The Americans Season Finale Recap: Everyone Lies

THE AMERICANS -- "March 8, 1983" FX
The Americans
Episode Title
March 8, 1983
Editor’s Rating

The two lives of Mr. and Mrs. Jennings have always moved at different speeds: While their KGB missions have pinballed wildly between sex, murder, and international intrigue from one week to the next, the story of their family life has always been in slow motion — at least until now. The tension with Paige had been building for a season, but now that the Berlin Wall between their work and their family has finally fallen, things are changing, and fast.

After a few more lies and a plane ride, Elizabeth Jennings and her daughter find themselves in West Berlin, a city divided in two by democracy and communism. As they walk the streets, Paige gets a glimpse into the anxiety and subterfuge that are her parents’ constant companions, when Elizabeth briefly thinks someone might be following them. She maneuvers them around until she's confident that they're safe, and then tells Paige she was just being careful.

"Do you have to be careful all the time?" asks Paige. It's not just a question about her mom: It's a question about what the rest of Paige's life is going to look like, too, about the weight of deception and what it costs to carry it.

Back in America, Stan and Sandra continue the excruciating process of dividing their accumulated belongings: the rocking chair where she nursed their son, the family photos. At one point, she holds up their wedding album like a soiled rag. "You can have this," she says.

Work, at least, is exciting for Stan; although he and Oleg had largely given up on their plan to save Nina, it kicks back into gear after a Rezidentura meeting where Arkady announces the newest directive from Moscow: Stop trying to kill people without their permission already. It's a clear sign that Zinaida got a message back to the USSR about Oleg's mustachioed adventure in death threats, and confirms everything he suspected: She was a double agent all along.

After hearing the news from Oleg, Stan heads immediately for the FBI and presents Agent Gaad with an audiotape of Oleg's admission. Stan seems convinced that he can parlay this information into Nina's release, but it doesn't quite work out that way. Instead, Gaad is furious at him for lying and going rogue, and not only recommends that Stan be investigated and fired, but even accuses him of planting the bug.

When a deputy attorney general comes to supposedly interrogate Stan, however, the tune changes: This is the second time that he's gotten close to the Soviets, and they want him to keep going. "If you have trouble with the bureaucrats here, you come to me," he tells Stan. "I won't let them stand in your way." When he asks them to get Nina back — supposedly so he can leverage Oleg — they still refuse, of course, hoping to deploy her for a more valuable asset.

Despite Oleg's doomsday concerns that Nina might be in a gulag, she's at least physically safe back in the Soviet Union, although emotionally she seems to be having a slow, Philip-esque breakdown of her own. She tells Anton — who now knows that she's working for the KGB — that she can't keep buying back her life with pieces of her soul. "I don't know if it's worth it." Anton shares his tips for resisting the Man: Turn down everything they offer, and they'll slowly start to lose their power over her. “They only have my body, you understand?”

There's a lot of thematically similar talk about bodies and intimacy and truth at the latest EST self-help meeting, and while Stan may have stopped attending, guess who hasn't? Philip Jennings. Indeed, he's decided to show up solo at a "graduate sex seminar," where they also spend a lot of time talking about bodies and truth and what it really means to own yourself. So far as I can tell, there's absolutely no reason for him to be there, or at least no reason related to his omnipresent "mission." It's pretty strange to see Philip show up anywhere outside of his home in a way that doesn't involve subterfuge — to do almost anything that isn't a con. That's probably the point.

Philip ends up running into Sandra, which is a little awkward at first for both of them, but they end up having a shockingly honest conversation afterward about what it really means to be intimate with someone. "The sex part isn't really about the sex," says Sandra. "It's about everything. Learning how to be open. Really knowing yourself. Someone really knowing you." She pauses for a long, sad moment. "I'm not sure if anyone in my life has ever really known me." Maybe that's what lies at the heart of so many of Philip's issues: Intimacy problems are also truth problems, and you can't truly be close to someone unless you actually want them to know who you really are.

Emboldened by their unexpected kinship, Sandra suggests that they become EST confidants and tell each other everything. "I don't really know if I can do that," Philip replies, though he seems intrigued, and promises to think about it. He reminds me of Nina, a bit: lonely, trapped, and slowly disintegrating on the inside, but still hesitantly reaching out for connection.

Philip ends up taking another chunk out of his soul when he murders an FBI technician and frames him for the bug, chloroforming him after he comes home and making it look like a suicide. Later, when he tries to talk to Elizabeth about it, his reaction is almost unintelligible: "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, so I — I guess I just feel like … " he trails off. It's almost like he's a flickering image, where little flashes of real emotion keep coming through, but he's been doing this so long that he has no idea how to route them.

When Philip meets with Gabriel, we learn that he sent Elizabeth to West Berlin without getting permission from the Center, and simply announces to Gabriel that he needs to find a way for Elizabeth to meet her mother, his tone colored with the insolence and frustration of a teenager. In general, Philip doesn't seem to be doing very well, and everyone knows it. “You can’t see ten feet in front of you,” Gabriel tells him.

The Center does end up acquiescing, by bringing Elizabeth's mother to see her for a tearful reunion in her hotel room. Elizabeth introduces Paige, and while they're on opposite sides of a language barrier, they all clasp hands, three generations of family. After Elizabeth watched her mother leave for the last time, she finds Paige in the bathroom, praying. She sinks to the floor next to her, and for a brief moment I wondered if they were going to pray together.

They don't, of course, because that isn't who Elizabeth is. Despite how much she loves her daughter, she doesn't always see how different they are — that embracing the life of a spy might not be who Paige is, either. Indeed, shortly after Elizabeth and Paige return to the United States, we see Paige struggling, not just with the knowledge about her parents, but with the way that knowing it has started to change her into something less than she wants to be.

“I don’t know if I can do this, Mom," she says, as the same weight that's crushing Philip starts to bear down on her. "I don’t think I can do it. Go home? And lie to Henry about everything? All my friends, everyone in my life? To lie for the rest of my life? That’s not who I am.”

Elizabeth insists that "everyone lies," that it's simply a part of life. But that's the thing they don't seem to understand about Paige: When she asked for the truth, they thought she wanted to be admitted into the dark, secret parts of their lives — to start living there with them. But Paige has always wanted to live in the light. For them, intimacy is secrecy; for Paige, intimacy is truth.

And that's why in the final moments of the season, as her parents watch Ronald Reagan give the famous, hardline speech that painted the Soviet Union as "the force of evil in the modern world," Paige picks up the phone and calls Pastor Tim to pour out her heart. "They're liars, and they're trying to turn me into one," she weeps. And as President Reagan, rages against the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, she drops a bomb that reverberates for a long time: "They're Russians."