There are many TV shows that didn’t garner the mainstream awards they were due (although The Wire is still going strong in our March Madness TV bracket — and thank you to commenter Vosa for pointing that out! — and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to list a couple) and The Americans belongs in that group, too.
There have been some Emmy noms lately, but for a little while, it was only character actress Margo Martindale winning awards for appearing on the show, while co-leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys went unnoticed. (Reminder: Margo Martindale is not Ann Dowd.) Maybe this final season will be what finally nudges the show toward those highest levels of acclaim, but even if it doesn’t, this is what we’ll know: that The Americans was one of the most stressful, emotionally nuanced shows of Peak TV, and that its simultaneous brutality and emotional depths made it a phenomenal slow burner week in and week out. And hey, Russell and Rhys fell in love while working together on the show! So that’s cool!
The sixth and final season of The Americans premieres tonight, and the 10-episode season (a shorter order than the normal 13 episodes; WHY, THOUGH?) picks up where the fifth season finale left off last May. Here, have a trailer! (From a purely aesthetic point of view, hot damn, does this show give Russell great outerwear.)
Much like Mad Men, The Americans relies very much on its dialogue, on the layered conversations between its characters in locations that span from Virginia to the USSR, and so maybe you don’t remember everything that happened last season. And with the three-year time jump moving the show up to 1987, maybe you’re having an even harder time. Maybe you need a refresher! Let me refresh you.
ELIZABETH AND PHILIP JENNINGS, RUSSELL AND RHYS
Last season, Elizabeth and Philip began a new, specifically targeted mission focused on Russian agriculture: a Russian agriculture expert had defected to the U.S., and the Jennings posed as a married couple with an adopted son, Tuan, to befriend the man, his wife, and his son. The mission was rocky from the beginning: Tuan had his own orders from his own government, he butted heads sometimes with Philip and Elizabeth, and he moved forward with a plan to have the agriculture expert’s teenage son, Pasha, attempt to take his own life to urge his family to move back and leave the United States. Ultimately Pasha and his mother decide to go back to Moscow; Tuan talks shit against the Jennings by saying he didn’t care for their “petty bourgeois” concerns (leading to a great moment when Elizabeth gazes upon her closet, her bedroom, and all of her possessions, realizing that maybe Tuan wasn’t so wrong); and the agriculture mission seems to wrap up. Elizabeth and Philip also get real married in a very emotionally weighted scene; have to kill one of their young proteges, Hans, after he is exposed to lassa fever while the couple is retrieving a sample of the virus for their government; and say goodbye to their handler Gabriel (Frank Langella), who returns to Russia, leaving them with Margo Martindale’s Claudia, who Elizabeth had viciously butted heads with earlier in the series.
Philip and Elizabeth also spend a fair amount of the season talking about returning to Russia with their children, Henry and Paige, but that option never really seems plausible in the season-long narrative, and it’s not a surprise when it fizzles out. (Oh, and Philip doesn’t know that his son from a prior relationship, Mischa, actually made it to the U.S., but was sent home by Gabriel, another secret kept from the spies whose job is keeping secrets.) What may be most important in the long run, though, is that Philip thinks he’s done with having to con the teenage Kimmy as a way to retrieve recordings from her CIA employee father’s briefcase. But when Kimmy’s father ends up promoted as the new leader of the Soviet division of the CIA, Philip realizes he can’t give up the mission — so Elizabeth volunteers to take over new assignments on her own. Can she do it without Philip, when she had just said to Tuan that he’ll need a partner to be successful? Or has Elizabeth, more loyal to the cause over the course of the series than Philip ever was, been waiting for this opportunity to be on her own?
PAIGE JENNINGS, HOLLY TAYLOR
It looks like Paige is all grown up in the trailer for season six, as if all those hours training with her mother in their garage and those babysitting sessions spent reading Pastor Tim’s diary have shaped her into the young spy that Elizabeth always wanted her to be. With a more stylish haircut and a variety of blazers, is Paige embracing the life of her parents? They’ve fed her a very sanitized version of their work so far, focusing on the (potentially) positive effects of their work, like engineering food to feed starving people and offering freedom to the oppressed. But how long will Paige continue to believe in that explanation of what her spy parents actually do? Or will she eventually come around to agreeing with Pastor Tim, that their divulging of their work to her was a “monstrous” act that will irreedeemably harm her? Curious to see where Paige’s arc goes, especially as she seems to be more fully under Elizabeth’s guiding hand in the trailer.
HENRY JENNINGS, KEIDRICH SELLATI
How long until Henry figures out that something is very wrong with his family dynamic — if he doesn’t know already? Despite the argument last season with his parents about his acceptance into that prestigious boarding school, and Philip’s initial unexplained refusal to let him go, it seems like Henry is wearing a jersey from that same school in a promo for this season. And with the three-year time jump, is he about to graduate? The show has worked for a while at bringing him closer to Stan Beeman than to his own parents, and perhaps an internship with the FBI is in Henry’s future. He did tour the place …
STAN BEEMAN, NOAH EMMERICH
Was Stan’s new girlfriend Renee (Laurie Holden, who I will always remember as Andrea from The Walking Dead) a spy or not? That was a question plaguing Philip during the fifth season as he wondered whether his own government was running another operation right under their noses, and I don’t think I spotted her in the season six trailer, so who knows if the relationship lasted? But that relationship was one of the only concrete elements of Stan’s life last season, as he considered leaving the FBI while working with fellow agent Aderholt on turning a Russian woman into a source and seemed conflicted about whether his murdered boss, Gaad, would want revenge against the Soviets.
Will Stan finally get a clue? It looks like he may be teary in a shot of this new trailer, so maybe the mission will get even more personal for Stan — and he’ll close in on Elizabeth and Philip once and for all?
OLEG BUROV, COSTA RONIN
The main USSR-set storyline last season followed Oleg, who left his position with the Rezidentura and returned home to Moscow to live with his parents after the death of his brother in the war with Afghanistan. Tasked with investigating corruption in the food supply chain, Oleg visits various supermarkets trying to figure out the chain of bribery and unethical behavior, but keeps running into dead ends and eventually learns that the whole investigation was a waste of time — the KGB isn’t going to do anything about any of it. On a personal level, Oleg also learns more about his parents (that his mother was in a labor camp) and grows slightly closer to his distant father, who is worried that the CIA’s attempts to blackmail Oleg into going rogue on the KGB will mean even more trouble for their family.
Does the end of this story mean a whole new narrative for Oleg? Possibly. The whole food-chain theme in season five, which was tackled in varying ways by Elizabeth and Philip, Oleg, and Martha, demonstrated the incompetence of the USSR and its inability to maintain the simple task of feeding its own people. Where does Oleg go now? Thirstily, I hope wherever it is, he keeps the beard, because Oleg got real hot last season. Sorry I’m not sorry.
MARTHA HANSON, ALISON WRIGHT
Poor Martha. We’ve seen Elizabeth and Philip ruin multiple lives and of course kill people, but I don’t think their damage against anyone is as bad as what happens to poor Martha. She learns that her marriage to Clark was a sham, that Clark isn’t even who he says he is, that she was tricked into deceiving her own government, and dammit, that learning and speaking Russian is hard. Utterly on her own in Moscow, with only fried onions and boiled potatoes to eat (which she buys from one of the supermarkets that Oleg is investigating), the only bright spot of Martha’s new existence is when the Jennings’ former handler Gabriel, returned to the USSR for good, visits her and lets her know that she can adopt a young orphan. With the prospect of having her own daughter to love, Martha smiles for the first time all season. But her appearance is a heart-breaker, a reminder of all the devastation that Philip and Elizabeth have left in their wake — and how their promises, like the one Clark makes to Martha that she’ll be taken care of in Moscow, are quite often profound mistruths. I think last season was the final glimpse we’ll get of Martha, but her story is one that will linger with me the longest.
I really miss the mail robot. That is all.
Will you be watching the season premiere of The Americans tonight? Do you have any particular theories for how this will all end? Meet me in the comments, where I’m lurking! (And we’re covering The Americans with recaps this season, so check back on Thursdays, too.)