Review: The beautiful, bold 'Americans' bows out with bittersweet finale

Kelly Lawler

Spoiler alert: The following contains details from Wednesday's series finale of The Americans.

In the final moments of the beautiful and somber finale of The Americans, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) look out on the vista of the Soviet Union, a country that has changed radically in the decades they've been away. They are childless, purposeless and outsiders in their own homeland, but they are together. 

The episode, "START," was a much quieter, more reflective finale than fans might have expected from the spy drama, which has had a high body count and thrilling action sequences over its six-year run. It's also a surprisingly peaceful, happy ending for nearly all of the main characters (except poor Oleg) that mostly lets Philip and Elizabeth off the hook for the horrors they've committed in the name of patriotism. As they ride in the back of Arkady Ivanovich's (Lev Gorn) car, they are huddled together, sleeping on each others' shoulders like children tuckered out during a road trip with their parents. It's a haunting image. They look innocent, which, depending on your perspective, maybe they are. 

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Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in the series finale of "The Americans."

Maybe some would have preferred if the couple, who murdered, lied and manipulated their way through Washington, D.C., posing as travel agents, had received some sort of comeuppance, but The Americans has never been  about the good guys winning and the bad guys losing. It was about politics, an eternally nebulous arena, and marriage, an even cloudier one. It has long argued that what is right has always depended on which hemisphere you live in, or which side of the bed you sleep on. 

Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings on "The Americans."

The finale managed to tick off the necessary boxes without turning into fan service. Yes, at long last, Stan (Noah Emmerich) discovered the true identity of his friends and neighbors, and then allowed them to escape. But the writers resisted checking in with fan-favorite Martha (Alison Wright) one last time in the U.S.S.R., or adding a dramatic death or rescue scene in order to redeem Philip or Elizabeth from the Americans' point of view. It saved one big shock for Paige (Holly Taylor) who, finally, decided to break free from her parents, abandoning them at a train station as they're fleeing to Canada.

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We don't know what happens to Paige or Henry (Keidrich Sellati), whom Phillip and Elizabeth choose to leave behind, after asking Stan to look after him. We also never find out if Stan's girlfriend Renee (Laurie Holden) is a Soviet spy, or just a woman who really wants to work at the FBI. We don't know if Oleg (Costa Ronin) gets out of prison. 

But in the end, the specifics seemed so unimportant. 

Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman and Brandon J. Dirden as Dennis Aderholt on "The Americans."

After all the missions, all the wigs, all the honey traps and all the death, the most important thing wasn't that Philip and Elizabeth were able to warn Gorbachev's people about the Center's planned coup (although it seems the couple are partially responsible for keeping him in power) but that they got out, and have the chance to live lives closer to the ones they were meant to live. 

The couple got what they'd always wanted, for better or worse. Elizabeth never wanted to live in America or be an American, and as that brief dream sequence reminded us, she never wanted children. And Philip just wanted her. 

No disguises, no dead drops. Just Misha and Nadezhda, back home forever. Americans no more.