To describe The Americans’ series finale would make the ending sound vaguely anti-climactic: long-established relationships end without much resolution, characters are only given half-hearted farewells, and deep-seated emotions are still sort of left hanging in the air. But in this half-digested farewell, The Americans leaves us confident in its characters’ direction. With that, it achieves something better than a neat and tidy conclusion, it takes its characters, who have spent nine episodes developing and transforming, to a place infinitely more hopeful.
The tenth episode opens with Philip and Elizabeth at a safehouse. Philip has just barely escaped the FBI and has already made the hasty-but-rational decision to defect back to the Soviet Union. Elizabeth tentatively agrees. Father Andrei, meanwhile, is being interrogated and, knowing the Jennings’ real identity, is vitally important to Stan’s ongoing investigation on the Soviet Spies. The urgency achieved here is nothing new for The Americans, but its effect on the drama prove remarkably effective with the end looming on the horizon. Character actions are granted a deeper sense of reflection and consequence as Philip, Elizabeth and Paige have to come to terms with a the cataclysmic turn of events.
Meanwhile, Stan Beeman uses the ongoing FBI investigation into a ring of Soviet spies to undertake his own personal investigation into the Jennings. This culminates to a scary, emotionally-paralyzing confrontation in an underground parking lot where best friends Philip and Stan truly see each other for the first time. The moment is far from a clean confession. Philip and Elizabeth, even when finally revealing themselves, are still caught in lies too unbearable to confess to. By the scene’s end, Philip, Paige and Elizabeth leave the garage unharmed, but—like Stan’s figure on the rearview mirror—the moment still lingers on, festering with crimes, feelings and truths unsaid.
Though powerful in its own right, the Stan-Jennings confrontation doesn’t pack nearly as strong a punch as the latter half when the Jennings, with Paige on their coattails, attempt to make their final arrangements before leaving America. A half-hearted goodbye through a payphone to Henry from Elizabeth and Philip is abrupt and unfulfilled enough to completely crush anyone remotely invested in the family. Following it is the revelatory and shattering moment on the train where Philip and Elizabeth see Paige on the platform, having seemingly made a last-minute decision not to join them.
Paige’s big moment somehow achieves something bittersweet (rather than just bitter). While the family is irresolutely torn apart, Paige achieves a fully-developed independence almost completely stolen from her. Moving to the tune of U2’s “With or Without You” (a most inspired use of the song), it’s perhaps the episodes most deeply affecting moment that also happens to be its most profound.
Episode ten’s title, “START,” is both ironic for a season finale, but absolutely spot on in terms of the episode’s implications. Philip and Elizabeth are left in the series’ final moments standing in Moscow ruminating on the choices they have made up until that point. Having spent roughly the same amount of time in the Soviet Union as they did in the U.S., returning gives Philip some pause. Elizabeth however assures him that they’ll get used to it—one imagines a similar conversation ensued when the two first arrived in the U.S. as young KGB officers. The show leaves the “Jennings” ultimate destination as an open cycle, not merely repeating but bettering, improving and maturing with each new one. Forging new identities beyond “Soviet” and “American,” “START” seems to offer Elizabeth and Philip just that.