'The Americans' season finale: Surviving an incredible episode in 'The Colonel'

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Breathe. Do not forget to breathe.

Your enjoyment of "The Americans" requires you to stay alive long enough to truly appreciate the incredible -- but real -- genius of the show's Season 1 finale. No matter how much anyone studied history or could have guessed about what was coming, "The Colonel" still managed to shock and surprise from beginning to end.

It's going to be a long almost-year to wait before we find out what happens next.


Crises of conscience and related international crises

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings ( Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have not one but two missions to accomplish before the season ends. The first is an everyday thing: Someone has to go retrieve a recording from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's study bug. The other mission is a little more dangerous, as it requires one of them to meet with a Colonel who knows all about the Reagan administration's Star Wars program.

But all is not as it would seem.

Remember that maid who was terrorized into bugging the Secretary's office back at the beginning of the season? Her conscience could not, by the finale, take it anymore. She goes to the FBI. Quickly, the counterintelligence team finds the car receiver and lays a trap to catch their spies.

Elizabeth would have walked directly into this trap were it not for Nina's ( Annet Mahendru) sudden admission of guilt to Arkady Ivanovich ( Lev Gorn). Wisely using her as a double agent, the Rezident sends his underling to Stan.

Sure, it all comes close to falling apart when Stan ( Noah Emmerich) once again promises exfiltration and asylum for his lover. But Stan is a bit of a fool here -- Nina doesn't just want a new life, she wants her new man. No Stan means no deal.

Almost as soon as Stan walks out the door, Nina takes news of a major operation to her boss.

Some awesome graffiti-style cloak and dagger later, Philip's rather fruitful meet with the Colonel (guest star Victor Slezak) is interrupted with the news that this is all a trap. Too bad that the trap is elsewhere.


It's all personal.

Nina is not the only player making choices from the heart in "The Colonel." Everyone seems to be going that route as Season 1 comes to an end. From the Jenningses to Claudia (!), everything hinges on personal decisions.

First of all, we need to talk about the star-crossed marriage of "Clark" and Martha ( Alison Wright). Although the happy couple is settling into cuddles and wallpaper choices, no one can know about them. Martha thinks this is because of Clark's job.

She's not entirely wrong, when you think about it.

And then there's Claudia ( Margo Martindale). What can be said about Claudia that does this character justice? The hard and horrible woman seen by Elizabeth, Philip and the audience is actually a big softy! You know, in a zealous-patriot-who-doesn't-mind-killing-and-mortal-insults kind of way.

Not only does Claudia get revenge for her murdered KGB lover (which is as cold as it is touching), but she also argues to save Philip and Elizabeth from a dangerous mission. Who knew she cared? She even fights for her agents after learning they stabbed her in the back.

Finally, Philip and Elizabeth make it all personal and heartfelt once again. Whether the reconnection comes at home in front of a hockey game or hidden next to a safe-house operating table, the Jenningses are fully there for each other again.

Thank goodness neither of them had to run to Canada with the kids!


A few more highlights from "The Colonel"

  • No one anywhere ever has said a phrase like the following better than Margo Martindale. "I know you better than you know yourself. And you don't know me at all."
  • It's so cute when Philip and Elizabeth each try to get the other out of the country with the kids while the other gets arrested.
  • When telling his wife about the romantic vacation they'll take when the Russian spies are caught: "Philip got us a rate." Oh, the irony, Stan! 
  • Claudia makes an excellent old, doddering lady when she needs to be a high-end spy. Seriously, Margo Martindale is amazing and should be in everything ever until the end of time. My big question about all of this is, "Who is Robby who answered the phone?"
  • I am officially in love with Nina and her icy cold "woman scorned" turnabout. Stan won't ever know what hit him.
  • "It is incredible. From the Latin, 'incredibilis.' 'In' meaning 'not.' "Credibili' meaning ... The technology, it's 'incredibilis.' At best, it's 50 years from being even remotely operational. The whole thing's a fantasy." -- The Colonel
  • How ironic would it have been for Philip to be pulled over for reckless driving on his way to save Elizabeth from the setup?
  • "You get the prints, I'll get the car." This is where training is a good thing.
  • How much is Paige (Holly Taylor) going to figure out? How much has she already guessed about her mysterious parents?
  • After an entire season of beautiful moments, Elizabeth's simple -- and Russian -- "Come home" to Philip may have been the most touching.


Thank the Lord -- or maybe the Communist Party -- for the early renewal of "The Americans" for Season 2. It's a long wait for the new season, but at least we don't have to hold our breath, waiting for news.

Photo/Video credit: FX