The third season of the FX show The Americans found Philip (Matthew Rhys, Burnt) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell, Waitress) with perhaps their most challenging conflict yet that touched both their professional lives as spies for Russia and in America within their home, so the question presumably became how they would handle such a thing, and as it turns out they handled it well.
The thing in question was whether or not their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) could reconcile her parents' true backgrounds with everyday life in America. Where other shows would perhaps lean towards more sensationalism, or simply put Paige in a position that has her turn on her parents in a surprise, poorly explained twist, the show has illustrated that Paige loves her parents so much, rather than turn on them emotionally, she wants to understand more about them, perhaps to get a better appreciation of their own turmoil. They keep her at arm's length to an extent until she voices frustration about doing something (associating with Pastor Tim) that she doesn't want to do. Elizabeth, in a window into the her soul, tells her that basically, she's going to have to do a LOT of things she won't want to do, in order to keep up appearances and fulfill the mission requirements. The interplay with Paige and her parents with one (or both) parties coming clean was surprisingly one of several that occur during Season Four.
Along with this, Philip and Martha have a coming to grips on something that occurs, and Philip's attendance at secret scientology-esque meetings comes up. All of this occurs under the backdrop of a Cold War subplot where an American scientist named William (Dylan Baker, Secretariat) has developed a biochemical weapon that the Russians want to get their hands on. Within the context of the setting of the show this storyline might be lost onto viewers but it, like just about everything else in the show, is told as expertly as possible.
The dynamic between Philip and Elizabeth changes the tiniest bit in Season Four compared to other seasons and it's handled well by the stars. Where in the past Philip was almost the more sensitive side of the partnership and Elizabeth the mission-focused braun, Elizabeth softens her position a bit to accommodate more emotion. She sees Philip as having to deal with more than she realizes, and there's a sense of respect that's conveyed in her acquiescing. Russell's performance in this season may be her best yet, and Rhys matches her stride for stride, with the couple only improving even more with Taylor's headstrong performance. There are also the two handlers for Philip and Elizabeth, played by Frank Langella (Captain Fantastic) and Margo Martindale (Justified) in their usual fantastic work.
This is all before mentioning FBI agent (and Philip and Elizabeth's neighbor) Stan (Noah Emmerich, Blood Ties), whose character gets slightly more to do in Season Four. Within both America and Russia, the characters that we've grown to be familiar with start to go away, either by choice or circumstance, as the show slowly draws things toward its conclusion (Season Six will be the last as of this writing).
It's kind of amazing that for the things revealed in Season Four of The Americans, that because the aftermath was handled as pragmatically as many of them were that you feel like there's a way to go in the show, maybe 3 or even 4 years of real-time history. The ensemble continues to elevate their work and those who get increased focus deliver as well. It's suspenseful without having to make you clench your fists or grit your teeth, which may be the underrated best part of a show with no noticeable flaws.The Discs:
The 13-episode, Season Four run of The Americans is spread over four discs and all are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen for your viewing pleasure, with the results being sharp as expected. Lots of the film's nighttime action looks accurate with little moments of pixilation or crush in the dark, and near the end of William's arc, the contrast of artificial light is impressive and makes for a natural experience, and the greens and browns of Asia for one moment look vivid without saturation or image noise, and the overall product looks good.The Sound:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all of the episodes, all of which sound as good as can be. Dialogue is consistent in the front of the theater and requires little adjustment, fighting sequences have occasional low-end engagement from the subwoofer on kicks and punches, and occasional music inclusions show off the range of the soundtrack. Channel panning is present but not prevalent, and directional effects are effective when employed. Good TV material for these discs.Extras:
Nothing really; you've got an extended scene and deleted scene but neither are worth writing home over.Final Thoughts:
The Americans rolls on with a fourth season that had cloture to many supporting characters, to varying degrees of popular satisfaction. While the chaff was separated from the wheat, the core cast continued to deliver on top of excellent characters, and allowed other cast members the chance to shine. Technically, it continues to deliver on its quality material, but I hope there are some decent supplements in our future, whether it's in the next season or the last, nevertheless it remains one of the best shows on television.