Spoiler warning for anyone not caught up through The Americans’ episode “Rafifi,” and the entirety of Breaking Bad.
Tensions are high on The Americans, and it’s been non-stop suspense since the show returned for its sixth and final season. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings have been agonizing to watch as they continuing to grow apart. Philip is continually getting pulled into the covert world he so desperately wants to leave behind, and Elizabeth is an internal train wreck waiting to burst out. There’s a lot going on in this shortened 10-episode season, but one of the biggest plot points from throughout the entire show has been missing. Stan (Noah Emmerich) still doesn’t know about the Jennings and their true identities. With only four episodes left, it feels like high time for this part of the story got moving — but is it too late?
Stan has been a central character from the start, and the tension he has brought has been there since Day One. Remember the pilot episode? That was the episode Stan snuck into the Jennings’ garage to inspect their car. Of course, he found nothing, but this certainly set the tone of all these character’s dynamics moving forward. Every time they met afterwards, there was always a chance their Soviet secret would get out. Tension is such a huge factor in this show, and waiting for the day Stan finally uncovers the truth about his neighbors and friends has kept everyone on edge for six seasons. So by the final season, you would think there would be some significant development there, but … here we are.
It’s hard to ignore the similarities of the Stan situation to what went down in Breaking Bad. Both shows featured two close family or friends who were on opposing sides of the law — except that the lawless ones kept that fact hidden. In Breaking Bad, Hank (Dean Norris) finally discovered the truth about his brother-in-law Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Walt’s hidden life at the halfway point of the final season, leaving eight more episodes to really flesh out the story. It gave Hank the time to process everything before he confronted Walt, and it gave him the chance to take action, whether it was trying to pull information from Skyler (Anna Gunn) or working with Jesse (Aaron Paul) to take Walt down. It never felt rushed, and the characters got to revel in this emotional part of the story that has been building up since the start of the show.
Does The Americans have that kind of time? With four episodes left and Stan still in the complete dark, it raises some concern. Is it possible that Stan already knows and is keeping quiet? Maybe not completely, but his suspicions from earlier seasons may have returned or strengthened, we just haven’t seen the character express this stance yet. It’s hard to miss those looks Stan was giving during his deeply patriotic Thanksgiving speech in “Rafifi.” Those side eyes he was passing on to Philip lasted a little bit longer than your average glance (Was it because he thought Philip empathized, or because he knew he didn’t?)
Yes, it’s possible that finally getting back to this plot beat in the last four episodes won’t give it the time it needs after so many years of build-up. And yet, that’s ok. This has been a stellar season, and the primary focus on Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship brings it all back to what this show is really about. Every arc this season has been so well developed; not a moment has gone by where a scene was wasted or where an emotional element was left behind. Watching Elizabeth crumble under her own internal despair and seeing Philip make excruciating choices has been slow and deliberate in the most gut-wrenching way. It’s a great testament to the show’s nuance that watching Elizabeth draw a vase or Phillip struggle to balance the books can be just as invigorating as the idea of Stan’s eventual realization — if it comes at all.
The Americans has been doing just about everything right, but the long-awaited “Stan’s revelation” arc has so far been surprisingly absent. Despite the show’s other triumphs, it’s concerning that Stan still hasn’t figured out the secret of the Jennings family; with four episodes left, it’s time to start bringing this part of the story into the forefront. Philip and Elizabeth, your days may be numbered.
The Americans airs Wednesday nights on FX.