The Americans Season 5, Episode 1

THE AMERICANS — “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow” Episode 403 (Airs, Wednesday, March 30, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: (l-r) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX

After the war, my mother always said she wasn’t hungry. I knew, but I ate everything. She was so thin. – Elizabeth Jennings

SEASON 5, EPISODE 1: AMBER WAVES

Yes, we can exhale, as television’s best regular serialized drama is back. The Americans is the most emotionally affecting, powerful, patient show anywhere, and it has perfected its craft in a world filled with breakneck speed and series’ fizzling out in constant attempts to up the proverbial ante.

For Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, it’s always been about the slow burn. Never in a hurry, able to draw suspense from long sequences and even with occasionally glacial pacing, The Americans is, quite simply, one of the finest dramas I’ve ever seen. It has improved with each season, and started with a relatively high bar in Season 1. We now have an end date for the show, which means the writers can begin working towards the finish line. The problem of never knowing when a series will be axed by a network doesn’t exist in this world. Thus, they can tell the story they choose to, and as we return to Washington D.C. for the 2017 opener, none of what I’ve just said has changed.

It’s not on rails, it’s not interested in constant left turns at high speeds to win jugs of milk or ice cold beer, and its story unfolds at a unique rate. Expertly directed by Chris Long, last night’s final scene was another indicator of just this sort of confidence from the writers. How many shows would have the guts to stick with the William Crandall exhumation for multiple minutes? How many would do it with nary a word from any character on screen, and simply with a monotonous, eerie piece of music underneath? How many wouldn’t cut from the scene repeatedly, moving to show other characters in other places doing other things?

The answer is none, especially now that Rectify has taken its final bow.

Within that final ten minutes or so, The Americans showed us a covert operation from start to finish. Obviously there wasn’t time to show ALL the digging, but they still gave us a lot of it. It wasn’t rushed. It all fit within the construct of what that kind of event would entail, and what’s most impressive about the creativity and persistence of those moments is it gave us a sense of how tedious that job actually was. It wasn’t the most exciting piece of television, but it wasn’t supposed to be. I guarantee many of you kept looking around to see who was going to walk by, or potentially stumble onto the dig site. I say that because I know I did. I’m trained to expect the craziness, and that’s why I adore this show so much. It thwarts every expectation I’m prone to jump to watching television.

This is The Americans. This isn’t a television show that does what television usually is known to do. It’s entirely consistent with what Weisberg and Fields have provided us over the past six seasons that nothing happened until the final minute, and that arose from a pure accident. It was a thing of beauty, an absolute work of art.

But what else is new? This is what this show is. It’s a masterpiece. I use that descriptor often when talking about this show, because it’s just such a rich and gorgeous word. It’s the only way I can adequately convey my affinity for this series and the risks it’s always taken by NOT pushing the envelope until the right moment. We remember almost all the biggest things from The Americans (the suitcase, the cabin, Martha’s escape) because they’re all given to us after an exquisite, detailed build. By the time they arrive, not only are we ready for them, we’ve mentally prepared ourselves to handle the dread of it all.

All of these points bring us to the doorstep of Season 5, which begins in true 1980s fashion, with Devo’s “That’s Good,” an upbeat ditty that features the lines “Everybody wants a good thing” and also this, which is even more fitting for the episode.

Ain’t it true there’s room for doubt
Maybe some things that you can do without
And that’s good

“Amber Waves” used the backdrop and history of well-documented Russian food shortages to tell a larger story about the differences between the two cultures featured in the show, but also to sell the lesson that only the strong will survive in the end. The claim is backed up as Elizabeth teaches a timid Paige how to defend herself, telling her she can never be afraid to strike or be struck, that she has to make people believe she’s willing to go where they won’t in order to win, and to protect what she cares about. Do I think Paige Jennings is going to turn into Laila Ali? No. But maybe Holly Taylor is ropy and we just don’t know it yet.

Stan Beeman is a lonely man coming off a marriage to an insanely hot wife. As she exited the marriage, she didn’t just leave the house, she left the century, as the last time we saw Susan Misner, she was sleeping with Bryan Connerty on Billions and working with Chuck Rhoades to take down Bobby Axelrod. She’s still around, but we didn’t lay eyes on her this week. For Beeman, he’s also lost multiple friends to death or deportation, he lost his secretary, he lost his partner, he lost the supervisor he respected to a vacation murder, and he’s romantically lonely. Listening to him talk to Philip about “meeting someone,” via handing a purple leotard-clad woman a cup of water at the gym, was sad.

This poor guy. He’s bringing sixers of High Life to the neighbors’ house, he might be creepily eyeballing a nameless hottie on the stationary bike, and at work, he’s now worried Oleg Burov’s departure back to Moscow might lead the wrong people to discover his connection to William Crandall. But hey, he makes a mean fettuccine alfredo. Just don’t ask him to boil any vegetables alongside the main course.

He’s also thrilled his son is ‘shipping with Paige, maybe because then his frequent “Hey, is it a bad time” door knocks become more acceptable, but mainly because he likes to see Matthew happy at home. Philip and Elizabeth are the exact opposite, and though mom hasn’t had the sit down with her daughter yet, we all see it coming. It’s going to go oh so poorly when it does happen, and in some respects, it’s interesting that they’re so against it, because it puts her in a great position to spy on Stan.

Tuan Eckert (Ivan Mok) is one cold blooded little loyalist, isn’t he? Dude has befriended poor Pasha Morozov (Zack Gafin) at school, using the difficulty in learning the language to break down barriers, but all to get to the parents. Pasha’s father is not long for this world. Tuan came right out and said he can’t believe the Russians let him get out of the country, and his negativity about his homeland means he should have a bullet in his skull. Damn. I’m half-expecting to see him garrote the old man himself after a tutoring session, some Atari, and a bowl of borscht.

Another guy that can’t catch a break is Oleg. He lost both the women in his life, and now he’s back with the third, his mother, and is working as a criminal investigator in the KGB. What’s his first task? Well, thanks to Andropov and Chernenko’s renewed belief that food trade corruption is a major issue in the area, he’s looking into his father’s powerful friends. People that have dined at Oleg’s family table are now under his purview as potential suspects, meaning he has the responsibility to damn them to Siberia or a guillotine.

Finally, there’s Mischa Semenov (Alex Overov). What are you doing, son? You seem to be attempting to covertly enter the United States to track down your father, who happens to have two American kids, and a fake child who wants to kill traitors as if it’s just another round of Space Invaders. You know none of this, but it’s going to suck when you find all this out. Philip doesn’t have time for you right now, he’s barely keeping it together, and boy is that going to be an awkward moment. I’m sure it will be emotionally gripping and hard to watch, because Philip has no idea what’s coming for him, and Matthew Rhys will hopefully finally win an Emmy for his reactions in that scene.

Or, because this is The Americans, maybe Mischa’s plane crashes somewhere over the Atlantic.

We’re barely even out of the blocks and I’m already interested in where numerous people are headed, both physically and as part of the story. The magic of The Americans is in its ability to make you care about everyone, but somehow still root for the villains. I didn’t even mention Gabriel and Claudia, as they shared a peaceful walk in the park while discussing Elizabeth and Philip. If anything represents the entirety of this show, it’s these two lines:

Claudia: Nothing scares those two.
Gabriel: Everything scares those two.

Finally, there’s the knee-slapper in Lubyanka as the colonel tells Oleg the HILARIOUS joke, poking fun at how long Russia has been without adequate food for its people. Uproarious I tell you. Two drink minimum level stuff. Oleg chuckled. He might have been killed if he hadn’t.

I’m @JMartOutkick. You can assume I’m a KGB officer first. 

Written by Jason Martin