‘The Americans’ evolves into a family drama

Season 5 delves into new territory as undercover KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings take on new missions and juggle family drama.

click to enlarge Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are growing closer as a couple. - Photo: Eric Liebowitz / Courtesy of FX
Photo: Eric Liebowitz / Courtesy of FX
Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are growing closer as a couple.
When watching this year’s premiere of the long-running KGB spy saga The Americans (Season Finale, 10 p.m. Tuesday, FX), it became immediately clear that this season would be delving into new territory, literally and figuratively. Season 5 finds Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), Russian spies posing as married travel agents with two children in suburban Washington, D.C., working with new people (a young Vietnamese agent posing as their son — a first), taking on new missions (weaponized wheat!) and juggling more family drama. 

Of course, much of that at-home conflict comes from the Jennings’ teen daughter Paige. Unlike her increasingly absent younger brother Henry, Paige knows about her parents’ work with the KGB (to an extent). At first, she takes it as a hard blow, unwisely turning to her pastor Tim with the information as she struggles to cope with the news. But this season, we see a new strength in Paige. 

Traumatized by a mugging last season (and by watching her mom destroy the assailant), Paige agrees to some at-home self-defense. The scenes throughout the season of this mother and daughter kicking ass in the garage are exactly what fans love about this show. Paige even begins to redeem her previous pastor-confiding ways by snooping on Tim’s family during babysitting sessions. By season’s end, she’s poised to move on altogether from Tim and the church.

Ironically, as Paige becomes more clued in and comfortable with her parents’ work, Philip and Elizabeth consider walking away. As an actual couple, the Jennings have grown leaps and bounds from their arrangement in Season 1. It’s clear Philip always loved Elizabeth while she saw their partnership as a necessity of the job. Each season has seen them getting closer as a real couple (mimicking their off-screen relationship), a sweet and welcome storyline that culminates in a secret warehouse wedding complete with a Russian Orthodox priest, new rings and vows that reflect their real names, Mikhail and Nadezhda. This renewed connection comes at a time when complicated missions make them question everything.

As Philip and Elizabeth consider their family’s future and plot a possible exit from their dangerous work, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), their FBI agent neighbor, is in a similar boat. Stan’s marriage fell apart earlier in the series, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t share with his wife. The secretive nature of his job made it hard for him to connect to her in any way, turning him into a distant stranger. Now Stan’s dating Renee (Laurie Holden, who appeared with Emmerich in The Walking Dead’s first season), a seemingly perfect woman he met at the gym (and who has triggered the Jennings’ spy-dar). Stan has more luck opening up to Renee, and Tuesday’s finale finds them discussing the idea of him stepping away from the FBI.

The season also splits its time in the U.S. and in Russia more than ever before. First, we follow Philip’s grown son Mischa, who he only recently found out about, on a difficult and ultimately fruitless journey to the States to meet his father. Later, the attention turns to Oleg (Costa Ronin), who’s moved home from the U.S. following his brother’s death. The latter storyline grows laborious as the season unfolds. Between the long scenes in Russia and the dark, dismal setting, Oleg is just too far removed from the action stateside to feel relevant.

The Americans is certainly a slow-burning drama — this season especially — gradually moving away from action-packed scenes and focusing more on internal drama. But Season 5 does end on a strong note, perfectly setting up next year’s sixth and final season. 

At its heart, The Americans is a study of relationships: between spouses, work partners, parents and children. And despite the season’s plot missteps, strong acting by the entire cast makes exploring these characters’ relationships even more compelling than a spy shootout.

Pick of the Week

House of Cards (Season Premiere, Tuesday, Netflix) – Season 5 picks back up amid a tense presidential election between the Underwoods and Republican hotshot Will Conway and fallout from a terrorist group.


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