A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
A persona non grata is a being deemed unacceptable or unwelcome, a presence in a person that is so often as mundane as an annoying relative who doesn’t understand the etiquette of dinner, a glass of wine, and then a departure after dessert. Sometimes it’s someone more terrifying, like a lonely figure walking quietly behind you at night. At other junctures, it’s a being whose mere presence is a symbolic understanding of terror. In the world of espionage, a persona non grata could be anyone at all, proximity be damned. The fourth season of FX’s still woefully underwatched, brilliant series was arguably its best, settling deep into the paranoia of a vast secret whose threads split apart everywhere but somehow, surprisingly, remained tentatively intact. It achieved that unity by understanding the vitality of focusing on the individuals caught up in Elizabeth’s and Philip’s plans, reminding the audience over and over again of the true human cost of patriotism. The best stories, as I recall George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, understand quite adroitly that often people get caught up in the whirlwind of events they don’t know, let alone even understanding. When one thinks of Kimmy, or Lisa, or especially of the tragedy that befell Young-Hee and Don, one feels empathy and anger for what happened and in the case of Kimmy, is happening. There was an easy way for the series to make Elizabeth and Philip into the protagonists and negate the consequences to their decisions, but it doesn’t and the latest consequence of their decisions hits far closer to home than expected.
Chris Long’s camera, stupendous in its direction here, focuses on the darkened frame of the Jennings’s home before the episode fades to black. Philip and Paige return home in the episode’s final scene to a home bathed in a darkness so profound it swallows both father and daughter hole. Paige remained the unifying character this season, the tenant of uncertainty The Americans excels so well palpably electrifying the screen when the consequences of her actions wove themselves into the narrative. The inevitability of Pastor Tim spilling the beans or worse, meeting his maker at the hands of the Soviets never seemed to become an inevitably after all. Paige finding a confidant in him seemed to be his death sentence but miraculously that kept him more safe than ever before (accidental jaunt in a Kenyan jungle aside). The Center realized, too late as it is, that their entire Second Generation Illegals Program was an unmitigated catastrophe. But the damage with Paige was already done. Her relationships with everybody immediately turned her into a persona non grata of a sort, her existence coming into some sort of conflict with everyone on the grounds that they were American alone. If Henry formed a relationship with Stan, she formed a different kind with Matthew and while the thought of them together makes Stan extremely giddy, it represents something truly terrifying for Philip. Matthew became his own persona non grata and it may in turn make him such in front of his own daughter. The writing here has been careful enough to not turn that into a clichéd understanding of a young girl and her potential love. It’s a careful examination of her parents’s secret making her a persona non grata in yet another of her relationships.
Philip’s son Mischa makes his entrance as a persona non grata himself, locked away in a Soviet mental detention center. At first, it seems odd for the show to transition itself towards a new character in a season finale out of all places but The Americans after all hardly ever pivots itself towards following standard storytelling techniques. It isn’t quite clear at first what this young man is doing in a mental facility but his powerful friends lead him out of a cell and eventually out of the facility itself. Within that transition the audience is made aware that Mischa had made himself a persona non grata of the Soviet state by spreading messages that were deemed as going against the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It’s hardly surprising that a soldier would have significantly different perspectives on a war after fighting such a useless one, mixing his sense of patriotism with frustration that so many were dying for what felt like no reason at all. Coupled with Yevgeny’s death in Afghanistan and his subsequently quiet funeral, the Soviet catastrophe in that invasion is painted quite intricately through the perspectives of those not sitting upon the pedestals of power. Mischa arrives home to find that his mother Irene had been arrested but she had left behind money and passports behind with her father to ensure that her son got to America. He tries to give some of the money to his grandfather but he wouldn’t have any of it. It wasn’t his to take and he sends the young man off instead with a quietly heartbreaking farewell, knowing full well that in all likelihood that was the last time he would ever see his progeny.
Arkady is the most direct consequence of being a persona non grata, being given the consequential dismissal from America after the whole episode with William, the Mail Robot, and Martha come crashing to a head. He takes a forlorn look at the bust of Lenin, taking in the consequences his service to Moscow with an understandable quantity of alcohol. The most suffering arguably, however, came from William, whose capture sends Gabriel the suggestion that Elizabeth and Philip ought to move back to Moscow. When his capture becomes inevitable in a thoroughly thrillingly edited sequence, he pushes the vial into his hand, also ensuring that he doesn’t infect anyone else. He slowly wastes away in the facility, his organs slowly liquifying. Stan and Aderholdt are horrified at the dying man in front of him, whose final breaths of life are brought to horrifying life by Dylan Baker. He became a persona non grata by the patriotism and excitement his life brought in, which slowly and surely weeded everyone and everything away from him until he had nothing left, except save the occasional visit to a couple of Soviet spies who happen to be the ones Stan and the FBI are trying to hunt down. He, in his delirium, lets slip that they have a couple of kids but that’s about it. He then returned to the same old work because it was the one thing, the only thing he truly had left that meant anything to him anymore. But up until his dying breath, he also lamented it. On The Americans, the world is one full of shadows and lies, persona non gratas seemingly ubiquitous and trust as a result is a valuable commodity for without there is an absence of closeness, and that absence, as William noted so quietly, makes one cry inside. The irony of it in the case of Philip and Paige is that the tightening closeness of their family over a secret may end up unraveling everything in its wake. See you all next year!
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I need to learn how to defend myself.”
+“Would you like a Coke?”
+“You are a good son.”Would your family stop caring about you if you quit?
+“I was lonely… very lonely.”
+“There was always a distance… a barrier.”
+“They always wanted more.”
+“She’s pretty. He’s lucky.”
+“If you make a bed, you gotta lay in it.”
+“We lost, by a lot. It sucked.”
+Paige learning about Stan’s infidelity
+“Seeing them as people…”
Episode Title: Persona Non Grata
Written by: Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed by: Chris Long
Image Courtesy: Denver Post