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The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 12, "The World Council of Churches"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 12, “The World Council of Churches”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 12, “The World Council of Churches”

Speculating what a television show is going to do next is a dangerous enterprise, especially for those who don’t like being wrong. I’ve recapped exactly two TV shows, The Walking Dead and The Americans, both works of narrative, and as such ones that turn on the expectation of what will happen next. But that’s all that the former turned on during the height of the whole “Is Glenn Dead?” business, meaning it was easy to predict how that plot arc was going to resolve itself given how everything that happened in the series was framed in relation to Glenn and his absence. The Americans, conversely, is the rolling stone that gathers no moss. It’s put so many cards on the table throughout its fifth season, many with no clear relationship to one another, that to predict where any of the characters will end up is a fool’s errand.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 6, "Crossbreed"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “Crossbreed”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “Crossbreed”

Can you imagine The Americans without Frank Langella’s Gabriel, who’s emerged this season as the shoulder angel to Margo Martindale’s devil-like Claudia? This much is clear: Levity will be in shorter supply. In the opening of this week’s episode, “Crossbreed,” Elizabeth (Keri Russell) informs Gabriel of her almost certain belief that Alexei Morozov is trying to feed the world’s hungry, to which he replies: “Just like Miss America.” Gabriel, in the moment, seems completely unperturbed by the news, concerned less with the next stage of Elizabeth’s sleuthing than he is with Philip’s (Matthew Rhys) mental well-being in the wake of the lab director’s death. Gabriel may make room here and there for a good joke, but like the series itself for the last few episodes, he’s obviously burdened by the emotional collateral damage caused by spywork. “The same as me, it’s upsetting,” Elizabeth tells her handler after he asks her about Philip, and by the end of this finely detailed episode, she arrives at a place where those words come to actually feel true.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

In my “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” recap, I refrained from describing one important yuk that played out in the Jennings’ kitchen that receives a very pointed rejoinder in “Lotus 1-2-3,” tonight’s episode of The Americans. Last week, upon sensing that Henry (Keidrich Sellati) was getting sassy with her, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) admonished him: “Don’t be smart, Henry.” To which a frazzled Henry blurted out: “I’m not!” This week, in a meeting with Henry’s math teacher (Don Guillory), Elizabeth and Philip (Matthew Rhys) learn that their son is so good at math that his school is considering placing him in Algebra II. The parents’ joy is the son’s sadness in a subsequent scene, which very casually brings to the fore how Elizabeth and Philip’s grooming of Paige (Holly Taylor) into a next-generation spy has unconsciously done a number on Henry, a wallflower of his parents’ creation who deflects the praise heaped on him by retreating into the world of his video game.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 4, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Funny isn’t something that The Americans often does, and “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” is unique in the canon of the series for the sterling self-reflexivity of its sense of humor. The episode opens with Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) receiving an update from their supervisor, Gabriel (Frank Langella), about what their sleuthing in the Oklahoma science lab’s rolodex uncovered. After being assigned two new targets who are, coincidentally, both single, husband and wife exchange looks, no doubt sensing the potential long game they’ll have to play. It’s clear that neither Philip nor Elizabeth care to bring another Martha or Gregory into their lives, but above all else, they have a lot on their plates right now, and as Elizabeth goes down the list of all their—and in turn the show’s—outstanding commitments, she sounds like she’s trying to get out of brunch plans with someone she disconnected from previously, and with good reason.

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 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”?

Orphan Black Recap Season 3, Episode 2, "Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis"

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Orphan Black Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis”

BBC

Orphan Black Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis”

Tonight’s episode of Orphan Black, “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis,” comes all too close to the grievous error of which its title warns. Alone, the phrase, cribbed from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, may suggest light at the end of the tunnel, but in context it’s the very sacrifices we make on the altar of expediency that set us up for disaster down the line. “To meet it successfully,” Eisenhower says of the Soviet threat, “there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle.” Suddenly consumed by the need to explain Project Castor, by its crisis of narrative, Orphan Black seems increasingly willing to jettison the rich characterization of the “sestras” in favor of constructing conspiracies, and “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis” may be the show’s worst episode to date.