Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"The Americans" Year Four

Spoilers ahead for the entire series.

After the bombshell that was dropped at the very end of the third season, I expected that the fourth season would begin with the Jennings family finally having to definitely deal with Pastor Tim. However, that's not how this show works. Instead, Pastor Tim becomes yet another precarious Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, another secretive relationship that needs to be carefully maintained. Eventually the sword will fall and someone is going to be severely damaged by the fallout - probably Tim and anyone close to him - but not yet.

Several other swords did fall this year, or are in the process of falling. I've come to appreciate that "The Americans" doesn't wait until final few episodes of the season to strike major blows. The finale was actually rather quiet and anticlimactic this year for the Jennings, but everyone else saw massive changes. I was completely caught off guard by Nina's quick execution in the fourth episode. And then there was the quick dispatching of Lisa in the eighth episode and Agent Gaad in the tenth. Martha's exfiltration was probably the best of all possible outcomes for her, but it all felt so cruel, and clearly took a massive toll on Philip. In the end, five major cast members have been dispatched in one form or another, and there are new faces at both the FBI and the Rezidentura calling the shots. And worse is surely coming.

I wasn't a fan of the EST storyline last year, but as Philip continues to try and grapple with his emotional health, it's been a great catalyst. Everything with Matthew Rhys and Alison Wright during the exfiltration storyline was great, as Philip and Martha brought their relationship to a bitter end. It's heartbreaking to watch Martha's world crumble, and to watch Philip try and fail to keep any semblance of control over the situation. Elizabeth had a much more satisfying arc this season too , becoming friends with a Korean woman named Young Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles) in order to get to her husband Don (Ron Young). And like Philip, she also resists having to torpedo the relationship, and deeply harming her targets in the process. She bargains, she evades, and ultimately she does exactly what she's supposed to, while the audience cringes. We don't see the repercussions, but we know they're coming. Even with Gabriel's attempts at diffusing the tensions in the household, and offers of escape, there's no getting away from the storm we know is coming.

With four seasons done and two to go, "The Americans" is clearly moving towards its endgame, which I'm happily anticipating. Nowhere is this clearer than with Paige, who has inched a few steps closer to complicity in her parents' work, charged with keeping tabs on Pastor Tim and his wife Alice (Suzy Jane Hunt). At first I thought that Henry and Stan hanging out together was going to be a problem for the rest of the Jennings in and of itself. I didn't see the Paige and Matthew (Daniel Flaherty) connection coming, but it makes sense. The last thing Philip and Elizabeth need is for Paige to get herself into another emotionally charged relationship that she's going to have to manage, the way they manage their agents, and will probably end in tears, if not bloodshed.

As always, "The Americans" boasts great work from a big ensemble. Richard Thomas had his best year, giving Agent Gaad some real poignancy as he faces the end of his career. Frank Langella is pressed to do much more, wrangling Martha and falling victim to the nasty bioweapons smuggled out by Dylan Baker's new spy character William Crandall. Baker is excellent, painting a portrait of a career spy who gets the short end of the stick over and over again. Noah Emmerich remains in a difficult position, as Stan has little to do this year beyond being an easy antagonist, but he still delivered a lot of great little moments - explaining his reasons for stopping the meetings with Burov, and unable to hide his glee when he catches Paige and Matthew.

For next season, I'm looking forward to more Young Hee and more of Paige and Matthew canoodling. Not sure what to think of Mischa yet, and I wonder if, with so many characters in the USSR or on the brink of going there, we might be due for a change of scenery soon.


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