Never has a show become so relevant despite having a storyline taking place decades ago. “The Americans” is a 1980s Cold War drama that hits a little too close to home with the “hot mess” that we now call American politics. The show first aired in 2013 and was written by Joe Weisberg, an ex CIA operative. His insider information helps to capture real life aspects of working in counter intelligence.
Not sure if this political thriller is for you? Well, this is the fun fact: this is actually former president Barack Obama’s favourite show. If that’s not enough for a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what else is. Though I also wonder if Russia’s Vladimir Putin is secretly watching “The Americans” to reminisce the “good old days”.
The show is entering its sixth and final season. One can guess how things will end. But we also wonder if a spin-off is possible. Technically and historically, the Cold War ended with the America as the winner. The Soviet Union gave way to become Russia. Despite knowing how the war ended, I can’t help but question if the show would allow its main characters to escape before their espionage is discovered.
The series focuses on the lives of the Jennings couple – both Soviet deep-cover sleeper agents placed in the Washington, DC – and their unsuspecting American-born children. Under the regime of Ronald Reagan, whose presidency began during the decline of the Soviet Union, the KGB operatives feared the American leader. Reagan’s policy during the period heated up diplomatic relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Soviets knew him as a mad man – someone who would go too far. And the KGB had its own methods to combat Reagan’s policies with its well-trained spies who could act and pretend perfectly as Americans.
The espionage operatives treat their work as something resembling a holy calling, often saying “I do this for Mother Russia” or “For the Mother Land”. Once integrated, these operatives – labeled by FBI as Illegals – are indistinguishable from a typical American family living next door. The KGB agents use aliases that they are bound to keep until they complete their missions.
The series presents a number of Illegals, but the main focus is on the Philip Jennings (played by Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (played by Keri Russell). The Jennings couple has been living in America for 16 years and has two children who are both unaware of their parents’ real jobs. As their children grow, the couple begins to get bombarded with questions they, for sure, are not allowed to answer truthfully.
Paige Jennings (played by Holly Taylor), the Soviet spies’ daughter, becomes a center plot twister as the story unfolds. She goes from a typical teen to someone who actively looks for something to truly care about. In an ironic twist of fate, she becomes heavily involved in a Christian Church, much to the dismay of her Soviet parents.
Heading into the sixth season, Paige becomes fully aware of her family’s top secret and the real identities of her parents. Will she put the Bible aside and accept her fate as a KGB agent?
The first few seasons deal heavily with Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage. Neither really had a choice in their relationship and their fates, as they were united together by “Mother Russia” when they were still teenagers. Philip has real love for Elizabeth, but her passion is into the completion of their mission in America. Elizabeth leaves little to no room for love and romance, and it does not help that she perceives Philip’s commitment to the mission as unstable and wavering.
Aside from the typical family dramas and circumstances, the couple have to deal with the missions, which by the way, are almost impossible to accomplish. How each mission is completed leaves the viewers in total awe. The complexities of gaining access to American information often requires emotional manipulation and various identities to get close to a source.
Philip and Elizabeth are constantly grappling with the implications of their actions. Killing people always has a consequence, often backfiring on them. One of the show’s most notable undercover operation is one given to Philip where he must turn to Martha Hanson (played by Alison Wright).
Martha is under the counter-intelligence office at the FBI where she works as a secretary for the director. Philip, who now uses the alias Clark, approaches Martha with secret meetings claiming to work for internal affairs reviewing internal practices that could put American secrets at risk. Martha, feeling that she is doing her patriotic duty to protect America from threats, feeds Clark significant information for the KGB. Soon after, their secret meetings take on a romantic turn and eventually they get married – another great feat for the KGB.
In an unwinding of fate, the Jennings must also develop a close relationship with their new neighbor, Stan Beeman (played by Noah Emmerich), who they discover is working for the FBI counter-intelligence unit. Stan remains oblivious to the family’s real agenda. But he becomes an added pressure for the Jennings couple, not to mention that Stan is also closely working with Martha.
The seemingly interconnected lives of the characters – how each of them comes in and out of each other’s lives – is seamless as it ripples across the show’s landscape. The back stories of the characters also add thrills, making this series binge worthy.
The Americans branches outside the scope of typical America-Soviet Union political clashes. It is one of the first shows I can recall that brings the plight of South America, South Africa and Vietnam during the Cold War, and how American and Soviet Union’s moves have impacted these independent countries. Many of these countries provide operatives whom have seen America persecute their people for supporting communism.
As season 5 comes to an end, the viewer can already see that the end is near for the Soviet Union. Corruption and lack of food, along with the rise of the younger generation determined to end the Cold War, are part of the written history.
But what we do not know yet is the fate of the Jennings family and all the people working behind them.
What’s going to happen to these Soviet Union spies? Well, there’s only one way to find out – let’s binge watch “The Americans” season 6 on FX.