There has been a cloud hanging over the entirety of the second season of The Americans, one that blocks out any cheeriness and instead shrouds the characters in darkness. It’s been looming over the Jennings’ heads, serving a reminder of what happened and a warning that a storm is about to occur. Aside from their general anxieties — working on mission after mission, keeping secrets from their family, fiercely protecting their children — neither Philip nor Elizabeth were ever able to fully shake the deaths of the Connors. Their anxieties became more specific and more intense as the parents, especially Elizabeth in the beginning of the season, became increasingly worried and paranoid about putting her children in danger.
If Season 1 of The Americans was all about the marriage between Philip and Jennings then Season 2 was all about the family unit as a whole. Jared Connors, the lone survivor of the early massacre, was always a stand-in for the Jennings’ children and put a very real face to the Jennings’ worry. When the Connors were slaughtered, Jared served as a reminder that Philip and Elizabeth could die at any time, leaving Paige and Henry alone and in his position. When Elizabeth had to get Jared to the safe house, he was a reminder of the dangers her own children could be in — which was expanded on almost immediately in “Echo” as the parents have to wake up Paige and Henry in the middle of the night to take them on a surprise vacation to the safe cabin. Then there were tonight’s two big reveals, but we’ll get to them in a second.
Next to Jared, the best new face of the season was Larrick. He was unhinged, working on his own (which only made him scarier), and brought upon mass amounts of horror and bloodshed. That’s how he kept building the tension, particularly in the last few episodes, and he kept everyone (including the viewers) on their toes. Larrick is a villain that we can actually look at and actively despise, rather than a more abstract enemy that the KGB are usually after. It’s not that The Americans never showed the face of an enemy — how many people have the Jennings’ fought and killed? — but Larrick’s the first that felt like a real tangible evil. He wasn’t introduced and quickly disposed of; he stuck around for the season and had his story wave through the narrative until it all came to a head.
In “Echo” Larrick catches up to everyone. First, he finds Philip (that shot of him creeping behind Philip in the reflection of the car!) and throws him into the truck. Then, he sneaks up on Elizabeth and Jared in the forest. What follows is a horrid, bloody showdown. As Larrick is putting Elizabeth into the trunk, Jared suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots him — but Larrick shoots back, connecting. There is enough chaos happening that Elizabeth seizes the opportunity to take on Larrick. She murders him, once and for all, but it’s no real victory: Jared is still lying on the ground, dying and bloody. It’s gruesome but the camera never shies away from the violence, instead framing it dead center in the screen, forcing us to confront this boy as he bleeds out of seemingly everywhere. He’s desperate for Elizabeth to tell Kate that Jared saved her life. All he wants before he dies is Kate’s approval — confusing because we don’t know why and devastating because we already know that Kate is dead.
But then comes big reveal #1: Jared is the one who murdered his entire family.
Let’s pause on that development to focus on Stan, whose storyline was always sad but never the most engaging to me. The big question was whether or not he was going to betray his country for Nina. Truthfully, I went back and forth on this during every scene in the last two episodes. Sometimes, it was impossible to imagine him betraying his country; sometimes, it seemed like the only natural thing for him to do in his current mental state. He doesn’t turn over the information, meaning he essentially exiled the woman he loves back to the Soviet Union and possibly sentenced her to a certain death. I don’t believe Nina will die, but Stan might. Where does this leave Stan? Nina’s gone, his wife is moving out, and I imagine there’s going to be a huge internal conflict in Season 3 because of this decision that will haunt him forever.
Toward the end of “Echo” there’s the return of Margo Martindale’s Claudia. She explains the other big reveal that Jared let on. The Center wanted to recruit Jared for a new program that hinges on his American-born status that would allow him to pass background checks that his parents can’t. His parents refused but refusal wasn’t an option — and it set Jared off enough to kill them, and his sister. Then the biggest bomb drops: The Center now has their eye on Paige.
Once it’s put out there, it makes a hell of a lot of sense. Paige has many qualities that would allow her to be a great spy, and we’ve always known that something big had to happen in her storyline. This obsession with trying to figure out her parents’ big secret and her increased focus and devotion to the church all play into this. Claudia tells the Jennings that it’s time to tell Paige the truth and to start molding her, and then to eventually reveal with the big plan is.
And here we see the building blocks for Season 3: Philip, understandably, doesn’t want Paige to have anything to do with this — he knows that her life could end in a second — but Elizabeth is coming around to the idea. Elizabeth knows that Paige is very similar to her (she even explicitly said this recently) and she knows that Paige is searching for something to devote her life to. Why not the KGB? Elizabeth’s devotion to the motherland has always been stronger than anything else, and especially stronger than Philip’s, and maybe that means giving up her daughter’s safety. Though, her daughter’s safety isn’t guaranteed either way.