The first season of The Americans came to a thrilling end in “The Colonel,” a gratifying resolver that still left plenty to ponder for Season 2.
Our favorite Directorate S agents were given two separate orders, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) was to meet the Colonel (Victor Slezak), with intelligence on President Regan’s Star Wars missile defense system, while Phillip (Matthew Rhys) was ordered to retrieve a the latest recording from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s study bug, which audiences learned from last week, was compromised by Agent Gaad’s (Richard Thomas) task force.
Orders came from Claudia (Margo Martindale) in another icy exchange with Elizabeth, sparking suspicion from her and Phillip, that the meeting with the Colonel was most likely, a setup due to its sudden urgency and level of intelligence exchanged. It was finally agreed upon that they carry out the orders as planned–until Phillip changes the plans at the last minute, building up to the episode’s tense final 20 minutes that saw Phillip out-driving the FBI, Elizabeth getting seriously wounded, and Stan almost getting close enough to identify them.
The body count was already high from Vlad (Vitaly Benko), Gregory (Derek Luke), Amador (Max Hernández) and General Zhukov (Olek Krupa) and the tensions were funneling towards another one. The bad blood between Elizabeth and Claudia was bubbling over and Nina (Annet Mahendru) had become expendable once she told Arkady (Lev Gorn) she was the mole. Either character could have easily died for the cause; great characters always seem to have limited run on a well-written serial like The Americans, but I found it a relief that the season didn’t end with a major death or cliffhanger.
Instead Nina’s story gets more complicated now that she’s been asked to be a double spy and extract information from Stan, and to try and turn him–those are tall orders! She ultimately comes through for the Motherland, telling Arkady she felt like a big plan was in play once Stan (Noah Emmerich) told her that her exfiltration would be approved soon. This second turn in her character makes Nina far more interesting, in fact it’s more plausible she would die for the cause than succumb to Stan’s heroic charm. Instead of being saved from it all and betraying her country, she plunged herself in a larger web of lies and now we’ll see just how good she is manipulating Stan and keeping all of her stories straight, while feeding lies to Stan.
As for Claudia, she finished what Elizabeth couldn’t, killing Richard Patterson (Paul Fitzgerald) with frightening expertise. Then she saves them by recognizing an abort order cleverly put in motion by Arkady (who I’ve become a big fan with each episode). Phillip and Elizabeth pegged Claudia all wrong but will their request for a new handler goes through, or are we going to find this working relationship gets better from here? My hope is for the latter as we’ve now established enough about Claudia that Elizabeth might want to learn from her. And also to selfishly hope Ms. Martindale finds a permanent TV home for a while.
All of the women on this cast should be commended on helping introduce TV to characters we’ve been starving for, but there doesn’t seem like enough can be said about Russell’s performance. One episode she’s basking in a late night parade with Sandra Beeman (Susan Misner) the next she absorbs the guilt thrown at her by her teenage daughter for forcing their father away. Another episode finds Elizabeth comforting her past lover before he sacrifices himself for her, and the next she’s paralyzed in communicating with the man she created a family with and fights beside for 20 years. There are so many sides to Elizabeth Jennings, some real, some false, and one very true.
Up until now we’ve been able to draw comparisons between Stan and Elizabeth, both loyalists to their respected countries, so much so that the importance of their work defines what their priorities must be. But something revealed in the finale was a tape recording of her mother speaking to her about how proud she was of her, and how wonderful it was for her mother to hear that Elizabeth had a family. Curled up on the floor, alone in the laundry room, Elizabeth savored the recording. Normally she must keep a front, so fierce and strong for her family, for her cause. But she never looked so scared that she might lose either Phillip or her children because of the spy game, or that she’s led a life away from everyone she cared about–without any tears falling down her face.
And was there a more perfect way to end the season than with Peter Gabriel’s Cold War anthem and critique of nationalism and war, “Games Without Frontiers”? From the high pitch whistles to the growling guitar licks, every note and lyric seemed to echo Phillip’s questions from the pilot, how much are he and Elizabeth willing to lose to help win a secret war?
“If looks could kill, they probably will in games without frontiers, war without tears”
Looking up at Season 2, the ante is raised with Phillip needing to maintain the charade of his marriage with Martha (Alison Wright) while trying to build his other “fake” marriage with Elizabeth back up. Either that or he has to find an unceremonious way to end it with Martha. The Beemans look like they’re in for more difficult travels, and someone as astute as Stan could want to be such a hero that he doesn’t realize he’s being played. Paige’s (Holly Taylor) curiosity is piqued and anyone who can recall being her age, she’ll keep snooping around until she finds something. And let’s not forget how much information Sanford (Tim Hopper) could spill to the feds on Elizabeth.
This is how you do a season finale, and we are counting down the days until Season 2 premieres.