So here I am in the end-of-summer doldrums and waiting for the sixth and final series of “The Americans,” a spy drama that takes place when Reagan was president. It will be a frustrating wait until the final season airs in 2018 because events happening now seem tangled up in events that happened then.
Back then there was the Cold War. The word “war” in that phrase was no exaggeration. Nasty things were done to Russians and Europeans and Americans in the wake of Soviet style communism. There is very little left of Soviet style communism which basically began to collapse in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev was Reagan’s opposite number.
The collapse became widespread in the 1990s and there was a mad grab for money, power, and position. Elbows were thrown. People were hurt. A country doesn’t become a full fledged democracy in three seconds flat any more than American did after the American Revolution.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was every reason to celebrate the demise of soul crushing communism. But then it was abandoned, forgotten, left along it until it was needed again by American political elites who wish to seize a political moment to gain and keep power and, with that in mind, to revive the Cold War.
Every day someone gets up in Congress or goes on TV to talk about the ‘Russians’ as if a straight line runs from every event in that vast country to a former KGB Colonel become President named Vladimir Putin. Contrary to the average American’s real interests ( which include terrorists, the economy, high cost of health insurance premiums, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) both major political parties are trying to upstage each other with fake patriotism.
Don’t believe it. Don’t cooperate. It’s naïve, it’s stupid, it’s phony. It’s never a good thing when you have nearly 99 percent of the members of Congress marching in lockstep, all trying to outdo each other by raising their voices the loudest and shouting meaningless cant about ‘Russia.’
And these same people think that ‘Russians’ changed all the people who were going to vote for Hillary Clinton into Donald Trump voters. And that it was Vladimir Putin’s fingers on the keyboard used to hack into the Democratic National Committee election plans to reveal John Podesta’s sideways manipulations of Democrat Party dirty tricks. Is all this blame-shifting and propagandizing against Russia not embarrassing?
We are not in the 1980s any more.
In the First Episode of Season Five of "The Americans," there was a new character named Tuan.’ Tuan is a young Vietnamese KGB trainee posted with Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings as their adopted son. He’s hard-core, a blind believer in the Soviet system, gung-ho to the point that even Elizabeth can hardly stand his psychotic utterings at the dinner table. One astonished gaping look from Elizabeth says it all. The kid is too whacked even by KGB standards.
It’s not as if American espionage agents were playing softball. The CIA has hired a dissident Russian working for the U.S. to develop a strain of fungus that will destroy the Soviet Union’s wheat crop. That’s a bit of overkill. The failure of the Soviet socialist-communist system is evident in filmed food lines, bare supermarket shelves, rotting food, tractors mired in mud up to the hubcaps.
There is a KGB joke which shows the cynicism that pervaded all aspects of Soviet Communism: “ A guy goes into a food market and asks: “Don’t you have any meat?” Market owner replies: “We don’t have any fish. The market that doesn’t have any meat is across the street.” Starving and chaotic Venezuela is a paradise by comparison.
The dissident scientist Alexei in “The Americans” has a great deal of enthusiasm for America, its freedom and plenty. He criticizes his home country while unwitting talking to Soviet spy Philip, who is disguised as an airline pilot.“Good thing you don’t work for Aeroflot. Their planes crash all the time. They’re dirty. You want food you have to stand in line for hours. In Russia, you must share toilets, pay bribes. Awful country.”
The Americans is never without humor, though it’s often of the droll, mordant kind. Stan Beeman is a Steven Martin style ‘lonely guy’ FBI agent when he pops in on the Jennings with a sixpack of beer. Neighborly chit-chat.
Stan’s been isolated too long and divorced not long enough. He bores a wry Phillip (Matthew Rhys, great actor, and real life husband of Keri Russell) with a non-eventful tale about a woman he’s seen at the gym. “I met a woman,” he tells Phillip. To ordinary mortals, this would mean he has possibilities. To nerdish Stan however, it means the woman on the treadmill next to him smiled at him while walking away.
But the primary concern of the Soviet spies is to get a sample of a biological warfare agent developed at an FBI lab in Virginia. The Lassa virus had accidentally killed one of the embedded Soviet agents and it’s up to Elizabeth and Philip to dig up his body to get another sample. It’s not going to be easy. The CIA secretly buried the toxic foreign agent in a sealed plastic overcoat inside a metal box buried fifteen feet deep in Fort Dietrich’s back yard.
A team of agents, under the guidance of Philip and Elizabeth, sap the perimeter of the American compound and beginning digging. And digging. And still more digging. It’s pretty hard to explain how about 20 minutes of film digging can make for exciting TV but it does.
You smell the dirt in more ways than one. The KGB team digs up the stinking body of their dead agent, cuts a chunk of his flesh out for transport back to Moscow. One of the KGB team members slips off the ladder and cuts his wrist during the process. This exposes him to the Lassa virus. He panics,knows he’s going to die. Elizabeth calmly reassures him that everything’s going to be all right, don’t worry, be calm. When the man calmsdown, Elizabeth pulls a pistol and shoots him in the head. Dead fall into the hole.
The ends justify the means. It’s brutal. This is a depiction of the real Cold War.