us!" was my favorite quote of the episode), the seasoned skulker SEAL finally got the upper hand on Elizabeth and Philip. He nabbed the latter following a meeting with some fellow Illegals outside a bakery, and he snagged Elizabeth during her explanatory hike with Jared. The orphaned teen sure had a lot of questions about Kate’s whereabouts. Just how long HAD he been meeting with her? And why?
One shootout later, the answers flowed faster than blood spilling from a neck wound. I’ve enjoyed Owen Campbell’s work all season long, and Jared's dying confession alongside his insistence that Moscow be informed of his heroics was one of the young actor's best scenes. Jared’s been a helpless teen for so long that his last-minute reveal of bravery still felt like a young person begging to be seen as an adult. Amid these pleas came snippets of what happend that fateful day in Alexandria: Jared and Kate had been seeing each other for a while. The two had plans to run off and do "great work" together. Emmett did not approve of this plan and got angry with his son. Committed to Kate and the Cause, Jared then used his father’s gun on his parents. His younger sister Amelia "would’ve gone straight to the police." Jared cleaned up and hit the pool. Mystery solved (kind of—but more on this later). His final words: "You have to tell her. When you see her..." I cried as life left his eyes.
Elsewhere, Stan the Loverboy struggled with his future: Would he deliver Echo to the Russians and save Nina? All signs pointed to yes for most of the episode, as he wore a wire into the top-secret Pentagonal site and learned of the code’s two other locations (Cheyenne Mountain and another place where you’d have to kidnap the president to access it). That he also met with Arkady on where to deliver the program and meet Nina further implied he was game. But dude was also having hella mixed feelings. Stan’s stress dream featured Martha lifting files from the mail room robot (I wonder if his subconscious was aware of this), Vlad coming back from the dead, and screwing Sandra. Let’s see: I figure that Vlad is the embodiment of Stan's guilt over taking a man’s life, and a representation of the sort of emotional wedge that drove Stan and Sandra apart. Like, in imagining his ex-wife's lover, Stan's mostly projecting his own emotional hang-ups. But I do not have a degree in Feelings, so don't quote me.
Quick question, though: When is a love triangle not a love triangle? When both suitors abandon the object of affection. Stan left SOMETHING at the drop point, but we didn’t find out what it was until a perfect, nearly wordless scene at the Rezidentura: Arkady handed Nina a sheet of paper—already bad news, for not being a disk. "This is what he left," Arkady stated, emotionless. We saw Nina's face fall, as she saw what was on the page (the 1982 equivalent of breaking up via text):
With Nina’s fate sealed, she spent the remainder of the season in elegant silence. No hysterics, no bargaining. As soon as the sun came up, the doors opened and she was marched out, still healing from the bruises sustained for Mother Russia. Oleg, overcome by a need to share one last look with Nina, stormed out, too—though only far enough to maintain his innocence. Then, more quiet drama: Arkady watched Oleg, Oleg broke the gaze; Arkady left with the Lenin painting. Stan, still torn (or hopefully concocting a plan for next season), waited outside for one last glance. One last look back, and once more Nina was alone. I doubt this is the last we've seen of the skilled and beautiful triple agent.
Now, I don’t know what it was about watching a teenager die right before her very eyes that made Elizabeth think it was a good idea to induct Paige into the Cause. The ever-dubious Claudia returned to deliver some unsettling news: One year prior, the Centre had developed a program called "Second Generation Illegals," the goal being to groom a spy child into eventual candidacy for the FBI or CIA. The Centre asked Emmett and Leanne to induct Jared, but they reacted like any protective parent would, and declined. So, the Centre went over the couple's heads and sent Kate to woo Jared into espionage. Like a teenager being disallowed to do grown-up things, the Connors boy flipped out. I can only imagine that Moscow inexplicably assigned Kate to Philip and Elizabeth this season for the same reason.
And so, in a stroke of remarkable storytelling, "Echo" and The Americans' second season ended with the fulfillment of the show's original theme, then transitioned into another. "Paige is not just yours," threatened Claudia "She belongs to the Cause. Forgotten that?" Uh, wait, she may technically be part of cover, but she's also a human being that Elizabeth and Philip made with their own biology. Take it easy, Moscow. Don't be weird. With one last disguise for the road, Philip confronted Arkady (who chose Popular Mechanics, while Philip picked up Rolling Stone—the Warren Beatty issue). The message: Stay the hell away from his daughter. Word of warning, Arkady, the last dude who hassled Paige got a skewer in the nards way back in the pilot. But since this show can’t resist twists (thankfully it EARNS them), who should start to warm to the idea but Elizabeth. Make up your mind, lady! Last week you thought Paige would be dead in an alley in a week. Now you want to "turn" your own daughter? Either way, I appreciate this as a conflict for next season. It’s organic, it raises the stakes. "It would destroy her," reasoned Philip "To be like us?" countered Elizabeth. I’m sure the dinner conversation was wonderful.
– Even handcuffed, the Jennings can still kick ass.
– "Hard to believe the future of the free world rests on all those numbers and symbols, huh?"
– "Don’t tell her 'I you love' so much. A Russian woman doesn’t like that. She won’t respect you."
– Still no Kelli.
– Remember when Claudia said she got involved with someone and had to duck out of the picture? Who was that?
FROM THE WRITER:
Hi guys, it’s me, Ryan. I have to say it’s been a real pleasure reading your reactions to basically my favorite show on TV. You commenters are so intuitive and passionate, these past 13 weeks went by too fast. Until next time, fellow fanatics. Until next time.
What'd you think of The Americans' Season 2 finale? What's on your Season 3 wishlist?
AIRED ON 5/21/2014
Season 2 : Episode 13