Wednesday, June 8, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth Contemplate Their Futures in America in 'Persona Non Grata'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.13 "Persona Non Grata"

The explosive season finale finds Philip and Elizabeth in a high-stakes race against the FBI to recover a hazardous package. Will they get there in time? And will Paige follow her parents into the family business?

This has been a big season for The Americans. It's the show operating with an end date in sight. There's still story left to be told. FX has confirmed a final two season plan for the show. But this has been a very important season. The characters of this universe are dealing with the repercussions of their actions in all aspects of their lives. It has been a season with grave consequences. Both Nina and Gaad have been killed. Martha was successfully exfiltrated out of the country and is starting over without Philip in the Soviet Union. These are big and bold moves the show has made this season. And the finale packs even more of them. William is caught by the FBI and dying from the bioweapon he stole from the Americans after he injects himself with it. Additionally, both Arkady and Oleg are leaving the Rezidentura to return home - but for very different reasons. This leaves a final uncertain future for the show as it's largely Philip, Elizabeth and Stan left standing in this war for survival. It's particularly brutal because it forces Philip and Elizabeth to analyze whether or not this is a life they still want to be living.

Philip and Elizabeth have always been good agents for the Centre. When they signed up, they both believed in the cause. Over the years, Philip has had more doubts as he's come to enjoy life in America. And yet, he's still willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the mission and his family. The stakes have only gotten more intense over the course of the series. They are fighting to protect their homeland from the evil and cruel United States of America. They've been in danger of exposure a number of times. But they are still alive and functioning as agents. Despite everything that has happened to them, they are still serving their country. It has been 20 years since they first came here and were partnered together. It's been a marriage that has helped both of them become better people and agents. It's had its fair share of difficulties - especially when it comes to Paige. But they've been able to manage everything they've been thrown because they have each other.

It's a very smart strategy for the Centre to pair its Directorate S agents in couples. It helps them blend into life in America. But it also allows them to remain in check over years of service. Time changes every human being. The people of today are not the people who signed up for this mission all those years ago. They have changed because of what they've seen and had to do for their country. Philip and Elizabeth have had many successes over the years. They've failed as well too. But they've been solid because of their partnership. That's not something that William has had. It's not something that worked out for him. So, he was largely in a lonely and isolating existence doing a job for decades that is only now becoming important. It's crucial for the Soviet Union to know what America is doing with their bioweapon program. They've each signed treaties not to have them but both are aware of what's really going on. William is in a key position to do something about this. Something that would actually allow him to be a hero when he returns home from all of his years of service. That's what pulls him through this final mission.

Unfortunately, that's not the future that William is going to get. Instead, he's going to die by the horrifying disease he was delivering to his country. That's a cruel and harsh fate for him. He has been captured by Stan and Aderholt. He wasn't able to make the hand off to Philip. He was cornered in a park with the disease still in his hands. He chose to inject himself with it instead of leaving it there for Philip to maybe discover. But he had no knowledge of whether or not Philip was aware of what was happening to him. They are very trained agents who are able to spot a tail on them. But the FBI is smart too. They are able to recognize immediately when William breaks off for the hand off and scoop him up before he is able to. It's a huge victory for the Americans. This action gives them the confidence after a particularly brutal season filled with death. And now, everyone has to worry about William giving them any information about the Soviet agents working illegally in the country. For as long as the audience has known him, he has criticized the way the Soviets do things. As his body liquifies because of the disease, he still holds true to the vital information Stan and Aderholt need. He is on his deathbed experiencing one of the worst things he could possibly imagine. He knows what's coming for him and it's not pretty at all. He does reflect on his life. He does let it slip that he works with a couple who are undercover as suburban parents living the American dream. He sees Elizabeth as pretty and Philip as lucky. In a sense, they were lucky to be paired together. That's a luxury that William wasn't able to receive.

And yet, it's uncertain if that's all that William tells Stan and Aderholt. It definitely feels like it is. Everyone is worried about what he will tell them. Gabriel has no idea that William infected himself with the disease. Philip wasn't in the same area of the park to know what had happened. All they know for certain is that William is in the FBI's custody. He can tell them everything about Philip, Elizabeth and Gabriel. So that looming uncertainty forces all of them to think about what they should do. The Centre believes it may be time for Philip and Elizabeth to return home with their family. They have proudly served their country and will return as heroes. It will be a culture shock to Paige and Henry. But the Centre believes they'll manage to adapt. This was never suppose to be a lifelong assignment for Philip and Elizabeth. They weren't successful with this latest mission. All their hard work this season has been for nothing. And yet, the Centre is still proud of what they've accomplished. They can return with their heads held high. But now, it's something that Philip and Elizabeth have to think about. Is that something they even want? Elizabeth has been reminiscing about her hometown. She wonders how it has changed since she left. Philip believes most of it will be the same.

Philip and Elizabeth's lives are filled with life and death stakes. This is the life they proudly signed up for. This was how they made a difference in the world. They don't know how to react to this news of potentially moving back home. It's been an option on their minds a lot this season. The work has always taken the priority. It has been so all consuming of their lives. But the work has changed over the years. It's no longer as simple or easy as it once was. They've had to delicately handle the situation with Paige. Most of that happened by pure instincts. They don't know what they're doing. Neither does the Centre. They didn't know how to move forward with telling her the truth about them. And now, that's continuing to cause so many problems a year later. Paige has grown a lot this season. This finale has a keen eye on the next generation in this universe. The lives Paige and Henry are living in American are so different than life in the Soviet Union. The events of this episode happen on the night of the Super Bowl. That's a big deal that showcases just how overwhelming American culture is in the lives of Paige and Henry. Paige wants to protect her parents. She wants to keep them safe and has used Matthew to get information about Stan. But now, it seems that dynamic is more genuine despite the consequences it may have.

Philip and Elizabeth don't know what to expect when Stan comes home after working non-stop for a couple of days. They know just how busy he has been. They don't know if William sold them out and if Stan will be looking to arrest them. And yet, it's a startling final image of the season to see Stan so giddy at walking in on Matthew and Paige kissing. He's already planning their wedding and how Philip will have to pay for it. This has been a rough season for Philip's friendship with Stan. The year started with Stan angry at Philip for something he didn't do and compromised a bioweapon in the process. And now, Stan is still getting in the way of the bioweapon mission. But he's friendly with Philip once more. However, Philip is now the more wary one of this dynamic. He understands its importance if Stan were to ever learn the truth about him and Elizabeth. But now, he's much more cautious about Paige getting involved with Matthew. It's an immediate reaction to learning what is going on. He says that Paige is no longer allowed to date Matthew. But that also indicates that Philip has made his decision to stay in America and continue the work. The family will just have to be even more careful in the future because they are now operating under some new suspicion which is a very tense place to close out the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Persona Non Grata" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Chris Long.
  • Philip's other son, Mischa, is seen for the first time living his life in the Soviet Union. That's a curious decision to make in the season finale. But it too is a story of a son searching for answers about the father he didn't know just as his father is struggling with his own identity. A pretty effective tease for next season.
  • Aderholt asking William as he's slowly dying if he wanted a Coke was one of the most hilarious moments of the entire season. This show can be ridiculously funny when it wants to be.
  • William can lead the FBI back to Gabriel as well as Philip and Elizabeth. And yet, that really isn't given a lot of attention. The pressure is largely on this family and what they want for the future. Gabriel is at peace no matter where he ends up.
  • It seems that Philip may no longer be getting as much out of EST as he previously was. He shares his frustrations at work - talking as a travel agent and not as a spy. But the leader only suggests his job isn't that important and his family will still love him. But that couldn't be farther from the truth.
  • Dylan Baker has really been great this season as William. His story has been so deeply connected to the bioweapon mission. So, it's not surprising that his arc comes to an end here. But he also had quite a meaningful connection with Philip. Not enough to assuage any doubts about his loyalty to his country. But it was a unique and different relationship this season as well.
  • It's nice to know there are consequences for all the bugs and infiltrations of the FBI office for more than just the people in charge there. They've discovered so much this season. And now, Arkady is paying for it by being asked to leave the country immediately. He's pretty defeated by that as well. He'll return home as neither a hero nor a good son.
  • Conversely, Oleg is now ready to step up and be the good son that his mother deserves during this harsh time. He heard how she's still struggling with the death of his brother last week. And now, he's willing to take on that responsibility despite the cost it will have on his career and his relationship with Tatiana.
  • The Rezidentura could look very different next season with Tatiana replacing Arkady as the Resident until a more formal replacement can be announced. A transitional period could affect a couple missions on the ground too - though Tatiana has really proven herself this season in helping things go as smoothly as possible.
  • This really was a terrific season of television. The show's best season so far. It's been very impressive to watch every week as the characters only continue to grow, the narrative continues to worsen and the performances get more impressive. I really wish the Emmys took the show more seriously because it deserves so much praise. Plus, the show is writing with an ending in sight which should make for an even better future for it.