The Americans: Cold War Life Is Complicated on the Home Front

Keri Russell and Matthew Rys play KGB spies in FX’s “The Americans.” (Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

We’re almost a third of the way through the fourth season on FX of The Americans, aka cable television’s most under-appreciated show—looking at you, Emmys—and we can’t help but cringe at how, for so many people, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings included, everything appears to be spiraling out of control.

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We knew that life at the Jennings house in suburban D.C. was going to get even more complicated now that Paige knows her parents’ dirty little secret. If the prior three seasons were about preparing for the inevitability that someone close to them would discover that they’re KGB spies, then what’s happening now is an even broader look at the Cold War implications for all those involved.

Gone is Nina—executed for being a traitor. Once she was locked up in a Soviet prison for turning her back on the motherland, it became apparent that her turbulent life would end in excruciating agony. But the bullet to the head was a shockingly expedient way for her life—and heartbreaking story—to end.

Her death could have far-reaching ramifications, however. None bigger, perhaps, than Oleg’s own future act of betrayal. Already devastated by the loss of his brother on the battlefield during the Soviet Union’s covert war in Afghanistan, Oleg could go running to frenemy and intelligence-rival Stan Beeman, the only person in America he identifies with, and eventually spill his guts to the FBI. If Oleg himself feels abandoned by his own country—spurred by Nina’s execution and his brother’s untimely death—then he may be extremely motivated to show his government that love runs deeper than patriotism.

Meanwhile, Stan has his own problems. On the prowl for an FBI mole, Stan, the agency’s spy hunter, is suspicious of Martha. After months of striking out in his mission to capture an elusive KGB duo (the Jennings, of course), it appears he’s primed for a big win. Martha is worried that the walls of justice are closing in around her, and that she may meet the same fate as Nina, minus an extrajudicial execution. Things are not looking good for Martha, however you slice it.

Considering Philip’s agony that Martha’s cover is in danger of being blown, it appears that he may have to resolve the problem himself. Philip’s love for Elizabeth is undeniable, but there’s something about Martha that changed him. Maybe it’s her innocence, or the way she accepted him into her life despite his many faults. Martha, in some way, represents all of us: diehard fans—Americans fans—who can’t help but root for Philip and Elizabeth despite the trail of innocent blood they leave in their wake. You get the feeling that Martha knows Clark (Philip’s alias) is dangerous but she loves him anyway, which makes what seems to be her impending doom that much harder to take. Maybe the Russians will choose to intervene and pull Martha out, never to be seen on American soil again. But why risk it when it’s easier to silence the problem? Unfortunately for Philip, it appears this will be his cross to bear.

It’s amazing how much the Jennings can juggle. Not only do they have to deal with Martha’s tenuous situation at the FBI and their own near-death experience, but now there’s the nagging problem of Pastor Tim, whom Paige mistakenly entrusted with her parents’ long-held secret identity. Now Paige feels responsible, but she’s unsure if she’s capable of living a life of lies. While it’s easier to predict Oleg and Martha’s future, Paige’s narrative arc is cloudier. Her fate could hinge on Pastor Tim and his wife. One wrong step on the pastor’s part could send her away, sparking her transformation from suburban teen to second generation Soviet spy, which could then put Elizabeth and Philip on a collision course. Elizabeth, of course, is more amenable to Paige continuing the family business, but what about Philip? If Martha’s expected demise is not enough to push him away, then maybe his daughter’s following the Jennings’ KGB career path is.

(Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)