There are spoilers for the season premiere of ‘The Americans’ below.
FX’s The Americans kicks off its sixth and final season in the fall of 1987 with a montage set to Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and by the end of the episode, it’s hard to know to what the song is referring: The Jenning’s marriage, the Soviet Union, the career of Stan Beeman, the life of … well, we’ll get to that, or the show itself. After six seasons, one of the most meticulously plotted, intelligently written, and brilliantly acted series on television embarks on its final chapter.
In the Soviet Union, glasnost and perestroika is in the air. The end of the Cold War is but four years away, and more pressing for this season of The Americans, the action is set about halfway in between Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in June of 1987 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in December. The treaty itself was a major symbolic victory between the former Soviet Union and the United States, signaling the arrival of diplomacy between the two countries. Everything in this opening episode, at least, suggest that the signing of the INF Treaty is the endpoint for The Americans (ironically, 30 years later, the INF treaty has begun to unravel under Donald Trump).
In the former Soviet Union, two factions have arisen around the INF Treaty: Those who back Gorbachev and his more liberal policies and friendlier approach to America, and the hardliners who oppose not only him, but diplomacy with the United States, which they feel is trying to hoodwink the Soviet Union into giving up its nuclear arsenal without reciprocating.
As it turns out, a similar divide has opened up within the Jennings household. Philip Jennings, on the advice of his wife, Elizabeth, has quit the spy business and turned his travel-agency cover into his real-world job. He’s living it up as an American, attending his EST meetings, square-dancing in bars, and cheerleading his son Henry, who has become a high-school hockey star.
Meanwhile, not only is Elizabeth still heavily involved in the spy business, she’s brought their daughter, Paige, into it as well. Paige has taken to it — in fact, it has bonded her with her mother and Margo Martindale’s Claudia — although Paige is still a little green and a mistake out in the field costs a security guard his life (Elizabeth murders him, coldly and efficiently, per uze). While Philip looks well-rested and stress-free, espionage has continued to take its toll on Elizabeth.
However, the marital divide comes when our old friend Oleg Burov returns to America on the orders of Arkady Ivanovich. Oleg had also left the spy game, but Arkady brings him back in for one (probably) final mission: In order to support Gorbachev, Oleg is tasked with bringing Philip back into the game to prevent the hardliners from disrupting the INF Treaty.
Guess who is on the side of the hardliners? Did you guess Elizabeth and Claudia?
Indeed, it looks like the final season sees The Americans go Cold War Mr. and Mrs. Smith, pitting a reluctant Philip against a weary Elizabeth. Paige will play the family pinball and, I expect, Henry will play collateral damage. I mean, obviously I don’t know what’s going to happen this season, but if I were composing a portrait of an intimate family of spies struggling against the backdrop of a Cold War, I’d find a way to bring them back together, to unite them against a common enemy. I’d sacrifice the hockey-player son for the greater good of the family, and you know what? If I’m showrunners Joseph Weisberg and Joel Fields, Henry wouldn’t die at the hands of either the Gorbachev people or the hardliners. He’d be killed by the American intelligence community, uniting both sides of the Soviet divide and highlighting the aggressiveness and brutality of the CIA.
Maybe that happens, maybe it doesn’t, but for the next few episodes, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy watching Elizabeth reduce Philip to nothing with a withering stare and a cutting line about how Philip talks too much, because it’s the small moments that mean the most in the phenomenal The Americans.