For UK viewers, a double-bill to finish. I normally don’t like them, but I’m prepared to make an exception this time, because after episode 12, ‘Operation Chronicle’, there was nothing I wanted to do more than watch episode 13. There’s a major revelation – Jared knew all along about his parents – and a minor, though still significant one: Martha knows about “Clark’s” wig. She starts a conversation with him about starting a family, though, which like just about everything else she does seems to edge her a little bit closer to an untimely death.
For Stan, the episode is one in which his balls finally end up in the Rezidentura’s grasp, and he and they need to calculate just how hard they can be squeezed. To start with, he’s all about getting Nina out – and there’s a delicious scene in which he buys a car for her, with he and the car dealer exchanging loaded comments about how the car is for his “niece” – but then he finds out that Arkady knows about his relationship with Nina, and is prepared to ship her back to the USSR to be tried for treason unless he comes through with the goods about the Stealth programme – specifically, a computer program codenamed Echo. With the benefit of hindsight, the two seasons leading up to now have been a demonstration of how a good man (and he is, at heart) can slowly be compromised to the point where he might consider betraying his principles; the fact that it’s taken 25 episodes rather than one just makes it more convincing, and more agonising.
And for Philip and Elizabeth, trying to arrange the exfiltration of Jared is simply a stark reminder that at some point, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a year, they might lose their lives in the service of the cause, and someone will be doing the same for Paige and Henry; and, with Larrick in pursuit, that day could well be approaching. Which leads onto the season finale, ‘Echo’.
Wow. What an episode.
To be hyper-critical, I’m calling shenanigans just a little bit on the identity of Emmett and Leanne’s killer: it’s been staring us in the face all along, perhaps, but it’s sufficiently implausible, in my view, for that to be a reason why most of us wouldn’t have worked it out. That apart, though, this was more or less a faultless hour of television, replete with gut-clenching suspense; there’s a significant and harrowing death before the opening credits, and barely a wasted second thereafter. And the backstory behind the revelation about the murderer – the Centre has been looking to recruit the children of its illegals as a second generation of spies, this time with impeccable American backgrounds – is, in the context of The Americans, chillingly plausible. So when Claudia tells Philip and Elizabeth the Centre’s plans for Paige, it brings the issue which has hovered over this season into the sharpest of focus: which way are Philip and Elizabeth, faced with the choice between children and mission, going to go?
Stan, of course, has had a similar choice of his own to make – the country he loves, or the woman he loves. And here Arkady might just have overplayed his hand: as soon as he proffered relationship advice to Stan – “And don’t tell her ‘I love you’ so much. A Russian woman doesn’t like that. She won’t respect you” – I thought I saw something click behind Stan’s eyes: the Soviets know more than they should about the hookups with Nina, and that made his final decision almost inevitable. There is, however, no way we’ve seen the last of Nina; as I said earlier, she’s a survivor. She’ll be back. As will Martha, who has been teetering on the brink of expendability for a season or more now – there’s a throwaway detail in Stan’s brief dream sequence, though, which hints that his subconscious is suspicious of her, even if he isn’t quite aware of it yet, and suggests that even if she survives marriage to Clark, she might nonetheless be in danger.
It’s as good an episode of anything as I’ve seen all year, and it rounds off a second season during which The Americans has made the journey from “very good” to “great”. For some reason the show continues to be a tough sell to the uncommitted – I’ve just about given up recommending it – but it’s one of the very best things on TV. Particular credit, this time round, goes to the actors: Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are great, of course, but Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and (even more so) Annet Mahendru really should be in the Emmy mix this year.