The Americans: The Colonel

“I know what we’re here for.”

Now, that is how a season finale should be. Exciting and game changing, with just enough questions left unanswered for us to look forward to next season.

I knew I was going to love this show from the pilot. The scene that convinced me was the montage set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” To perfectly bookend the season, we went out on another great montage, set to Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.” Not only is the choice an inspired one, but the message of the song is about as on the nose as it is possible to get.

Throughout the season, we have watched three worlds revolve. The first world is the world of the FBI, the Americans. As American viewers, we feel inclined to see them as the “good guys,” the ones fighting to stave off those nasty Russians and preserve our way of life.

The FBI, however, is not populated by men and women in white hats; it is populated by people with flaws and failings. Arkady summed up Stan perfectly, “The kind of man who did what was done to you, Nina, is weaker and more vulnerable than he seems.” Stan is weak and his relationship with Nina has made him weaker. It is significant that Stan makes such a huge gesture to Sandra just as Nina may be leaving him. He still wants to play both sides, however. When he believes that Nina will be leaving, he doesn’t want her to go far. At the end, when it becomes clear that she won’t be leaving, he is not sorry.

For someone who is so weak when it comes to the women in his life, Stan is good at his job. He reads Prince like a book and is directly responsible for the information that the man will eventually impart. He very nearly captures Philip and Elizabeth and he succeeds in shooting her.

The second world is the world of the Russians, the usual “bad guys.” Again, it is a world populated by real people, not black hats. Nina has truly made her decision to back her homeland, running to tell them of what she knew. I wondered if she would after Stan told her about the exfiltration, but her allegiance is now very clear to her and to us. She is the character who has changed the most this season. From being exploited and manipulated by Stan, it is now she who is exploiting and manipulating him.

Granny never fails to amaze me. Her scene with Elizabeth was fascinating to watch as these two women who loathe each other try to score points off each other. It would be easy for Granny to leave Elizabeth to suffer, especially as the younger woman thwarts her at every turn. Yet, Granny feels such a strong tie to her mission and to her agents that she can’t help but protect them.

Even the scene with Patterson is a form of her protection. She loved Zhukov in her own way and she was determined to avenge his death. The calculated way she did it, however, was chilling. Imagine feeling yourself bleed out while the person who cut you sits and watches. This woman is intense.

The third world is the intersection of the first two. It is the world inhabited by Philip and Elizabeth and their family. I realized watching this episode that this is the world I care about and this is the world I am rooting for. I really, really did not want them to be caught and was very pleased when they escaped.

At the beginning of the season, Philip was talking about defecting and Elizabeth was completely wrapped up in her mission, to the detriment of everything else. Her focus on the mission has become weaker as the season has gone on and she now appears to be more focused on her family. The scene where, afraid that she will be caught, she kisses her son and listens to the tape from her mother was moving. This woman, who usually portrays herself even to her family as devoid of emotion, is capable of deep love.

In the pilot, Elizabeth finally tells Philip who she really is. It was the first time we saw any kind of crack in her armor and it was the perfect way to show how close these two were becoming. In a wonderful callback to that moment, Elizabeth asks Philip to come home. She does so in Russian.

Philip loves Elizabeth, which is fine except that he will do anything to protect her, even to the detriment of their job. Always the one who questions orders, it is he who manipulates the two missions so that he can do the more dangerous of the two. The irony is, of course, that by switching things up, he inadvertently puts Elizabeth into harm’s way.

The irony is not lost on him and he openly defies Granny to stay with Elizabeth when she is hurt. Granny touches his shoulder as she walks out, but I didn’t see it as a sign of comfort. The way these two feel about each other is going to become a problem, one that Granny can see. As she says to Elizabeth at the beginning, “I know you better than you know yourself.” I think she may be right.

The final montage beautifully set up next season’s stories. Martha is giddy over her wedding ring while Clark/Phillip is with the woman he truly loves. Prince is talking, as Stan predicted. Nina betrays Stan to Arkady. Paige, who has been suspicious since her parents hit the pause button, is scarily close to finding out all where all the secrets are hidden. Fantastic closing shot on Paige, one of the two true innocents in all of this mess.

A wonderful end to the season. Four out of four uneaten Eggs Florentine.

Observations:

-- It occurred to me that Clark is also the alias that Superman uses. Not that it matters; it just made me smile when the idea popped into my head.

-- I hope that the fact that Elizabeth is now hurt means Granny won’t be sent back to Moscow. She adds a wonderful layer to this show and I would miss her.

-- Philip is badass! Loved the car chase and the hot wiring of the car. Also, the second time through the episode, you can see when Elizabeth gets shot.

-- The Colonel says that the stars wars technology is fifty years in the future. As this episode is set in 1981, that would make it still eighteen years out.

Voices on Tape:

Granny: “I had to fill out an ‘Officer in the Field’ special-request assessment form. It has twenty-seven sections.”
Elizabeth: “Well, I guess your job can be dangerous, too.”

Arkady: “Besides, if you’re wrong, we’d be giving up the greatest intelligence success since we got the atom bomb.”
Granny: “That’s what we always say right before our people die for nothing. The next thing we always say is, ‘It was so obvious.’”

Granny: “This isn’t the setup.”
Philip: “Elizabeth!”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

9 comments:

Suzanne said...

Chris B, great review. I loved the way you highlighted the parallels between the pilot and the finale for us. I loved this episode, too. What a perfect end to a great first season. I was really glad that we will get to see more Gaad, Nina, Stan, and hopefully, Granny, in the next season. I think they overturned expectations well by not killing anyone off yet still ending with suspense.

Miguel said...

What a great episode! Definitely four out of four spies. This was a great season finale.

I have to say that I am loving seeing Nina turn the tables on Stan and manipulating the crap out of him. She's better at the spy games than he is.

I hope Grannie stays around for the next season also! It took me awhile to warm up to her, but I like the dynamic between her and Elizabeth a lot. And the way she killed that guy in the apartment was ruthless! I'd like to see more of her next season.

Great review Chris!

CoolSid said...

Not only is Clark the alias used by Superman, the name of his adopted mother is Martha, which is of course the name of Clark's 'wife' in The Americans.So, this particular pairing went from funny interesting to kinda icky....

Terrific finale, though I am kinda bummed Grannie has a pilot at CBS and may not come back. We need Granny back playing Ms Pac-Man.

And while I am wishing, I would like to see the Jennings in a more united front for next season. Not that the marital strife was uninteresting, but I think they need to cool it with the breaking up of the lead couple and let them be a happily married couple for 1-2 seasons..

ChrisB said...

CoolSid -- you're right about the ick factor. I hadn't even gone there, but that can't be a coincidence, can it?

Agree with you completely that the Jennings need to stop the push me/pull me stuff next season. It worked for this season, but it will get old if it carries into next.

Does it make us bad people if we hope that Grannie's pilot doesn't get picked up so she can come back and play here some more? :-)

Olga said...

Damn! This was brilliant! I was barely breathing...

I loved it that we got to see that Elizabeth if going to be fine, that she finally told Philipp how she actually felt and asked him to come home. I would’ve hated if they finished the season on a huge cliffhanger like say Elizabeth approaching the car…

I loved how Nina gradually transformed from being threatened, used and scared into strong confident woman and a good spy.

This was the first time I liked Grannie. I was surprised when it turned out she strongly believed the meeting was a set up and was trying to convince Arkady to cancel it. She never showed that kind of support for Philipp and Elizabeth to their faces, I was nice to see she was trying to protect them. Also her “story” with Zhukov was confirmed, though Elizabeth didn’t believe her, I suspected she was telling the truth. Those two are very strong women and I would love to see their relationship grow next season, as I hope Grannie stays.

I feel though it was a mistake to call Stan to look after children, he is very good at seeing “something wrong”.

ChrisB - great review!
Can't wait for season 2!

Billie Doux said...

Exceptional finale. Wow. Olga, I so agree about Grannie. The way she murdered the guy was so scary but matter-of-fact, and I liked that she felt so strongly about her job that she drove into the park to rescue Philip. Philip rescuing Elizabeth was just terrific television. And Chris, as you said, Nina is the one who has changed so much. She's becoming scary, too.

Terrific review, Chris. I'm so glad this show got renewed.

Jess Lynde said...

I agree with everyone: great finale, great first season, I hope that Elizabeth and Phillip can just be together as couple now, and I really hope Margo Martindale can come back. Her scene with Patterson was definitely chilling. Ms. Martindale does the calm murder so well.

But my favorite scene this week was Elizabeth listening to the recording from her mother. Keri Russell was great just listening and reacting. Her emotions in that moment wonderfully underscored all her choices this hour.

Scott Riggan said...

Anyone see the most recent Die Hard movie? Constant action and explosions and stunts... But not for one moment did I feel any peril, any sense of real danger to the protagonists.

Here, though, I've become so invested in Elizabeth, Phillip, Grannie, Nina and Stan that I was on the edge of my seat for this entire episode. They've done a brilliant job of making these characters real, and as a result I actually care how everything unfolds.

And how on earth am I supposed to reconcile my "rooting" for the "bad guys"? This is good storytelling.

One last note: I will be very disappointed if we lose Granny...

Sooze said...

ChrisB - Your reviews of this show have been great, so thanks. I am finding myself rooting for everyone BUT the Americans. Yes, please keep Granny. I love her and hate her at the same time.