“I’m sure the next time mom and dad have … ‘business’ out of the country, and they have an extra ticket, it’ll go to … you.”
Bravo to actress Holly Taylor for nailing that line from a number of directions as the season finale for The Americans begins. Paige says that to her little brother as she walks through the airport with her family, on her way to West Germany with her mother (Keri Russell) to pay a farewell visit to the dying Russian grandmother she never knew existed.
“I’m sorry I never got to meet her,” Matthew Rhys’ Philip whispers in his wife’s ear.
“You wouldn’t have liked her,” Elizabeth replies.
I have to admit, this episode—titled “March 8, 1983” for reasons that will become clear later—frustrated me as a season finale. It felt more like an incredibly good penultimate episode, and ending on such a stark cliffhanger with many other plot threads dangling, feels like a mistake. The creators of The Americans have manufactured some savage tension, but that will only dissipate as we await season 4, rather than leaving us with a completed story line, as they did last year.
As Paige and Elizabeth head toward the Berlin Wall, Yousaf (Rahul Khanna) informs Philip that their plot to trick one visiting Mujahideen visitor to slaughter his fellow emissaries successfully scared the House Armed Services Committee away from giving them Stinger missiles.
The Pakistani ISI operative Yousaf is only cooperating because Philip helped him cover up his cold-blooded murder of Annelise earlier in the season. (Who can forget the crack-and-pack luggage scene as they smuggled her corpse out of the hotel?) Of course, Philip also is responsible for putting the two of them together, and Yousaf hasn’t forgotten that—even if he is crying crocodile tears now over the poor lover he murdered.
“Annelise finally paid off for you,” he says. “The weapons stay out of your enemy hands. Was it worth it?”
Way to get judge-y, Mr. Strangler.
“I don’t think like that,” Philip says. But he totally thinks like that. “I know a lot of young men who won’t be blown out of the sky because of what I did. Because of what Annelise did. Because of what we did. A lot of young men who …”
Philip stops. He’s done lying. “Yousaf, I feel like shit all the time,” he confesses.
Over at the Rezidentura, the staff is warned against carrying out threats or assassinations without appropriate departments from The Center signing off. This is a dog-whistle to the ear of Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) who previously threatened the defector Zinaida Preobrazhenskaya for speaking out against the Soviet Union and its incursion into Afghanistan as part of a ploy to determine if she was actually a double agent.
Now he knows—she is. And he and FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) plan to use this information to get her arrested and trade her for their shared love, Nina, (Annet Mahendru) whom they both betrayed and got sent to a Siberian work camp.
Now is their chance to make it right. Maybe.
Stan is busy horse-trading with his soon-to-be-ex wife (Susan Misner). Back at their old family home, now Stan’s bachelor pad, they agree to split the houseplants and he toys with her over a wooden rocking chair. “How about if I get it on weekends,” he says, to her dismay. “I’m kidding,” he adds. “You take it.”
The joking is over when she tells him he can keep their old wedding album. Ouch.
Over in West Berlin, Paige is getting a taste of her mother’s fearful existence as Elizabeth has a moment of panic over whether she’s possibly being followed. “Do you have to be careful all the time?” Paige asks.
“If I’m working, yeah.”
“And you’re working now?”
“It’s a habit, I guess.”
Sound appealing, Paige?
Elizabeth also tries to prep her daughter for their meeting with Elizabeth’s mother. “She’s tough. She had to be. She’s not like the grandmothers you’re used to.”
Back in the U.S. of A., Philip is facing down a different parental figure: Frank Langella’s Gabriel—who is pissed. Elizabeth’s journey to Berlin was a rogue move, not sanctioned by The Center. Philip assures him that “no one blinked” at their passports, but Gabriel asks him how he can be certain. Philip informs him that he’s going to do what he feels is right for his family regardless of the wishes of the KGB.
“You can’t blackmail the organization this way. You’re acting like a child,” Gabriel says.
“I’m just getting done what I need to get done.”
Gabriel looms over him. “You can’t see 10 feet in front of you. I’ve done nothing but try to take care of you, and because you’re not getting what you want you think I’m the enemy. When Elizabeth doesn’t see everything exactly the way you see it, you think there’s something wrong with her. You know who there’s something wrong with …?”
Philip doesn’t answer, but then … he doesn’t need to.
“Grow up,” Gabriel says, practically spitting the words in Philip’s face.
Oleg meets with Stan to let him know that Zinaida has alerted the KGB to their threat, indicating she is a secret operative for the Soviets using defection as a means to gaining access to the highest level of American intelligence on Afghanistan.
Now to spring the trap and hope Nina can be freed in exchange.
“Do you really think this will work?” Oleg asks.
It turns out the answer is a big, fat NO.
Agent Gaad is just as pissed as Gabriel. Beeman tells Richard Thomas’s character about his off-the-books operation and slides a microcassette across the desk. “That is Oleg Burov admitting that Zinaida Preobrazhenskaya is a spy working for the KGB.”
“Who’s he say it to?” Gaad asks.
“Me,” Beeman says. “Sir.”
“You’ve been talking to Burov without my knowing about it?”
“I found out Burov had kind of a thing for Nina.”
“How did you find that out,” Gaad says.
“Well. Uh I think you know. Things got … more complicated that they should have, with me and Nina. Burov found out, tried to use it against me.”
Gaad’s hissy fit begins as Beeman tries to reassure him.
“I knew I could get him this way, sir,” Beeman says. “I just needed time. And I got him. With that, we can arrest Zinaida and trade her for Nina.”
Gaad is not having it. “Do you give a shit about the bureau, Stan?” He wants to know if Beeman bugged his office, but already seems to think he knows.
Beeman says he wouldn’t be turning over Oleg if he were a double-agent. “If this is the end of my career, it’s the end of my career. But Nina was our agent. We owe our agents anything we can do to help them if they get caught. That’s how that works, right?”
Gaad rolls his eyes. “Don’t give me a speech about how we’re supposed to treat our agents.”
Back at the Soviet work camp, Nina is taking care of herself. She is getting closer to researcher Anton Baklanov (Michael Aronov), who is beside himself with enthusiasm for the new photos he has received of the American stealth airplane facility.
She is trying to wrestle back control of her own fate by monitoring the scientist’s work, but tells him she is beginning to have doubts. “I can’t keep doing this. Buying back my life,” she says in one of the season’s most heartbreaking lines. “I don’t know if it’s worth it.”
In Berlin, Elizabeth meets her mother, who is confined to a wheelchair. She kneels, speaks Russian, while Paige looks on. “My little one,” the old woman says. “All this time gone…”
Paige joins them and the three women hold hands. Later, after Elizabeth’s mother is taken away, she finds her young daughter in the bathroom with her hands clasped to her face. “What are you doing?”
“Praying,” Paige says. “For your mother.”
Elizabeth begins to kneel beside her, then slips down and sits against the wall. How remarkable would it be if Paige ends up being the one whose deeply held beliefs end up recruiting her mother instead of the other way around?
“I don’t get how she could let you leave like that. Basically say goodbye forever,” Paige says. “Would you let me do that?”
Elizabeth swallows this question hard. “You would never have to do anything like that,” she says, but it sounds like a lie.
Back in the states, Zinaida is apprehended by Gaad, and Beeman is told to spend the day at his desk while the Deputy Attorney General decides whether to accept Gaad’s recommendation that the FBI agent be fired and investigated for his potentially traitorous operation.
Beeman just wants to know what will be done with Zinaida now. “We’re not trading her for Nina. CIA asset was arrested a year ago in the Soviet Union. They wanted him more.”
Beeman is broken. “It’s a day of big disappointments for all of us,” Gaad says, sassier than is necessary.
The Deputy A.G. decides not to investigate Beeman. “From where I stand that’s two times you’ve gotten close to people [at the Rezidentura],” he says. “The only thing that matters is the work you are going to be doing—with Burov. If you have trouble with the bureaucrats here. You come to me. I’m going to tell them the same thing. I won’t let them stand in your way.”
One more chance! “We need to get Nina released so I can use that as a lever with Burov,” Beeman says.
Once again: a big, fat NO. “That we can’t do,” he is told. “You’ll find another way.”
Elsewhere, Philip is in disguise sitting in the apartment of a computer and robot enthusiast. In walks the computer tech from the FBI office, who doesn’t even get to utter a line before Philip knocks him out.
Philip plants recording equipment around the apartment, then types a suicide note on the man’s computer. In the background, we see the collector of little toy robots hanging from a noose.
Just as Nina said she didn’t know if she could keep on pretending, Paige returns to the U.S. with Elizabeth and says the same thing: “I don’t know if I can do this, Mom.”
This is terrifying to Elizabeth, who thought she had made progress with Paige on this trip abroad. Instead, it seems to have frightened the girl even more.
“Go home and lie. To Henry? About everything? All my friends, everyone in my life?” Paige says. “That’s not who I am.”
“Everybody lies, Paige. It’s a part of life,” Elizabeth says. “But we’re telling each other the truth now.”
Back at home, Henry is over at Mr. Beeman’s playing a football game. Philip is watching President Ronald Reagan on the news. It is March 8, 1983—the day Reagan made his famous speech declaring the U.S.S.R. to be “an evil empire.”
“I took care of that Martha thing today. We’ll see, but maybe they’ll shut down the investigation,” Philip says.
“Did you tell Martha about it first?” Elizabeth asks.
“When she finds out he’s dead, she’ll come to me and tell me how much she needs to know about it,” Philip tells her. Like Gabriel predicated, he can’t see 10 feet in front of himself anymore.
“A woman like that with this on her conscience… I don’t think you’re seeing things clearly,” Elizabeth says.
In the other room, Paige picks up the phone and dials Pastor Tim. “I’ve been having a really hard time. I’m hurting, a lot. I don’t know what to do.”
This intercuts with her father, making his own confession: the murder of the robot guy unsettled him. Like Gabriel predicted a few episodes back, he is coming apart with guilt.
“I almost feel like when I do this stuff, if I don’t … I just feel like from now on I need to be able to know what I’m doing better …” Philip says. I think the clumsy language is deliberate. Philip wants to know he’s doing evil deeds for a better cause.
All Elizabeth says is: “What do you mean?” But he can’t explain it any better.
Reagan is on television saying, “to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
In the room down the hall, Paige is telling Pastor Tim: “They’re not who they say they are. They’re not Americans … I’m not supposed to say it. You can’t tell anyone. They’re … Russians.”
“They are the focus of evil in the modern world,” Reagan says.
And that’s a wrap on the season. So … what next? My theory: Pastor Tim is an operative for the KGB, tasked with helping in the recruitment of Paige. It’s too soon to blow Philip and Elizabeth’s cover, so I believe Paige’s call will fall into a safety net already strung up by The Center.
But Martha …? Stan …? Nina …?
This was a season that raised more questions than it resolved.