The Americans concluded its six-season run admirably with “Start,” ending Nadezhda and Mischa’s long mission with as happy an ending as anyone deserved.
When we last saw Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell), he had just barely escaped the FBI after meeting with Father Andrei (Konstantin Lavysh) and given her the signal to grab the go-bag and run. “Start” picks up there, close up on Philip’s face as he waits for Elizabeth and processes what they’re about to do. When she joins him, he tells her that they can go get Paige (Holly Taylor), but they need to leave Henry (Keidrich Sellati) behind.
Elizabeth puts up a fight. Every fiber of her maternal being is resisting this plan, but Philip is adamant. Henry has done nothing wrong. He doesn’t know anything. It’s best to leave him behind. Heartbroken, Elizabeth capitulates.
They steal a nondescript sedan and head to Paige’s apartment to collect her, oblivious to the fact that Stan (Noah Emmerich) has left his post on garage surveillance duty to follow a hunch. He’s staking out Paige’s apartment when they arrive.
When Paige answers the door to her parents, she believes they’re there to take her to task for her abrupt exit during her fight with Elizabeth. She’s caught completely off guard by their telling her that she needs to pack one small bag and leave with them immediately– that their cover is blown and it’s time to move to Russia.
Like Elizabeth, she doesn’t want to just abandon Henry. She gets voted down. They grab her knapsack and head for the garage below her building.
Before they reach the car, Stan appears in the garage’s opening. He confronts them about where they’re going and rejects Paige’s claim that she isn’t feeling well and they’ve come to take her home. He rejects Philip’s tale that the sedan they’re driving is a dealership loaner. He tells them it’s all over and orders them at gunpoint to get down on the ground.
Instead, Philip surrenders to the truth. He tells Stan that they had a job to do– that they were doing what their country told them to. Stan isn’t just there for the FBI; he is angry and hurt. He says to Philip, “You were my best friend… You made my life a joke.”
Philip tells Stan that he was his only friend in all the years of his shi**y life in the U.S. He asks what Stan thinks he could have done differently, saying that he didn’t want to lie to him, but that he had no choice when Stan moved in right across the street.
Stan tries to interrogate them about some of the killings he’s had to deal with, but they deny ever having killed anyone. Elizabeth chimes in that Philip isn’t even in their line of work anymore, that he’s really just a travel agent. Philip agrees and explains that he stopped knowing why he was doing what he was asked to all the time and insists that now he really is just a failing travel agent.
They tell him that their getting caught isn’t due to all the FBI agents who have been on their tails forever, but the Russians who are conspiring against Gorbachev and forcing them to act against their own. This corresponds with what Oleg (Costa Ronin) told Stan, and when they hear that Stan has imprisoned Oleg and that the message was never delivered, they plead with Stan to preserve the chance for peace between their countries by making sure the message makes it to Russia.
As Stan softens, Philip tells him that now he has to leave everything he’s known for years, including his son. He doesn’t want to run, but now that he’s caught, he has to. He tells Stan that he’s right to be angry, and that he would even be right to shoot him, but that they are getting in the car and driving away. He also says that if Stan had stayed in EST with him, he would know what to do now.
Paige asks Stan to take care of Henry. They all agree: Henry knows nothing and loves Stan.
Then Philip says, “I don’t know how to say this, but I think there’s a chance that Renee might be one of us. I’m not sure.”
They get in the car and drive slowly towards the garage entrance, and a shell-shocked Stan eventually steps aside and lets them pass. They drive away, and he returns to his surveillance duty, silently processing everything he’s just heard.
Once the Jennings are away, Paige asks if they can trust Stan, and Philip says yes.
The family debates Henry for a while, and they eventually decide that calling him one last time is as safe or as risky as any other option. First they pull off at a desolate rest stop to bury their wallets, Henry’s fake passport, Philip and Elizabeth’s fake wedding rings and Elizabeth’s cyanide pill locket. Philip and Elizabeth slide on their real wedding rings, and the trio claim their new passports and find someplace to alter their appearances to match the photos inside.
Once they’re disguised, they find a pay phone and call Henry. They interrupt his ping pong tournament to make him stand in the hallway on the phone. Philip and Elizabeth express more love and pride than usual, and Henry guesses that at least Philip must have been drinking. Paige is too emotional to speak to him, and Henry doesn’t want to miss any more of the fun, so they hang up and leave him behind.
For the rest of their drive towards the Canadian border, they wrestle with whether there’s a way to keep Henry. Philip considers laying low in New York and seeing him often enough to try to explain everything, but it’s no good. Eventually, they make it onto a train and find separate seats, biding their time until they’re safely in Canada.
As they’re making their way north, Stan goes home to Renee (Laurie Holden). He finds her sleeping peacefully and regards her with love. He obviously doesn’t want to know if she’s a spy. He pulls the blanket up on her and sits in a chair by the bed to watch her and think.
When Stan goes into the office the next morning, Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) pulls him into the sound-proofed conference room and presents two sketches resulting from his interrogation of Father Andrei. It’s definitely Philip and Elizabeth.
Stan says that even though he’s the one who thought it could be them, he didn’t really believe it would be. Aderholt is abashed, and tells Stan he should have listened to him. Aderholt says that they’re staking out Paige’s apartment, that they’re on the house and that they’re watching Henry, who is the only member of the family who is where he’s supposed to be.
If Stan will keep his conversation with the Jennings and the suspicions Philip raised about Renee to himself, will he also help Oleg deliver Elizabeth’s message? Will Oleg be released and allowed to go home to the family mourning him as gone forever? We can hope.
Later, the FBI begins emptying the Jennings household of anything that could possibly be evidence and Stan participates in a wooden manner, hesitating as Renee comes out to embrace and comfort him. The camera lingers on her watching the FBI activity after Stan drives away. Nothing about her country of origin is revealed, but the seed of doubt has been planted.
While their home is being turned upside-down, Philip, Elizabeth and Paige are nearing the Canadian border. At the last US stop, Marshals board the train and check IDs against the sketches from the FBI. Philip and Elizabeth hold their breath as they evade detection in separate cars. They’re beginning to relax when the train starts moving again and the conductor announces Montreal as the next stop, but out their windows they can see that Paige has gotten off the train and is choosing to stay behind. Philip rushes to Elizabeth’s seat and joins her as they manage their emotions in response to losing both of their children.
Later, Elizabeth dreams a memory of smoking in bed with Gregory (Derek Luke). He touches her stomach as she takes the cigarette, and she tells him she doesn’t even want a kid. Then he’s gone, and she’s left alone with all of the artwork on his walls, including Erica’s painting that she burned. Next to the bed is a portrait of her now-lost children. When she awakens, she is on an airplane, safely on her way to Russia, and Philip is seated apart from her, brooding as he looks out the window.
In America, Stan goes to Henry at school to interrupt his hockey practice with the news that he’s been abandoned by his whole family, all of whom are Russian spies. Henry acts sullen, and Stan puts a comforting hand on his knee. Maybe this will be alright.
Paige goes back to the safe house where she learned to be a spy, but Claudia (Margo Martindale) isn’t there. She pours herself a shot of vodka. She is on her own now, and she has developed a skill set that includes shooting vodka without reacting.
Philip and Elizabeth make it to Russia unharmed, and they reach the border in a Volvo, free of their disguises but not yet certain of their freedom. Elizabeth says something to the border guard that leads to him making a phone call and waving them on. They drive through a snowy landscape to a side road where Arkady (Lev Gorn) is waiting for them and transfer into his car.
Arkady drives them over a long distance, and they sleep in each other’s arms in the back seat, finally resting after a years-long journey marked with strain and loss. Philip awakens in the night as the lights of a city, presumably Moscow, come into view. He asks Arkady to pull over, and he and Elizabeth get out to look.
Philip tells her that he can’t remember the name of the man who recruited him, but he remembers him saying that this would be a hard life. Their faces say that the cost of losing their children forever is far higher than losing their own lives would have been. Elizabeth muses that if they’d stayed, maybe she would have worked in a factory and maybe they would have met anyway on a bus.
They reflect that their children aren’t children anymore, and that they did raise them.
Philip comments in English that it feels strange. Elizabeth responds in Russian that they’ll get used to it. They turn back to the view.
Notable song placements for this episode were Dire Straits‘ “Brothers in Arms” and U2‘s “With or Without You.” Two last strokes of genius from music supervisors Amanda Krieg Thomas and P.J. Bloom, capping a remarkable streak of amazing selections.
“Brothers in Arms” plays as Stan returns to his surveillance duties with the knowledge of the Jennings’ true identities and that they’re already gone, cut with Oleg’s father and wife grappling with the loss of the man they love and the Jennings burying their American identities in the woods near the rest stop.
Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms
There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
“With or Without You” plays as the Jennings struggle with whether they can leave Henry behind and Stan watches Renee sleeping, unsure of whether she is who she claims to be. It continues as the FBI raid on the Jennings house happens and Philip, Elizabeth and Paige ride a train to Canada. It climaxes as Stan rigidly accepts Renee’s hug in their driveway and she watches the FBI dismantling the Jennings’ house across the street.
Final thoughts: I can’t think of anything they could have done differently with this finale that would have satisfied me more. Can you?