The Best Spy Thriller on Television Also Had the Smartest Ending

You can see an ending coming for years, but when it's told well it's still a surprise.

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From the very start, there were only two ways for The Americans to end.

FX’s hit series followed Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (real-life couple Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), Soviet sleeper agents living a double life in the DC suburbs. They balanced life as travel agents and the parents of two children with dead drops and disguises used to gather intel and hide murders.

The show seemed like it had to end with either the Jennings captured by their FBI agent neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), or with them escaping to Mother Russia. But five years ago, the series found a way to show us a middle option, and in retrospect it was probably the only choice all along.

The final episode, ironically titled “START,” picks up after the last episode’s huge twist. After uncovering a plot to overthrow Gorbachev from within the Soviet ranks, Philip found himself chased by FBI agents. There was only one way to survive: get out of the country, and quick. They pick up their daughter, Paige, who knows their true identity, but decide to leave their son, Henry, at boarding school.

As they leave Paige’s school, viewers finally witness the confrontation they’ve been waiting six seasons to see. Stan corners Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige. Philip turns on the charm, but eventually, they come clean. Or, at least, clean-ish. They admit the truth about their loyalties, though they insist they haven’t killed anyone.

Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige are cornered.


In the first shock of the episode, Stan lets them go. There’s no persuasive speech or master plan. Maybe Stan is afraid to admit he never suspected the spies next door, or maybe his loyalties are shaken by seeing Soviets as people, not a faceless enemy. Keri Russell told Vulture her perspective, and she understands what made the scene shocking yet logical:

“He knows outside of all of these things that we do for our work, we’re also just trying to raise this family, and he cares about us on some other, deep level. And he has to let us go.”

The long-awaited scene played out differently than anyone could have anticipated. Both obvious endings happened at once: the Jennings were caught, and they escaped. The rest of the finale is conventional but effective, balancing Americans mainstays like 1980s needle drops, emotional dilemmas, bad wigs, and plot twists that show off the nuanced acting of Russell and Rhys. There are still unanswered questions, like any show about distrust and mystery should have, but it is unequivocally an ending.

The heartbreaking final scene is like a eulogy for the entire conceit of the show.


The Americans was always more about marriage and parenthood than about spying, and the finale underlined that fact. Choosing to leave America wasn’t hard, but choosing what to do with their children wreaks havoc on their lives. Philip and Elizabeth may be Soviets, but they raised Americans. In the show’s last moments, as the couple looks out over Moscow, the end of their family — even though it was a façade — is the only thing on their minds.

Despite the foregone conclusions, the show still managed to find a way to shock and satisfy. It’s a masterclass in ending a long thriller series, and it’s unlikely it will be paralleled soon.

The Americans is streaming on Hulu.

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