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WashingTelevision: The Americans Recap, Season Finale, “The Colonel”
Elizabeth and Philip found themselves in unexpected danger, while Stan found himself thwarted yet again.
“I know you better than you know yourself,” said Claudia/Grannie to Elizabeth in last night’s season finale of The Americans. “And you don’t know me at all.” It’s been easy to doubt Grannie over the course of the season, given her prickly affect, her habit of stalking people, her odd love for arcade games and breakfast meetings, and the time she kidnapped and tortured Philip and Elizabeth (oh, yeah, that). But as the season finale revealed, she’s actually been a loyal supervisor to the Jenningses all along, voicing her own doubts to her KGB contact (revealed to be Arkady) about the validity of a meeting with the Colonel and taking matters into her own hands when her friend General Zhukov was killed by the CIA.
One of the reasons Grannie is so effective as an agent is her motherly demeanor, which allowed her to con her way into the suspicious CIA agent’s house before slashing his jugular with terrifying efficiency. “Victor Zhukov was my friend,” she told him. “We met in Stalingrad in 1942. The first time I saw him he was standing over two dead Nazis.” As speeches go, this one was Tarantino-Type-A-tastic. Philip and Elizabeth might have requested Grannie’s reassignment, forcing her to fill out 27 different forms (bureaucracy killed the Cold War, apparently), but we have to hope as viewers that she’ll be back next season.
With Grannie, and with each of the other female characters, one of the things The Americans has suggested in a remarkably subtle fashion is how much more independence women seem to have east of the Iron Curtain. Compare Martha languishing as an FBI secretary with Nina rapidly ascending up the KGB chain of command, or Elizabeth and Philip working alongside each other as partners with the alienation between Stan and Sandra. The finale crystallized all this when it showed Nina wearing an apron in the studio and washing dishes as she pondered her new exfiltrated American life—a world away from the power suits she sports in the Rezidentura.
A nice, tidy way to pull audiences back into a second season would have been to have either Elizabeth or Philip captured and forced to play mole. It was a superb plot twist in the end to have Philip’s attempt to take the fall for his wife spoiled when the meet they were both so convinced was a setup turned out to be legitimate, and the routine matter of getting in a car and listening in on the bug in Caspar Weinberger’s study was the event that got the pair of them almost captured and Elizabeth shot. The Colonel, the source of so much debate, was simply a disaffected higher-up frustrated by the Reagan administration’s grandiose posturing—exactly the right kind of person for a KGB agent to attempt to turn. Nina managed to let Arkady know that the FBI were closing in on Directorate S and were about to be “very happy,” which led to Arkady’s slapstick graffitiing of an “abort” signal on a car door. It was gratifying to have an action sequence after so many weeks of languorous, drawn-out scenes of marital demise and emotional discomfort, even if Philip did choose to steal a car that looked oddly similar to the one he was trying to ditch.
At the end of last week’s episode, the KGB seemed to have a much better hand than the FBI, but with the unexpected arrest of Sanford Prince, the scales are very much tipped toward an even balance again. (The director of the season finale, Adam Arkin, emphasized this by showing the FBI’s file on Prince followed immediately by the KGB’s file on Stan.) The cross-referencing of the two organizations, showcased so superbly in the credits, has always been one of The Americans’ strengths, and the actions of agents on both sides have tended to echo each other in a way that could feel artificial but doesn’t. When Stan killed Vlad, a thoroughly sympathetic character, it was in the same episode that the KGB killed Chris. As we go into season two, each side has a window into the other’s operation. While initially it might have felt like an obvious bet to put money on Philip defecting, the KGB’s pursuance of Stan leaves more options on the table.
As we might have suspected, the season closed with a fantastic song on the soundtrack—Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.” “Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games/ Hiding out in treetops shouting out rude names.” If that isn’t an analogy for the whole of the season, I don’t know what is.
Henry has a Star Wars comforter. And neither he nor Paige is allowed to go into their parents’ room at night, which feels unbelievable as a rule that’s never been broken.
I loved how the director moved from a shot of Elizabeth kissing her son goodnight to a shot of her opening her secret lockbox, complete with guns, poison, and wigs.
What did you think of this season of The Americans? Let us know in the comments.