Spoiler Warning: If you didn’t watch last night’s finale of The Americans, you probably shouldn’t read this because spoilers abound.
I hate to bag on FX’s The Americans even a little because it’s such a complex, well-acted often riveting drama with such an incredible feel for time and place. However, last night’s season finale was frustrating. It’s not the slow burn of The Americans that’s the problem. It’s that there’s often so little payoff.
While there was a lot going on in Season 2 of The Americans, and while some of it may have felt confusing or disorienting along the way, The Americans did a nice job of tying it all together in the finale (maybe a little too neatly). In Season 3, on the other hand, the loose ends continue to dangle. The season finale didn’t close any loops; it opened them up even more. It was a good episode, but not a particularly good conclusion to the season.
For instance, the Afghanistan side plot that began with the Jennings’ folding a corpse into a suitcase fizzled out. The entire Mujahideen subplot meandered, introducing new characters and then quickly disposing of them, and we never really got a good feel for what it was about.
Also, what happened with Lisa, the woman with the abusive husband who snapped surveillance photographs at Northrop Grumman? Where did Elizabeth’s graduate student protege, Hans, go? What happened with the underage girl that Philip nearly slept with?
For that matter, what happened to Martha? Clark/Philip took his wig off at the end of the last episode, and we never found out how Martha reacted. Where did she go? And the solution to Agent Gaad’s bug situation that’s been running for much of the season was simply to bring in an FBI technician and stage his suicide? That’s it? It felt very Deus ex Machina.
Meanwhile, Nina spent all season trying to buy her life back, only to seemingly change her mind in the finale. Elsewhere, Stan completely fails backwards into a promotion, and the minute he gets the promotion, he goes back to the thing that nearly got him fired in the first place: Trying to get Nina released (LET IT GO, STAN).
I understand that the season finale was as much about setting up next season as anything else, but when you’re watching a show with a burn as slow as The Americans, it’s hard enough to keep all the little plot strands in mind this year, and it’s asking an awful lot of us to carry everything over into the next year to see how it plays out.
Granted, The Americans excels with its main storyline: The Jennings family. It’s hard not to wonder if the trip to visit Elizabeth’s mother was all secretly orchestrated by Elizabeth and Gabriel to help persuade Paige into joining the program. If that’s the case, it failed miserably, with Paige ratting her parents out to F%(*ING Pastor Tim in the end.
Dammit, Paige: STOP BEING THE WORST.
Unfortunately, the cliffhanger was the closest thing we got to real tension in the episode, unless you count Philip cozying up to Stan’s soon-to-be ex-wife at an EST meeting and hinting at becoming friends who share everything together. Are they teasing a romantic relationship for next season? Maybe. But is anyone that interested in seeing more of Sandra?
I appreciate that The Americans doesn’t attempt to manufacture drama with huge, shocking character deaths. On the other hand, by not killing off characters, The Americans is forced to continue subplots that many of us have lost interest in, like Martha and Nina, who do little except take the focus away from more interesting subplots. The Americans feels like a complex puzzle, but the writers often seem to throw away pieces instead of fitting them in. Undoubtedly, The Americans is a great character-driven drama. Too often, however, it falls short as a story-driven series.