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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 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 5, "Clark’s Place"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 5, "Clark’s Place"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 5, "Clark’s Place"

The song that concludes tonight's blistering episode of The Americans is “Under Pressure,” but the force at work in “Clark's Place” might be more aptly described as separation anxiety. Even Elizabeth (Keri Russell), relating her fictional tale of a troubled upbringing to Young Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles), draws on this organizing principle, discussing a mother's abandonment and a father's depression: It's as if the growing gulfs and unbridgeable distances that the episode depicts are an atmospheric condition, blowing in with the cloud of suspicion that now hangs over Martha (Alison Wright). And while the pressure described in Queen and David Bowie's 1981 hit eventually pushes Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth into each other's arms, the episode's overall effect is to suggest an unraveling. “Sat on a fence, but it don't work,” the lyrics warn, as The Americans's many compromises and détentes seem poised to crumble. “Keep coming up with love, but it's so slashed and torn.”

The Americans Recap Season 3, Episode 13, "March 8, 1983"

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The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, "March 8, 1983"
The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, "March 8, 1983"

On March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan addressed the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida. His remarks ranged widely, touching on the Book of Isaiah and The Screwtape Letters, Alexis de Tocqueville and the Declaration of Independence, but his central subject, as he described it, was the knowledge “that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin.” Though it was his invocation of the Soviet Union's “evil empire” that made waves, as we see in a nightly news segment at the end of tonight's episode of The Americans, it's Reagan's decision to cast Cold War politics in such stark terms, both secular and religious, that underlines the moral compromises on which the series has focused throughout its brilliant third season. In “March 8, 1983,” 48 minutes that come as near to perfection as television can, it turns out that the phenomenology of evil and the doctrine of sin are inadequate hermeneutics for the dark night of the soul.

The Americans Recap Season 3, Episode 12, "I Am Abassin Zadran"

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The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, "I Am Abassin Zadran"
The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, "I Am Abassin Zadran"

After weeks of preparations, including a tap on the hotel switchboard, tonight's episode of The Americans witnesses Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) intercept one of the three mujahedeen commanders brought to the United States to discuss the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Posing as CIA officers, Philip and Elizabeth propose that the man (George Georgiou) betray his compatriots to secure a more favorable agreement, but it's the freedom fighter wary of both Soviet and American motives who sets the consequences of the Cold War in starkest relief. “I am Abassin Zadran,” he says, describing his brutal killing of young Soviet soldiers, probably no older than Philip's long lost son. “I am the one who cuts the throats of the communists.”

The Americans Recap Season 3, Episode 8, "Divestment"

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The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, "Divestment"

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, "Divestment"

“Divestment” is an hour chock-full of interrogations. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) examine their latest captives, Eugene Venter (Neil Sandilands), a member of the South African intelligence service, and his naïve stateside asset, Todd (Will Pullen); the FBI's Walter Taffet (Jefferson Mays) grills Agent Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden), searching for the bureau's mole; Paige (Holly Taylor) pries into her mother's past and Martha (Alison Wright) finally confronts Clark. But the most troubling exchange in an episode run through with caustic conversations is the one Martha has with herself. As she brings the news of Taffet's investigation to her absentee husband, her questions turn inward: “What have I done?” she asks, erupting into sobs. “Is any of this true?” “Revelation” derives from the Latin for “lay bare,” and indeed, “Divestment,” though named for the strategy of anti-apartheid activists, suggests another form of dispossession too. Revelation by revelation, The Americans continues to strip each character of what they think they know, until all that's left is bone.

The Americans Recap Season 3, Episode 5, "Salang Pass"

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The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 5, "Salang Pass"

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 5, "Salang Pass"

“You have a conscience, Philip,” Gabriel (Frank Langella) says during an exchange of Afghan weed and wary glances in tonight's episode of The Americans, as Philip (Matthew Rhys) hesitates to take advantage of Kimmy (Julia Garner), the teenage daughter of a high-ranking CIA official. “There's nothing wrong with that,” Gabriel continues. “But conscience can be dangerous.” Releasing the tension of “Open House” and “Dimebag,” “Salang Pass” turns inward, constructed from nostalgic smiles and pangs of guilt. For Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell), conscience is dangerous because it's instinctively honest, always interfering with the work at hand—which is, as Philip acknowledges, the work of making the lie real.