If you’ve been watching “The Americans” since the start, then you likely have a complex relationship with Nina. She’s manipulative, deceitful — and most heinously — deadly. Yet she’s also a person in search of a higher calling; a goal difficult for any woman, let alone a spy, during the Cold War.
All those invaluable spy attributes seem to have begun to evaporate from the double-crossing Nina, played beautifully by Annet Mahendru. As Nina hopscotches from one side of the Iron Curtain to the other, the viewer is enamored by her inconspicuous qualities, her dedication to her job, and her moral compass constantly searching for due North. From sleeping with an asset for information to cold-bloodedly putting a bullet in their head, Nina stops at nothing to accomplish her mission, going from agent, to double agent, to double-double agent, all in the course of a few episodes. [Spoilers ahead for anyone who’s not caught up on “The Americans,” Season 4, Episode 4]
And that sense of morality seems to have finally come to head with last night’s episode, when we finally saw our gracious Russian spy receive a fate similar to what she’s doled out. Reduced to nothing more than a lifeless body in a rolled up carpet, Nina had finally pushed her superiors too far by trying to help a fellow laboratory-prisoner, Anton, reach out to his son. It seemed that Nina was finally willing to put her sordid past behind her, but the KGB had other plans.
Mahendru spoke with reporters before her fateful episode aired to discuss what she thought about her character’s tragic development, her time working on the show, and how it felt to have worked on such a nail-bitingly suspenseful show.
Da Ya Govoru Po Ruski (Yes, I Speak Russian)
The Afghani-born Russian-Indian is known to be a linguist and contemplated joining the UN at one point due to her multiethnic background and ability to speak speaks six languages. If it wasn’t for acting’s beckoning, Mahendru would have gone onto NYU’s master’s program for international relations. Then she really could have lived the reality of her on-screen persona.
“I went for a few Russian parts before, and it was very stereotypical,” she said over the phone. “That’s not the kind of story I wanted to tell.” Which is why the actress is grateful that “‘The Americans’ is so unique in that way. I was so blessed to tap into my Russian roots on a show like that. I honestly thought I’d never play a Russian part. If you’re casting stereotypical roles, I don’t fit those roles.” Mahendru laughingly also added that “there were nice moments when we knew no one else understood us.”
From One Government Agent to the Other
With roles on both “The X-Files” revival this past January and “The Americans,” Mahendru is certainly using her range to her advantage. “It was really ironic,” she said. “It was just like double dutch this year for my characters.” Mahendru went on to reflect that “‘The X-Files’ was a real treat. It was another special story I got to tell.” Hopefully, we’ll start seeing the actress in more TV hits and perhaps even a future flick — maybe one where she doesn’t play a Russian seductress.
The Spy with a Heart of Gold
Spies typically slink around in the night, gathering intel, bedding assets, and disposing of bodies — on TV. Nina embodies a lot of these traits, but what makes her such a compelling character is her need to help the people around her. Unfortunately, it’s because of her incessant internal struggle between listening to her emotions and adhering to her patriotic duties that she now finds herself in an unmarked grave. But Mahendru felt that in the end, Nina was a good person. She was filled with empathy, affection, and compassion. Much like the Jennings explain to Pastor Tim, they’re “peace keepers.”
“You’re fighting for the world,” said Mahendru. “It’s a great fight.” But the seductive spy couldn’t help but concede, “Yes, she does something ultimately very selfish. Is that a better thing to do? To jeopardize her husband, just for this note to this little boy?” And although fans will lament that her actions weren’t worth being “wrapped in a burlap,” we are grimly reminded that every life in the Soviet Union is a “dispensable life.”
Goodbye Nina, Hello Annet
With all the espionage mistakes that Nina has made, it wasn’t a big surprise she was “erased” by her handlers. From confessing to her betrayal to risking her family’s life for another’s, Mahendru said, “It’s just a miracle that she even lived this long, so I can be grateful for that.”
But the TV starlet went on to say that there is a silver lining to her character’s ultimate demise. “When I started, I wanted to tell great stories. I didn’t realize what it meant until ‘The Americans’ came along. I want to continue to tell stories like that.”
And although the multilingual actor did not reveal what her future plans are other than the enigmatic “there’s a few things brewing” line, so it seems like the actor may be working on something of her own. And if not, then perhaps we could see her soon, continuing to tell great stories.
Catch “The Americans” Season 4 every Wednesday at 10pm on FX.
READ MORE: ‘The Americans’ Creators Reveal Major Season 4 Homages to David Bowie, Copperfield and Ronald Reagan