For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create…
T. S. Eliot
We always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love — first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage.
Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.
In the end, everyone significant in the extraordinary TV series The Americans is dead or exiled, separated from those they love, from their homes and from themselves.
But that presupposes that they really do love those others, that they really do have homes and that they really do know who they are. Do they? Can they?
In the series finale, a father sends a final message to a son he will never see again: be yourself.
It was no secret from the start of The Americans that it was about big questions disguised as a compelling story. Whether it is in a novel or a movie or a TV series, those creative ambitions are often squandered by the end. Life inevitably ends in death, but the planned death of a TV series is just as tricky. Those who have stuck around for the narrative ride want something—not necessarily the cliché of closure, but something like meaning.
The Americans, like other superior contemporary TV drama series, is built to persist in the consciousness of its viewers the way a great novel might. We are not Soviet spies pretending to be a suburban family in Reagan-era America. We are not FBI counterintelligence agents. But nothing—no extraordinary circumstances—insulates them or us from the shared human uncertainties that drive the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. Choices that can leave us, despite our best intentions and best interests, in exile. Which is why Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot and Albert Camus are able to serve so well as reviewers of The Americans.