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The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 13, “The Soviet Division”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 13, “The Soviet Division”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 13, “The Soviet Division”

Unsurprisingly, just about the only thing The Americans puts to rest by the end of its season-five finale episode, “The Soviet Division,” is the matter of whether Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are going to return to their Mother Russia. Actually, make that two. Before the episode even offers us a definitive answer to the biggest question hanging over the series this season, it dares to put another project on Philip and Elizabeth’s already busy plates: to figure out whether there’s anything behind that curious look that the C.I.A. bodyguard, Thomas (Clarke Thorell), who stands watch outside the Morozov home directs at Philip as Pasha (Zack Gafin) is pushed into an ambulance. There isn’t, and the swiftness with which Philip and Elizabeth get their answer feels like a mercy after a season’s worth of trials and tribulations marked primarily by their almost punishing sense of uncertainty.

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 10, "Darkroom"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Darkroom”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Darkroom”

Last week I bemoaned the absence of Paige (Holly Taylor) from “IHOP.” But in tonight’s episode of The Americans, “Darkroom,” what happened during that absence is purposefully charted as a governing principle. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) arrive home from a day of spywork and find their daughter obsessively mopping the kitchen floor. She reveals to them that she pried again into Pastor Tim’s (Kelly AuCoin) diary, learning that he thinks she’s screwed up in the head. What follows is a negotiation that serves, like most things in this series, dual purposes: a loving father and mother talking their daughter off the ledge with assurances that they know her better than anyone else, and Russian spies trying to communicate to a potential recruit that allegiance to the Soviet Union is an imperative.

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 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 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 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 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 4, Episode 3, "Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 3, “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow”

Jeff Neumann/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 3, “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow”

Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney, inspired by the Garden City movement and the futuristic utopianism of the World’s Fair, drew up plans for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) in the swamplands of north-central Florida. That his desire to reshape the urban landscape should founder is, in some sense, the subtext of the latest installment of The Americans: The Epcot Center that opened in 1982 was not the working city of Disney’s dreams, but another “attraction” for the Magic Kingdom’s visitors to tour, a strange amalgam of blind faith in technological progress and bland internationalism.