The Americans Return As Strong As Ever

Photo Courtesy of Master Herald.

Photo Courtesy of Master Herald.

Warning: Big Spoilers!

The Americans, on FX, has managed to be consistently engrossing for four years now. The story of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings [Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, respectively] hiding in plain sight as the heads of an atomic family to cover their KGB activities delivers some of the greatest storytelling in the Golden Age of Television. So why is it still under the radar? It might have to do with the audience’s patience, or lack thereof.

This Cold War drama takes its time. Much like Breaking Bad or Mad Men, everything is carefully laid out. What might seem as unnecessary or padding for time. However, there is never an irrelevant detail on this show. The pacing might seem slow, but the payoff is always vindicating. The past three seasons have brought their fair share of tension, as Elizabeth and Philip have often come close to being exposed. However, this new season, now in its third episode, really has their actions catching up to them.

A fatal flaw was revealed last season–their children. Growing suspicious of their frequent absence from the travel agency owned by their parents [a front for their real job] and constant conversations in the laundry room, their daughter, Paige [Holly Taylor], finally demanded answers. So, they told her everything. She took the news– that her parents were spies and that if anyone found out, they would be guilty of espionage–like any fifteen year-old presumably would. She was horrified. She also could not keep it to herself, bring her pastor into the mess. Their children are supposed to be mere props for their charade. However, their allegiance to the U.S.S.R. has started playing second fiddle to their kids. Now, they are in a corner. For the first time, Elizabeth and Philip don’t know what comes next, let alone how to be prepared.

Something that has always been enchanting, and very crushing, is the morality of Philip Jennings. Keri Russell as Elizabeth has always been the intense character, the one who is devoted to her country, with a Machiavellian philosophy. Russell is phenomenal, with severe eyes that bring chills, almost never raising her voice above a stern tone. Philip is weaker than her. Rhys’ eyes show a man dying inside. He hates it all, seeming to have a new wincing pain with each person he kills. He isn’t strong enough to continue.

A highlight of last season took place in a car, in which Philip is driving a spy who has gone AWOL to be flown back to Russia. The man is leaving his family and the new life he has cut out for himself. The man was living the life Philip wanted. In sobs and pleas, the man tells Philip that he is sick for turning him in. Philip is doing something that this man wouldn’t do to his worst enemy. As the man vents out his dismay, Philip remains silent. He agrees with the man and can only continue to do horrible things. Rhys’ performance hinges on quiet agony, a man who feels his soul slipping away. While today, TV’s anti-heroes seem to be trying to hold on to the last of their humanity, Philip Jennings knows that it is gone and meets it with stoic acceptance.

Noah Emmerich and Alison Wright also give spectacular performances. Emmerich is Stan Beeman, the Jennings’ neighbor and an FBI agent, hell bent on finding any KGB members. He also becomes a close friend to Philip, a friendship that can only end in tragedy. Sure, Philip uses Stan, but he also cares about him. The same can be said for poor Martha, played by Wright. A receptionist at the FBI, she falls in love and marries Clark [an alter ego of Philip]. Used to get classified information, Martha does anything to please her “husband”. This devotion is particularly painful, even on a show where everyone is manipulated. In most cases, when someone was no longer an asset, or a potential danger, the spy would make their alter ego seemingly vanish. Instead, he tells her the truth and is trying to protect her from being caught now that she is in the hot seat.

The Americans is one of the best dramas of recent times and has managed to avoid any stale plotlines, something that is hard to avoid. The performances boost astonishing writing and, as with all great dramas, keeps us hooked even when we know the characters are doomed.


4 out of 4 dolphins.

The Americans is on Wednesdays at 10pm on FX.