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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”

Ali Paige Goldstein/Lionsgate Television/AMC

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 5, "Clark’s Place"

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

FX

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 7, "Walter Taffet"

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The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Walter Taffet”

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Walter Taffet”

Constructed around family spats and Cold War tradecraft, The Americans traditionally finds suspense in the slow, summative effect of its wary glances and closed doors. When the series opens the floodgates, then, as in tonight’s “Walter Taffet,” the cascade of knock-on consequences is enough to sideswipe you—a domino effect, as it were, of unforeseen developments. Philip (Matthew Rhys), in particular, suddenly appears unable to juggle the many personal and political ruses he’s been running all along, and the episode begins to suggest what relenting to the pressure might look like.

The Americans Recap Season 3, Episode 3, "Open House"

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The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, “Open House”

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, “Open House”

“The production of too many useless things results in too many useless people,” Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) tells Hans (Peter Mark Kendall), her South-African asset-in-training, in “Open House,” an hour laced with dangerous transactions. Suburban homes, stonewashed jeans, a drum set for the kids: Consumer culture and the freedom to choose run through tonight’s episode of The Americans in forms both abstract and concrete, though as Elizabeth suggests, quoting Marx, capitalism’s promise of unlimited options is tyranny by another name. “Open House,” directed by Thomas Schlamme, is a master class in suspense, not only of spies caught in a tightening net, but also of characters whose choices begin to feel less like liberty and more like entrapment.