Nina Sergeevna is dead.
Even as I write that sentence, I still can’t quite believe it’s true. One of the most enigmatic characters on The Americans, Nina had escaped certain death many times. But in the fourth episode of the fourth season Nina’s luck finally ran out. For the first time she put someone else’s needs before her own. Although assigned by the KGB to grow close to scientist Anton Baklanov, in order to find out if he was doing all that he can for the cause, she instead befriends him. Once she learns that Anton just wants to let his son know that he’s alive, Nina comes up with a plan to get a note out to Anton’s son. The plan backfires. Nina is caught and sentenced to death. As I wrote in my review of this week’s episode, it was a vicious, cruel but also mundane ending to an extraordinary character.
Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Annet Mahendru, who so deftly played Nina, along with some other reporters. Here’s what she had to say about the tragic end to the phenomenal Nina.
“You know, you kind of wait for that phone call from the get go, and it finally came and I played it really cool. You think you’d be prepared for it, and you absolutely are not. I was angry at [showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields]. I loved them. I felt every single thing you could possibly feel,” she said.
“I remember my mom was like, ‘It’s not you dying. It’s Nina, it’s Nina.’” The weird thing is I felt like in the second episode I was getting to know Nina. She’s meeting her husband. I feel like I’d just gotten a real taste of her, and an episode later she’s dead. It just felt like a little bit of joy, the little bit of her that I finally got was so fleeting.”
“She sees a human being for the first time and it brings that out in her,” Mahendru explained. “She’s exhausted. She’s been in this hamster wheel over and over, buying her life back every time. Every decision is life or death for her, and she’s exhausted. She’s falling. She can’t do this anymore. Anton moved something in her for the first time. It is something very direct. He has a son. She finds joy in his world, in his letters, and love and for the first time we see her happy. And she literally gives up everything for that moment of happiness. That’s her freedom from that kind of tragic and tumultuous life that she has chosen and has been dealing with since we meet her.”
“[Nina] lives for the first time,” she said. “Sometimes you need to change in order to survive and that’s what she does. She’s very much settled and she’s okay now, because she did something for the first time that allowed her to be who she is. There’s a boy that needs to know that his dad loves him. I just feel like that’s the greatest thing she’s ever done.”
“I’m just trying to find my joy. It’s been very painful,” she admitted. “The fight is over. Everyone has been fighting for it as equally as I was, as equally as Nina was and in the end she’s just being wrapped up in burlap and carried away like nothing—a dispensable life but such a great life.” The actor went on to add, “It’s really heartbreaking. This happens out there to women like this, and it just made me really angry.”
“Her storyline started and completed in such extraordinary way that I’m good,” she says, at the idea of returning to the series. “I feel so absolutely blessed that someone sat down and wrote Nina like that.”
“She’s a character where you know that’s just who she is. You just know that things aren’t going to get better,” she said. ”[Nina’s not going to] settle down, and have a family and have a nice dinner. The little joys in life, that’s not who she was. Yet, you still hope because you just like her and she fought so hard.”
“That long moment before you’re about to die. I had to experience that a few times, and it was so real,” the actor said. “When they called me to say this was it, they said to me, ‘This is everything an artist wants to do.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But this was everything an artist wants to do. It was the most intense thing I had to do as an artist. To play death, to play dying. I was sitting there afterwards in my chair thinking, ‘I can’t believe they made me do this.’ I wanted to quit, and then I wanted to do it again.”
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal ®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.