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‘The Americans’ Season 4 review: Cold War shadows get even darker

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell don their disguises

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell don their disguises as sleeper-cell spies for another season of "The Americans." Credit: FX / Eric Liebowitz

WHEN | WHERE Fourth-season premiere Wednesday night at 10 on FX

GRADE B+

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings have told their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) about their double life as KGB agents/typical American suburban couple, which presents complications for all. But there are worse complications: Philip has dispatched an FBI analyst to protect his mole/other wife, Martha (Alison Wright), who’s about to learn a little more about the man she loves. Son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) forges a friendship with FBI agent (and neighbor) Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who has begun to wonder. Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth’s minder Gabriel (Frank Langella) has a new mission for them — involving biological weapons.

MY SAY “The Americans” remains a superior American drama and — admittedly, without having a working knowledge on the subject — possibly one of the best Russian TV dramas, too. As always, whole scenes are spoken in Russian, most of them from the other side of the Iron Curtain where Nina’s (Annet Mahendru) heart and mind clash over her new responsibilities. Those scenes are as compelling, if not more so, than the Washington ones. They also further establish “The Americans” as a bilingual and Cold War series about the futility of conscience — when there’s no plausible moral code as compass.

And with four episodes as evidence, “The Americans” remains dark, too, or maybe the fancier word is crepuscular. The sun is setting on an empire. Maybe that’s the only place for it to remain.

But as a mood-setter, these four also feel weighted and forlorn, as the chain of lies loop around and around the ankles of Paige and Martha, or those others unlucky enough to know Philip and Elizabeth, with an anchor just waiting to be tossed overboard.

You want to believe or at least hope that Paige (if not endlessly delusional Martha) deserves a better fate, and eventually Henry too. But those lies keep looping.

Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth keep spinning as fast as they can.

“Those things we’ve built here?” says Elizabeth — unable or unwilling to find a word more specific than “things.” “They matter.

In fact, they don’t. Philip suspects that, too, but you . . . you know they don't.

 At least one tragedy of “The Americans” is that the antihero and antiheroine are already doomed. They, too, will end up at the bottom of the sea along with all their other victims one of these days. They just don’t know it yet.

But will anyone mourn their loss?

BOTTOM LINE Always good, “The Americans” also feels bleaker this season.

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