*** Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Americans’ April 6, 2016 episode “Chloramphenicol.” ***
After being fairly cut off and isolated from the rest of the stories on The Americans, Nina’s (Annet Mahendru) journey finally came to an end on Wednesday night’s episode “Chloramphenicol.” Having been found guilty of her crimes, including trying to assist Anton (Michael Aronov) in getting a message back to his son, she did indeed receive a judgement of “exceptional punishment.” Nina was awoken from her slumber in the early morning hours, led down a long hallway and shot without warning in the back of her head as her final sentence was read to her. So despite his best efforts, there will be no reunion for her and Oleg (Costa Ronin), nor will she ever see FBI Agent Stan (Noah Emmerich) or Anton again.
Mahendru joined a group of reporters on a conference call last week to talk about Nina’s shocking demise, what it was like to film such a horrible and gut-wrenching sequence, and spoke to Nina’s motivations for helping Anton.
Can you talk a little bit about Nina’s mindset and how you’re dealing with the change in her this season?
Annet Mahendru: She doesn’t quite know what to do with Anton [last season]. She sees a human being for the first time and it brings that out of her. She’s exhausted, she’s been on this hamster wheel over and over–buying her life back, walking the thin line, every decision is life or death for her–she’s exhausted. He moves something in her and it’s something very direct. He has a son and she had given all that up when she entered this profession. She finds joy in his world, letters and his love. For the first time we see her happy and she literally gives up everything for that moment of happiness, and that’s her freedom from that tragic and tumultuous life she has chose and has been dealing with since we met her.
Do you think she’s made peace with her fate? [the death sentence]
AM: I think she’s content and is very much settled. She’s OK now because she did something for the first time that allowed her to be who she is. She has done everything to secure the future of the Soviet Union–this cause, this great cause that is so far-fetched, and here’s something so direct. There’s a boy that needs to know his dad loves him, and she did that, and I feel like that’s the greatest thing she’s ever done.
What was your reaction like when you got the script for this episode. Did Joel [Fields] and Joe [Weisberg] give you a heads up or did you find out as you were reading?
AM: I got the first script and then I got a phone call. You kind of wait for that phone call from the get-go, every time they call you it might be the phone call, and it finally came. I played it really cool because you think you’d be prepared for it, but you absolutely are not. I was angry at them. I loved them. I felt every single thing you could possibly feel. I remember my mom was like ‘it’s not you dying it’s Nina! It’s Nina!’ She had to remind me because it just felt like a part of me, that I was so lucky to be able to tap into, that I also had to say goodbye to.
The weird thing is the second episode [of this season] was where I felt like ‘I’m getting to know Nina.’ She’s meeting her husband. She finally has her own mission and her transformation that she’s desperately needed. I felt like I finally got a real taste of her and that’s it. Then an episode later Nina is dead. That little bit of joy, that little bit of her that I finally got, it was so fleeting and it was over before I could really embrace it. It was really sad. We’ve all been–I think the fans and the writers–have sort of been treasuring her and fighting for her. It’s really been a fight. It just made realize that it’s just such a tragic life. It’s real and it’s happened out there–women like this–and it made me really angry.
What was it like then shooting that scene that day, especially because you’ve been so separate from the cast for over a season now?
AM: It was mortifying. There’s that long walk through the hallway–she wakes up, she’s still half asleep–and we’re walking down that hallway and they tell her she’s being transferred. She’s got all her little belongings in this little bag and these guys are around her, and she doesn’t know–again she’s walking that thin line, ‘Am I free?’ Then she’s being read her death sentence, that long moment before you’re about to die. I had to experience that a few times and it was so real.
You know when they called me at the beginning of the season to say this was it, before they said I was going to die, they said this is everything an artist wants to do, and yea, that was everything an artist wants to do. When I did that, as mad as I was and as broken as I was, I wanted to do it again. It was the most intense thing I had to do as an artist–to play death, to play dying and that last bite before it goes, she’s fighting for it. I was sitting there afterwards in my chair and I was like ‘I can’t believe they made me do this.’ I wanted to quit and then I wanted to do it again.
How do you think fans are going to react to Nina’s demise?
The fight is over. Everyone has been fighting for it as equally as I was, as equally as Nina was, and at the end she’s just being wrapped up in burlap and carried away like nothing–a dispensable life, but such a great life. It’s really heartbreaking. I don’t even know what to say to people. I think we just have to experience it.
I think people have always hoped–it was a character that you just know that’s who she is, that things aren’t going to get better. She’s not going to settle down and have a family and have a nice dinner and the little joys in life. That’s not who she was, but we hoped, because you just like her. We fought so hard.
She does experience freedom at least in her dream and there’s a glimpse at that with her transformation. Some people don’t get to transform like that in their whole lifetime. So she does get that, which is what you could live for your whole life, that moment where things really shift inside of you and you are truly happy. I’m so thrilled to have played her so long because that kind of life, it’s a miracle she’s even lived this long. We can be grateful for that.
What’s next for you as an actor?
There’s a few things brewing that I’m very excited about. When I started I always wanted to tell great stories, and then you don’t realize what it means until The Americans came along. I want to continue to tell stories like that.
What did that dream with Stan in it say about her relationship to Stan? Was it a final forgiveness or an indication that she loved him?
AM: She ultimately has great empathy and her job was to understand, all the sides and all the people. She has found in every person truth and she knows his position. She always knew his position and she said right away ‘he’s not going to turn.’ She didn’t condemn him for that and she knew that cost her her life in America, and her life in general. Again that was her doing and she always took responsibility for what she did, and it finally caught up to her when she said ‘I’m not who I was.’ It was always up to her. It’s always our own choices that get us where we are.
Yea I do think it was forgiveness because he got her in that position, but he was a decent human being. Then she looks over and there’s Anton, in that dream sequence, that was also her choice and her doing. She sees what she chooses to see. There’s no blame and it’s just her own way, and all that has ultimately gotten her to be herself and have her own perspective on things, and choice. Your choice is your life and no one can do anything about that.
Were you shocked to see Nina’s fate? Sound off in the comments below!
The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.