With so many plates still spinning on The Americans, it’s almost unfathomable that “I Am Abassin Zadran” is this season’s penultimate episode. And yet, I said the exact same thing about Justified, and it managed to not just wrap up a season, but an entire series really well in its finale. So we’ll see what happens.
There were many swirling subplots to “I Am Abassin Zadran” (including Zadran himself), but the most captivating story continues to belong to Paige. Last season, The Americans incorporated a season-long mystery that connected to the premiere’s brutal murders. The revelation that it was surviving son Jared who had actually killed both of his spy parents, Emmett and Leanne, as well as his younger sister Amelia, was horrific on a number of levels. But what it really spoke to were Philip and Elizabeth’s deepest fears.
The Centre completely botched the development of Jared, who took the information he was given about the truth of his parents, and let it grow into a twisted evil inside of him. He wasn’t ready or able to handle the facts, and we saw early on what a brutal form his lashing out took. Paige, on the other hand, has always been presented as a calm and very mature teenager, but that doesn’t mean that learning that most of her life has been a lie will affect her with any less emotional intensity.
Gabriel ponders to Claudia (Margo Martindale, returning after a long absence) about the idea of the Centre trying to develop a second generation of illegals after what happened with Jared (and the fallout that affected the Centre, as Claudia recounts). But try again they shall; it’s just that this time, they’ve left the revelation up to the parents.
Though the moment Elizabeth and Philip told Paige the truth was a watershed moment for all of the characters, it’s what has come afterwards that has really been the most interesting part. Paige is, slowly, reacting. She is distancing herself from her parents in some ways (like running off to spend the night with Pastor Tim and his wife), and at other times angrily confronting them (like with the photo album, and remembering times — that we witnessed — where she was indeed tricked into believing people were her relatives).
While there’s very little likelihood that Paige would ever devolve into the unfortunate tale that Jared did, she is not the only one who holds her parents’ fate in her hands. Martha, whose plot simmered along this year before Philip’s big reveal to her (Part 1 of it, anyway), has had her own fascinating trajectory. At first clinging to her desire to keep Clark in her life, she was willing to go with the flow of his deceptions, as well as her lies at work (which she turned out to be really great at). But it is all taking its toll; Stan visits, there are more questions at work, and her confidence is failing. She’s ready to flee, when Clark arrives and tries to convince her to stay … and then fully reveals himself as Philip (at least, his looks).
Earlier this season, Elizabeth fully revealed herself (not just her natural look, but who she is and where she came from) to Betty, before killing her (or kind of “making her die,” to put it weirdly but accurately). Does this mean Martha’s hour is up? It seemed a possibiliy earlier in the episode when Hans picked her up and transported her to a safe locale, but even then, Philip was trying to save her life. Is she beyond saving? More to the point of bringing up last season’s violence, what’s going to happen with that Chekovian gun of hers? We’ve seen her look at it a few times this season — is this where it finally comes into play? Or will Philip reveal himself totally to her in the hopes of turning her to the cause once and for all?
There were a lot of choices presented in “I Am Abassin Zadran.” Elizabeth asks if Paige wants to go to see Elizabeth’s mother back in Russia, while Arkady must decide whether or not to keep up with Operation Zephyr (which Oleg and Tatiana hope to convince him with via some very thin materials, for his own sake). Both Martha and Philip will, surely, have to make some decisions with life or death stakes in the finale, while Elizabeth must contend with the aggressive Maurice. While I have little doubt that the Lisa/Maurice operation and the intel uncovered thanks to Abassin Zadran (despite his being caught — right?) will have some important bearing on future events, they just don’t carry any emotional heft to them, and feel very much like Season 1 stories.
Jared’s legacy as a character is one that shows how wrong the development of new recruits can go, and it’s something that has been echoed throughout this season regarding the fading allure of “the cause.” Elizabeth and Philip are both struggling with it, and there’s a question in “I Am Abassin Zadran” if Zadran’s words had any effect on them. Philip snapped and stuffed Annelise, but doesn’t seem willing to do that with Martha. Elizabeth’s interactions with Betty also seem to suggest some new hesitations on her part. Or at least, the beginnings of some confusion. With Jared’s shadow lingering over this season as Paige also begins to grapple with difficult truths, there seems to be an expectation of a finale that will include some degree of course-changing violence. And yet, The Americans has also proved many times to be at its most effective and intense in its quietest moments.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Is The Americans always shot in winter? I feel like it’s Narnia — always winter, but never Christmas.
— “I am the one who kills the communists” – Zadran.
— Philip with blonde hair and blue eyes always weirds me out.
— Martha’s conversation with her parents, and her comment to Philip and telling her mother to turn her room into a sewing room (and she never did) made Martha so wonderfully human. She wasn’t just a character or a pawn in that moment, but completely relatable, and heartbreakingly so.
— Claudia: “The paradox of being an American…” Gabriel: “Isn’t this a Greek restaurant?”
— I want a phone like the one Elizabeth uses at the hotel. Amazing.
— “It probably turned into some kind of potluck, poster-making singalong” – Elizabeth re: the church speaker event.
— “I can’t be here with you like this” – Martha, who sees Clark without the wig for the first time (that was such an incredibly tense and dramatic moment. I felt like he was taking his face off, and given her reaction, it seems she felt the same).
— Is Aderhold just a nuisance, or is he a plant?
— I feel like every time Philip or Elizabeth reveal their real identities to someone, they are peeling back a layer of their spy selves, and becoming more of their true selves …