Season 3 of The Americans was the culmination of several seasons of work, of meticulous characterization steadily built up by these wonderful writers and actors. No more did Philip and Elizabeth live double lives free from the suspicion of their daughter, and no more were they able to wait before having to confront the question of Paige’s future head on. In the season finale, “March 8, 1983”, the show takes a contemplative approach as it moves toward the next chapter of its story, and it’s a great way to close out the season.
Going in, I expected the episode to deliver a relatively satisfying conclusion to several of its story arcs, but instead, many balls are still left up in the air by the time the credits roll. I’m bummed the finale couldn’t include several essential storylines–we don’t see Martha, for example–but at the same time, I still can’t help but be impressed by the way the central family dynamics are explored. Philip-Elizabeth is still what the show does best, and it’s incredibly intriguing to see how the two have grown throughout the series. In particular, the shared difficulties surrounding Paige brought the two closer together than they’ve ever been, but here, we’re beginning to see the rift reopening. Philip’s even attending EST meetings again in order to hopefully work through his troubles, and it’s clear that his line of work–along with his family, since the two go hand-in-hand in this show–is taking a serious toll on him. “I feel like shit all the time,” he tells Yousaf.
It’s an apt sentence for his situation right now, and it must be extremely tough to hear both Gabriel and Elizabeth criticize him. “Grow up,” Gabriel tells him. “I don’t think you’re seeing things clearly,” Elizabeth adds on later. This has its foundation in his tendency to drift away from his homeland, and it’s all starting to compound, to beat down on him harder than any punch ever could. He’s losing his family–hell, even Henry–and his drive, and when he types out the suicide note for Gene Craft, the words can easily apply to his own person. “I had no choice…I’m sorry.”
After all, the idea of choice is one that plays out throughout this finale. It ties in with the discussions of bodies and possession, and it’s evident that the show is posing the question: How much of a choice do we have? “They only have my body,” Anton asserts early on, and he later advises Nina to turn down “the things the body cries for”. Even one of the EST folks gets in on the fun: “Being in this room with people who aren’t judging me makes me realize my body belongs to me.” So, the Centre or the FBI may wield a considerable amount of influence over your position and you goals, but in the end, you still do have some kind of say in the matter. You can reject, you can embrace, and you can decide, and Stan and Philip seem to be two characters who embody the internal struggle between mindset and action.
As Philip seems to be crumbling, though, Elizabeth’s resolve is only getting stronger, and that’s emphasized through the brilliantly crafted final sequence. As Reagan goes on and on about the “Evil Empire” that is the Soviet Union, Elizabeth is drawn to the screen, unable to tear her eyes away as she seems more focused and determined than ever. The camera zeroes in on her, purposely making Philip fade into the background, someone who’s drifting farther and farther from his original cause. It’s a devastating scene to watch because Philip is obviously hurting, yet Elizabeth is captured by Reagan’s words. And as she looks at the screen, she realizes that her world is about to change, that March 8, 1983 is a transition point.
What she doesn’t realize, however, is the fact that her daughter is upstairs, hurting as well and telling Pastor Tim everything. March 8, 1983 is not just a transition point for society as a whole; it’s also the day when the Jennings family is blown wide open. We’re not sure if they’re ever going to pick up the pieces.
SEASON GRADE: B+
-The reunion scene between Elizabeth, Paige, and Elizabeth’s grandmother is absolutely beautiful. Three generations coming together in one moving, haunting moment. I also absolutely love the scene afterward in the bathroom: for once, Elizabeth doesn’t look at Paige’s religion as something detrimental, and she’s able to simply observe and appreciate her daughter. Of course, little does she know that the visit has the opposite effect…
-Reagan is speaking to Evangelical Christians during that speech, which is key considering Pastor Tim.
-I definitely did not expect Sandra to have such a big role in the finale, but now that I think about it, it’s a pretty great way to tie Philip and Stan together. Also, the main topic of the EST meetings in this episode–sex–is considered a “thing the body cries for”.
-It’ll be interesting to see how the Oleg-Stan relationship develops next year, especially now that Deputy Attorney General Warren is now in on it.
-The “go down on me” woman is hilarious.
-Well, there goes hopes for an Oleg-Stan buddy cop spinoff.
-What an acting season this was. Now that a few spots have opened up in the Emmy drama category, if these cast members do not get nominated, nothing will be right in this world.
-See you all for season four!
Photo credit: FX, The Americans