Nothing Stays Buried in ‘The Americans’ Season Five Premiere

“The Americans,” an FX original series that details the exploits of two KGB deep cover agents living in the nation’s capital during the height of the Cold War, might just be the most important show on television right now. At a time when reputable newspapers are inching ever closer to proving that the current president owes some sort of allegiance to Russia’s current KGB agent-cum-president-cum-dictator Vladimir Putin, the account of Soviet spies living in a D.C. neighborhood becomes rife with political tension.

In that light, what a season it promises to be. Season Five rejoins our protagonists at a crucial moment in their time as spies: Their major operation of the previous season—ferrying dangerous biological threats from a fellow Soviet embedded in the U.S. biological weapons research program back to the U.S.S.R. for study—has failed in spectacular fashion. Their man on the inside, William (Dylan Baker), infects himself with a deadly virus to avoid being interrogated and dies in quarantine. With their contact discovered, the couple faced a difficult question at the end of Season Four: Is it time to return to Russia?

The first episode of season five offers a clear response: Hell no. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings continue their work in D.C. The couple spends the premiere ingratiating themselves to a Soviet defector working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There’s also considerable drama in their home, as daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) struggles with the knowledge that her parents aren’t the American travel agents they’ve always said they are, while navigating a new relationship with the son of neighbor—and ranking F.B.I. agent—Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich).

The first four seasons have been some of the best television on air over the last few years; despite a strangely directed fourth season finale, the sheer quality of acting and production value poured into the show has resulted in a truly special product. That said, episode one of this newest season fell victim to one of the show’s few flaws: It’s slow. The last five or so minutes of the show are comprised of an almost dialogue-free sequence of the Jennings and their fellow undercover agents digging a hole behind the facility William worked at. The payoff is interesting enough that I won’t spoil it here, but the sense of mystery when they start digging quickly fades to annoyance once it becomes clear that they don’t plan to tell us what’s going on.

Joe Weisberg, former C.I.A. officer and creator/producer of “The Americans,” has earned my trust with four mostly incredible seasons of television. It must be said, however, that this was not the triumphant return to the small screen that could be hoped for, perhaps even expected, from the show. It almost feels like the episode belongs somewhere in the middle of the season, where its contemplative slowness might have served as a welcome return to methodical spying after a series of high-intensity, action-packed sequences. But, of course, it’s not; it’s the premiere of the second to last season in the show, and I hate to say it, but it might be the slowest premiere the show’s had yet. I fully expect the show to pick up again, just as it’s done in the past—all the seeds are there, laid by the previous seasons and primed to grow after the premiere.

—Crimson Staff Writer Noah F. Houghton can be reached at noah.houghton@thecrimson.com.

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