TV — The Americans
Last year in The New Yorker, Tom Batten jokingly described the tactics TV critics have attempted in order to get him to watch The Americans. Among them: sending a pizza, which after eating he discovers obligates him to view at least three episodes, and hiring a skywriter to reproduce a glowing review of the series above Batten’s house. Boomer Revue does not encourage this sort of activity. But if you haven’t been tuning in to this acclaimed Cold War thriller on the FX network, we politely ask…what are you waiting for?
The sixth and final season begins airing on Wednesday, March 28. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, both Emmy-nominated, portray transplanted Soviet KGB agents in the early 80s posing as the Jennings, who live with their two children in suburban D.C. Series creator Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent, told Slate that “The Americans is at its core a marriage story. International relations is just an allegory for
the human relations.” Elizabeth and Philip work at their cover occupation as owners of a travel agency, seduce anyone with a pulse who will further their cause, deceive and brutally dispose of anyone who gets in the way of that cause. Their arranged marriage creaks, falters, transforms, strengthens, ebbs, having more facets than a Rubik’s Cube.
The leads are matched by superb supporting actors. A terrific Noah Emmerich plays Stan Beeman, who lives across the street and happens to be an FBI counterintelligence agent. Tho he is not immune to the charms of Nina, a Soviet Embassy clerk Stan blackmails into spying. And Stan has a grudging respect for frenemy and KGB tech expert,
Oleg, Nina's other bedmate. Of Frank Langella's Gabriel, critic Scott
Tobias wrote that the Jennings supervisor is "the steady, calming
center of a gathering storm," with stirrings of conscience. And an
amazing Alison Wright as the naïve FBI secretary, Martha, will break your heart. Martha ultimately pays a devastating price after Philip, whom she knows as “Clark,” weds her in a sham ceremony. One chilling touch—Elizabeth pretends to be Clark’s sister, to whom Martha later confides intimate details.
And then there’s guest star Lois Smith, mesmerizing at age 84 in the Season 3 episode critic Matt Brennan called a “small, black-hearted masterpiece.” The couple sneak into a warehouse to secretly install a listening device in their broken “mail robot.” Elizabeth comes upon
Betty doing some late-night paperwork and—perhaps reminded of her sickly mother in Russia—uncharacteristically wants to spare her. Philip simply tells her, “She picked a bad time.” As the two women talk about their backgrounds and work and marriage, Betty has already realized that she will not leave the room alive. Still, she fights back in the only way she can, with words. “You think doing this to me will make the world a better place?” And for once the ideologically immovable and now tearful Elizabeth doesn't seem so sure.
If you haven't seen the previous five seasons you’ll want to view those first, which are now streaming on Amazon Prime and may be available on DVD at your library. Season 6 is just ten episodes long and begins in 1987. Is Stan's current squeeze, as Philip suspects, a KGB plant? Always the spouse most open to the U.S. lifestyle (he tried est!), Philip is happily working at the travel agency and going to his son's hockey games, Henry previously having preferred to hang out with the more accessible Stan. Spy missions now fall to an increasingly ragged Elizabeth, with some first-time help from daughter Paige, a perfectly cast Holly Taylor. Aside from resembling Russell, Taylor conveys something few young actresses these days seem capable of: decency. The choices Paige makes and her ultimate fate will be the most fascinating storyline in the conclusion of one of the decade’s outstanding series. Comrade, you won’t want to miss it. Or do we have to order you a pizza?