The Americans: Season 5 created by Joseph Weisberg (FX, Amblin Television, DreamWorks Television)
Starring Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Noah Emmerich, Costa Ronin, Brandon J. Dirden, Frank Langella, Kelly AuCoin, and Margo Martindale.
The Whole World Is Talking ‘Bout Russia
Quick. Open a tab in your browser and navigate to your preferred news source. For those in the present—can’t say how long this site will last—the headlines of your online periodical will meet one of two criteria. The mainstream and liberal sources likely have an article about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. The conservative sites? They are likely talking about the deep state and conspiracies spun around Russia to discredit Trump.
The common denominator? Russia. Given this toxic milieu, the FX series The Americans has an opportunity to shift from critical darling to an unlikely prophet to our current cultural context.
Having announced the planned end of the series after 6 seasons, The Americans has spent 4 years tightening the screws on its main characters to create an explosive season.
An All-Russian-American Family
For those unaware, The Americans follows the path of a suburban D.C. family. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) make their money as travel agents. Their two children, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), are the standard All-American kids. Paige volunteers at church and helps out at the soup kitchen. Henry, despite his proclivity for video games, flourishes with math and seeks boarding school and an inside track to an Ivy League school.
Philip and Elizabeth are social beings, befriending their neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent who hates his job.
But, if the above logo hadn’t made it clear enough, all is not as it seems. Philip and Elizabeth are spies for the Soviet Union, deeply undercover and running operations for the cause of the Motherland.
The Noose Tightens?
With pressure seemingly closer and closer from the FBI, Philip and Elizabeth are wearing thin. In this season, the spies receive marching orders to honeypot a couple of targets in the agriculture sector in Topeka, Kansas. They run an operation targeting a Russian expat and his family with the help of Tuan (Ivan Mok), an adopted son and fellow spy. Philip maintains a relationship (non-sexual edition) with a 16-year old so he can wiretap her government-director father. The couple keeps track of their FBI neighbor, all the while prepping Paige for possible recruitment.
Spread so thin, The Americans zigs where one would expect a zag. Given the tightening of the screws from previous seasons and the impending end date, it stands to reason that underlying elements will soon bubble to the surface. And yet, instead of tension and action-packed set pieces, the showrunners cite these operations to show a family at an internal breaking point. Spreading people too thin in real life tends to burn people out. And if there’s one takeaway from Season 5, it would be the burn-out factor.
Spy Craft as a Metaphor for Marriage
While this motif doesn’t offer much action, the character work is impeccable. Ultimately, The Americans has never cared too much for international espionage. Yes, the main characters are spies. But spy craft has always been a metaphor for marriage. And, The Americans continues to beat its heart through the central relationship of Philip and Elizabeth. The most meaningful scenes this season have always been framed around them and their relationship to each other. Where allegiances originated with country, deeper roots have been planted with an allegiance to each other.
Nevertheless, I expect many people will consider this season a failure, not only due to the current political climate but also given the typical viewing desire to see everything fall apart in a suspenseful fashion (hot take: Breaking Bad ruined us all with its high-octane conclusion).
Instead of blowing everything up, The Americans focused on a controlled underground explosion—one that is family-focused. Even though the tone shifted this year and the action and spy craft took a backseat to the Jennings’ relationship, Season 5 was excellent viewing. I can’t wait to see how this story ends.
Verdict: 4 out of 5