television

The Americans: Season 5 Post-Mortem

 The time has come at last (secret secret I’ve got a secret)
To throw away this mask (secret secret I’ve got a secret)
Now everyone can see (secret secret I’ve got a secret)
My true identity…

— Styx, “Mr. Roboto”

In many ways, season 5 of The Americans is about getting to the heart of who the characters we’ve been following for five years are. In particular, I felt that this season was Philip’s season, moreso than any of the others have been. As much as Philip and Elizabeth are a team, he’s always been the moral center of their family, questioning his loyalty to the KGB mission he’s been a part of for over two decades. Matthew Rhys earned his recent Emmy nomination with his work over the past 10 episodes (as did Keri Russell as Elizabeth, and indeed the show itself), as Philip struggled with his guilt over involving the innocent, lonely Martha in spying on her own country, while at the same time questioning the loyalty of fellow agent William.

And things are starting to spiral out of control in the Jennings’ world. They almost lost control several times in the span of season 5, including during Elizabeth’s long-delayed bout of guilt and empathy for what she must do against her sole friend — an American — in order to do her job. The Jennings  (including daughter Paige) must also scramble to keep Pastor Tim and his wife Alice in line so as not to blow an increasingly tenuous cover. And of course, they can never be sure of who is talking…

It’s the tension of season 5 that allows The Americans to retain its spot as one of the best shows on television. Producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields aren’t afraid to move the plot along at breakneck speed, even when the results of their decisions leave viewers shocked and dismayed.

Accordingly, this season sets up the culminating arc of The Americans nicely. It’s inevitable that there will be a conclusion to the Jennings’ story soon — the Cold War is drawing to a close, and it would not be plausible to simply have them fade into the background. Too much has happened and has been set up to happen for that to occur. Now it’s simply a matter of exactly how much collateral damage will pile up before the masks come off.

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