SPOILER ALERT: This story contains a few details of the sixth and final season of The Americans, which premieres tonight. Hint: The USSR collapsed in late 1991.
Regardless of how The Americans actually ends this sixth and final season, I hope FX and the exceptional Cold War spy drama’s creators are already plotting a spin-off spotlighting Holly Taylor’s character of stateside born Paige Jennings.
Honestly, if the conclusion of the series crafted by Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields and starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is Six Feet Under great, Sopranos ambitious or Lost flailing or something all together different, I don’t want this splendid show to be over.
Like Vladimir Putin, I think the outcome of the Cold War is still to be determined, at least narratively. Add to that, having watched the serious Canadian-born actor Taylor transform over the last five seasons on-screen from an insecure teen to a confident young woman and increasingly committed “second generation illegal,” I don’t think it has to. The possibilities for disruption and more excellent television that a government or politically embedded Paige could take the tale revs the motor Mayans MC-style, if you know what I mean.
Having said that, wishful thinking aside, from what I’ve seen so far, the final season of The Americans that debuts tonight has been deliberately and delicately constructed to bring the fate of KGB operatives Elizabeth (Russell) and now out of the game Philip (Rhys) plus their college -attending daughter, their private school-placed son, FBI agent neighbor (Noah Emmerich) and others trapped in the superpower chess moves crashing down like the Berlin Wall itself in 1989. In short, from its Crowded House-backed opening montage and overall arch of factions on both sides of the frayed Iron Curtain trying to cripple the 1987 summit between new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, and with eminent performances, the 10-episode last season of The Americans looks poised to be one of the best ever for one of the best shows to ever appear on the small screen.
Always a creation that deceptively concealed a family drama within its spy craft folds and pivoted away from nostalgia, the series picks up three years after the occasionally wayward Season 5 wrapped up with deeper than usual divisions in the Jennings’ suburban Washington DC household. As perestroika is sprinkled across the USSR, glasnost looms and Reagan’s reign begins to wane, Elizabeth has doubled down on her infiltrating efforts for the motherland as long weary Philip has seemingly embraced American capitalism enthusiastically and is trying to turn their travel agency front into a thriving business. All of which leaves traumatizes the notion of partnership and their marriage into double crossing territory that is more fraught than any the two have encountered before.
A growing material relationship for Paige with the Jennings KGB handler Claudia, played note perfect once more by multiple Emmy winner Margo Martindale, and the return of the disillusioned Oleg (Costa Ronin) from Moscow to pull some strings of his own, casts the net deeper and wider as discordant plotlines slide to convergence. Doing double duty on Showtime’s Homeland too as a fake news spreading, vengeful and Putin-serving version of his Americans character, special note must go to Ronin, who owns every scene he broods his way through.
Actually, from the three episodes I’ve watched, Russell, Rhys, Taylor and all of the regulars are delivering nothing but power plays this season, to throw some hockey terminology out there.
Weisberg and Fields have repeatedly proclaimed they have always had a plan for how The Americans would end when it did. In this year of the attempted killing of a Russian ex-double agent in the UK, diplomatic expulsions, collusion claims in the 2016 U.S. election, Kremlin instigated social media swarmings and a sense of chaos gnawing at the institutions of the West, that plan seems like last season all the more to the point now, both on and off the screen.
All things considered in this age of Peak TV, that’s a remarkable place for a series to be this long into its run. The fact that The Americans has so consistently upped its game and the stakes in a story that we all know the big picture ending to for the most part is simply amazing.
Far too often overlooked in past award seasons, it could constitute TV treason not to hand the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy to The Americans in its last run. For even as we don’t know precisely yet how things will end for the Jennings and those in their orbit, we can all be certain that we will rarely see television of the quality and scope of The Americans again …unless that spin-off gets the green light.
That’s right, I’m talking to you John Landgraf.