The terrific FX series The Americans ended its six-season run last night. I want to talk about the ending, but I’m going to put it below the jump so as not to inflict spoilers on you without warning. If you haven’t watched the ending, or if you think you might ever want to get into this show — and boy, I hope you do! — then stop reading now.
SPOILERS START RIGHT NOW!
The collective opinion of my Twitter feed is that the final episode was one of the greatest series-enders of all time. I’m willing to grant that as an intellectual matter, for reasons I’ll explain below. But as beautiful as it was, in its way, my heart wasn’t in it.
I wanted justice, and redemption, of a kind. Neither came.
I didn’t have any realistic hope that Philip and Elizabeth both would be redeemed. She’s too hardcore. I figured that Philip, who has been tortured by the cruelty of his spy work, would confess all to Stan in exchange for leniency for Paige (and maybe Henry, though he’s guilty of nothing). I imagined that Elizabeth would be killed or would kill herself with the cyanide pill the KGB gave her. That would have been satisfying, at least to me: justice, and redemption. And Stan, finally, would have been vindicated.
That’s not what happened, obviously. I find it hard to believe that Stan would have let them go — that he would have been more loyal to this friendship than to his country, or even to the memory of his old partner, Amador. Surely he must have thought about the shame that would befall him once the FBI knew that his neighbor and best friend was a KGB agent.
Paige getting off the train at the Canadian border was a stroke of genius. I didn’t see that coming.
The final long scene, with Philip and Elizabeth gazing out over the Moscow skyline, was philosophically interesting to me. Here’s the best case I can make for it being the appropriate ending for the series. They escaped justice back in the US, but are sentenced to … what? They have given up their children, whom they will never seen again. They have given up all the comforts of the life they’ve had for decades, to return to a suffering country where everything — unbeknownst to them — is about to collapse. The Soviet Union, for which they murdered and betrayed and committed all kinds of evil, is about to die, and the country that’s left will fall into a decade of extreme economic pain and turmoil.
They have wasted their lives. But they don’t yet know that. We, however, do. There is nothing noble in their sacrifice, either, because the system they defended was evil. Elizabeth may never be able to face that, but Philip will. He loved his American life. For a television series whose most basic theme is loyalty, the Jenningses gave their all to the Soviet Union, and have nothing to show for it. Maybe that’s justice.
I can’t reconcile myself to Stan’s fate, though. He’s a flawed man, but basically decent. Now he has to live the rest of his life unsure if the woman he loves is really a KGB agent. How can he ever trust her? He was fooled by the Jenningses, after all. Maybe by becoming a foster father to Henry, he can find redemption and peace. Stan will never be able to trust anybody ever again, least of all himself. That does not seem like justice, at all.
That’s why I can’t reconcile myself to this ending, as masterfully constructed as it was.
Funny: I didn’t realize how much I loved Stan, and cared about him, until watching the final episode.
What about you?