Is ‘The Americans’ Setting Paige Up as a Classic “Final Girl”?

     May 16, 2017

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The Americans is a show about a marriage gift-wrapped as a spy thriller, and as the levels of inherent continue to increase throughout Season 5, elements of horror are also weaving their way through the narrative. Certain shots lean into this aspect, with the Jennings house taking on the characteristics of a foreboding building instead of the sanctuary that a family home tends to be; last year director Chris Long closed out the finale with this at its most explicit presenting picture perfect suburban living with strong ominous overtones.

That image could have been the opening shot of any number of Amityville Conjuring-like movies, though the threat that lingers aren’t malevolent spirits but a girl being told she can’t see the boy from across the street because of who his father is. Danger lurks both inside the house and from external influences and Philip and Elizabeth will do all they can to protect their family, even if ultimately — and to borrow from Walter White — they are the danger. Long also directed the first two episodes of Season 5, and he continues to shoot the exterior of this family home in this manner.

Image via FX

Image via FX

As Paige becomes more embroiled in this world, including self-defense lessons from her mother, she been learning aspects of the kind of operations her parents are part of and doing some snooping of her own; Paige is already in deep and it is too late to turn back. Pastor Tim asked the question in his diary about whether Philip and Elizabeth are monsters – is that true? Can we view The Americans through a horror lens, and if so, can the ‘Final Girl’ trope can be applied to Paige? Further, is the Jennings’ household a House of Horrors?

To the first point: are Philip and Elizabeth monsters, or have they just committed monstrous acts all in the name of country? (And even so, does that necessarily absolve them?) The body count that can be attributed to Philip and Elizabeth is slasher movie high; often these are ‘wrong place, wrong time’ casualties such as the security guard in Season 1 who Elizabeth shot, the food delivery woman in Season 3 who Elizabeth also shot, the septic tank driver in Season 2 who died from exposure, and recently, the researcher who had his back snapped all because he wanted to get some late night work done in the lab. It is safe to say they have a lot innocent of blood on their hands, and while they take no pleasure from these acts, it certainly adds some weight to the question Pastor Tim has asked.

The Jennings have been stalked and done the stalking, with a murder mystery at the center of Season 2 having Larrick as the Big Bad as he tracked them down like he’s the T-1000. Because everyone loves a twist, it transpired that the son of their spy pals was the culprit, and thus, danger lurks in the friendliest of places — including a motel room near a theme park. What The Americans excels at is pushing the Cold War paranoia levels inward, so the fear of getting caught comes not only from a traditional external source such as the FBI, but also from within the confines of their home. Paige has been pursuing the truth since the end of Season 1, after questioning what her parents were really doing in the laundry room (and the pile of folded clothes did nothing to sate her curiosity).

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Image via FX

“Curiosity killed the cat,” the saying goes, but there is another version of this that ends with “but satisfaction brought it back.” That resurrection element underscores the gratification from learning the truth. Curiosity is also one aspect of the ‘Final Girl’ trope, a term was coined in 1992 by Carol J. Clover in Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The ‘Final Girl’ is, as the name suggests, the woman who makes it to the end of horror movie with one final triumphant act vanquishing the ‘monster:’ she is the victim-hero, as she must endure torment and pain before escaping the bloody fate that has befallen all of her friends. She is observant in the ways that everyone else around her is not, can spot a warning signs, and her resourcefulness is one thing that allows her to beat the odds.

While The Americans is pretty far removed from the slasher genre — even if the body count is just as high — Paige shares a lot of these attributes of the ‘Final Girl’ trope. She was early to recognize something was up, and that beneath the picture perfect suburban living lingered something far darker. She also wasn’t easily put off seemingly good explanations like an aunt with dementia, or another family canceling their random trip to the middle of nowhere, leading to a middle of the night surprise getaway. Ultimately, she pushed until she found out the truth about her parents until they finally spilled their secret identities.

A lot of versions of the ‘Final Girl’ exist, but they tend to share the same ‘good girl’ characteristics: no drinking, drugs, or sex. Paige’s rebellion has centered on embracing religion, and the only drinking has been a beer shared three ways with Matthew and Henry. Sex was a topic broached this season, and a frank conversation with her parents dampened any kind of mood (though one study session with Matthew did result in some over-the-clothes action). Still, it’s all been pretty chaste. So far, Paige is ticking those ‘Final Girl’ do-gooder boxes and with the help of her parents she is being set up for surviving this dangerous world.

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Image via FX

(Sidenote on Henry, because he so often is a sidenote: there was that storyline where the siblings didn’t get picked up at the mall, and Henry showed ‘Final Girl’-like instincts by smashing his bottle over the head of the random creepy guy who they had scored a lift with. If Henry was at all curious about his parents (and now his sister’s), behavior he would be dangerous. But right now, I’m more concerned that he’s being set up as innocent collateral damage; just as he is about to escape, something terrible might happen. Him heading off to boarding school feels very much in the vein of “this is my last day of work.”)

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