Thursday, May 22, 2014

Looking For Mercy Street: Some Thoughts On The Americans' Season Finale

(Spoilers Follow)

Never trust the resolution that comes at the forty five minute mark. As Jared, the son of sleeper agents lay dying, choking on his own blood and confessing to the murders of his family there was a strange sense of "that's it?" in watching it. What felt like it had been building to something apocalyptic ended horribly for sure. But it was a horror Philip and Elizabeth Jennings know well. The rote work of three more bodies to quietly dispose of. As the camera panned down to a strangely blurry shot of them picnicking in the park with their children the audience shared their sense of dislocation as they looked around them, and watched their son run by with a kite that didn't quite catch the wind, surely it couldn't be over this easily?

And then, in the final moments Philip and Elizabeth met with their handler Claudia. Margo Martindale appearing like a Baba Yaga in Talbots, her red hair the only color against the concrete of the sky and the bridge. Jared was a mistake, she regretfully explains.  The Center wants a second generation of spies drawn from the children of its sleeper agents. Claudia wanly offers that she was against it, as were Jared's parents. But The Center made contact with the boy, turning him against his family with the rage he'd been lied to and setting him down the path toward an unforeseen bloodbath. Claudia delivers the killing blow, Philip and Elizabeth's new orders are to begin grooming their fourteen year old daughter Paige for The Service.

Perhaps "apocalyptic" is an appropriate descriptor for this episode, in the way of "the abomination that causes desolation." Desolation is the new law of land as we leave this season, more than ever. The desolation of Agent Beeman's entire life, both above and below the board. His wife is gone, and in the end he could not bring himself to betray his country to save his lover, Nina. Nina is whisked into a waiting car and driven to her certain death in Moscow. Our last glimpse of her is looking through the rear window at Beeman watching from his own vehicle. Her expression is impossible to pin down, anger?, sorrow?, a strange sense of being impressed that in the end Stan wouldn't turn? It's possible we will never see her again. But it's also a wish borne of wanting no more agony for either of these characters, and the show is repeatedly about no one getting off that easy.

Which brings us back to Paige. Throughout the first two seasons there has been the dread of what would happen to the Jennings children. From death at the hands of a furious asset, to being left to fend for themselves, or learning the truth about their parents. The new reality is worse than that. If there is a clue for what one of the main stories of season three will be, it will be for the battle for Paige's soul. It will be one that will divide her parents, as it's already started to in the brief argument they have over the orders before calling the family to dinner. And it will be another facet of a magnificent TV series all about the lies we tell, the stories we make up to protect others, and the tragedy of what happens when those we love get caught in them.