The series finale of The Americans closes the door on the story of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, undercover KGB officers who infiltrated the United States from 1965 to 1987, and though it tied up the necessary loose ends and left the fates of many characters unresolved, it purposely left one thread dangling: Is Renee a spy?
In Vulture’s oral history of the finale, co-showrunner Joel Fields, actor Noah Emmerich, and actress Laurie Holden all keep a tight lip on the answer to that question. After all, the point is that no character, including Philip and Elizabeth, knows the truth. Holden, however, says that she knows Renee’s true identity but will never tell. “When the audience goes back and rewatches these episodes,” she says, “they will be able to find clues which will better inform them as to who she really was.”
According to Holden, Renee “serves a very specific function in the narrative,” which is to “serve up intrigue.” But that purpose also seems to be calling the instincts of Philip and Stan into question. Philip worries that he’s responsible for the Centre infiltrating Stan’s personal life, but his suspicions about Renee are never confirmed: When Philip flat-out asks his handler Gabriel (Frank Langella) if Renee is a spy, Gabriel tells him that he’s losing it, but never definitely answers the question. Meanwhile, the lonely Stan Beeman is so thrilled that someone special has entered his life that he’s blind to the possibility that she’s working him. But maybe she’s not working him. Maybe she’s just a nice woman who lives side by side with the man she loves.
Over six seasons, The Americans illustrates how years of working in espionage or counterintelligence takes a toll on one’s sanity. The job inherently engenders paranoia and distrust, but what happens when that completely dominates your perspective? Is Renee a spy, or is Philip conditioned to assume ulterior motives from everyone he meets? Here at Vulture, we’ve compiled a list of key scenes that could serve as evidence for Renee being a spy, or just as easily be evidence of the mundane. It’s up to you to decide.
Stan meets Renee (Season 5, Episode 2)
Early in the episode, Stan informs Philip about his courtship of “the gym lady.” But when he told her that he’s an FBI agent, she looked at him strangely. “Like it wasn’t what she was expecting, what she’s after,” he continues. When Philip asks Stan if he knows what she does, Stan scrunches his face and admits he doesn’t know.
She’s a spy! This exchange seems completely banal, but if we assume that Renee is a sleeper agent who could be scoping out possible targets, Stan’s nervous intuition could be on point. Either Renee was genuinely taken aback that an FBI agent was hitting on her and she reported it back to the Centre who assigned her to honey trap him, or she already knew Stan was an FBI agent and faked her surprise to throw him off any scent.
She’s just Renee! Stan might be right that an FBI agent isn’t the most glamorous job in 1984. After all, they’re not chasing down Dillinger or Capone anymore. Or she might have just been genuinely thrown that someone at her gym has such a high-level job.
The first double date (Season 5, Episode 4)
In this episode, Philip and Elizabeth go out to dinner with Stan and Renee. In between flirting with Stan, Renee excitedly talks about her baseball prowess and how she plays in her company’s intramural softball league. Eventually, she asks Philip and Elizabeth where they’re originally from. When Philip says he’s from Pittsburgh, Renee says she has an uncle from there.
She’s a spy! This seems like another banal conversation, but Gwyneth Horder-Payton’s direction of the scene represents some compelling evidence that Renee could be deep undercover. When Philip asks Renee what her uncle did, the camera isolates her face in a close-up just for a second so she can say, “Scrap metal.” Renee shares the frame with Stan in every other shot in the scene, but she’s foregrounded for just one moment. It’s possible that “scrap metal” is some kind of knowing code, possibly an allusion to the postwar rubble from back in Russia. Maybe she’s trying to let Philip in without coming out and saying it.
She’s just Renee! Or we’re just reading way too much into an innocent woman’s attempts to bond with her new boyfriend’s best friends. Scrap metal could just be scrap metal. Not everything is a secret signal.
Stan (briefly) discusses his work (Season 5, Episode 5)
In “Lotus 1-2-3,” Stan and Renee are in bed discussing past relationships. Renee talks about her ex-husband’s infidelity and Stan talks about his indiscretions when he was with Sandra. The conversation turns to his job, but when he says he can’t talk about it, she gently pushes him: “Can’t you just be, I dunno, vague?” Stan proceeds to vaguely open up about his job.
She’s a spy! If Renee were a spy trying to coax information out of Stan, it would be a pretty smart tactic to lull him into a false sense of security by talking about failed marriages so that he trusts her enough to let her into his professional life. Her delivery of “Can’t you just be, I dunno, vague?” projects some naïveté that might lead Stan to believe she’s just merely interested in his work troubles. This is also the episode when Philip first raises his suspicions about Renee to Elizabeth, and when fellow FBI agent Dennis Aderholt tells Renee that Stan’s a “good guy” who “puts his whole heart into everything.” She could be subtly gathering information about her target.
She’s just Renee! Can you imagine thinking like this all the time? Someone tries to get close to you and you think it’s a ruse to further an enemy state’s political agenda? For the love of God, maybe she’s just worried about Stan, a man who wears every emotional scar on his face without even realizing it. Maybe she instinctively knows that Stan’s previous marriage to Sandra failed largely because he refused to trust her. Maybe she wants to earn that trust!
Stan opens up about his work problems (Season 5, Episode 7)
After Stan blackmails the deputy attorney general into backing off of Oleg Burov, a former KGB officer who risked his life to tell Stan about the Soviet bioweapons mission, Stan’s supervisor tells him that he got his way but the deputy AG wants him transferred out of counterintelligence. (The supervisor goes to bat for Stan because he’s working on an active investigation, but after it ends, Stan’s position might be untenable.) Later, when Stan and Renee are watching Breaking Away at home, he opens up to her after some subtle, gentle coaxing on her part.
She’s a spy! Renee could be continuing her earlier strategy by putting the ball in Stan’s court. She pauses the movie to ask what’s wrong, but when he seems reluctant to tell her, she pulls back. Seconds later, Stan pauses the movie again to tell her, in the vaguest possible terms, about how he pushed his bosses to do the right thing. She’s slowly worming her way into Stan’s professional life, learning about his vulnerabilities and weakness, possibly so she can exploit them farther down the line.
She’s just Renee! Again, she could just be a good girlfriend! She can see something has been bothering Stan and wants to ask him about it! If any part of EST has rubbed off on Stan, it’s that open, authentic communication is important to maintaining relationships. He might just be moved to tell her about his work because evading the subject will only invite more pain in the future.
Renee convinces Stan to stay at the FBI (Season 5, Episode 13)
Near the end of “The Soviet Division,” Stan tells Renee that he’s considering quitting the FBI. He says that he doesn’t want to be responsible for the lives of his sources and he’s tired of feeling shitty. Renee tells him that he’s a really good person, but also insinuates that he should stay at the Bureau. “I can’t help but think that your department needs someone like you who’s not afraid to push back and stand up when something’s wrong,” she tells him. “And if you don’t do it, who will?”
She’s a spy! This is maybe the most compelling evidence that Renee is a spy. After all, why else would she push Stan to stay with the FBI even though she knows that his job weighs heavily on him? She preys on his sense of duty to convince him that he should stay so he can keep the FBI honest, but it could be that she wants him to stay so she can gather more information from him.
She’s just Renee! Maybe she really thinks that Stan needs to stay at the FBI so that they don’t sell out their sources. Maybe she worries who Stan will become if he leaves the FBI. Who knows?
Renee tells Stan that she wants to work at the FBI (Season 6, Episode 3)
After dinner, Renee tells Stan that she wishes he cared about her job the same way that he does, and that she wishes she could make a difference for their country. She suddenly tells him that she wants to be an FBI agent so that the two of them could be closer. Stan tells her that the cutoff age for new agents is 37. Renee asks if the Bureau could make an exception, but Stan tells her that’s not how it works.
She’s a spy! If Renee is a spy, this is her most open attempt to worm her way into the FBI. She uses Stan’s flagging attention when she talks about work as a flimsy excuse to push this idea that they should work together. She couches it in the belief that they could share their lives together through work, but it seems like a fairly transparent effort to infiltrate the United States government. Curiously enough, she uses Philip and Elizabeth as examples of a married couple who work together.
She’s just Renee! Hoo boy. I mean, maybe she just wants to work at the FBI? It’s a tough sell, but Renee might be going through some kind of midlife crisis and wants to serve her country. It’s possible!
Renee watches the FBI raid the Jennings’ home (Season 6, Episode 10)
During the “With or Without You” montage in the series finale, Stan returns from the Jennings house as it’s being raided and embraces Renee. After he leaves the frame, the camera lingers on Renee as she silently watches the house across the street with a knowing stare.
She’s a spy! Laurie Holden’s expression can be read many different ways, but one of them is simply that Renee knew about the Jenningses’ real identities, and that she has to be careful to avoid a similar fate. She’s in the midst of a long-term operation, one that has led her into the hallowed halls of the FBI, and it’s up to her to make sure that she doesn’t get caught like Philip and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know that Stan will forever be suspicious of her behavior from now on.
She’s just Renee! Or she could just be sad that the Jenningses, their closest friends, turned out to be spies and that it irreparably destroyed her husband’s sense of security. Holden’s expression can be read as wistful disappointment; Renee is upset that their neighbors and friends, people whom they loved, hid their real identities from her for so long. It’s a life-changing reveal even if she’s not a spy. Either way, her husband will never fully trust her again.