Season two of FX’s The Americans wrapped up last night with “The Echo,” and it did so in a way that was so typical of the understated series: It was both completely unexpected, and yet, it made total sense. I think that, because of the nature of the show, because of its darkness, and its thematic complexity, we often expect deeper conspiracies are at play, but once we cut through the clutter, the storylines are often fairly simple and, as they did last night, wrap up neatly. The decisions that the characters make are not simple, of course, but the consequences are.
Take for instance, Stan Beeman, who spent much of the season agonizing over whether he would betray his mistress Nina, or if he would betray his country by spilling secrets to the KGB to protect her. There was a lot going on in that subplot, particularly on Nina’s side, because it was hard to tell what her true feelings were, especially once Oleg and her became involved. What became apparent in the end was that both Oleg and Stan loved her, but while Oleg was willing to risk his own ass, give Nina a stack of cash, and tell her to run, Stan ultimately didn’t love Nina enough. He chose country over love, left Nina a note, and the consequences were fairly simple: Nina would be taken back to Russia, tried for treason, and possibly executed (I’d like to think that she will ultimately be spared because I really like the character, but I do think that that particular subplot with Stan has been played out now. If Nina ultimately survives, both her and Stan need to move on to different storylines).
Likewise, the mystery surrounding Jared was simple. It was under our nose the entire time, and yet, I doubt very many people expected that reveal. The possibility occurred to me about three minutes before Jared — bleeding out of his neck — confessed to it, but for 12 episodes, it never otherwise dawned on me that the murderer of the Connors could’ve been their own son. But the clues were there all along. Larrick was simply a red herring. He was a bad guy, but there were no deep, underlying motivations: Philip and Elizabeth killed his friends, and he wanted revenge. The end.
The Jared reveal made perfect sense, and it also illuminated what the show has been doing with Paige all season long. Her plotline wasn’t about getting caught up in religion, or even her blossoming interests in civil disobedience. It was about showing us that Paige had the ability to become a spy. She was sneaking around. She was collecting information. She was figuring things about. There’s a lot of her mother in her, both in her passion for causes and her affinity for espionage. Again, there were no larger conspiracies at play. The show simply wanted to ready us for the hammer that fell at the end of the episode.
That hammer was the reappearance of Claudia, who explained to the Jennings that the Center was developing a Second Generation Illegals program that would allow Russia to plant agents in the CIA or FBI. Jared had been a member of that, though the Center recruited him without his parents’ permission. Claudia gained the Jennings’ sympathy by confessing that she had nothing to do with it, but once the Jennings bought her explanation, Claudia did what she does best: She turned on them, telling them that the next recruit the Center has planned for the Second Generation Illegals program is Paige.
Philip’s response was basically, “Go f*ck yourself,’ while Elizabeth’s was, “Well … Paige does need a hobby.” And what better hobby than secret spy missions where she risks her life every day for the Motherland? That, I suspect, will be the source of much of season three’s tension: Philip trying to get her as far away from the Center as possible, while Elizabeth secretly trains her for the inevitable. All of this was set up in the very first episode of the season when Philip regretted using his son as part of a mission, while Elizabeth’s response was basically, “Sometimes, you do what you have to do.”
It all came full circle, and we never even realized we were on the loop. That’s the quiet, underappreciated genius of The Americans.