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Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 3 Finale, Episode 13, ‘March 8, 1983’ Divides the Family

Review: 'The Americans' Season 3 Finale, Episode 13, 'March 8, 1983' Divides the Family

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘The Americans’ Season 3 Episode 12, ‘I Am Abassin Zadran,’ Foreshadows Doom

Briefing

Poor timing, Paige. Certainly telling anyone at any time your parents are Russians posing as Americans is dangerous, but doing so on the day of Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech is just the worst of luck — for Elizabeth and Philip, that is, and quite possibly for Pastor Tim in the long run. The fervor whipped up by Reagan’s harsh condemnation of the Soviet Union on March 8, 1983 — the finale’s title — will undoubtedly lead Pastor Tim to break Paige’s trust (for the betterment of the child, in his mind) and go to the cops or even her parents with Paige’s complaint. 

Either way, I don’t see it ending well for ol’ Timmy. Paige might be able to convince her parents not to kill him (and his wife, who he will probably tell), but it’s doubtful. You could see the rage burning in Elizabeth’s eyes when the President said, “They are the focus of evil in the modern world.” As much as killing Paige’s spiritual mentor could embolden that very belief in Paige, the Jennings can’t risk someone walking around with even a suspicion of their true identity. That, and Elizabeth will want to reclaim her daughter, one way or another.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the Season 3 finale, though, isn’t what it did as much as what it didn’t do. Instead of providing answers to lingering questions and foreshadowed events, it largely shied away from them. We don’t know if Elizabeth’s journey home to see her mother set off any red flags stateside. Nor do we have a clearer picture of Nina’s fate. Even Stan ended the year largely unaltered, keeping his job and dodging suspicion from the higher ups. He may have an uncomfortable office environment to return to with Agent Gaad next year, but otherwise he’s in the same boat as before Zinaida’s arrest.

Past finales for “The Americans” addressed the issues presented in the season, but the lack of closure in “March 8, 1983” indicates an ongoing problem for the Jennings. Paige’s decision may be irreparable. Not only could Pastor Tim go straight to the authorities, but even if the Jennings stop him they still have to deal with their daughter. If Paige won’t accept their lifestyle, it’s not like they can just get rid of her. Her indoctrination is incredibly important, even if she’s not going to be a spy herself. 

Philip’s Loyalty: USA

Among the many cliffhangers left open for next season, I’ll be very much looking forward to hearing Philip clarify what he couldn’t get out to Elizabeth at the end of this episode. What started with a complaint about how hard it was to kill a man whose house had toys like Henry’s never reached a tipping point. Instead, he was interrupted by Elizabeth to hear Reagan’s speech. 

It’s been a tough year for Philip. Between loosing Annelise at the despicable hands of Yousaf and being forced to seduce a girl his daughter’s age, the job itself hasn’t been easy. Parenting wasn’t either, especially with his work coming home in a new way, regarding Paige’s inclusion in it. Gabriel, who gave him a stern talking to about sending Elizabeth to Russia without the Centre’s approval, may think he’s acting immaturely — and we now know Gabriel is looking out for Philip, which is nice — but Philip is the only person willing to consider every side of the situation. The Centre, and thus Gabriel and Elizabeth, want blind loyalty. He’s not willing to give it, which puts him between a very hard rock and a very hard place. Could he end up turning to his new EST friend Sandra for comfort? I doubt he’d risk his relationship with Stan, but even spies can do dumb things from time to time. For instance…

Elizabeth’s Loyalty: KGB

Paige’s exposure to the family trade was already a point of contention for Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship. Now, it could prove fatal, and it’s mostly Elizabeth’s fault. With Philip fading fast, it appears Elizabeth’s resolve was only strengthened by her visit home. Despite complaints and a general negative response to the trip from Paige, Elizabeth thought “it was good for her” and even described her reaction to the “get to know your mom” excursion as “really good.” Where she got that from is beyond me, as it seemed Elizabeth was projecting her own feelings about seeing her mother again onto her first born. Things went swimmingly for Liz, who was given encouraging words from her mother and seemed to avoid detection from the wrong sources. But Paige wasn’t too happy with any of it. 

Perhaps Elizabeth’s biggest mistake wasn’t simply underestimating her daughter’s aversion to the spy game and Russian culture from the start. Perhaps it was her reaction to Paige saying why she couldn’t keep lying. “Everybody lies”? That’s your motherly advice? Philip may be the one caught in a vicious cycle of self-doubt, but Elizabeth is so blindly sure of herself it’s left her ignorant of other possibilities. (Though, ironically, she was right about how to handle Martha, even if she’s also not “seeing things clearly.”) Her steely response to Reagan’s speech showed a hatred that’s always been within her for the Western lifestyle, but she doesn’t see that that group now includes her own daughter. How she responds when she finally wakes up will be pivotal, as the right reaction could keep the family together while the wrong one might destroy it.

Stan: Savant or Square?

Stan, you old so-and-so. Good for you! Okay, so maybe your complicated, backdoor plan to get Nina back didn’t work out. That’s a shame, really, because we love Nina and, of course, want you to be happy. But hey! Look at the bright side. The FBI Director and Deputy Attorney General are fans! You’ve got the all-clear to run operations your way. Your job is safe, and you’re on good terms with your ex-wife. All in all, I’d say things are looking up. Keep up the good work!

Best Asset: Nina

We didn’t spend a lot of time with extraneous individuals in the season finale. Other than the brief, uneventful scene when Zinaida was arrested and a Yousaf/Philip confessional (“I feel like shit all the time,” ouch), we didn’t cut to any other operatives — except Nina. Nina didn’t make much progress in her final hours of Season 3, but she certainly seems to be on the right track with the scientist. Honestly, after wondering whether she’d even return at the end of Season 2, it’s relieving and reassuring to know she’ll be back in Season 4. She’s still got work to do.

Wig Count: 1

One wig? That’s it? Are you kidding me? It’s the season finale! There should be a minimum of 10 wigs or the script is thrown out and rebuilt from the ground up. Only Philip donned a hairpiece one week after taking his off in an important (and intimate) scene with Martha, and his choice — the long-haired, homeless hippie look — was far from enticing. We better see a spike in Season 4 or else! (Or else what, I have no idea. It’s not like I’ll stop watching. But come on!)

Quote of the Night: 

“To lie for the rest of my life, that’s not who I am.” – Paige

Some parents would kill for a daughter who couldn’t tell a lie. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings only wanted one who could. Though “The Americans” has always been a series built on making the most veiled world deeply reflective of everyday American life, the series now has a paradigm usually ignored if not inapplicable to the accepted parent-child relationship. Paige is right, and her parents are wrong. Paige isn’t doing anything bad here. Calling and asking someone trusted and respectable for help is the right thing to do, especially if your parents are putting you in danger. And Paige is in danger. Every day she spends in that house, she’s putting herself at risk for attack or arrest if the wrong people find out about her parents’ secret lives.

What’s so fascinating about this road we’re on with Paige is the uncomfortable position we’re put in as viewers. Of course, that’s not a new concept for the series. We’ve always kind of been rooting for the wrong team, as Philip and Elizabeth are our protagonists despite working to destroy America. But in the series finale, we were being asked to root against Paige picking up the phone, calling for help and exposing her parents. Now that she’s done it, we have to choose what to hope for as an audience. Do we want Paige to be okay? How would that work? What about her parents? In the end, it comes back to the same question we’ve been forced to ignore all along: Do we want Philip and Elizabeth to be caught? The new twist adds “if it saves Paige” to the end of the question, but our conflicted desires remain.

Perhaps what we learned more than anything else in “March 8, 1983” (which could also be written as 3/8/83, identical numbers when mirrored against each other) is how much more we’re asked to identify with Philip than Elizabeth. While Elizabeth’s still a character we root for, her lack of empathy for the other side isn’t as identifiable as Philip’s consistent reconsiderations. The best illustration of this came when Philip walked around the apartment of the man he was sent to murder, looking at his toys and carefully considering his actions. In contrast, Elizabeth just walked up and dropped a car on her target. When she had to get rid of a company stooge to make sure Lisa could take his job, she did the deed and didn’t look back. Philip isn’t in the same place, and that divide might only deepen when they have to deal with Paige’s loud mouth in Season 4.

Grade: B+

READ MORE: Religion, Sex and Family: How ‘The Americans’ Built To a Better Finale in Season 3

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