Riding in from a wave of new found popularity as far as Emmy, Golden Globe and other nominations are concerned, The Americans has returned for its penultimate season and it is off to a great start. Starting with the opening twist and ending with a cruel bit of misfortune, the slow-burn espionage series continues to fire on all cylinders, as “Amber Waves” throws us right back into the thick of the Jennings professional life, which bleeds heavily into their personal lives. It allows for a continual look at how their actions affect all around them, complete with new wigs, identities and some Devo for good measure.
Choosing “That’s Good” is actually pretty perfect for the start of this season. Things are good. Sure, there is still some protectiveness around Paige, as she’s dealing with both forbidden love with the neighbor boy next door and holding onto her parents’ secret, but the Jennings are in a good place. But we’ll get back to Paige in a bit; let’s focus on just how good that opening was.
The Americans is so adept at mixing its sense of style with understated moments that the cold open truly delivers on its misdirect. Showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joe Fields clearly wanted to put viewers to work write away in trying to get a sense for what’s happening. Starting with a move from fake Paige to Tuan and Pascha and ending this whole sequence of events with a clever reveal of Philip and Elizabeth as the Eckerts, a pilot and a flight attendant, it was all great fun. The show’s play on deception has found ways to manipulate the audience before, but this was a clever trick that really made you wonder.
Following the ending of season 4, where Philip scolds Paige for her feelings for Matthew Beeman, there was a lingering thought of possible drastic changes that could have occurred in the break between seasons. Once Paige is finally spotted in this week’s episode, things began to settle, but having a familiar status quo doesn’t take away from what we learn. While still living their lives as the Jennings, this pseudo second family is settling in as well. Tuan is their “adopted son” and his friendship with the son of Soviet defectors is working as another setup.
Meanwhile, back in D.C., Paige is spending plenty of nights not eating vegetables with Stan and reporting on all activities back to her parents. This also means continuing to raise concerns about her relationship with Matthew, which is nothing compared to not being able to sleep on account of not being able to un-see some brutal takedowns by Elizabeth. Paige has been a fascinating younger character to watch in an age where children characters on well-regarded dramas can be hit or miss. Having the knowledge of who her parents really are was always going to be a difficult challenge to contend with, but will self-defense training be a true start to truly winning over the conflicted teenage Jennings?
In the midst of questioning Paige’s loyalty, it is always interesting to see the interactions with good ol’ Stan Beeman. The Jennings have such a good relationship with Stan that one could question just how genuine it is. Given the cold-as-ice death at the end of this episode, I wouldn’t doubt the same solution being delivered to their neighbor if the situation called for it, but one can’t look past the level of familiarity these two families have with each other at this point. With a finite number of episodes left in this series, season 5 did not exactly set up a final showdown, but we do know Stan is great at his job when he’s truly active.
As always, the family may be the key focus for this series, but it also knows how to deliver on cool and procedural spy missions when necessary. This gives us the opportunity to bring Frank Langella back on the scene as Gabriel for a few minutes, as he lays out a new mission. It also means tying up the loose end that was Dylan Baker’s William. By the end of last season, William was done for, but he apparently left something for the Jennings to dig up. Little did we know just how fitting William’s final recovery was.
The near-wordless ending of “Amber Waves” was a perfect example of just how well-crafted and assured The Americans is. Other shows (and practically all films) would not put so much emphasis on seeing a group of people dig a hole in the dark. This show really lets the event take its toll, as we let the mystery of what is going on sink into our minds. It also allows for a brief reminder that Elizabeth is not always so cold, as she shares a canteen with Hans. Moments later though, things take a dark turn.
By the end of this episode, we see William’s deceased corpse being cut into for the sake of getting a sample of the bioweapon that was such a big part of last season. An accident means adding a second body into this hole. In an episode that shows just how warm Elizabeth can be to those who see things in a similar vein as her, we are also quickly reminded of how cold she can be when it comes to serving the greater good.
Shot with a fine handle on creating a level of suspense simply by taking certain angles, “Amber Waves” falls right in line with how the series best handles a universe where nothing is what it seems. We are back with these characters and their art of deception continues to serve them well. It also means getting to see just how much ease comes with having a happy home that supports an efficient time spent on the job. That of course means secrets, spying and murder, but not every job is supposed to be glamorous. “The Americans” is back and the Jennings are still great at what they do.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Oleg is also featured heavily this week. He has a new criminal investigation assignment in Moscow. Given how a subplot set in Russia worked out last season, I can only hope Oleg has more luck. #PoorNina
- Philip’s son Mischa is also making his way across the country. I wonder how that will work out.
- Based on the mention of the Olympics and some other details, we are now seeing February, 1984.
- “He’s a hero.” – That reference to William and the line reading in general has all kinds of layers to appreciate.
- Stan’s Supper: Pizza and Fettuccini Alfredo
- Henry Watch: The youngest Jennings was spotted entering Stan’s home for dinner and appears to have gotten taller since we last saw him.
- It is great to be writing about The Americans again. Truth be told, given my schedule and a lack of screener availability, I’ll be doing my best to keep up with these write-ups, but apologies if it becomes too much.