Category Archives: Blog

Thoughts on the Series Finale of “The Americans”

I’ll say it. I did not like the series finale of “The Americans.” Columns written about the finale have been fulsome, gushing. “Tremendously satisfying” wrote Mike Hale in the New York Times; “Elegant, potent, unforgettable” wrote Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker. Well, I’ll give her that last one. Unforgettable it was, as is anything that is deeply frustrating and utterly at odds and out of character with what has gone before.

For me, it felt very much like an Emily Litella finale. For all you Millennials reading this, Emily Litella was a character on Saturday Night Live, back when SNL was often quite good – yes, there was such a time. (And as long as I’ve got your attention, Millenials – get off of my lawn.)

Played by Gilda Radner, Litella would give a news editorial about something she had misheard or misunderstood – for example, “Soviet jewellery.” She would carry on about Soviet jewellery until the news anchor would interrupt her and let her know it was “Soviet Jewry.” She would then shift in her seat a bit, look embarrassed and smile at the camera saying, “Never mind.”

Rather than being called “Start”, I think the finale episode should have been called “Never Mind.” Never mind Stan Beeman’s history of patriotism; never mind Elizabeth’s history of being a true-believing automaton; never mind that Stan knows the couple he was looking for were likely behind the death of his partner, Agent Amador, and behind the deaths of Gennadi and Sofia and so many others, not to mention the corruption of Martha and so many other crimes. Never mind any of it.

We are to accept that Stan Beeman, the man who let the woman he loved be sent to a gulag rather than betray his country, would let Philip and Elizabeth go. We are to accept that Stan would be harder on Oleg than on the illegals he has been chasing for years. We are to accept that when Philip and Elizabeth claim they don’t kill people, Stan would either believe them or decide their homicidal past didn’t merit punishment. We are to accept that Elizabeth, after six seasons of mindless order-following, would suddenly decide not to keep doing her work just because one of her KGB bosses lied to her.

I never thought the show would end with my dream scenario – Elizabeth in FBI prison, Philip defecting and becoming a self-help guru, Oleg going home, Paige trading in Noam Chomsky for Norman Podhoretz. I understand that the writers and producers of the show could in no way make every viewer happy, any more than they could give every character a happy or fair ending. But the way it ended felt false, as though the writers had punted. There needed to be some justice, and there was none. The worst people got away with it. Those stuck in the middle were left suffering. Our hero, Stan, was left gutted. And Paige still doesn’t know her parents are murderers.

This is a show that I have adored – and I mean, with all my heart and soul. I have driven friends and family members crazy with my endless yammering and stressing and theorizing about it. I have appreciated so much about the show – the actors, the writing, the era. I am roughly the same age as Paige, and every poster on her wall is one that I had, every ‘Esprit’ sweatshirt is one I wore, every news item she discusses with Pastor Tim or her parents is one that was on my mind.

I have appreciated that “The Americans” was always too intelligent a show to romanticize communism, to portray it as benign and misunderstood. The criminality and cruelty of the Soviet system was made clear throughout the show’s six seasons. Why, Pastor Tim even challenged the Jennings in regards Moscow’s treatment of Soviet Jewry. Which is why it seemed strange to let the anti-heroes pay only a limited price, and why I keep coming back to that word – justice. There needed to be justice. Even a teeny bit. The only glory poor Stan got was Aderholt admitting he should have listened to his suspicions about the Jennings family. Further, the only…

Oh, never mind.

Jordan Peterson

There is clearly tremendous envy wrapped up in the reactions people have to Jordan Peterson. One doesn’t have to agree with all he says to recognize this. I find him a breath of fresh and necessary air. But it’s amusing — and a bit scary — to see how silly his critics become when you mention his name. It is even more amusing to see how so many of them clearly have never actually read anything he has written or listened to anything he has said. I give as an example something that happened when a very lovely young man I know posted something positive about Peterson on Facebook recently. The bullying pile-on was swift, angry, and not remotely fact-based. Included in the comments were that Peterson was against gender equality, that he belittled transgendered people, that he said young women who get drunk and who are sexually assaulted therefore deserved it, and on and on and on.

Sheer nonsense, of course. Not one of those accusations (and the others that were made in the same thread) is true. Further, someone used as an “argument” the acceptance of “Ms.” into our culture as proof that Peterson is wrong to be concerned about compelled speech. Well, “Ms.” was never compelled. It became accepted over time naturally. No one was ever threatened with an indictment by the state for refusing “Ms.” What concerns Peterson is compelled speech, not the natural and inevitable changes that take place in a language, and I share that concern. One need only a cursory knowledge of history to know that the state compelling sudden changes in word use is bad, bad news.

Many of his critics accuse him of being “alt right,” and as “proof” they point out he has “alt right” fans. I suspect he does have some alt right fans, but he can’t much control who likes him or doesn’t like him. Just as many of his critics haven’t actually read his work, I suspect his extremist fans haven’t either. (I had similar “fans” when I had my weekly Toronto Star column, and I did not like it, but I knew it had nothing to do with what I believed.) If you read Peterson’s work or listen to him, you will see he is more of a classical liberal.

What is interesting is that what Peterson is most concerned about is the stupidity of young males – another reason the accusation that he thinks girls who get drunk deserve sexual assault or that he is anti-gender equality does not hold up (that, and the fact that he has never said any such thing). One would think his concern that young males not behave like groping idiots might appeal to people, particularly on the left, particularly those who call themselves feminists. Well, it does to some, thank goodness.

All of this is on my mind because of tonight’s Munk Debate, which I will be attending and to which I am looking forward. And here’s a good (fact-based and not oozing jealousy) take on Peterson.

Israel at 70

I just finished Martha Gellhorn’s The Face of War and am convinced she was an even better war writer than A. J. Liebling. Her essays on the Six Day War and its aftermath are not to be missed. I love this quote, and post it for the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

Her neighbors oblige Israel to waste resources and time on military strength. Israelis are not fond of being warriors; they have no choice. But Israel is far more than a bulwark. It produces funny wine and good books, scientists, musicians and formers of genius. It may have the highest I.Q. per capita in the world. It is brave. It is there to stay.

Note: several Israeli friends have pointed out that Israeli wine has improved a great deal over the years. (The above quote is from 1967.) At any rate, Gellhorn is insanely perceptive about the “work” of UNRWA, among other things, and rather than go over all of that I will simply link back to a piece she wrote in the Atlantic in 1961, in which we see that where the Jews are concerned, the thinly-veiled anti-Semitism that governs much reaction to them has always been around and sadly, may never disappear. Along the same plus ca change lines, please check out James Michener’s letter to The New York Review of Books, written shortly after the Six Day War. (And no, Michener was not one of the anti-Semites in question, but rather, someone who, like Gellhorn, saw through such nonsense.)

I’ve written about this many times, of course, but it remains distressing to me that I have relatives of the “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just anti-Zionist” or “Zionism is racism” variety. I even have one relative who tried to calibrate by asking me to define Zionism when I pointed out that equating Zionism with racism was, in fact, anti-Semitic. It was as though she were trying to suggest there were different definitions of it and that some were indeed racist. Nonsense, of course, but to paraphrase Swift, you can’t reason someone out of a belief into which they were not reasoned in the first place.

It seems to me that for a great many people, mostly on the left, Israel’s most unpardonable offence is not only having survived 1967, but having triumphed. Israel will never be forgiven for this, in the same way the Jews will never truly be forgiven by those same people for having survived the Shoah.

It’s a shame the anti-Semites on the left can’t see Israel for what it is: the answer to millennia of systematic oppression, discrimination and state-organized mass murder. I don’t see it as an anachronism and I don’t believe for a second that those past horrors will stay in the past. (Please see the aforementioned paragraphs about many of my relatives.) I also believe that if the ideological left weren’t leading the anti-Israel charge, aligned with Hamas and Hezbollah and so many odious others, there might by now be a two-state solution. The result of this demonization of Israel is the impossibility of fair and realistic negotiations.  

I just hope Israel will never be fully abandoned, despite the attempts of ideological “progressives” to cast it as an ideological depravity or to assert that 
the very idea of a Jewish state is a crime or racist.

Pigeons

They deserve our respect:

Everything alive is essentially a mystery, and pigeons, with their extraordinary mental and ­physical powers, are more mysterious than most. They were domesticated thousands of years ago, long before chickens or ducks, which makes them the bird on Earth to which we have the longest close relationship. Pigeons matter.

If you go to my National Geographic page, and scroll through my photos, you will see a few pigeon pics. Also, a couple of previous blog posts concerning pigeons: here and here.