‘The Americans’ Series Finale ‘START’ Recap: The Jennings Flee To Russia, But At A Price [SPOILERS]
The series finale of FX’s The Americans proved to be both satisfying because of one particular character’s decision and disappointing because no major character was killed, seriously injured or sent to prison. (I know, quite a macabre way to start, right?).
‘The Americans’ Series Finale Recap
The tenth episode of season six, “START,” picks up immediately where the previous chapter left off. Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) narrowly avoided being captured by the FBI after meeting with Father Andrei, him and his wife Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) longtime priest, for marriage counseling in a public park in Washington, D.C. Philip thus abandoned his disguise and called Elizabeth from a phone booth to tell her “I was hoping to make it home in time for dinner, but things are a little topsy-turvy at the office,” which is code for “I nearly just got caught, we need to get the hell out of here as soon as possible.” Flabbergasted, Elizabeth frantically packs her essential belongings and meets Philip at what looks like an abandoned warehouse to plot their escape from the country.
The Jennings agree to pick up their eldest daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) from her college and drive up to New Hampshire until they finally reach the border with Canada, but then find themselves at odds with regards to what to do with their high-school-aged son Henry (Keidrich Sellati), who is away at a boarding school. Henry is still completely oblivious about their identities as KGB agents. When Philip suggests they simply leave Henry because it would be less dangerous for him in America than in Russia, Elizabeth is initially horrified by the idea and resists not taking him with them. However, Philip insists that nobody will be able to hurt him in any way because “he doesn’t know anything,” unlike Paige, who has known that her parents are Russian spies since season four. In fact, Paige has even been trained by her mother and the Jennings’ KGB handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) since season 6 began to someday join the organization’s ranks. When the Jennings pick up Paige, she questions why they have decided not to bring Henry with them, and says he will simply end up “hating” his parents for it, although Philip tells Paige they know this and are prepared to accept it.
Claudia chastised Elizabeth in the previous episode after she failed to complete a mission that involved killing a top Soviet government official named Nesterenko because the KGB perceived him to be a dangerous individual. After listening to audio tapes of Nesterenko speak at a major nuclear arms summit in Washington, Elizabeth lets her personal feelings and politics take over her and tries to explain to Claudia that he is not as malevolent as the Russians think he is. Of course, the KGB is supposedly attempting to get rid of Mikhail Gorbachev, who is at that point leader of the Soviet Union, and they firmly believe eliminating Nesterenko is one way to do that. However, Elizabeth experiences a flashback to a moment from her teenage years in Russia when she first started training with the agency. She saw a soldier and his horse bleeding on the street one day while walking home but did nothing to help them. After telling her handler at the time about this, her superior told her that she should have stepped in to help because “you never leave a countryman to die on the street.” Fearing she may make the same mistake again, Elizabeth kills a woman she quickly identifies as a fellow KGB agent who was sent to kill Nesterenko before the summit as a replacement for Elizabeth because they feared she would not be able to bring herself to do it.
Elizabeth told Claudia that Nesterenko is still alive because of her, and Claudia says that the repercussions of what she has done for Russia are far worse than anything positive she did in all her years as a spy (a bit of an exaggeration there I think, Claudia). Claudia seemingly breaks all ties with the Jennings and returns to Russia.
Meanwhile, FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) has grown increasingly convinced that the Jennings — his neighbors and best friends — are Russian spies after finding no official record of their names or the travel agency they work for, in addition to meticulously observing their behavior. Stan calls both their travel agency and their home and finds that the Jennings are nowhere to be found. Stan’s colleague at the FBI Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) interrogates Father Andrei — who told Philip in their last encounter that the bureau was after him and a fellow priest, and thus made Philip realize that they were also after him — about his relationship with the Jennings. Aderholt shows Andrei a photo the FBI obtained of him and Philip speaking in the park, and asks the priest to identify Philip. Aderholt warns Andrei that if he refuses to cooperate, him and the whole Russian church could face enormous consequences for keeping secret their ties to the KGB.
This is perhaps one of the most interestingly tense and thrilling scenes of the episode, as Andrei’s decision comes only after Aderholt stresses that all his concerns about his church’s reputation “go away” if he cooperates with the FBI. Andrei finally tells Aderholt “there are two of them,” referring to the Jennings, although he claims he only knows them by their Russian (birth) names: Mischa and Nadezhda. WOW! One can only wonder if Andrei is lying, and that he also knows what their American names are.
Stan finally intercepts Elizabeth, Philip and Paige as they are about to get in their car in a parking garage. At first, they exchange pleasantries and feign surprise at seeing each other, but Stan quickly begins aggressively interrogating the Jennings and becomes hostile. Stan eventually tells them he knows exactly who they are and orders them to get on the ground while pointing a gun at them.
What ensues, however, is not a shootout or fight of any kind — unfortunately — but instead a very long, heart-wrenching and somewhat drawn-out conversation between the Jennings, particularly Philip, and Stan. Stan voices his anger over the Jennings lying to him about their identities after all these years, and says he feels like they made his life “a joke,” although Philip responds by saying his life was the real sham. Philip apologizes (sort of) and tells Stan that he was his only friend in his miserable existence, and says he is nothing but a “failed travel agent” at this point. (Which is true: Elizabeth tries to defend Philip by telling Stan that her husband has stopped working for the KGB for quite some and now only works as a travel agent full-time).
However, Stan refuses to believe almost anything the Jennings tell them, including their denials of knowing Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin), the ex-KGB agent who was arrested in the previous episode. Burov supposedly worked for the Soviet transport ministry in Washington at that point, and had been in contact with the Jennings about the KGB’s plans to remove Gorbachev from power. Surprisingly, Elizabeth refuses to speak out and admit she killed a Russian couple who were defectors (Sofia and Gennadi) and who had a young son after Stan wrongly accuses Philip of murdering them. (Really, Elizabeth? Even for your husband you won’t stick up at a dire moment? She is COLD.) The Jennings tell Stan they plan to leave Henry behind and Philip tells Stan he trusts him and that he is the best person to look after Henry, something which Paige also urges him to do. Stan ultimately lets the family escape, but not before Philip reveals a bombshell suspicion he holds: that Stan’s girlfriend Renee may also be an undercover Russian spy. What?!
Renee had expressed interest in working at the FBI earlier this season, and was even revealed to have landed an interview for a low-level position there. Would a KGB agent really try to infiltrate the FBI by working there? Who knows, but there doesn’t seem to be any explicit clues to confirm Philip’s theory about her.
Dennis apologizes to Stan for not believing his suspicions about the Jennings, and Stan seemingly resigns from the FBI and leaves Renee to start a new life, but decides to visit Henry at his hockey game before doing so.
The Jennings call Henry from a phone booth to say their last goodbye, but still don’t tell him who they truly are, nor do they even say that they are fleeing the country. They simply call to tell their son they love him, and Henry remains completely ignorant of the whole situation. Paige is the only one who can’t bring herself to speak to her brother on the phone.
After adopting new identities and disguises and using a new set of fake passports to cross the border into Canada via train, the Jennings safely make it across without arousing any suspicions despite several FBI posters announcing them as “wanted.” However, one major twist surprises the couple: Paige gets off the train at a stop before them without any warning! (The three Jennings were seated apart from each other to avoid being identified) It seems brave of Paige to decide to return home and let her parents go to Russia without her. Paige returns to the apartment where she often met with Elizabeth and Claudia for training and drinks (Vodka?) by herself.
The Jennings return to Russia and are picked up by the KGB’s Director, Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn). While admiring a view of a city (Moscow, probably), the couple reflect on their lives and the decision they made all those years ago to become spies. They seem to come to terms — perhaps too easily — with the fact that they left their two children behind and Elizabeth tells Philip in Russian about life in their homeland “we’ll get used to it.”
There is also a brief flashback while the Jennings are on a plane to Russia. Elizabeth recalls her brief romantic relationship with Gregory Thomas (Derek Luke), a black KGB militant she recruited for a mission back in season 1. Elizabeth and Gregory are shown in bed together, and she says she says she has no desire to have kids, although we then quickly see her looking at a photograph of two kids who look like Paige and Henry. (So confusing).
Paige’s decision to stay in America and Stan’s decision to quit his FBI job seem like the only two truly satisfying parts of this incredibly well-crafted and thrilling series. The unsolved mystery of whether or not Renee is really Russian — as well as Philip’s comment to Elizabeth that he hopes to be able to occasionally return to the U.S. to visit Henry — at least offer audiences some suspense to hold onto. The title’s episode is also very appropriate. START likely refers to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the bilateral pact the U.S. (under George H.W. Bush) and the Soviet Union signed in 1991 to limit the use of nuclear weapons and other arms. (Of course, the final season of The Americans occurs in the mid-to-late 1980s, an earlier point in the Cold War when Ronald Raegan was still in office).
However, the title could also refer to the Jennings’ decision to “start” a new life in Russia again, as well as Stan and Paige’s choices to walk away from anything involving international espionage and beginning a new path of their own. (You can’t blame those two characters of all people for wanting to start fresh, honestly).
Ultimately, The Americans was a captivating show that raised great questions about lies and deceit, loyalty and betrayal, family and friendship, and identity — all while adding a high body count and some occasionally steamy sex scenes.