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Emmy FYC: The Americans, Season Five  

By Spencer Coile 

It is difficult at times to sum up what makes The Americans such gripping and thought-provoking series. I have encountered many friends grow tired of it quickly, claiming that it is too slow, too methodical in its approach to domesticity, to marriage, to the U.S. government. Aided by a delicious 80's fused soundtrack (you'll never hear "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac the same way again) and tremendous performances, though, it is altogether unsurprising why many have remained drawn to the meticulous storytelling that is the FX original series, The Americans. In fact, after gathering a cult-like following for its first three seasons, it finally received the Emmy traction it so deserved, earning nominations in Drama Series, Actor, Actress, Writing, and winning Margo Martindale yet another in Drama Guest Actress. 

As the Emmy race heats up, The Americans is primed to sustain its momentum and score major nominations once more for its fifth season. But does it hold up to its previous four seasons?

Picking up right where the fourth season finale left off, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are left grappling with their daughter Paige's (Holly Taylor) decision to date thei neighbor's son... whose father (Noah Emmerich) works for the FBI. Of course, that is only to imply the drama takes place inside the home. Elizabeth and Philip are saddled with extraneous work that involves sneaking, breaking and entering, murdering, anything you could possibly imagine. This all takes a major toll on Philip, leading to the season's ultimate question: how long before our patriotic duty crushes our devotion to a particular cause?

The beauty of The Americans lies in Elizabeth and Philip's relationship. As we have learned in past seasons, they were not each other's soul mates. They were a part of an arranged marriage, as a team trained and paired together by the Soviet Union. However, what emerges )through the writing and through Rhys and Russell's performances) is a true and sincere devotion to one another, to an unspeakable bond that does not draw attention to itself. Through brief moments of intimacy, it is clear that Elizabeth and Philip count on the other to keep their family, their American identities at bay. The haunting final scene of the season depicts a choice that they must make together. Will it drive a wedge between them, or will it make them even stronger than before?

Of course, The Americans has never been interested in taking the easy way out, nor does it concern itself with answering any questions for the audience (another cause for people to be turned off from it). Take the time to really indulge in the slowness of these stories, watch them unfold, and you will pick up on the intricacies that are laced through snippets of dialogue, of the complexities that emerge from Elizabeth and Philip's relationship with their children. All this to say, season five ends on as much a cliffhanger as it has in the past. And with only one season left, only time will tell if the ambiguities presented through Elizabeth and Philip's relationship will carry over into its sixth season. As it stands, though, season five is equally as haunting and as tense as the seasons before it. 

As far as its Emmy chances are concerned, bank on nominations in Drama Series, Actor, and Actress. Rhys and Russell may not have the scenery-chewing roles that others in the category may have, but they have created such uniquely dimensional characters, it would be odd and slightly horrifying to see them miss out after both getting in last year. The series only submitted its season finale "The Soviet Division" into Drama Writing and Directing, and considering it got in last year for Writing, it stands a probable chance of getting in once more. Apart from those, some categories remain up in the air. Martindale is no longer eligible for Guest Actress, but will instead compete in Supporting Actress. And while they clearly love her, does her role stack up against her competition? Could Holly Taylor squeeze into a field that is clear of Game of Thrones for the year. She would be equally as deserving as Rhys and Russell. 

Regardless, this season of The Americans was as twisted and intelligent as the seasons before it. Whether we are immersed in Elizabeth and Philip operating as KGB spies or as parents struggling to keep their family together, the series offers a fascinating portrait of marriage and of the lengths we will go to in order to keep that relationship afloat. 


Previous FYC
Aubrey Plaza in Legion
Justin Theroux in The Leftovers 

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Reader Comments (11)

Considering how disgustingly topical The Americans is right now, it probably doesn't need this FYC. Trump is the FYC.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I LOVE The Americans. I remember a specific episode in Season 2. The first episode had asked about 20 different lingering questions. I was expecting answers to those questions, but the episode went out of its way to go, "You want answers? Screw you! Here are 40 more questions."

It's one of the first five shows I think about when I think of the new Golden Age of TV.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Two more FYCs from this season: Alison Wright for Guest Actress and Frank Langella for Supporting Actor.

Langella does monument-scale emotional lifting without raising his voice, and he tosses off plot particulars with such grandfatherly authority that it makes high espionage land seductively like a well-worn bedtime story. It's unflashy, but vital, work - his absence in the back half of the season is deeply felt.

I also really warmed to Costa Ronin this season - I think he flourished in the added spotlight.

And, of course, MAIL ROBOT should be nominated in all eligible categories.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGabe

I don't know how I avoided this show for so long. It has everything—suspense, ethical ambiguity, sociopolitical context. But most of all The Americans has real emotional stakes—something sorely lacking in other dark, suspenseful dramas on TV.

The characters get to be "strong" and calculating while still feeling human. What does it matter if Frank Underwood wins or loses, y'know? I sincerely root for the Jennings family.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

I also think Noah Emmerich is giving one of the best performances on television. His Stan Beeman was so flat and obtuse to start, but has taken on these fascinating layers and complexities. It's a performance of such quiet dignity and humanity—he's totally discovered the person inside the text.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

A-MEN. I've seen some complaints that this most recent season was too "slow" and "boring," but I didn't feel that way at all. Sure, there's less spy action stuff, but the psychological screws just keep tightening in a way that I only found increasingly compelling. Still, it is getting almost oppressively stressful in that respect, so that I'm at once looking forward to and dreading the final season.

And I agree that Langella deserves a nod, too, especially for this season. He's magnificent.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I also find it hard to describe why I find The Americans to be so riveting. There's a slow burning dread that somehow seems so familiar.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I love that they were brave to follow such a gripping season as the 4th one with an extremely understated 5th season, even by their standards. They untroduced a lot of plots and dudn't developed them, like they were aborted missions, which makes a lot of sense. Living as spy is more like this than a rollercoaster-like routine.

I think Rhys is the MVP, but wow, Langella was absolutely brilliant, specially when he reappeared in Moscow. Terrific scene!

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Brilliant show. This season leaned more into the family drama side of things than the spy thriller (probably 90% to 10% vs. the more even split we usually get). I missed some of the taunt spy suspense stuff that the show does so so well (while mixing it with terrific character development and relationship building.)

Still the season was still great stuff steeped in dread (?) with emotionally wrecking moments and magnificent performances.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

This show is superb and should have been nominated every single year for acting, writing, direction, and other craft awards at Emmys, SAGs, and Golden Globes.

@Hayden. I agree. He has also directed a number of episodes.

June 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I have loved this criminally underrated show since it began, and think it's the best drama on TV, most of the time. (I initially watched it out of curiosity, and just considered it a Homeland ripoff, putting Felicity in an espionage show a la Angela Chase... but it turned to be a far more consistently excellent series, despite its much lower budget and hype/buzz level.)

This season did represent a slowdown in the plotting and action, but by bringing the personal drama to the fore, it achieved a different kind of excellence. Everyone knows that the leads are fantastic, but I think Holly Taylor was probably the MVP: we saw all kinds of crisis and growth in Paige. And I still can't believe that we got to see more of Martha, and that she has something more akin to a happy ending than I ever dared hope.

A GREAT series, destined to be reevaluated and appear on nearly every future all-time classic list!

June 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

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