The beauty of The Americans stems from a startling, layered loyalty to its two principal characters: two Russian spies, alias Elizabeth (a stunning Keri Russell) and Philip (an affecting Matthew Rhys) Jennings, infiltrating suburban American life while recruiting KGB agents and carrying out dangerous missions. We have watched the Jennings kill and deceive, yet we have also seen them in their full, multi-textured shape and still growing. They are principled and generous, driven by both desire and ethic, and they love their family and their country. They are compassionate, despite rarely hesitating to kill.
The person who embodied their strengths and weaknesses was their eldest child, their daughter Paige. Their behavior towards her spanned the spectrum of parental love and social rigor; they were strict but kind, neglectful but watchful, deceptive but deeply loving. Their lie to her about their true identities mirrored the lying they often did to themselves to justify their actions. But now that’s all over. Over four incredible seasons of passion and violence, tenderness and betrayal, the truth of their origins and motives is revealed, and Paige slowly awakes to a more intimate reality of the Cold War.
How the couple chooses to treat this revelation additionally marks their own personal and professional — at this point conflated into one experience — approach to their KGB work. Philip hopes to one day leave and become truly “American.” Elizabeth holds tightly to the beliefs that have defined her world and continues to denounce the “American” way of life. They are equally correct, and that’s where so much of the great tension of the show rests. The U.S. is indeed committing atrocities abroad and drowning in domestic racism, sexism, and consumerism. However, the Russians are also engaging in some terrible acts, and even her KGB trainer raped her, showing that power is earned via violence and not justice.
Telling Paige the truth was a controversial choice, but they made it and have been living out the consequences ever since. We ended last season unsure of where she truly stood or what was next for her parents’ complex struggle. According to this latest trailer, Paige is haunted by the night she saw her mother kill a man in her defense, finally realizing, once and for all, that her parents might be helping people as spies, as they claim, but they’re also killing some people in the process. Elizabeth is training her in what appears to be part of a political awakening that is paralleled by a sexual one, as she continues a romantic relationship with Matthew. This coupling is also political, as he is the son of Stan, the FBI agent who lives next door and is Philip’s best friend. There is no sign of Henry, the other Jennings child; will he ever find out? Less mature and socially conscious than his sister, how will Henry react or be brought into the fold? Will the fall of the wall also be the demise of this family, or is there another way civic duty and personal fulfillment can merge?
The upcoming fifth season will premiere on March 7 and have thirteen episodes. Only one more season will follow, with ten episodes, to close out the great Jennings saga. I have no idea what will happen, just as I like it.