Wednesday, May 21, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth Learn Who Killed Emmett and Leanne While Stan Leaves a Note in 'Echo'

FX's The Americans - Episode 2.13 "Echo"

No one is safe as Philip and Elizabeth evacuate their children while trying to complete the mission. Stan holds Nina's future in his hands.

In this business, we often talk about the leap - where a decent show has everything to be a great show and then comes into focus as the amazing show we all knew it could be. The Americans took that jump in quality between its first and second season - and that first season is still some pretty great TV. This season The Americans doubled down on its premise - covert Soviet spies living in 1980s America - by placing the threat of complete and utter destruction over everything that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings did. The season opened with the deaths of Emmett and Leanne - two spies just like the Jennings. Everything in this world became heightened in the aftermath of that event. Philip and Elizabeth were always looking over their shoulders as they tried to find their friends' killer while still working for their cause.

"Echo" brings this season to an emotionally satisfying yet complex conclusion. All of the major stories are brought to a conclusion in the most complicated way possible. Philip and Elizabeth finally learn that Larrick is back in the States and they rightfully panic and carry the kids far away from their home for their protection. Only for the real danger to be right where there headed. The confrontation with Larrick was looming throughout the last few episodes as he worked his way close to finding them. And he happens to catch them during a moment where they are their real selves and not in disguise. The day that they've worried about coming is here. He's here to expose them for the illegals that they are - thusly destroying their family's entire lives.

Fortunately though, Jared too has a double identity which was one of the most satisfying twists in a season full of them. He's been aware of his parents true identities and their work for awhile now. And he has picked up some of their skills of deception. He's fooled us all. Everything just snaps right into place during that moment as he's slowly fading away. He's so frightened laying on that ground disappointed that he has let Kate down - not knowing that she's already dead. It's simultaneously sad and terrifying as he loves going into detail on how he killed his parents and his sister. Who he truly is stuns Philip and Elizabeth and leaves them speechless. All they can do is be with their children and hug tightly once they're finally alone again.

Things are equally tough for Stan who has to come to a decision whether to betray his country for Nina or not. The "Stealth" program is the be-all end-all for the Soviets right now. They have Anton working on the program back home. They have Philip and Elizabeth working with Fred to get the absorbent paint. They just need Stan to come through with the computer disk that has the codes to make the program theirs. And it truly does feel like Stan hasn't made up his mind until the very last second. He actually gets the program for the Soviets. But he ultimately doesn't give it to them. Nina may be the only bright spot in his life right now. But a life with her wouldn't ease his mind over the betrayal to his own country. He stands alone but he still has his ideals. And those are worth preserving even though it means Nina will be whisked away to stand trial - and likely be severely punished - in Russia.

But then comes yet another truly inspired twist. The Centre now wants Paige to be the next person in line for the Second Generation program. Their reasoning makes sense. These agents are poising as Americans in order to gain information and they've had kids in order to protect their covers. Now that they are getting older, they should be brought into the fold as well. They'll have even more agents in the field ready to stand against everything the United States represents. They were singularly focused on that goal that they are the ones ultimately to blame for Emmett and Leanne's deaths. With Paige, they have to be more careful and much more aware of Philip and Elizabeth's true feelings. They will honor backing off for now. But they're gonna want her sooner rather than later.

And for Elizabeth, this may not be a bad thing. This entire season they have been battling with Paige over ideals. Paige starts this episode the happiest we've ever seen her as she's standing up for something for the first time in her life. Then, she returns home and becomes down and dour because of the environment Philip and Elizabeth have created. She just wants to mark time until she's out of there. She's gonna keep on this path unless Philip and Elizabeth find a better solution to it all. Right now, the only solution seems like the truth. But as was noted often this season, their profession is a dangerous one and one that could implode at any moment in time. Paige's beliefs could become much more deadly to the family and the cause than Larrick ever was. That frightens Philip and Elizabeth. Their family unit is still sitting around the family table at season's end passing the potatoes. But change is looming. The status quo cannot be maintained and whatever the Jennings decide to do next will have major repercussions. I can't wait.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Echo" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Daniel Sackheim.
  • The season gets to end with yet another great song choice in "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring that gets to score Philip and Elizabeth's mission before the opening title sequence.
  • The show is obviously playing a long con with Martha. That's the one story that doesn't feel like it got any more morally complicated or resolved by the end of the season. But hey, she finally got that gun.
  • In general, I'm surprised by how little the Stan-Nina stuff and Philip-Elizabeth intersected. Yes, they were both working towards the same goal with "Stealth" for the Soviets. But the characters were all operating in their own separate worlds. 
  • I just love how in Stan's dream sequence Martha is stealing the files off the top of the moving file machine. It really does make us think it's real at first.
  • I really hope this isn't the last we see of Nina though because Annet Mahendru is such an amazing actress on this show. If it is, then FX needs to cast her on another show immediately. Fargo season 2? Louie? Justified? I'll settle for just about anything.
  • Philip: "There's a lot wrong with us but right now we have to go."
  • A lot of great stuff could still happen this year. But it's hard to imagine a scenario where The Americans is not a part of my Top 5 for the Best Shows of 2014.