The Americans: As Luck Would Have It (S4 E13 Recap)

the-americans-season4 logoPersona Non Grata, the season four finale of The Americans will be lauded as perfection by the show’s most ardent fans – critics who write for magazines still published in print form that pay contributors in something other than cat litter. A few skeptics will say, “But they set us up for a nail-biting cliffhanger that didn’t happen, and there was all that misdirection with Henry in the penultimate when all along they were planning to continue ignoring him and introduce Philip’s other son.” As for the rest of the audience… who are we kidding? It’s The Americans, and nobody who’s not blogging or commenting on social media is watching. Besides even an anticlimactic hour and eleven minutes spent with the family Jennings and company is better than 99.5% of whatever else is on television, and  if you view this as a two-parter with A Roy Rogers in Franconia, being part one, then it works fine, if by fine you mean it makes you feel sad, filled with existential angst, and as William Crandall alias unknown might put it, “dried up.”

Persona Non Grata, literally means “person not appreciated” and is a term applied to diplomats and others being booted out of a country. Arkady is the literal “persona non grata” who gets the news he’ll soon be trading in his fine scotch for vodka, and heading back to Moscow. But so many are unappreciated on this show. A dying William refers to himself as an “unwelcome guest.” It’s not just the US that doesn’t “get” the poor schlub, Gabriel, Elizabeth and even a reluctant Philip all think William capable of betrayal. So far at least, his countrymen have no idea of what he’s sacrificed or is about to sacrifice when the episode begins.

The cold open features Aderholt and Stan in a car watching William’s building. They can’t see inside his apartment, but we can. He’s moving a tiny glass vial into a slightly larger metal container, and placing it in a tobacco tin. We all remember William’s vivid description of what the contents of that vial can do, and true to Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece – a code this show lives by, it’s a safe bet someone’s internal organs will soon be liquefying. Given that William agreed to “one final mission,” he might as well be wearing a red shirt that has “dead man” stamped on it.

Stan and Aderholt take off after him. There follows a complicated and well directed sequence of events featuring Hans, the blonde lady, and the black man with the glasses, as well as Philip. The FBI has agents on foot following William once he’s out of the car, but they may be getting too close, and when he veers off, Stan and Aderholt decide it’s time to take him down. Philip is sitting on a bench, far away enough from the action to be oblivious to whatever is going on.  He either doesn’t hear the sirens or just assumes it’s another crime-ridden night in America.

At home, Elizabeth drops off some laundry in Paige’s room, and the two have a moment. Paige asks her mother if maybe she can teach her to defend herself. After making her, “I must process this” face, Elizabeth offers, “I can teach you a few things.” She sure can!

That's not a trick question, is it?

That’s not a trick question, is it?

With the feds about to make an arrest, William quickly takes out the vial, cracks open the glass, and infects himself with the entire sample. Let’s just hope this super-strain of lassa isn’t airborne. He holds up his hands – including the one with the fresh stigmata-like gash on his palm, and tells the FBI to get him to a bio-containment facility fast.

The wound, the arms spread out not up, and in case we're being subtle, we'll throw in a shining light.

The wound, the arms spread out not up, and in case we’re being subtle, we’ll throw in a shining light.

If this fast-paced action sequence is making you head for the smelling salts, not to worry, the rest of the episode will be character driven and slow.

Philip comes home and tells Elizabeth that William didn’t show, but given the way these things work, there’s an “alternate” time set up, so neither seems too alarmed. They talk briefly about “home” on account of Elizabeth’s having brought up Smolensk to Paige, speaking of Russia….

Mischa II, son of Mischa I aka Philip Jennings, is sprung from a mental hospital where he was sent for questioning the wisdom of the Soviet Union’s starting a land war in Asia. He could have languished there for years, but some invisible, mysterious friends in high places intervened. Lucky guy. The appearance of II has been teased since he was first mentioned in season one, but who was expecting our introduction to occur in the season finale? Seriously, who? And don’t tell me it was you unless you have proof. It didn’t happen if you didn’t tweet it.

Stan and Aderholt are on deathwatch duty for William, which is an awkward thing to be doing for a stranger whom you are hoping will spill his guts before they’re excreted through every orifice of his body, which William reminds us will soon be happening. Aderholt offers him a coke, which may have worked before on subjects he was interrogating, but here just makes William laugh so hard he coughs up some tonsil-slush.

What? You don't have Fanta?

What? You don’t have Fanta?

Over at the Rezidentura, Oleg tells Arkady he wants to go home, by which he means Russia, to take care of his mom. This makes perfect sense for the character. Much as he enjoys life in these United States, sooner or later Stan will blackmail him, and besides he thinks most of what his government is doing is bullshit. But he will be missed, and not just by Tatiana, so lets hope something happens to make him stay. Can we say unplanned pregnancy maybe?

Evening at the Jennings’ home: Elizabeth arrives with some dry cleaning like a normal suburban mom arriving in her home which contains a prominently displayed American flag. She explains to Paige that dad is at EST, which sounds even weirder than his being a Soviet spy. Paige tells her that Alice had her baby. Elizabeth suggests the entire family must immediately visit her at the hospital, but Paige like any daughter of immigrants, gently hints that maybe that’s not the way they do it here in America, and Elizabeth winds up taking her lead. Paige’s life probably makes so much more sense to her now.

Philip is not wearing the season one Breaking Bad Walter White get up he’s been putting on to meet William, but there is a reference that’s more than cosmetic. Jesse Pinkman once told his NA group about a “bad dog” Gale he had to “put down” murder. This week, Philip gives a gut-wrenching (but not gut liquefying) monologue at EST, in which he talks about how much he hates being a travel agent and having to do all those horrible, soul destroying things like breaking the bones in a fresh corpse to fit it into a suitcase arranging accommodations, and killing some poor shnook who was in the wrong place at the wrong time making sure your client doesn’t have to sit in the middle seat . But he can’t give it up because the KGB would kill him he made a commitment.

On the other hand, after this nobody thought of travel agents the same way.

On the other hand, after this nobody thought of travel agents the same way.

Elizabeth and Philip meet with Gabriel, who tells them there’s been no word from William so they have to assume he’s been gotten by the FBI. “I’m not saying he walked it over to them,” says Gabriel who is saying exactly that. Philip defends William by admitting he’s an asshole, but, and then gives up, shrugs and says, “I guess it’s possible.” Then the three of them abandon the safe house forever. Wouldn’t they bother to wipe down prints or torch it or something?

Misha II arrives at the communal apartment of his grandfather, Irina’s dad. In case we didn’t know that this is how lots of people in the Soviet Union lived, they set it up for us two episodes back when Tatiana referred to the thin walls and lack of privacy that she became a ruthlessly ambitious KGB officer to escape. II is not planning on settling down in Moscow and maybe marrying one of the young women with whom his grandfather shares a kitchen. Instead he’s there to pick up a secret stash Irina managed to leave for him. How exactly did she manage this given that she was an illegal and wouldn’t have gotten back much to visit? Never mind the details! The point is there are passports and money, and II is going to look for Mischa I. What does he know about Mischa I? Only that he’s a travel agent in America. Does he even understand that that’s a cover? Good luck finding him!

I mean it's not like some crazy place where there's going to be a travel agent in every town, right? What means travel agent anyway?

I mean it’s not like some crazy place where there’s going to be a travel agent in every town, right? What means travel agent anyway?

Speaking of luck,  Arkady can’t catch a break. Was it his intention to kill John Boy Gaad? Probably not. Did he even know about the bio-weapons? Unlikely! If you’ll recall Arkady asked Oleg to find out what Tatiana was up to. But someone has to take the fall, and it looks like it’s going to be him. Mr. Munchkin and Director or Similar Mucky-Muck from the FBI have dropped by to tell him he’s got forty-eight hours to get out.

Arkady might be going back to some shit job like the kind he just told Oleg would not be up to his standards, but at least his kidneys aren’t about to fall out of his ass, which is poor William’s fate. Too bad nobody actually watches this show because Dylan Baker delivers what would be an Emmy winning performance if anyone were there to see it. In response to Aderholt’s asking him if he liked what he did, William replies he was committed to something once, and goes on talking about feeling invisible which at first felt like a superpower, but then became a curse because he couldn’t connect with others. He comes oh so close to mentioning Philip by name when he starts babbling about how he wishes he had a pretty wife and a couple of kids, and how lucky he was and how nobody would ever suspect them. Stan and Aderholt look at each other like they understand he’s saying something important, but if they ask him a follow up before he croaks, we miss it.

Philip and Elizabeth meet with Gabriel who has no news about William, but he does know one thing – the longer he’s in custody, the greater the risk to our favorite spy-faux-suburnites. It’s up to them, but Gabriel is thinking they might want to get themselves and their children to a safe house and prepare for departure. Sure they’ve been in danger of discovery before – like every week – but this time it’s really real for realz.

No, but I really mean it this time.

No, but I really mean it this time.

Now it’s time for a strangely upbeat Leonard Cohen song – relatively speaking, as we get a montage featuring Pastor Tim holding his newborn and passing her to Paige, while Arkady drinks scotch with only a bust of Lenin for company, and Elizabeth and Philip continue to sit in the car looking shell-shocked and more defeated than we’ve ever seen them.

On the other hand, they're teenagers and they'll hate us even if we don't move them to Russia.

On the other hand, they’re teenagers and they’ll hate us even if we don’t move them to Russia.

Over at the Rezidentura, Tatiana comes out of Arkady’s office and tells Oleg not to go in because the boss wants to be alone. The fallout means she’s lost Kenya, and will be staying on to clean things up until they get a new Rezident, and then for a while afterward. There’s no chance of her permanently getting the gig. In case she was thinking that one consolation would be more Oleg time, she’s about to be even more disappointed because he tells her he’s leaving. She walks away heartbroken. How will any of us go on without our sweet Oleg? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be awesome if in the final scene of the series finale, Oleg and Martha meet cute on a long line to get toilet paper?

The Jennings pull in to their garage. Henry is home watching the Superbowl, disappointed – as usual – because his parents were supposed to be watching it with him. Why isn’t he over at Stan’s watching with Matt? Maybe he wasn’t invited because Matt is watching it with a girl – Henry’s sister, Paige.

Paige and Matt are not paying a lot of attention to the game. Paige manages to turn the conversation toward the subject of who has the weirdest parents. The second best line after “Wanna coke” comes when Matt tells her how one of his weirdo friends said, “I would never cheat on your mom.” Wait? Wasn’t that Henry? Then there’s more talk and Paige says, “Shit happens,” and the next thing you know, Matt is getting under her shirt with the hands, and they are kissing – loudly and wetly, and sloppily.

Elizabeth and Philip go up to their bedroom because heaven forbid they should be in the same room as Henry for more than five minutes. They can’t picture the kids “there,” but they’re about ready to start packing. Elizabeth, looking out the window notices Stan’s home, and the good news is he’s not accompanied by five cars with sirens. Philip goes across the street to collect his daughter. When he gets to the door, Stan answers it. He’s smiling and can’t seem to contain himself. He’s pretty sure the kids might have been making out. He didn’t actually catch them, but he works for the FBI and there were clues. Stan jokes about Philip having to pay for the wedding. Was that a test? Does Stan suspect Philip is a spy? Is he guessing that a real American dad of a daughter would punch him in the face for laughing about his little girl making out with a boy, but a spy from another culture afraid of pissing off his FBI “buddy” would have to go along? Or is Stan really as socially awkward and clueless as we’ve been led to believe?

Nobody is this happy his kid is almost doing the neighbor girl.

Nobody is this happy his kid is almost doing the neighbor girl.

Philip calmly tells Paige that  it’s getting late and time for her to come home. He grabs Paige’s hand, and as they walk across the street and approach their house, which is somehow shot to look haunted, he tells her he doesn’t want her to see Matt again, and she has “no idea” of what she’s getting herself into.

But if they’re all about to leave for Russia, she wouldn’t see him again anyway, so what just happened? My guess is that when Philip heard that Paige was making out with Matt, using sex to get close to an asset, drifting into the spy game despite the warnings, he realized that he had to keep her from making the same youthful mistake he had just talked about making at EST, and he knew that his best hope involved staying put, and making sure that Paige, and that other one, grow up as American as possible.

Thoughts, feelings, speculation? Take your time. We have all year. One thing is for sure, the FBI now has a lot more to go on (thanks to Oleg) than they did a few short days ago. Does anyone think that William said more than we heard before he died — assuming he didn’t make a miraculous recovery, that is? Isn’t the US claiming they’re only working on the viruses to develop antidotes in case the Soviets use them? Did we see his body being covered in a sheet and wheeled to the morgue? Might his stigmata and symbolic crucifixion hint at a resurrection?

Even if he’s dead and didn’t say anything we didn’t hear, he hinted at enough that Stan and Aderholt can begin to profile his “lucky” associate – the one with the pretty wife-partner, and a couple of kids, who nobody would suspect. Philip doesn’t look much like the composite drawing of Clark, and Elizabeth doesn’t look much like the composite Gaad and Aderholt had made of the woman who beat them up, but is it possible that if you put the two drawings side by side, they might kind of remind you of some couple you know – like from across the street?

Those aren’t the only clues. William’s death isn’t going to stop an investigation into how someone with only access three clearance managed to get a sample so deadly it was locked away on access four. That means interviewing and investigating everyone with access four clearance – including Don, who’s certainly been acting strange recently. And what about Lisa’s murder? If they try to pin it on the most likely suspect – her estranged husband – he might have a tale to tell, which the FBI would be interested in hearing. And if Paige ever goes back to the food pantry, mightn’t she run into the sleaze bucket who tried to get rapey with her? Pastor Tim would notice if he saw someone get white as a sheet and run away from Paige. Then again, something even more out of the blue could happen. Elizabeth could answer the door one day and find a certain Mary Kay rep on the other side selling her wares. Or maybe a guilty husband wanting to surprise his wife with the trip of a lifetime wanders into a downtown travel agency on the one day Elizabeth and Philip are actually in the office. Like Gabriel said, the job wasn’t supposed to last forever, and neither can the Jennings’s luck.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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  • Happy-go-Lucky

    Excellent recap! I absolutely love this show!