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The Americans: Not with a boom, but a pfft

Was Season 5 one long con? Not unlike the kind the Jennings are always pulling where the pay off seems pretty meager for all the work that went into it?

Hans getting euthanized in the season opener, set the tone. Something terrible could happen – at ANY MOMENT! We waited in anticipation. Would this be the week Paige or Philip finally cracked? Would Oleg’s “treason” be exposed? Would Renee push Stan out of a plane right as he was having his Leaves of Grass moment? Maybe we’d find out that Henry and his girlfriend Chris were doing a little Harriet-the-Spying on his parents and had their number. Surely it had to be coming, whatever “it” was, and “it” would be huge. But everything we thought might happen, didn’t.

Paige and Philip are still standing. Oleg was cool as ice when interrogated, and the CIA is keeping a distance. Stan seems as clueless – when it comes to his neighbors – as ever. We still don’t know whether Renee is the world’s best girlfriend or a ninja assassin. But wouldn’t it be awesome if she were both?

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“The Soviet Division”, the finale we thought would answer some of our questions, begins by defusing last week’s ticking time bomb. The Eckhardts make it over to the Morozovs just in time to save Pasha’s life. While Philip, who doesn’t have any shits left to give, would have been willing to break in through the back door if he had to—in spite of the federale guarding the joint—he didn’t have to. Evgheniya and Alexei got home just in time. Tuan found Pasha. It all seemed so coincidental that even Alexei’s not-so-undercover guard didn’t notice how strange it was, the neighbors showing up just then.

Nothing wrong here. Just out for a walk. Perfectly normal.

The agent and Philip made eye contact as the medics rolled Pasha into an ambulance, but it was the look of two men, both dads maybe, an acknowledgement they had done what they could and it was time to let the medical crew take over.

Pasha was a bloody mess, but his fate was only a mystery for a few seconds. Philip helped staunch the bleeding. The special agent called for an ambulance which came quickly. We knew the kid would be all right before the opening credits, and Alexei found the “I just can’t live in America note,” so Tuan’s plan actually worked.

Later, Philip is driving home and sees Renee and Stan unpacking a load of stuff. Stan tells him that a pipe burst in Renee’s apartment, and everything is flooded so she’s moving in for a while. Coincidence or Soviet plot?

A couple of weeks go by. Pasha gets out of the hospital. Evgheniya is indeed going to take Pasha back to the USSR, but Alexei won’t go. Another family broken up thanks to Soviet interference! Even Philip is feeling bad for Alexei, and he doesn’t even like him. Elizabeth seems almost distracted. She’s already imagining herself back in Russia and free of all of it. She’s even wishes (briefly) they could take Tuan with them. She has more maternal feelings toward him than Henry, but then again he’s a lot more like her.

Sophia Kovalenko’s boyfriend, Gennadi is undergoing a lie detector test, and we get to see a little trade-craft, which is rare this season. The testor tries to fake him out by telling him there’s a deceptive response when there’s not, but Gennadi insists he’s being honest. He passes with flying colors.

Well, that was all a little too easy.

Philip asks Claudia if they can send someone to convince Alexei it’s okay to go back. Does she do an actual eye roll or does it just seem that way? She looks toward Elizabeth for support, but Elizabeth is supporting Philip on this one. So she says she’ll ask, but tells them it won’t do any good.

Claudia is careful around Elizabeth. She’s afraid she’ll deck her.

Philip and Elizabeth tell her they’ve made their decision and are ready to retire. They just have to figure out Paige and Henry. They seem almost giddy on the ride home, having said it. Philip thinks they should plan a family trip to Europe and tell them right before crossing over. “The later the better.” Maybe they can stuff Henry in a suitcase? They have experience with that, but not with a living person.

At home, Paige is anxiously watching reports of Reagan’s infamous “outlawing Russia. We start the bombing in five minutes” joke.  Henry is not paying attention. Or is he? This timestamps us. It’s August 1984, if we’re going by reality, which we might not be given that no one seems dressed for the summer.

Ha. What a kidder that guy was!

Martha’s scene with Gabriel back a couple of episodes ago seemed like it might have been a resolution for both characters. He realizes she’s not going to be his “family” back in the Russia, and we see her resigned and miserable with nary an illusion to get her through her bleak existence. But here she is again. She’s an old friend we are thrilled to run into. She’s with her keeper, watching children play in a park. Only guess what? The kids are from the local orphanarium! And the cutest one has already been picked out for her. Her keepers want her to be happy. Also, we are told, it was Gabriel’s idea because now that he’s retired he goes around trying to unscrew up the lives screwed up by his espionage activities—which is a spin off I’d watch. And if your eyes didn’t well up a little right along with Martha’s, then you are as dead inside as Elizabeth and Tuan.

Martha, happy at last!

The Eckhardts visit the Morozovs. Is this good-bye? Tuan apologies to Pasha, telling him the suicide plan was a stupid idea and he never should have said it. But Pasha seems almost happy because it worked. It doesn’t look like he’s going to miss his dad much either. Evgheniya and Alexei are blaming themselves, and Alexei is certain a ticket home would be a one way trip to the gulag for him, so he’s not going.

Suicide attempt gets you what you want. Another life lesson brought to you by television.

Good work, Jennings!

Back in their fake-home, Elizabeth tells Tuan they are sending in a great report about his work. Philip offers to tell his people he might be better suited for other kinds of work in Vietnam if that’s what he wants. In other words, please don’t spend your next twenty years as a killing machine because you’ll become a soulless monster like my wife here. Is the guttersnipe grateful? Nope.Tuan wants to be a soulless monster, and tells Philip not to tell them that, and also by the way he’s sent in his report already and mentioned their “lapses” like all those times he warned them they needed to spend more time onsite (fair enough as he told them this at least once every episode). He also mentioned their “bougesoise concerns” (wanting to save the life of a child) which almost cost them the mission in the end.

Sharper than a serpent’s tooth! And so unfair! Philip played catch with him. And Elizabeth thought they had rapport.

Elizabeth resists the idea of slapping him upside the head, and instead tells him that the Center trusts them and knows they do a good job so his criticism isn’t going to hurt them. Also if he is going to do this he needs a partner to get through it, or he will be caught or killed, so he should make his people send him someone. That shows some change from previous seasons. Her trust in and reliance on Philip has grown.

We’ve now gone through moments that looked really dramatic in the promo, which turned out to be not that big a deal. Surely some dreadful twist will be revealed in the remaining fifteen minutes.

The lost boy Henry gets a letter from St. Edwards, and even though it’s a thin envelope and not a thick the one the way college applications work, he’s in. Philip tells him what he said previously about letting him go, isn’t going to happen.

Now he wants to keep the family together? After ignoring his son his entire life?

Is Philip figuring this is better than letting him find out he’s not going when he wakes up in Moscow? Does Philip really think you can do this to a teenager without their being a terrible consequence. Is Henry going to kill himself in the next ten minutes? Is that the retribution we’ve been waiting for? The postman’s second knock?

Paige is at the food pantry. Pastor Tim jokes with her about the surprise party he’s not supposed to know about.

She likes him again, now that he’s going away.

Then she leaves the pantry and walks alone down a very dark street to the parking lot. Maybe Elizabeth is off doing Tai Chi by which I mean sexing up Ben because why isn’t she at the food pantry with her daughter, seeing her safely home? If this is in a terrible neighborhood in DC in the 1980s, why aren’t a group of pantry volunteers walking to the parking lot together? Why doesn’t Paige have friends? Is she about to run into the homeless guy what got away and is there for revenge? Is she about to run into the ghost of the one Elizabeth gutted? There has to be a reason for spending two minutes tracking her every movement, doesn’t there? Maybe she’s going to get into a random car crash, or Cropsey will be waiting in the back seat? Nope.

Philip watches Renee and Stan at the gym. It’s almost like Renee is taking his place. Is she literally doing that? But we won’t know this for sure, at least till next season, and neither will Philip.

Elizabeth looks at all the outfits in her very American closet. Oh my god, will she find Henry hanging in the back? Nope. He’s at Chris’s as per usual.

What’s tonight’s on the nose song? Elton John’s Good-bye Yellow Brick Road, which is way too sweet and sappy to go with anything really terrible happening. Unless, that’s what they want us to believe. There are still about ten minutes left, and the one thing the writers have been spectacular at is keeping us feeling like we are still in the hole we were in during the season opener, and any second it could all disappear.

Jimmy the sleaze is now hanging out with Kimmy and many of her high school age friends, smoking that primo weed he scores from Afganistan. Raise your hand if you thought Paige was about to come in after church and crash that party. It doesn’t happen. Jimmy mentions that he may be going to Japan, and Kimmy gets upset because aren’t they besties forever?

“But you’ll tell me where to score that primo weed, before you go. Right?”

Hasn’t he taken her from crayons to perfume even while he refuses to sleep with her? Jimmy gives her the “you are going to be fine and have a great life” speech, which somewhere in there he probably believes, and the weird irony is that his friendship with her probably has helped her and not totally screwed up her life. Good on you Philip for finding a way not to sleep with the teenager!

Later in the laundry room, Philip is listening to the tapes from her dad’s briefcase. Elizabeth comes down to tell him that Henry was upset, which seems to be the writers way of telling us that no Henry hasn’t run away from home and joined a cult just yet. Then Elizabeth does some more self-defense work with Paige because that’s their special mommy daughter time, only Elizabeth gets carried away and belts Paige in the mouth. Oops. Does Paige drop dead a minute later? No, she does not. She’ll be fine because it’s pretty clear by now that the show is just trolling us.

Philip continues to listen to the tape. It seems that Kimmy’s daddy may be getting a promotion. Philip drives to a river, and thinks about throwing the tape in, but doesn’t.

Over in Stan’s kitchen, Stan and Renee are making dinner. Is she going to poison him? He starts talking about his job. He tells her they are getting information from a source. He doesn’t give any details, but if she really is a spy, he could have already told her enough to prick up the ears of the Center. Despite the job saving break, he’s thinking of quitting because it could go sideways, and people could get hurt, and  that will make him feel shitty. Does she cajole more details? Nope. Is that because she’s playing a really long game, a Clark and Martha style one, and she’ll string it out forever? Maybe or maybe not. She just tells him that part of her wants him to leave, but part of her thinks he’s a good guy and that’s why he should stay, so he can stand up when something goes wrong. Well she would say that, wouldn’t she?

Wouldn’t it be great if she were spy, and she defects because she loves him, and also America?

Philip comes home and sees his little girl nursing the cut on her lip. He apologies and tells her she should’ve had a dog and all the other normal childhood stuff like a boyfriend across the street. It looks like the combination of Pastor Tim’s diary, and Gabriel’s parting words really got to him. So why does he think taking her back to the Soviet Union is a good idea again? (Oh that’s right: It’s not like his wife is ever going to defect, and they are in it together.)

Philip tells Elizabeth they need to talk, so they go for a drive. The tape he almost dumped revealed that Kimmy’s dad is going to head the Soviet division of the CIA, apparently while still being DC based, so Operation Teenager will be super important. Philip speculates that the Center can send someone else for Kimmy, and that they are entitled to a life. But Elizabeth is like a degenerate gambler. She’s not going to cash in her chips now that this opportunity is on the table even though she knows the work is killing her husband. She suggests this could be his only assignment. He’d run Kimmy and the travel agency. She’d do everything else, but Philip tells her that their partners and that’s not how it works.

On the one hand, it’s believable that Elizabeth, despite her own acknowledged burnout, can’t give up the spy life. But wouldn’t there need to be some rethinking of the Kimmy situation eventually anyway? Isn’t Kimmy going to go away to college at some point? Isn’t she going to outgrow the older guy who still likes to hang with teens? Wouldn’t she wonder why they never spend time at his place?

So all the retirement talk was just another blind alley, and it looks like we’re in for the same old same old in the final ten episodes next season. At least Elizabeth is willing to acknowledge that the work is killing Philip. That’s some kind of progress. Or did this scene contain the set up for moment it all goes “pfft” which could easily take place in Kimmy’s house, when Dad comes home unexpectedly, or Kimmy herself finds Jimmy rifling through her dad’s office, and he can’t or won’t kill her?

And so we leave the Jennings still in place. With so many pieces out of the way—the Morozov assignment done, Deidre and Ben barely a blip, Kimmy as their main active operation—it might be good time for a time jump. Could next season see Paige in college, maybe making friends and trying to carve out a life separate from her parents? Will Philip change his mind again and let Henry go to boarding school? Or maybe he’ll just sneak out and they won’t even notice? Did Pastor Tim get it right, that not making a decision is making a decision?

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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  • Thomas Stockel

    Yeah, I think I’m done with this show. Last season didn’t wow me and this one seemed to have so much potential. Phillip’s son shows up and just…goes home. I was really thinking they were going to kill him, Phillip finds out, and he decides to turn as a result, leading with a showdown with Elizabeth.

    God, this last episode felt like such a letdown. I see Paige walking to her car and I’m thinking “Oh yeah, she’s going to get mugged and we’re going to see if she can put all those skills to use”. And…nothing. And I think you’re right. Lots of build up leading nowhere.

    I really enjoyed this show when it began. As a child of the eighties I think it was due in part to nostalgia. The clothes, the cars, the music, the politics. It was one of the reasons why I loved the vampire movie Let Me In so much in that I was reliving some part of my childhood through this series. But that’s not enough any more.