The finale of the outstanding fourth and best season of FX’s The Americans was engrossing from start to finish. In the suspenseful opening segment of episode 13, the FBI surveillance of William (Dylan Baker) could have easily caught Philip (Matthew Rhys) during the planned exchange of the Lassa virus. Instead, William senses danger and runs through the park leaving Philip sitting alone and undetected at the rendezvous point. Before he is apprehended William deliberately breaks the vile containing the deadly virus and rubs it into his broken skin.
As William lies dying in a hospital bed at USAMRIID, FBI agents Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) talk with him from the other side of a glass partition. Aderholt asks if he’s in pain and if he liked what he did. At first it was exciting and he felt special, but ultimately he was isolated and lonely, William explains. Then as his condition worsens he says that he wishes he could have been married like them (referring to Elizabeth and Philip) with a couple of kids. Not knowing how close it is to the truth, William tells the agents that they’d never suspect them, and that she is pretty and he is lucky.
A new character, Mikhail Semenov, is introduced in a Russian prison. He has been jailed for anti-Soviet activities after his return from Afghanistan, but with the intervention of powerful friends, he is released. Our presumption that he is Philip’s son is confirmed later when he visits his grandfather. There he receives money and passports that his mother sent before she was arrested. Armed with the knowledge that his father is a travel agent and whatever instructions his mother left, he leaves to go to the United States. This sets up a very interesting plot thread for next season.
Meanwhile at the rezidentura there are many touching scenes. Arkady (Lev Gorn) warmly calls Oleg (Costa Ronin) a good son when Oleg informs him that he wants to return to the Soviet Union. Arkady later learns from new head of the counterintelligence unit of the FBI that he is “persona non grata” of the title and has 48 hours to leave the country. Tatiana (Vera Cherny), who will be the acting director of the unit at the rezidentura, tearfully calls Oleg a good son also when he tells her that he will be going back home.
Philip’s monologue at an EST seminar summarizes the disenchantment with espionage that he has felt for a long time. While at first you’ve chosen work that you like or need, later life changes things or you change, he tells the group. Now, he says, he doesn’t want to do it and he wakes up every day with this sick feeling in his stomach.
The writers have written such complex characters that Philip is not the only character experiencing a crisis of conscience this season. Oleg and William have also had deep reservations about the work that they do.
Since Gabe (Frank Langella) deduces that the FBI has William in custody, he meets with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip about the risks that they now face. He wants them to go back to Russia with their children. When they look shocked, Gabe tells Philip that “his heart hasn’t been in this in a long time,” and Elizabeth that she has been doing this for twenty years and that this “job wasn’t meant to be forever.” The final decision will be theirs he tells them, but they need to be aware that they may have become inured to danger.
Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire” plays in background as we see a stunned Elizabeth and Philip sitting silently in their car, a thoughtful Arkady drinking in his office and glancing at a bust of Lenin, and Paige (Holly Taylor) holding Pastor Tim and Alice’s baby. This is a wonderful choice of music because the lyrics detail all the ways in which people die, and there have been so many deaths in this series. This season alone key characters (Nina, Agent Gaad, and William) have died.
In the final scenes, Elizabeth and Philip ponder their choices. They can’t imagine Paige or Henry in the Soviet Union and Philip suggests that they just run away. One thing is clear, Philip does not want to continue spying nor does he want Paige to spy. He picks up Paige from the Beeman’s house where Stan happily tells him that Paige and Matthew are romantically involved. Philip suspects that Paige is leading Matthew on in order to get intel. As they walk home Philip adamantly tells his daughter that he doesn’t want her to see him again and “I don’t want you to do this.”
This series should have a much larger audience. In a tribute to the writing and acting, we care about all the characters. We were sad when Nina was brutally killed and when Martha and Philip had to part. There has been suspense when characters have been in danger: Philip, Elizabeth and Gabe with Glanders scare; Martha trying to avoid detection at the FBI; Paige and Elizabeth’s confrontation with muggers. We have much to look forward to in the final two seasons.