TV review: “The Americans” completes a perfect second season

By
From the May 22, 2014 edition

I didn’t think it was possible for “The Americans” to top its utterly fantastic first outing, but with last night’s finale in the books there’s no doubt about it — this season was incredible. Spoilers abound from here on out.

From the harrowing premiere, when Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip’s (Matthew Rhys) friends and fellow spies Emmett and Leanne were ruthlessly gunned down, to the finale, when we learn it was actually their son Jared who did it, this season has been a tightly written and complex narrative with a number of powerful themes running underneath.

Every Season 2 episode carried weight and depth; whether it was the Jennings dealing with a new spy game that’s more vicious and unpredictable than expected, or how the manipulations in various relationships reflected something greater. But it was this finale, and what it set up for the future, that excites me most for what this series is capable of.

Even if I knew Jared was the killer before the big reveal, that moment didn’t lack punch because his reasons were completely unexpected (and horrifyingly logical). And what followed it was a gut-punch of epic proportions — the Centre wants Paige next?!

Season 2 was built on the foundation that the Jennings — and eventually Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Oleg (Costa Ronin) with regards to Nina (Annet Mahendru) — weren’t able to fully protect someone they love. Phillip and Elizabeth are devoted to Mother Russia, but their children’s safety is more imperative. Stan and Oleg are duteous as well, but their feelings for Nina have made the consequences of formerly manipulating her portentously dire.

With Nina heading back to the USSR, and more importantly for next season, Phillip and Elizabeth not seeing eye-to-eye with the KGB’s designs for their daughter, Season 3 looks to be momentous. Having the Jennings’ marriage back into DEFCON 2 Cold War status will test their bonds — to both each other and their convictions — immeasurably. And will Stan and Oleg be forced into an uneasy détente to save Nina?

I don’t know how the central characters of “The Americans” will find a way out of their sticky situations next season, but it will surely result in more riveting television.

Photo courtesy FX