If there was an award for “best low-key TV show,” The Americans would win it year after year. From minute one the cast has been putting in work, showcasing career-best performances from veterans like Keri Russell and Margo Martindale. It manages to nail the atmosphere of a Cold War-laden 1980’s landscape without being anachronistic or overly cloying in terms of nostalgia—no small feat for a television show on FX that’s seemingly on the bubble every season. That danger is now over as FX has allowed a conclusion to the series in season six, but the Jennings themselves have fallen into chaos.
The opening montage (set to the tune of the beautiful Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House) makes it seem like it’s business as usual based on the events of the last season finale. Elizabeth is up to her old spying tricks again in various guises and Philip is seemingly leading a normal life as an American. For one, I’m glad we didn’t have to deal with endless cliché threats, riddled with “you can never really get out!” speeches. As much as the show lingers on certain plotlines and moments it does deliver on them more often than not, and is occasionally content with speeding through the fluff.
As subtle as this change is (there are still family life and spying), it means everything to people who have been watching Philip slowly slip from the veil of espionage with his son Henry and Elizabeth digging further in with daughter Paige. Russell and Rhys have been a dynamo of a duo—one for the history books and a reason to invent yet another award category. Their chemistry is a large part of why this show is still on the air, but nearly everyone else has come into their own. A lot of shows would be content in letting the kids stay as throwaway characters (and to be fair, to some extent Henry was for a while as he was quasi-written off to support other storylines), but Paige has become one of the most compelling aspects of The Americans.
Seeing her slowly come to accept her life and heritage as a spy felt real, and she’s dealt with myriad struggles, both the emotional and physical variety, to get where she is today. We’ve seen hints of her inner strength all along, but this is something else entirely, and I’m glad that they were able to work Holly Taylor into the fray—and not in a “passing of the baton for a spinoff” sort of way, but in an organic fashion that suits the show.
One might be worried that The Americans has a lot of unresolved threads, but we’ve been getting hints all along—so when conflict does arise in the remaining nine episodes, it won’t be a complete surprise. There’s a lot of ground to cover for sure, and we haven’t really broached many of those critical topics just yet, but the stage is set for all of those loose ends to unravel—not bad for just under an hour of runtime.
As The Americans does, we both begin and (nearly) end the episode with a musical montage. The melancholy song choice is spot on, and we get insight into multiple storylines at once, including Paige’s new blossoming spy career. And I do mean blossoming, because Elizabeth, who has struggled on and off with being a parent (along with her husband in equal measure), is a fantastic teacher. That uneasy mother and daughter dynamic has slowly become one of the most intriguing dimensions of the world Joe Weisberg has created, as you’re constantly weighing whether or not the former is using the latter, and how much love is actually there for family or for country.
The Americans once again balances its pacing so it doesn’t show all of its cards, and the table is set for a monumental last season. Philip (Dad of the Year, hockey-watching, work-pep-talk-giving New Philip) has been pitted against Elizabeth by a rogue actor, and is given the choice to truly become a figurative American. Elizabeth was, and is still is, willing to kill for Russia. I’m not so sure how everything is going to play out, and that’s what makes the show more exciting than ever.
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