The Americans was put in an impossible position last season. How do you have a show about Russian spies living and working in Washington DC in the 80s when in reality you currently have a President in the White House who (probably) colluded with Russia to win an election? The obvious answer if you are the show-runners for The Americans is to not be too concerned about current politics and keep doing what you’re doing. To be honest, The Americans never truly cared about our lives in the here and now. There were plenty of times when the show could have pulled from modern day headlines (the invasion of Ukraine, Edward Snowden, Climate Change), but the it never took the bait. The one time it came close was the show’s focus on the Afghanistan war, where the Soviet Union was the one’s stuck in an endless entanglement in the region. Even then, the similarities between their war and our war were barely hinted at. The Americans wanted us to understand that the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan, but it didn’t really care if we thought it was interesting. Political intrigue and typical spy drama isn’t the reason the show is successful. The joy of the show, the reason why you want to keep watching, is the relationship between Phillip and Elizabeth and how that relationship’s problems rippled out and affected everyone close to them. That dynamic can easily resist the temptation to bring Trump into the mix. The Americans has always been a sophisticated television. It’s ability to fully ignore our current national mistake makes it all the more amazing.
All that said, the previous season of The Americans highlights that the show should end next season, which is already planned. There is a lack of “pop” in the show that its early version had in spades. Intrigue, murder, investigations, plots, conspiracies, they all fueled the show and made it that much more engaging on top of the Phillip/Elizabeth drama. For many reasons, the show-runners have stepped back from all of that and have decided to give deeper, longer glances at the supporting characters in an effort to say goodbye to them. Next season will only have about 13 episodes. And there is a very high chance that next season will move incredibly quickly, pushing the story to a conclusion that, hopefully, will satisfy its dedicated viewership. The show might not be able to fully resolve all the lingering story lines. But, it can give us enough hints so that we aren’t hostile to its ending.
Saying good bye at this point in the show feels right. Martha, in particular, was very well handled. Insinuating that she was going to adopt a Russian orphan girl was both sweet and hard breaking. All Martha wanted was to be loved by someone. Phillip’s destruction of her life seems especially cruel now. He hated sending her off to Russia, but he is with Elizabeth whereas Martha has to take the full brute of his actions. The same goes for Phillip’s first son. More than any character on the show, Phillip is surrounded by ghosts. Martha, his oldest son, his former lover, Stan: there is a long list of people that are or will be hurt by Phillip’s actions.
That same pain distribution applies to his daughter as well. Paige, willing or unwillingly, ruined Pastor Tim’s life. When given the chance to find out the truth about her parent’s, she showed that she couldn’t be mature about it, at least not immediately. Last season saw Paige becoming stronger, both physically and emotionally. Sending Pastor Tim away was her decision and she felt fine with it. Does that mean she is becoming like Phillip, where she destroys personal relationships because she doesn’t know what else to do? Or is she like her mother, a bit cold and calculating, efficient when it comes to attachments? The show is setting Paige up for something powerful. Whether it will have enough time to flesh that out, we’ll have to see.
Then there is Elizabeth. The show gave us the most touching scene in probably the entire series with the “official” marriage of Phillip and Elizabeth. Their marriage was never real in the sense that it was bound by orthodoxy. When they decided to really get married, it finally capped the question of their loyalty to each other. More than anyone on the show, Elizabeth has been the hard rock center that the conflict of the show orbits. Elizabeth would and has killed innocent people in the name of Mother Russia. However, oddly, we did begin to see a breaking point on two fronts. First, she has become hesitant to form attachments with her marks, probably because of her feelings towards Phillip. Yeah, I know that Phillip sleeps with his marks too. But, it’s obvious that Phillip never really likes it. Elizabeth, when talking about the bearded farmer dude, was obviously attracted to him. Elizabeth has been able to play multiple marks, multiple parts, and have everyone stay in their lanes. Lately, however, this has changed. Elizabeth was hurt when she had to destroy the marriage of her Mary Kay friend. She seemed conflicted when she realized that the farmer wasn’t solely interested in her. And, the last straw, Elizabeth had doubts when she killed the Russian traitor and her husband. I mean, yeah, Elizabeth killed them when Phillip couldn’t. But, you could tell, Elizabeth just can’t do much more. Phillip reached his breaking point years ago and Elizabeth is just starting to. The actions of Tuan encapsulates that. Tuan didn’t have a second thought convincing a young boy to commit suicide so that the team could complete their mission. Elizabeth was bothered but Phillip was mortified. It didn’t seem like that long ago that Elizabeth did the same thing to the woman in the mail-robot shop. Our beloved characters are becoming battle-weary. That is fitting, considering that the show is about to come to an end.
Of course, just when we all think that Phillip and Elizabeth are about to get out, they can’t. Or, at least, they don’t. The season ends with the Jennings deciding to stay in America and continue spying, probably working the most important case of their careers. The most important question for fans is, what happens now? We shouldn’t expect a massive shoot out or a car chase or some craziness that we’ve come to want from stupid spy movies. The Americans has never been that type of show. The ending of the show will probably be a soft, quiet moment. Will fans respect that? Are fans mature enough to deal with the ending the we know that’s coming? The Americans is a brilliant show because it has never cared what we thought. It has given us what it wanted to. In the end, we might not like the ending but it’ll be hard not to respect it.