It's telling that several scenes from the fourth season of The Americans begin with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) or Philip (Matthew Rhys), married Soviet spies, waking up from a nightmare. These dreams are pungent metaphors for the couple's growing desperation, as they agonize over how to protect their children from a life they feel increasingly trapped within.
The Americans's focus on people bent on taking down America's way of life makes it difficult for U.S. viewers to default to the mindless state of vicarious excitement that most spy shows inspire. As Philip and Elizabeth beat up or kill the people who get in their way and seduce potential marks, whether by cultivating their trust and friendship or by becoming exactly the kind of lover their target fantasizes about, it's not so easy to excuse what they're doing as a case of the ends justifying the means.
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