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TV Review: The Americans: 4.13 “Persona Non Grata”
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The Americans 4.13 "Persona Non Grata"

The Americans
Season 4, Episode 13 – “Persona Non Grata”
Directed by Chris Long
Written by Joe Fields & Joe Weisberg
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Dylan Baker, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Langella
FX
Air date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 10pm

The Americans is a show that didn’t need to reinvent itself. After three superlative seasons, we had a rough idea of what we were in for with each installment, as by design, the show has always been structured to slowly ramp up its stakes as it went it along towards its already forgone conclusion — it’s not entirely dissimilar from Breaking Bad in that way — but this fourth season seemed particularly focused on disrupting the existing “home” viewers had found within the program.

And all it took was a vial.

I spoke earlier this year about how the ganders vial was Philip’s (Matthew Rhys) albatross, but in retrospect, it turns out it was an albatross for the show: an assured omen of darker times for every character. Think about all the characters we lost in this season: Nina, Martha, Lisa, Gaad . . . and then think about the characters who got sent packing in this episode. The Americans is a show that’s never taken tremendous pleasure in the way it dispatches characters, so this mass exodus leaves a definite impression of displacement. And it all comes back to that vial.

One could make the case for Dylan Baker as the season MVP ( I personally think that honor goes to Holly Taylor), and he’s at his best during his gruesome departure in “Persona Non Grata.” After a thrilling chase sequence, Baker gets plenty of material, as he wrestles with his impending death, including lamenting over the fact he couldn’t build a family: “They wanted me married,” he says. “I tried, we were fighting. I was . . . I wish I could have been with her for all these years. A couple of kids. American Dream. Never suspect that.” William never really had a home and so he dies trying to get back to get back to that place.

The vial comes for Reziidentura, as well. The one-two punch of Gaad’s death and William’s acquisition of the biological agent, marks Arkday for persona non grata. Oleg decides to return home to be with his family. Tatiana is the only one left, in charge for the foreseeable future. With such a dramatic change in power, it’ll be curious to see how they recover.

For Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip, the vial finally makes the pair come to terms with the question that’s been on the table from the start: How truly committed to their mission are they? “This [spying] wasn’t meant to be forever,” Gabriel states, leaving the pair to determine if they’re to stay in the US or return home. But what is home for the Jennings, anyway?

The answer to that question is more clear for Philip’s other son than it is for himself Proving that no subplot is ever forgotten — but rather just put back into play when it matters most — Mischa makes his on screen debut, just in enough time to usurp everything. But Mischa is searching for his home, too — a trait and he and his father certainly share. It’s false to classify Mischa a “threat” to the Jennings, as he’s not coming to hurt them in any way, but he’s out there. Like the vial, it’s another factor whose potential to damage the status quo is truly unknown.

The show has grappled with the question of the American dream since it began, but “Persona Non Grata” is singularity obsessed with the idea of homes, both real and adopted. Look at how a majority of this season’s largest plots focused on the loss of home: Nina dies in her home country, Martha loses her home, Gaad is killed away from home, Arkday is unwelcome in his current home, Mischa is looking to find his, and so on. But when it comes to Philip and Elizabeth, they have been invaders — the ones to threaten the American way of life — but the finale inverses this equation. The final shot suggests something more ominous has infiltrated the homestead. Home isn’t home anymore.

The disease is here. It’s already infected everyone. What happens now?

Quick thoughts:

– Nice to see that the record of DC sports teams not doing well has been a trend all the way back to the ’80s.
– The sight gag of Paige and Matthew sitting so far away from another on the sofa after Stan comes home is the hardest I’ve laughed at something on the show.
– Speaking of those two, we’ve been building to that kiss for quite some time now. I’m very curious to see where it leads from here.
– Interesting potential plot for next season: Paige beginning her spy training in earnest.

Season four was another fantastic season of this show and I’m so glad I got cover it for you all. What did you think? Sound off in our comments below. See you next year, comrades.

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