Before I start with the spoilers, a short story – Once upon a time, I was the advisor for a high school newspaper at Chariho, which I graduated from in 2002. In January 2013, The Americans debuted on FX. At the time, one of students on the newspaper staff was learning Russian and had an interest in Russian culture. I knew the basic premise of the show but hadn’t seen it, so I helpfully suggested, “Oh, hey, you should try watching this show!”
Uh, whoops. A couple weeks later, I followed up and asked her about it, and she essentially said, “Uh, yeah Mr. Greenwell, it was good but REALLY raunchy.” A couple weeks after that, I finally watched the show myself. The very first scene of the show has Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) seducing an FBI informant, and the first couple episodes has Philip (Matthew Rhys) listening to Elizabeth making the sex on someone.
So, from this, I learned a valuable lesson – Don’t ever recommend shows without screening them first. Especially to high school kids. Anyway, on spoiler-filled Americans talk!
|A family photo, kind of.|
Warning: Spoilers follow for the current and past seasons of The Americans. Like for real, don’t read this if you’re honestly concerned about the fate of certain characters.
No show makes me feel a combination of dread and tension on a weekly basis like The Americans, which follows two deeply embedded Russian spies (Russell and Rhys) living in the United States as a family, complete with two U.S.-born children. Holly Taylor as Paige, the Jennings’ teenage daughter, essentially becomes a third lead as the show goes on, with Noah Emmerich as the Jennings' next-door-neighbor who works for the FBI. There is a sense of unease throughout most of the episodes, and the show almost perfectly allows the tension to simmer and build, before periodic blow-offs.
The fourth season just finished, culminating with the FBI capturing a rogue biological scientist, William, helping the Russians. However, before he dies, he tells the FBI agents interrogating him about the existence of the deep cover agents posing as a normal American family, which will seemingly setup the hunt for the Jennings in the final two seasons.
Speaking of William, he’s played by Dylan Baker, and he’s one of many supporting actors who are just incredible on The Americans. While Russell, Rhys and Taylor do the majority of the heavy lifting on the show, their work is always strengthened by the actors they play against.
The best of the best is Frank Langella as Gabriel, the KGB handler for the Jennings. He was their original handler, and the third handler in the shows’ four seasons, because of how exhausting and dangerous the work is. In his interactions with the Jennings, you can feel the weariness on his part – He’s getting too old for this shit, in true Lethal Weapon style. Margo Martindale played the Jennings’ first handle with a different sort of intensity – She was a true believer, and at times, so devoted to Russia that she put them in danger. And, she’s the one who gets to tell them that the Center – spy central control, basically – wants Paige to become an agent as well.
As the show has continued, the Jennings’ house of cards has grown higher and higher. There are now multiple ways they could be exposed as spies, ranging from the Asian couple Elizabeth broke up during an operation, to the FBI have composite sketches of Philip in various disguises, to Paige telling her pastor in a moment of anger that her parents are spies. The show is still only in 1984, which makes it unlikely that there is a “happily ever after” moment in play with the fall of the Soviet Union, and its part of why that sense of dread hangs over the Jennings family.
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