Perhaps I’ve just been reading too much news recently, but I’ve been thinking a lot about FX’s The Americans. I know—why would I have reason to give even one second’s consideration to the story of Russian agents actively trying to undermine America? And yet, now that all four seasons to date are available on Amazon Prime, it feels like the perfect show for our current climate, despite being set 30 years in the past. For those who haven’t sampled the series yet, here are 10 episodes to try and see if it feels… just a little bit familiar.
S1 E1: PILOT
Where it all began. We meet an all-American couple who aren’t exactly what they seem… which is to say, they’re actually deep-cover agents from the Soviet Union, tasked to operate in the Washington DC of 1981. Oh, those innocent days of the Cold War. Who ever thought that we’d feel nostalgic for them?
S1 E6: TRUST ME
Our two heroes—well, kind of heroes? I mean, sure, they’re Russian spies, but still—are captured and accused of being KGB spies in the US, but it turns out that it’s not the Americans who are doing the accusing. Wheels within wheels as the paranoia of undercover work ratchets up and loyalties continue to get blurred.
S1 E13: THE COLONEL
As the last few days have shown, people tend to lose their heads when it comes to important meetings, whether it’s talking about US sanctions on the phone when you know you’re being recorded by the FBI or screwing up a face-to-face with an Air Force colonel who’s about to spill some serious information, because you’re just a little too nervous about what’s going down. Art imitates life? Well, only insofar as spying is tricky enough to make mistakes very easy.
S2 E1: COMRADES
Just when audiences might have been thinking that this whole undercover thing is thrilling but hardly dangerous, this episode shows up to remind everyone of the true stakes. Multiple people, many of them “innocent,” or at least not spies, end up dead. Even in a fictional story, it’s a good opportunity to get everyone on the same “this is serious” page again.
S2 E4: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
What could go wrong when the fake Americans are given two different targets to deal with? Well, apparently kidnapping attempts and allegations of rape, which just seems like giving suggestions to the current administration for future bungles, really. I mean, we’ve already had sexual assault allegations, so just the kidnapping, I guess.
S2 E6: BEHIND THE RED DOOR
That title’s callback to a pornographic door of a more emerald hue isn’t an accident; this episode is, in many ways, the sex episode, as the ways in which sex can be used as a tool of the spying trade are explored and we’re all quietly reminded about just how screwed up people can get about screwing. (Surprisingly absent: prostitutes urinating on beds.)
S3 E10: STINGERS
Sometimes, you just have to come clean to the important people in your life, whether it’s your boss, who happens to be the President of the United States, or your daughter, who’s unaware that you’re actually an undercover Russian spy. The all-yet-faux-American couple admit their secret to their offspring after she gets fed up with their secrecy in this episode.
S3 E11: ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANTON BAKLANOV
…and the fallout continues into this episode, which explores the other costs of living double lives. Sure, no one has to quit their job as National Security Advisor or anything, but still.
S4 E8: THE MAGIC OF DAVID COPPERFIELD V: THE STATUE OF LIBERTY DISAPPEARS
The lies finally catch up with the undercover couple in this episode, with the emotional cost of all that spying leading to them being placed on, essentially, enforced spy-leave. Finally, we get to see what Russian agents do on their downtime, which seems not entirely unlike what the rest of us do, albeit in the 1980s. Maybe… maybe they’re just like us?
S4 E10: MUNCHKINS
As the past few weeks have ably demonstrated, one of the problems with dealing with so many lies is, sometimes it’s hard to work out what’s true at all—like when you’re accused of committing a crime that you’re pretty convinced has nothing to do with you but aren’t entirely sure about. In this case, it’s a disappeared pastor, but it could also be, say, an election result. Who can tell?