Elizabeth and Phillip survived their scare, as did Gabriel, but not everyone survived on an episode of “The Americans” dealing with death. Just when we thought everything was fine — Elizabeth just had a bad reaction to the antibiotics! She and Phillip decided not to kill Pastor Tim and his wife! And, most importantly, the Jennings took a night off to go bowling with their kids! (Was it a surprise to anyone that Elizabeth is an excellent bowler? Yeah, I didn’t think so.)… everything went to absolute shit. Not only was Nina brutally murdered after some serious backdoor dealings in her Russian holding facility, but we had to sit through a dream sequence in which she was released, walking hand and hand with her dreamy scientist friend into the bright, snowy landscape of Russia.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and now “The Americans” has killed off one of its most veteran characters. After trying to smuggle a note to her scientist’s son through her brother, Nina’s days were, in fact, numbered. No interference from Oleg, Stan or anyone else could save her. Though the exact timing certainly felt as unexpected and fitting as the most well-orchestrated surprises on “The Americans,” her time seemed to be approaching since Season 3. As we noted in past reviews, Nina had been largely functioning on her own since being deported to Russia, and tying her story into the goings on Stateside became more and more challenging. In the end, she became a cautionary tale for Elizabeth and Phillip (even though they likely won’t learn of her fate), as her death was due to taking one too many ill-timed risks and timed to coincide with a bold choice by the Jennings. Will their choice to let Pastor Tim and his wife live be their own undoing? We’ll find out in the coming weeks, but — for as saddened as we are to see the great talents of Annet Mahendru leave the series — Season 4 just got a whole heckuva lot more virulent (which, we really didn’t think was possible).
Phillip’s Loyalty: USA
“No one sane would do this work. I’d be normal.” So said the Jennings’ family patriarch in a frank discussion with William, an agent who’s had to work alone for far too long. Framed against the backdrop of Nina’s death, the statement seems all the more accurate. The risks related to spycraft are perilous enough when you’re flying solo — as Nina sadly was, despite her desires — but they become all the more treacherous when you’ve got a family to think about. Phillip has been weighing those pros and cons for some time now, but his love for Elizabeth — as noted by William’s follow-up comment, “With Elizabeth, though?” — continues to push him into more and more danger. It’s not her fault, obviously, but if he were alone, odds are he’d have left the spy world behind years ago.
Elizabeth’s concern over her daughter’s fate “if” the worst happened — as Elizabeth kept reinforcing to her worried husband — was especially moving. We’ve always known her as a fearless character, and one very aware of the precarious nature of her chosen profession. So it wasn’t shocking, by any means, that her mind would immediately drift to Paige when confronted with her own end. First, she was worried whether her first-born child knew she was loved, and then her mind shifted to more practical matters — Henry’s school work — which led, again, back to Paige. Finally, she asked Phillip to blame Pastor Tim’s death on her; to make her the martyr of the family by protecting her loved ones the only way she can from beyond the grave.
Thankfully, none of that came to pass — yet. I’m certainly not predicting either parent’s demise this season (though Joe Weisberg’s recent statements about how long the show will last could be seen as foreshadowing for big events on the way, as could Nina’s departure). But those words are far from meaningless, even now that Elizabeth has recovered from the viral scare. Death and motherhood have been predominant fixtures in Elizabeth’s mind, an idea reinforced by her dream/flashback to taking care of her mother. Then, her mother told her to take care of her cousins, putting her family’s well-being before her own, and Elizabeth acted accordingly under similar circumstances. A legacy — a future — is becoming more and more pressing for Elizabeth, making her choice not to kill Pastor Tim nor to flee from the Centre all the more telling. This is a defining moment for Elizabeth. She may not know what her decision will bring, but she’s certainly aware of its weight. Now, she waits — as do we.
Stan: Savant or Square?
While certainly the “C” story of the episode, Stan’s exploits were anything but “average.” His curiosity is frightening, considering just how close he’s getting to a secret Martha doesn’t want to keep anymore. She’s never seemed comfortable withholding anything from her colleagues, and going to dinner with Agent Aderholt proved to be just the nudge she needed to give up a key thread. You better believe Stan will be following up on this married man she’s involved with, and he’ll be in for one helluva surprise if he gets a look at his face. One saving grace for Phillip: He’s not using his wig and glasses anymore, which would be much harder to explain to Stan if he’s caught than the idea he’s cheating on Elizabeth. Actually, a secret of that magnitude between Stan and Phillip might be just what these former friends need to get back together — assuming Stan doesn’t ask Martha too many questions.
Best Asset: Nina
Oh, NIna. When we last saw you, all hope, indeed, seemed lost. But Oleg’s conversations with his father in this week’s episode seemed to provide a slight, believable chance for your improbable survival. The intended effect of this structuring was just as devastating as designed. After Oleg’s efforts failed and Nina’s dreams of freedom proved false, the fatal — and fast — gunshot will echo in viewers mind for an eternity. Director Stefan Schwartz gave the moment just enough gravity, countering the shocking speed with which her sentence was announced and carried out, following it up with a tender, quiet one-shot of her limp body being placed in a blanket and carried away. Credits rolled quickly after, leaving at least this viewer in a state of shock, retracing the steps that led up to her demise while refusing to believe one of the series’ most beloved characters, who’s been with us since the start, was actually gone.
But she is. “The Americans” isn’t one to toy with viewers’ emotions with fake-out deaths a la “The Walking Dead” or “True Detective.” Her fate is permanent, just as her legacy is everlasting. Nina was a vital character played to perfection from the start by Annet Mahendru. From her early days as a double agent to her extended solo arc last year, Nina continued to develop and surprise, meeting her end with a quote from two weeks prior: “I’m not who I was,” Nina said as explanation for why she took a risk many saw as unnecessary. And it’s true. The Nina who had a duplicitous affair with Stan wouldn’t have risked her own skin for love. How cruelly perfect it was for her to sit before Vasili Nikolaevich — the man she framed in Season 1 and was subsequently sent back to the USSR — when making what would be her final revelation. He saw the same woman he knew then, but we all saw the transformed, hopeful and inspiring Nina Krilova. And that’s how she’ll be remembered.
Wig Count: 0
An immobile couple means no need for costumes, so Episode 4 hit a historic low on the wig counter. Has an episode of “The Americans” ever gone wigless before? If you have examples, let us know in the comments, but today is a doubly sad day without even a single toupee to distract us from Nina.
Quote of the Night
– Gabriel & Phillip
Gabriel’s moving reminiscence on how he and his family used to live during the war — “Is it today? Is it going to be me? Is it my turn?” — spoke volumes in regard to what’s coming for the Jennings after Elizabeth’s decision to continue recruiting Pastor Tim and his wife, rather than kill them. In the end, the two parents made the difficult choice to keep walking the razor’s edge, “living in a burning house” and generally risking it all for the chance to maintain their family’s status quo. Are they going too far? Or, to keep with the metaphor, are they throwing too much kindling on the growing fire? We’ll see in the coming weeks, but it’s admirable that Phillip and Elizabeth are willing to risk their own freedoms to protect their daughter’s innocence.
Whether or not her innocence is put in jeopardy when the Centre demands they start recruiting her again is a fight for another day. Though, as a final note regarding this episode’s subtle and blunt brilliance, the way Stan has slowly established a presence inside the Jennings’ home is pretty damn crafty indeed. His relationship with Henry was his way in, at first, but Paige’s clear unease around him might trigger even more interest from the ever-curious agent. He doesn’t even know what he’s looking for in that house, but we all know what it means that he’s in there: risk. And added risks are exactly what the Jennings need to avoid, now more than ever.