Well another season of The Americans is done — another finale NOT ending with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) riding a bomb through the air like in Dr. Strangelove. Eh, we can still hope! In all seriousness "Persona Non Grata" was a downer across the board. A well-done downer, but still a downer nonetheless wrought with anxiety, slow gruesome deaths, and family turmoil. Lucky for us these things also happen to be the ingredients for a riveting hour of The Americans.
On the bright side of things, William (Dylan Baker) ended up a hero of sorts (while subjecting himself to the least noble death involving liquified insides). Meanwhile Philip (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth, and Gabriel (Frank Langella) were left to imagine the worst, and Philip's long lost son began an international journey to locate his even more long lost absentee father. Somewhere in there Paige (Holly Taylor) made out with Mathew (Daniel Flaherty), Arkady (Lev Gorn) was relieved of his post and diplomatic immunity, and Oleg (Costa Ronin) made the difficult decision to move back home to the Motherland. All in all the finale offered the perfect dosage of resolution and new beginnings, as finales are wont to do.
The sarcastic William mentioned the implications of the Lassa virus so many times in past episodes with all its oozings and orifice talk, that it was only a matter of time before someone came down with this terrible, terrible fever from "butt-hell." So after the kind of surveillance sequence that this show has perfected — complete with walkie-talkie squelches and that puuurrrfect '80s engine hum — William ended up at the center of some Fed guns with only a couple options. He chose the one that would take him out of the game, permanently. Alfred Hitchcock used to say the way to build suspense is to show the audience a bomb beneath a table, then have characters at the table who don't know about it. So it was with William carrying that dangerous vial and Philip wandering around unawares in a park where any minute the glass could break or Stan (Noah Emmerich) could've spotted Philip. Suspense accomplished!
After the fed-up scientist crushed the vial in his hand, so began the hour's somber overarching story. I swear there was a Twilight Zone episode where a dying alien in quarantine fielded questions to government agents. I can't be certain but "To Serve Man," involved an alien holding a press conference around the time of the Cold War. But I don't think he dies. And I think he ends up eating humans later on. Eh, point is William put himself in a position where whatever secrets he had about Philip and Gabriel would liquify along with his insides. Ultimately he was just tired of fighting, but part of him must've wanted to protect Philip.
As echoed in Philip's EST speech, the job of spy or "travel agent" is one that creates an internal barrier to the outside world. Perhaps the saddest thing about William's dying monologue was that the complaints against the Rezidentura had been true for a long time. Only by condemning himself to certain death could the scientist finally say what he truly felt. This gig doesn't exactly lend itself to early retirement, unless the brass up top says so. Likewise, Philip was finally able to express his distaste for the spy lifestyle but the admission only did him so much good. If he were just talking about being a travel agent he might've been able to quit (but then again how many parents stay in jobs they hate to provide for families?) As it stood, Philip's ultimate boss (Russia) is the only one that decides which workers keep working and which get to come home to places like glorious Smolensk.
For an example of how little it pays to be critical, we finally met Philip's illegitimate son Mikhail Semenov wasting away in a government holding facility back in Russia. Remember Irina from season 1's "Duty and Honor"? Apparently Mikhail carries the same rabble-rousing blood as she and Philip, because the young man landed himself in imprisonment for disagreeing with Russia's military choices in Afghanistan and was on the slow track to be deemed mentally ill or a traitor. As it stood though he had "powerful friends" that were able to free Mikhail from this purgatory (likely Gabriel pulling some strings on behalf of Philip). I'm liking what little we've seen of this kid. He has kind eyes with a rebellious streak, truly his father's son.
While Philip's first born checked in with his grandfather on his mom's side, Philip and Elizabeth pretty much got their walking papers from Gabriel. In the world of espionage information is vital so the fact that William was on radio silence made everyone imagine the worst. Of course it was up to the Jenningses to decide whether it was time to really, truly go home. The kind of life these two lead is so specific I'm sure the thought of packing it up feels unreal. They are so entrenched in putting up emotional walls and analyzing the world rather than living in it that I question whether they'd even know how to live normal lives. Kind of like how some convicts can't "handle life on the outside," ya know?
Either way if Mikhail shows up before the Jennings make a move and Stan catches any sort of whiff of a long lost Russian soldier bastard that'll pretty much be all he needs to connect the dots against his neighbors. I mean, just when it looked like William was going to remain tight-lipped 'til the very end he started opening his mouth about a couple we knew to be as Elizabeth and Philip. (Full disclosure during the "death-squirting" sounds another tab I had open on my computer started playing a travel commercial featuring a cheerful female voice on ukulele, so I had to replay to get the full emotional impact). I know William's speech about how the thing that once made you special becomes a curse is specific to his spy experience, but this show has never shied away from drawing existential comparisons. Sometimes we retreat into the part of ourselves that's most unique to the point of shutting out the world at large. Between this info and Gaad's dying tip urging Beeman to suspect even the most unexpected moves from Russia it won't be long before this cat-and-mouse game kicks into overtime.
As for the episode title, "Persona Non Grata" referred to the status given to Arkady by Stan's new munchkin boss. It's apparently the only way to boot a foreign diplomat out of a country. The guy was pretty hurt by the gesture and left the Rezidentura in Tatiana's hands, at least in the interim. Oleg for his part decided to head home to be with his mother in the wake of his brother's absence and he got told twice he was a "good son." Seems the war is tiring out a lot of people and the only ones who are able to keep fighting are the Stans of the world, who let their families fall by the wayside.
My favorite laugh of the episode came with the reveal that all this drama had gone down on the day of the Super Bowl, which no adults watched. Just Henry (Keidrich Sellati) all alone and Paige and Mathew using it as an excuse to make out like teens do. The two further connected over their parents, and discussed whether or not seeing them as adults could be a good thing. On the one hand, if you're like Paige and fighting to grow up, then getting some clarity about how the world works is a good thing. But then it also means having to learn how to fend for yourself, which can be pretty damn exhausting. I could see a whole unrequited love arc forming between Paige and Mathew, and what's more romantic to a teen than running off together, just the two of you against the world? Also I did not appreciate how wild-eyed and gleeful Stan was after discovering the teens, provided he'd just watched a man slowly die from the inside out, but Stan's going to be Stan I guess.
And so, as tonight's finale came to a close, we were treated to two shots that stand out in my mind as visual examples that sum up perfectly everything that's happened so far in the whole series: first there was the high angle down shot on Philip and Elizabeth cornered in their own parental bedroom — essentially the command center of any home, looking instead small and trapped in the domestic inner-sanctum. What had become their perfect cover was now the same thing imprisoning the two. The second came as Philip angrily forbid Paige to continue seeing the neighbor boy while a low angle camera tracked behind them, making the home loom large like a living haunted house in a horror movie, tree shadow and all — turning formally hidden strengths into exposed weaknesses, and disguises into red arrows.
- What will become of Arkady?
- Will Philip's son find him?
- What will become of Oleg?
- What did you think of the season as a whole?
- What did you think of "Persona Non Grata"?