TV Corner: The Americans

promotional image for 'The Americans' featuring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

The Americans, the popular and critically acclaimed series starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies living and operating in America during the Cold War, finished up its six-season run earlier this year. I didn't even begin the show until after it had already ended — Iain and I binged the entire series quickly once we started it — but it's still recent enough that I thought there might be some folks who wanted to talk about it.

So here's a thread!

I won't include any spoilers from the series here on the main page, for anyone who is considering watching the show or is in the midst of watching it, but beware that there will be spoilers in comments.

I will, however, offer a few notes about the content, for consideration: It is a very violent show. There are scenes of sexual assault, the most graphic in the pilot episode. Given the content, there are also many scenes of coercion, emotional manipulation, and emotional abuse.

It was the latter of the three that was always the hardest to watch for me.

It was hard watching Elizabeth and Philip Jennings coerce and manipulate and abuse other people, including their own children — and it was hard watching them be coerced and manipulated and abused by their employer.

I hated them, and I mourned for them. It was nothing short of extraordinary that the writers created characters so complex, and that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys imbued them with complicated humanity in such exquisite measure.

And although Russell and Rhys carry the show, the entire cast is unbelievable. There wasn't a single character that was miscast. If I tried to name stand-outs, I would end up naming everyone who ever appeared onscreen, but I can't not give a mention to Noah Emmerich as Stan. He can do more with a single twitch of his face than many actors can do with a page of dialogue. That face. I love his face.

The Americans was also a beautiful period piece, evocative of the fashion and politics of my childhood in splendid and terrifying ways. I enjoyed the nostalgia of the expertly recreated clothing and interiors and technologies, and I trembled as I recalled the fear that sat in my gut as I listened to the adults around me worriedly discussing things like mutually assured destruction.

In addition to the politics, the show had a lot of interesting things to say about marriage and family and country; about religion and faith and trust; about sex and gender roles; about honesty and the destructive corrosion that blooms in its absence. It was compelling because of the character studies, as much as the telling of a remarkable story about espionage.

But of course the espionage was the center of it. And I imagine that it was quite a different experience watching the entire series now, knowing what happened during the 2016 election (and since), than having that fall right in the middle of its run, which began in 2013.

From the moment I started the series, I knew how it turned out. Not the show; the outcome of U.S. intelligence vs. the Cold War KGB.

I kept saying to Iain as we watched it: It's really something that Americans were watching this as entertainment during the entirety of the 2016 election season.

That particular bookend, unforeseen by the show's creators, might be the best argument for watching the show now. To understand that we have always been under attack in ways we didn't understand, and we are still.

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