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‘The Americans’ review: Season 4 is the best yet

Frank Langella, left, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

Frank Langella, left, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys on "The Americans." Photo Credit: FX / Ali Goldstein

WHEN | WHERE Season finale Wednesday night at 10 on FX

SEASON GRADE A+

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Now that Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor) knows exactly what her mother, Elizabeth (Keri Russell), can do — recall the quick brutal dispatch of an aggressive panhandler — she has some decisions of her own to make. She does like Stan Beeman’s son, Matthew (Danny Flaherty), but he could also be useful to her. Meanwhile, a tip from Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) to Stan (Noah Emmerich) has set in motion a series of events that will come to a climax Wednesday. Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) has an important meeting in the park, while Philip and Elizabeth’s handler, Gabriel (Frank Langella), makes a monumental suggestion.

MY SAY FX has promised in promos and elsewhere that the fourth season closer will be “explosive,” almost certainly aware that “explosive” hardly never happens on “The Americans.” Explosive is for everything else (“The Blacklist,” “Quantico,” “Scandal”). “The Americans,” by contrast, remains something for everyone else — or at least those few who esteem its somber, steady tone, and that thrum of anxiety and dread which hangs just below the surface, or threaded through the hushed tones of two people in conversation, with the shadows closing in on them.

That Leonard Cohen chestnut “Who by Fire,” about death (knock, knock, knockin’ on someone’s door), tracks over a scene late in the finale. It’s the perfect anthem for this closer, and in fact the perfect one for an entire season: “ . . . who by brave assent, who by accident? . . . Who shall I say is coming?”

Who? You’ll find out.

Meanwhile, what can we say is coming? There is a significant twist in Wednesday’s “Persona Non Grata,” which could certainly turn out to be explosive over the final two seasons, or even better than that — a catalyst that deepens and enriches Philip. Also, that fine veteran New York actor, Dylan Baker — who plays William Crandall, the reluctant spy forced to make one last drop — gets an extended close-up, while proving once again why he’s one of the best utility players on TV.

His character — a bachelor with only his secrets and treachery as companions — confesses that “the absence of closeness makes you dry inside.” But what does the presence of closeness make anyone in this series? To be close means to betray, or deceive, or (much worse) destroy. For Paige, that’s a lesson she’s slowly (or reluctantly) come to embrace all season. But like her parents, she will still have to make choices. What will those be?

The fourth season may have been the best, or at least the most carefully considered, of “The Americans” four seasons to date. This may also finally, officially, be the quietest spy thriller in the long history of spy thrillers — usually with just two people talking, on a park bench or over a plate of chopped vegetables. They present the illusion — or misconception — that nothing is happening when everything is happening. It’s where real-world geopolitics meets real-world family chitchat at the dinner table. This season, the “chitchat” never felt so consequential, so loaded with potential, or meaning. There are two seasons left. At the close of the fourth, “The Americans” feels like a show that will only get better — if that’s even possible.

BOTTOM LINE Excellent, nonexplosive finale, but an even better fourth season.

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