The Americans is the most heartrending, soul-crushing drama on the air right now (tune in Wednesday nights at 10 on FX!), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the show killed off a major character with little fanfare or warning. Still, the death of Nina Sergeevna just four episodes into the current season was brutal and shocking, and doesn’t give us much hope for the Jennings family.
Played by the extraordinary Annet Mahendru, Nina had been languishing in a Soviet gulag since season three (and somehow managed to look even more beautiful with no makeup and greasy hair). Since then, we watched as she used her smarts to stay alive even as she faced the possibility of a death sentence for treason. “Chloramphenicol” leads us to believe she’s about to be saved: First Oleg, who worked with her (and fell in love with her) at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, asks his father to help her; he agrees, on the condition that Oleg come back home. Then, we’re treated to a gorgeous sequence in which Nina is released from the gulag and walks out into the brilliant sunshine—and then wakes up from the dream in her dank cell.
She’s brought to a basement office where she’s informed that her request for an appeal has been denied and that she will receive her death sentence “shortly”; seconds later, a guard puts a gun to the back of her head and pulls the trigger.
The episode ends as the camera pulls back dispassionately to take in Nina’s crumpled body. Two men arrive, place her on a sheet of burlap, and carry her away. Showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have always planned on killing off Nina, and anyone who’s followed this show from the beginning can’t be surprised at her death. That it still managed to shock is a testament to the writing and direction of this incredible show. Annet Mahendru’s presence on the show will be sorely missed; I shudder to think of who might be next.