Why The Americans' Keri Russell deserves a Golden Globe
We live through history unaware of history, carried ever forward through transformative moments we will only recognize in hindsight. Yet there are rare occasions, in rare lives, when human beings get the chance to knowingly alter the course of human events. Consider, say, the beginning of the sixth season of The Americans, when the undercover KGB agent known as Elizabeth Jennings embarks on a rendezvous with global destiny. She’s given a toppest-of-top-secret mission, a late-stage Cold War bit of subterfuge that reaches toward the highest levels of Soviet-American relations. It’s a complicated mission, and the final season of FX’s spy drama kept sharpening its focus on Elizabeth, played with subtlety and rage and existential weariness and so much more by Keri Russell.
And now history is calling to the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the voting body behind the Golden Globe awards. There is a profound wrong that must be righted, you see, a collective sin of our species that requires penance. Even though Russell spent six seasons of The Americans soul crunching Elizabeth’s morally ambiguous journey — even as she juggled wigs between espionage characters, sometimes resulting in two or three great separate performances per episode — she’s never won a major award for her work on the show.
Oh, she was recognized, sure. She won this year’s Television Critics Association award for Individual Achievement in a Drama, and critics always know best. And the Emmys nominated her thrice. In fact, this year the Emmys loaded up a few cannons full of trophies and fired a fusillade at everyone on The Americans except for anyone named “Keri Russell.” Showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg took the stage for a writing win. Russell’s costar/real-life partner Matthew Rhys landed Best Actor in a Drama.
Fun enough for Americans fans, but the lack of a win for Russell left you feeling like some cosmic entity had missed an important point. The briefest cutaway to Russell during Rhys’ speech became the great couple-second clip of the night. Russell’s mini-performance here sums my general feeling about Emmys night and, indeed, most of the world events in this epoch 2018. It’s like Russell brought the Shruggy Guy emoticon to life and then turned the part into Modern Hamlet:
Because you have to understand the final season of The Americans simply belonged to Russell. Elizabeth went on a murder spree. She engaged in a fearsome psychodrama with her daughter Paige (Holly Taylor). She worked herself to the bone running KGB cons, and Russell successfully conveyed Elizabeth’s palpable career-soldier exhaustion. She received certain telltale protagonistic affectations, an Origin Story flashback, a climactic ambigu-weird dream sequence. Any single closeup on Russell’s face in the final run of episodes was a fireworks display of emotion. I had issues with the final season of The Americans, but its unparalleled achievement as a Keri Russell Delivery System dustbins a lot of those problems.
Perhaps we can take those other Emmy wins as a proxy victory, for she was the rising tide lifting all the boats. But justice demands more, more I say. The Golden Globe nominations will be announced on Dec. 6, and the ceremony will air on NBC on Jan. 6. That means the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has two months to change history for the better. There are reasons to be anxious, sure. This decade, the TV Drama prize for Best Actress has tended to go to a performer in a brand-new series — most recently to Taraji P. Henson, Claire Foy, and Elizabeth Moss in the first seasons of Empire, The Crown, and The Handmaid’s Tale, respectively. In that time, Russell was only ever nominated once, for The Americans‘ fourth season.
But, also consider, Russell actually won a Best TV Drama Actress Golden Globe before — precisely 20 years ago, in fact, when Felicity was new and the world was young. Surely the starry-eyed HFPA can’t underrate the internet-breaking quality of Russell winning in the category where she started her awardsy career. I’m already laughing! I’m already crying! For six seasons on The Americans, Russell was one of the great wonders of television. Her work in the final episodes was heartbreaking, traumatizing, sometimes funny, sometimes withering, even just a tiny bit hopeful if you accepted that the happiest possible ending would still be demolishingly sad. Cut to Elizabeth, saying a final secret farewell to her blissfully unaware son. Cut to Elizabeth, covered in somebody else’s brains, demanding that her daughter run far away. Cut to Elizabeth, on a train to her future, looking out the window as her past disappears forever. Come on, Golden Globes! Fix what the rest of awards-giving society has broken!