FX's drama is still one of the finest experiences on television
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Joel Fields, Joe Weisberg, Chris Long, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Brandon J. Dirden

At this point, you’ve surely already encountered plenty of reviews, year-end best lists, and TV-nerd friends who all swear The Americans — now entering its fifth season — is one of the finest experiences on television. Well, after watching the first three episodes of the new season, I’m here to tell you that it’s still true.

But if for some reason you’re still not convinced of the show’s greatness, I’m just going to list some of the cool stuff that happens this season. In one episode, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings, the sexy Russian married spies at the center of this espionage drama, pretend to be cowboys, sneak into an insect lab, and kill a man to the tune of Roxy Music’s “More Than This.” Elsewhere, they dress up as pilots, flight attendants, and racquetball players. In the premiere, the couple spend nearly 10 entire minutes of television time simply digging a hole — which, okay, might sound boring at first, but just wait until you see what happens when they’re done digging.

THE AMERICANS -- "Amber Waves"
Credit: CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

I’ve probably already said too much, but consider this: If there was ever a time to start watching a show about Russian spies undermining American interests, wouldn’t it be now? The current-events factor is hard to deny — there’s even a healthy dose of intelligence community intrigue. In one of this season’s most compelling storylines, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) furtively works in opposition to the agency in order to help a Soviet spy whom he’s come to consider a friend. (Beeman, it should be noted, also finds himself in a new romantic relationship with a woman who may or may not be one of Philip and Elizabeth’s spies. My hunch is that she is.)

More fascinating, though, is watching each character’s confidence in their respective home country chip away slowly but surely. Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin), the Soviet spy Beeman seeks to protect, is forced to confront the harsh conditions his countrymen must endure — a stark awakening after having spent so much time in the U.S. Back in the States, Beeman suffers a similar crisis about what his country’s values really are. Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth get assigned to “befriend” a Russian defector who can hardly finish a paragraph without disparaging Soviet Russia. Bad food! Long lines! No fun! Over time, his complaints wear on the Jennings in different ways, even as they both acknowledge there’s some truth to what he’s saying. “Every country has its problems,” Elizabeth notes defensively. Judging by the look in his eyes, Philip has a different perspective.

This is the home stretch for The Americans — the next season will be its last. Will all these furrowed brows eventually turn into full-fledged crises of conscience for the spies, turning them into traitors? Or will things climax in a more straightforward fashion, with Beeman and his FBI facing off directly with the Jennings? The answer, as with all things on The Americans, will probably be a complex, messy, unexpected, and engrossing third option. A-

The Americans returns for season 5 on Tuesday, March 7 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

Episode Recaps

Joel Fields, Joe Weisberg, Chris Long, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Brandon J. Dirden
The Americans
FX’s period drama—starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys—explores the the Cold War 1980s through the professional and personal lives of the Jennings family.
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