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The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 3, "The Midges"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, "The Midges"

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, "The Midges"

Last week, I doubted the sincerity with which Philip (Matthew Rhys) reacted to Gabriel contemplating the possibility of the United States government tampering with the Soviet Union's food supply. Though I still think the overall scene was doing much work for the audience's benefit, Philip's seeming incredulousness was instantly reoriented for me by the look he gives Alexei (Alexander Sokovikov) in the opening scene of this week's episode of The Americans, “The Midges.” The Morozovs and the family of spies pretending to be their friends are bowling when Alexei, as is his wont, begins to rail against the oppressiveness of the life he lived in Russia. It is, of course, in Philip and Elizabeth's (Keri Russell) best interests to feign sympathy for whatever Alexei tells them, but the expression on Philip's face is unmistakably sincere, very much rooted in the horror of remembering that which he can't forget.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 2, "Pests"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 2, "Pests"

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 2, "Pests"

“Relax your shoulders, and follow through,” says Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) to her daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), in tonight's episode of The Americans, as they start their latest self-defense training session. The scene begins and ends with the metronomic sound of Paige's fists taking turns smacking—not too hard but also not too soft—a duct-taped throw pillow. That sound, like the girl's movement, is a canny corollary to Elizabeth's methods as a spy, the perfection with which she must thread needles, and how they're inextricably bound to her methods as a mother. Yes, Paige is frustrated by her parents not wanting her to date Matthew (Danny Flaherty), but when she agrees to continue their training session, one grasps Paige's respect for her mother, for the way she broaches the subject of sex so frankly—which is to say, by pretending that it's something that can actually occur.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 1, "Amber Waves"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 1, "Amber Waves"

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 1, "Amber Waves"

The season-five premiere of The Americans is an insant reminder that the series is an edifice brilliantly constructed of contrasts. “Amber Waves” begins with the setting up of the pieces of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings's (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) latest spy game, as a young cohort, Tuan (Ivan Mok), pretending to be their adopted son ingratiates himself with a Russian-born teen, Pasha Morozov (Zack Gafin), at school. Blaring on the soundtrack is Devo's “That's Good,” anthemically attesting to the ease with which Tuan exploits his own difference to bait Pasha: “Everybody wants a good thing/Everybody ain't it true that/Everybody's looking for the same thing.”

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 13, "Persona Non Grata"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, "Persona Non Grata"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, "Persona Non Grata"

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the sinner's fate is sealed. To be blotted out of the Book of Life, in scripture's cruel parlance, is to be culled from the ranks of the righteous, and it's this eternal exile to which Leonard Cohen turns in his 1974 track “Who by Fire.” The spare, tragic ballad, inspired by Jewish tradition, but attuned to fears of a more modern sort, forms the hardened heart of The Americans's plaintive season finale, rising on the soundtrack as Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) face an expulsion of their own. “Persona Non Grata,” in which Gabriel (Frank Langella) urges his agents to flee the country, forces these unwelcome guests in Cold War America to confront the question that defines the immigrant experience: At what point is the place from whence we came no longer the place we call “home”?

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 12, "A Roy Rogers in Franconia"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 12, "A Roy Rogers in Franconia"

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 12, "A Roy Rogers in Franconia"

Our response to fear is instinctive, automatic, a secretion of hormones that sets in motion the cascade we call “fight or flight.” “It's not logical, it's emotional,” as Paige (Holly Taylor) says of soap operas, bypassing thought to work on the strings of the heart and the sinews of the stomach. In tonight's episode of The Americans, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia,” the sources of fear are specific and conditional, ranging from an immediate threat (an attempted mugging) to a speculative one (a Lhasa outbreak on the Eastern seaboard), but fear itself is the common thread, the experience each character shares.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 11, "Dinner for Seven"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 11, "Dinner for Seven"

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 11, "Dinner for Seven"

Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are no strangers to chance, and The Americans often generates suspense by thrusting them into the chaos created by others: Paige (Holly Taylor) revealing her parents' secret to Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), Martha escaping from the KGB's safe house, Alice (Suzy Jane Hunt) accusing the spies of a hand in her husband's disappearance. But tonight's episode, perhaps because it scuttles narrative fireworks in favor of social cues, seems to press the issue further, raising the question of fate. Is there method in this madness? Is there meaning?

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 10, "Munchkins"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 10, "Munchkins"

Craig Blankenhorn/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 10, "Munchkins"

“This isn't normal!” Paige (Holly Taylor) cried in last season's “Stingers,” urging Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) to reveal the truth. “I've felt it for a long time now, and I thought it was me. I thought I was crazy. But it's not me, it's you!” With tonight's episode, “Munchkins,” The Americans reopens the argument, and it appears that Paige's sense of trust has been shaken loose by the knowledge of her parents' double lives: In accepting the new “normal” of secrets and lies, the daughter of deep-cover agents has become as suspicious as they are, and Pastor Tim's disappearance in Ethiopia forces her to examine her grim intuition once more. “Paige, this is crazy,” Elizabeth bridles, echoing the climactic moment of “Stingers,” but as we've come to learn in the season since, the sanest instinct in the world of The Americans is not faith, but doubt.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 9, "The Day After"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 9, "The Day After"

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 9, "The Day After"

It seems nigh impossible now, but when ABC aired The Day After on November 20, 1983, it attracted more than 100 million viewers—including, in tonight's episode of The Americans, the Jennings family. Imagining the apocalyptic consequences of a nuclear conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, director Nicholas Meyer's TV movie premiered at a moment of near-crisis in the late Cold War, yet FX's sterling drama isn't content simply to suggest the heightened geopolitical stakes. For a series in which the “evil empire,” the Strategic Defense Initiative, The Today Show, and David Copperfield come to the characters via vacuum tubes and radio waves, “The Day After” is also, fittingly enough, a tribute to the power of television: the foremost medium through which we enjoy, or endure, the experience of being alone together.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 8, "The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 8, "The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears"

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 8, "The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears"

Behind the blue curtain, the lady vanishes—Lady Liberty, that is. As David Copperfield explains in the TV special that gives tonight's episode of The Americans its title, the illusion is meant to remind viewers to cherish their rights and freedoms, to appreciate the opportunities of which their immigrant ancestors dreamed. It is, as Elizabeth (Keri Russell) might say, “very American”: a manipulation, an elaborate trick, mistaking the profit motive for much higher ideals. In “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears,” after all, another lady vanishes, and in her wake what might have seemed like liberty turns out to be a prison, one of the characters' own design.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 7, "Travel Agents"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 7, "Travel Agents"

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 7, "Travel Agents"

Tonight's episode of The Americans comes to a head as Elizabeth (Keri Russell) knocks the wind out of Martha (Alison Wright), the latter's insistent protests supplanted by staccato gasps. In the show's arc this season, “Travel Agents” performs much the same function: A sharp exhalation, a moment of release, paves the way for a more restrained, if no less formidable, reckoning. One half of the episode is made up of searches, stakeouts, and wiretaps; the other, of questions, confessions, and tangled sympathies. It is, in short, a cleverly constructed hybrid, resolving the tension of the previous three episodes only to unleash a torrent of emotion. It's as if the body blow Elizabeth delivers is the last crack in the dam, and the characters are left waiting downriver for the terrible flood to arrive.