Spoilers ahead for the season.
This is the penultimate season of "The Americans," and it's definitely a slow burner. Some in the media have been wringing their hands that they show is treading water, that it's lost a step because so much time is devoted to set-up for the impending finale. Nothing particularly big or exciting happens this year, but there's still plenty of good character work, and a couple of major problems have been addressed. I expect that bingeing the season once it was over was the right way to watch this, since it was easier to appreciate the cumulative effect of the slower storylines.
I suspect a lot of the dissatisfaction comes from the fact that there are so many anticlimactic storylines and dead ends this year. Paige and Matthew's relationship falls apart quickly. Philip's son Mischa (Alex Ozerov) makes several appearances trying to find his father, only to be intercepted and sent home. He's been nicely established as a sympathetic character, but did we need to spend so much time with him? Or what about Oleg Burov, who takes on a new role investigating food suppliers for the KGB? His family dynamics are fascinating, but giving him such a big part of the season felt way too indulgent. Stan and Aderholt's attempts to recruit a new source, Sofia (Darya Ekamasova), could have used more attention.
However, it was nice to get updates on Martha, Kimmy, and Pastor Tim, while Paige and Henry's storylines are definitely progressing. Henry had his best season yet, and it was clever that the show worked the writers' tendency to overlook Henry into the actual plot. Keidrich Sellati actually had a fair amount to do this year, and it all played fine. Uncoupling him from Stan Beeman, however, removed a sorely needed source of tension for the Jennings. Whether new girlfriend Renee (Laurie Holden) is really a spy just isn't as worrisome as Stan becoming Henry's father figure. Paige finally getting to put the Pastor Tim problem to rest was very satisfying arc, though, and I love that she's become the show's biggest ticking time bomb.
As for Philip and Elizabeth, I thought that their season arcs were pretty strong, aside from the plan to return to Russia with the kids in the last two episodes. Frankly, I never bought that it was a real possibility and the show didn't sell it well. More interesting were the two major operations going on this year, the agricultural research assignment that shows the Jennings growing tired of trying to maintain more fake relationships, and their steady disillusionment with manipulating the lives of the Morozova family, where they go undercover as the parents of a teen operative from another agency. Tuan (Ivan Mok) is one of the show's most fascinating characters to date, and he was a big reason why I thought the Morozova plot was the most successful one this year.
Others have pointed out that the larger problem with this year was that the various plotlines didn't intersect much the way that they did in the past. At this point there's almost no feeling of danger that the Beemans will stumble on the activities of the Jennings, even after Henry visits Stan's office. Oleg's work with the Russian food chain ties to the agricultural mission slightly, but the connections are tenuous, and both stories are largely dropped in the second half of the season. Gabriel is the only character who provides any kind of linkage, and he's retired from all the exciting stuff.
This run of episodes does a fantastic job of table-setting, though, wrapping up loose ends and maneuvering everyone into the right state of existential funk where season six can set off some real fireworks. The Cold War's not quite done yet, but all the characters know they're on the losing side. And I do want to see how this all ends. I have every expectation that season six will be worth getting through season five for. I just find it a shame that the "Americans" creators couldn't find more ways to add more excitement this year. I mean, deeply introspective adult dramas are all well and good, but "The Americans" has never quite been that kind of show.