powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


The Russians are going, the Russians are going: End games for FX's The Americans in a climactic Season 6


Back in the USSR? Nyet so fast. The Americans starts its final season. FX photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The sixth and final season of FX’s The Americans could also be called, or at least subtitled, Communist vs. Capitalist. Or more specifically, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) vs. her husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys).

It’s the autumn of 1987, but not yet the fall of the Soviet Union as we’d known it. Mikhail Gorbachev’s twin punch reforms, perestroika and glasnost, remain in formative stages, with Soviet hard-liners intent not only on stopping these initiatives but seeing Gorbachev dead if he in any way compromises a still-in-development, all-powerful defense system during his nuclear disarmament talks with President Reagan.

In the closing episode of a somewhat sleepy Season 5, Philip and Elizabeth aborted their intended return to the Soviet Union after new information -- there’s always new information -- made it seem necessary to stay in the States as undercover operatives. But in a setup for the Season 6 opener (Wednesday, March 28th, 9 p.m. central), Elizabeth offered to go it alone while an increasingly disenchanted Philip devoted his full energies to what’s been their more or less mock travel agency.

“Maybe you should stop,” she told him. “I’m making you stay and it just keeps getting worse for you. I don’t want to see you like this anymore.”

As the Season 6 opener unfolds, we see that he’s very much taken her up on this. The travel agency rather suddenly is much better appointed and being actively run in full capitalist mode by Philip. This is never more evident than in Episode 3, when he calls the staff together and challenges them to book more cruises because they’re a big profit-maker. In Episode 1, Philip’s even having a good time line-dancing to “Louisiana Saturday Night.” If that’s not assimilation, well . . . what is?

Elizabeth increasingly is Philip’s opposite, working with the forces that want to stop Gorbachev in his tracks while also further training daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) in the fine arts of spying with help from the veteran Soviet overseer, Carla (Margo Martindale). Each of the three episodes made available for review include Elizabeth viciously or self-defensively killing someone. Duty calls, after all, although the constant stress has Elizabeth smoking more than ever while her face is starting to flip the haggard switch.

Philip is vexed, both by what he’s seeing in his wife (“It’s finally getting to you after all these years”) and by what he’s hearing about her efforts to help thwart Gorbachev. The messenger with such news is Soviet operative Oleg Igorevich Burov (Costa Ronin), who reluctantly returns to the U.S. while leaving his wife and baby behind. “We want you to find out what your wife is doing and tell us,” Oleg tells Philip.

This is quite a bit to digest. On the other hand, The Americans still seems to be spending too much time on cruise control (sorry, Philip) in a climactic season that will be just 10 episodes instead of the 13 that were in play for the series’ first five seasons. Frankly, a little boredom sets in at times.

The Jennings otherwise seem to no longer be in much danger of being exposed. Son Henry (Keidrich Sellati), still blissfully unaware, is off at boarding school and becoming a hockey star. FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) remains a next door neighbor but has transferred from counterintelligence to the bureau’s criminal investigative division. Bank robbing, money laundering and drugs are now his primary concern, although Stan keeps his hand in whenever fellow agent Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) seeks his counsel.

Pitting Philip fully against Elizabeth, if it ever comes to that, would be a rousing but perilous way to bring down the iron curtain on this overall stellar series. “They want us to be just like them. I don’t want to be like them!” she tells Philip in Episode 3, referring to what she sees as America’s growing infatuation with perestroika and glasnost. But by now, the American Dream, such as it is, seemingly has turned Philip’s head.

It also seems to be high time for a wrap-up. Ratings have decreased in each successive season of The Americans, which has never been a big hit for FX. And a number of the series’ most memorable supporting characters are now either dead or mostly out of sight.

Particularly missed is Philip’s duped second wife, Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), the FBI secretary turned unwitting informant. The KGB managed to smuggle her off to Russia before she was apprehended, and Season 5’s final episode provided a brief glimpse of Martha being urged to adopt an orphan girl as a means of leading a happier life. Let’s hope so.

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings don’t seem destined for joint happiness in the end. How The Americans resolves their fates will be key to whether this series is remembered as a superbly rendered morality tale or a distinct disappointment after setting its bar so high.

Season 6 so far is rife with both possibilities. The first three episodes wander around perhaps more than they should before the last of them exits to the sounds of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” And yes, that’ll get one’s attention once again.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net