'The Americans' Season 6 premiere recap: It's all falling apart

Kelly Lawler

Spoiler alert! The following contains details from Wednesday's sixth season premiere of The Americans

It's a brave new world for the Jennings family. And not a very welcome one. 

The sixth season premiere of FX's The Americans is the beginning of the end for the remarkable series, which has managed to be both the best series about marriage and one of the best action series on the air these past six years. One marvelous and heartbreaking hour into its 10-episode final season, a happy ending for anyone in the Jennings family seems so far away. 

The premiere, "Dead Hand," jumps the action of the spy drama three years ahead to 1987, as the Cold War is nearing its end. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) came so close to leaving their lives of espionage behind and returning home to the Soviet Union with their children at the end of Season 5, only to make the last-minute decision to stay after an intelligence opportunity from one of their missions was too good to pass up. 

Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings on "The Americans."

But the status quo had to change for them to survive at all, so Philip quit spy work and Elizabeth stayed on. She's taken on more work in Philip's absence, and fully integrated their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) into the spy game, adding to the strain. (Their son Henry is still blissfully unaware of all of this, happily playing hockey in boarding school in New England).

Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings on "The Americans."

From the stunning opening sequence, which juxtaposes the increasingly degrading and exhausting work Elizabeth is doing for the USSR and Philip's jaunty life at the newly expanded Dupont Travel Agency, it's clear that this arrangement is not the perfect solution they imagined. The cracks in their marriage are beginning to show. Philip has long been the problem child in the relationship, "shaky" on his duties for the Motherland, as Claudia (Margo Martindale) once described him. The decision for him to step aside and have Elizabeth take on all the "work" made sense on the surface, but three years in, it has taken its toll on their marriage. 

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Elizabeth is irritable, tired and smoking constantly, a habit she used to reserve for high-stress situations. She is strained in her interactions with her husband and believes his problems to be petty and frivolous. 

The emotional cracks in their marriage are only worsened when geopolitics get involved, after divisions in the Soviet Union's leadership put them on opposite sides. A leader who opposes Gorbachev's modernization of the aging Communist country seeks out Elizabeth in Mexico City, and sends her on a mission to prevent a Russian diplomat from making a concession with American officials at an upcoming summit. He goes so far as to say that his people have the power to depose Gorbachev. 

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Over in the Soviet Union, Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn, making a welcome return) supports Gorbachev, fearing for the future of the country, and enlists Oleg (Costa Ronin) – now bearded, married with a son, and out of the KGB – for an off-the-books mission to the U.S. to convince Philip to act against Elizabeth and the wishes of the other faction. 

Oleg and Phillip meet (an exciting moment for fans), and it's unclear what Philip wants to do. But if his final combative interaction with Elizabeth at the close of the episode is any indication, he may just start to "work" again. 

Costa Ronin as Oleg Burov and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings.

The Americans has been playing a long game with Philip and Elizabeth's relationship, which reached its peak last season when they made their marriage official. But "Dead Hand" leaves them further apart – emotionally and ideologically – than ever before. 

Without work or kids to bring them together, what can keep Phillip and Elizabeth from falling apart?