Set during the Cold War in the 1980s, The Americans is a show about two Russian spies who have been living as Americans in Washington DC since the 1960s. Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in lead roles, The Americans is a spy thriller that holds your attention from the pilot episode and forces you to binge-watch through its six seasons.
What is the show all about?
The Americans opens with a mission gone wrong by the hands of Russian spies who have established a cover for themselves as an American family with two kids. Things change as an FBI agent moves in next door and they now have to constantly keep their guard up.
With the Cold War setting, their job requires them to disguise themselves and find ways to get intelligence back to Moscow. They are required to infiltrate high-security areas, con people with information, steal technology, and also murder when their people expect them to do so. Since the show is set in the 1980s, we see a lot of old school spy methods like coded messages and surveillance that would allow them to stay hidden in plain sight.
Matthew Rhys’ Philip and Keri Russell’s Elizabeth are Russians who were arranged to live together in the US like a family. Along with these two, the show also stars Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman.
Creator Joe Weisberg was inspired by the Illegals program that was exposed by the FBI in 2010 and decided to set it in the 80s at the height of the Cold War.
Best bits of The Americans
The Americans had a fantastic run through most of its seasons. The Season 1 track of Nina Krilova as she turns into a double agent was exactly the kind of stuff that we had expected out of a spy show and The Americans delivered.
Philip and Elizabeth’s storyline with their daughter Paige was further developed in subsequent seasons which saw her trying to fit in with her new surroundings. Her involvement with the church as well as her struggle to accept her parents’ truth started to get repetitive after a while, but it was the kind of threat that maintained high tension.
The bio-weapons program that forced Philip to reflect on his actions and the track following Dylan Baker’s William Crandall provided an engaging storyline where the viewers, as well as the characters, were clueless about the next move. It was here that Oleg Burov’s character managed to shine the most.
While the show had many interesting tracks, the one that stood out was the one with Martha. Her story is a slow burn at the start, but as the show progresses, her storyline evolves wonderfully. Her reaction after she learns the truth of her husband and her subsequent exfiltration from the US was the culmination of probably the best track on the show. Alison Wright gave it all as Martha and watching her in glimpses in Moscow in later seasons made you miss her character even more.
What does not work for The Americans?
While most tracks managed to pan out in an engaging way, it was the fifth season of the show that disappointed the viewers. Unlike the previous seasons, the looming threat of poisonous grains was resolved quickly, and the subplot involving Mischa and Irina’s son was not the stuff that the audience expected out of The Americans. Moving Oleg to Moscow was no help either.
Since the show had a reputation for being fast-paced, this season felt odd and disrupted the overall pace of the show. In hindsight, it was here that Philip’s character actually started to transform and without his arc here, the final season would have made no sense whatsoever.
The impressive finale
Not all successful shows can pull off a convincing finale, but The Americans managed to do so and how. Halfway through the episode, the sense of mystery holds you and the character development that you have witnessed in the past few seasons actually pays off.
The Philip-Elizabeth vs Stan dynamic was always going to be the big conflict of the show and while you are taken aback by the hastiness of it, it also feels like something that was in the works for six seasons.
Through its run, The Americans was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards and won 4 awards. For the first three seasons, neither Matthew nor Keri were nominated for their roles, and this was considered as a major snub by the Emmys. They received nominations for the subsequent seasons with Matthew winning an award in the show’s last season.
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The Americans is streaming on Hotstar.