The slow burn of The Americans season 5

The latest season of The Americans on FX was, in my opinion, one of the most painful seasons to date. It was as study in self-loathing and the psychological toll that espionage was beginning to take on all characters involved; Paige, Gabriel, Henry, Pastor Tim, Stan, Mischa, Oleg, Elizabeth and Philip. Nobody was spared the long-reaching effects.

From the very beginning of the season the stakes seemed higher than ever and the deceptions were more involved than ever before. I found the cold opening of introducing Tuan and his “family” to be one of the best surprises of the season. The addition of Tuan as a sympathizing comrade from another country took me back to season two and the wonderful appearance of Lucia, the radical Sandinista from Nicaragua. At first he seemed less than comfortable with the work he must do for the cause, but this hesitancy soon changed and Tuan was proven to be as cold and committed as Lucia.

At the start of the season both Philip and Elizabeth seemed to have a renewed vigor for their cause and work. This is in part because of a belief that the United States government was researching ways to kill food supplies in Russia, this rumor served quite a few purposes throughout the season. It was the reasoning Philip and Elizabeth presented to a distraught and frankly emotionally destroyed Paige to assuage her doubts about her parents, It was the resolve for any especially violent tasks that fell to the Jennings. It was the storyline that served as a parallel to Oleg and his work in the Soviet Union cracking down on the wide-spread corruption food distribution industry. And ultimately, the discovery of the researchers true purpose, is one of the most debilitating and crippling epiphanies for the Jennings, Philip especially.

From that point on the hits just keep coming, especially for Philip ( poor Matthew Rhys didn’t crack a smile for an entire season). The betrayals, known and unknown, wash over all involved. In the motherland, Oleg discovered the KGB once imprisoned his mother for years. In another cruel twist, Gabriel is forced to lie to the Philip concerning his son Mischa and send the poor kid back home without finding his long-last father, a decision that led to the farewell of the brilliant Frank Langella, but the return of Margot as Claudia was a nice compromise.

A few sweet, almost tender moments stick out in the season. One is the marriage of Elizabeth and Philip by a Russian priest, they use their given names and the ceremony is touching. Paige and her emotional and physical journey to finding her strength and power was an inspiring character development, as was Henry’s sudden confidence and intelligence. The finale offered some other closure in Mischa meeting Philip’s brother and connecting with family and Martha meeting a little orphan girl and resurrecting the idea of having a family herself. These moments were wonderful little splashes of hope admit a sea of tension.

The season had many ups and downs, more downs of course, but this is The Americans after all. If Philip smiled too much we would have to assume he was just smoking more pot with Kimmy. The one moment of happiness Philip exuded was when Elizabeth agreed to discuss returning to Russia. This life-altering decision trend was also shown in Stan’s storyline (sidenote: we need more Stan next season) when he confessed that he basically was “tired of feeling like a shitty person” as an FBI agent. The penultimate season of the Americans served as a tool to set up the final season next year.  One of the best compilations of scenes this season (set spectacularly to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road“) did a terrific job of showing the mindsets and anguish of each character and what this season had cost them. All of the strides that Philip and Elizabeth had taken to be closer in their family life had left them primed to start afresh, but ultimately our favorite “americans” will have to be the Jennings for a little bit longer.

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