It’s 1987 as we rejoin KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings for the sixth and final season of “The Americans.” Still focused on a complicated marriage between spies pretending to be Americans living in Reagan-era Washington, D.C., the season takes the tension to new heights as an exhausted Elizabeth grows increasingly unhinged and daughter Paige dives deeper into the family business. With a sharply focused plot and a stellar performance from Russell, this slow burn of a series is ready to go out in a blaze of glory.
The action picks up with a three-year time jump. Paige (Holly Taylor) is in college and has joined Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) team of spies. Henry (Keidrich Sellati) remains unaware of his parents’ secret and is thriving in boarding school. Philip (Matthew Rhys), who gave up the espionage game at the end of season five, is managing the family’s travel agency fulltime and discovering that running a business for real rather than as a smokescreen, has pressures all its own.
Identity has been a major theme of the series and this season, the complexities of living a lie for 20 years is explored through Philip’s attempt to become his American businessman alter ego as well as Elizabeth’s growing zeal for the motherland. No longer able to share their work, they are emotionally disconnected, and stress defines almost every interaction they have. Rhys and Russell’s scenes as a couple on the verge of collapse are a highlight.
An engaging signature of the series is how it blends ordinary domestic routine, which makes the Jennings relatable, with high stakes political drama, which reminds us that they are only pretending to be “us.” With Philip’s choice to step away from the spy game and Elizabeth’s decision to become more fully engaged in it, the idea that the personal is political is more prominent than ever.
Russell continues to deliver a strong portrayal of Elizabeth. This season, she has the worn out look of a drug addict, her icy detachment slipping into something darker as she works against the changes Gorbachev is trying to bring to the Soviet Union. With a divided KGB, Philip is asked to rein her in. It’s a promising set-up.
Also promising is Paige’s storyline. Taylor easily ages the character from an anxiety-filled teenager to a confident college student, eager to learn about her Russian ancestry and commit her life to a homeland she has never known. Her reaction to a disturbing event involving her mother and a mission gone wrong suggests she may share Elizabeth’s skill set.
The central question of the series (and maybe its payoff) is: Will Elizabeth and Philip get caught? But what is more interesting in this final season is that “the Americans” may have another choice: Will they return to a motherland they no longer recognize?
The final season of “The Americans” premieres on March 28 at 10 p.m. EDT on FX.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.