"The Americans" recap: Echoes of the past

In the shocking season finale, the political trumps the personal

Elliott Holt
May 22, 2014 6:27PM (UTC)

“Echo,” the shocking season finale of “The Americans” was full of echoes. This second season began with Emmet and Leanne murdered, with their daughter, in a hotel room. The season ends with Philip and Elizabeth escaping to a hotel room, with their kids, trying to outrun the murderous Captain Larrick. The season began with Paige sneaking off to Pennsylvania, alone, in search of the truth about her mother’s stay with “Aunt Helen.” It ends with Paige going to Pennsylvania, with her church youth group, to protest the use of nuclear weapons at a military base. The season began with Philip and Elizabeth aware, more than ever before, of the dangers to their children of their secret life. And in the last episode, they realize that the threat to Paige and Henry is much closer than they understood.

On Claudia’s orders, Elizabeth and Philip spent this stellar season trying to find Emmet and Leanne’s killer. They believed it was naval Captain Larrick, a closeted homosexual who Emmet and Leanne had blackmailed into providing information to the KGB. Philip and Elizabeth were eager to avenge the murder. Emmet and Leanne, after all, lived a parallel life; they were also illegals, secretly living as KGB agents while raising two innocent American children. Emmet and Leanne also had one boy, Jared, and one girl, Amelia, who was gunned down with her parents. All season, Elizabeth has worried about the orphaned Jared.


It became clear in the past couple of weeks that Jared knew the truth about his parents. What wasn’t clear is how long ago he found out. Last night’s major twist gave us all the answers. It turns out that the Centre was recruiting Jared, as part of a “Second-Generation Illegals” program, against his parents’ wishes. And when his parents tried to keep Jared from joining the cause, he killed them, along with his sister. Jared, seduced by Kate and the noble idea of sacrifice for the greater good, murdered his own family. (Last night, he made a dying confession, remarkably coherent despite gurgling blood, after being shot by Larrick.) Jared was not so “innocent” after all. “Your parents loved you,” Elizabeth told him. “They didn’t love me,” Jared said. “My whole life was a lie.”

Elizabeth and Philip have never wanted Paige and Henry to know the truth about their lives. But Paige is 14 and suspicious. She’s also increasingly independent and eager to have something to believe in and fight for. She joined the church against her parents’ wishes. And the anti-nuke rally in Pennsylvania invigorates her. “Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and that inspires me,” she tells her parents. Paige wants a cause, and now the Centre wants to give her one. Claudia tells Elizabeth and Philip that Paige is their next recruit for Operation “Second-Generation Illegals.” It’s time, Claudia says, to tell her the truth. “She’s your daughter, but she’s not just yours,” Claudia says. “Paige belongs to the cause.”

Claudia is appalled that the Centre went behind Emmet and Leanne’s back to recruit Jared. That was a “tragedy,” she admits. So she and the Centre expect Philip and Elizabeth’s full cooperation with Paige. They are expected to sacrifice their family for the cause. This season, they’ve seen many people sacrificed: Lucia, the idealistic Sandinista; Kate, their handler; and George, the one-man answering service, all died at Larrick’s hand. And in last night’s episode, Fred, who was Emmet’s loyal contact at Lockheed, sacrifices himself. He completed the mission that Philip and Elizabeth asked of him: he walked across the Lockheed factory floor in special shoes that would pick up microscopic traces of the radar absorbent paint being used on the outside of stealth planes. But because he didn’t have the necessary security pass to walk that floor, he was shot in the process. He manages to escape and leave the shoes in the designated drop before bleeding to death in a phone booth.


And Nina Sergeevna is also sacrificed to the cause. She’s shipped back to Moscow, to face trial and certain execution, when Stan won’t deliver Echo, the Americans’ stealth computer program, to the Soviets. Stan loves Nina, but not enough to betray his country. He believes in his cause, and will sacrifice everything—his marriage, his love—for it. “Tell Nina I’m sorry,” he types in a note to Arkady Ivanovich. This echoed Jared’s dying words: “Tell Kate I’m sorry.” And it echoed the silent exchange of glances between Oleg and Nina. They looked at each other, with longing and sadness, their eyes saying, “I’m sorry,” as she was taken away from the Rezidentura.

On “The Americans,” everyone is expected to put the political before the personal. On both sides of the Cold War, these characters make so many sacrifices—of loved ones, of identity, and of individual freedom. Paige believes in the idea of sacrifice, but she doesn’t yet know what’s expected her. And though Philip and Elizabeth are determined to keep the Centre away from their daughter, Emmet and Leanne’s case serves as a cautionary tale. As “The Americans” gears up for a third season, the fight over Paige’s fate is sure to heat up.

Elliott Holt

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