The Americans always makes clever use of Eighties detail — Yaz’s “Only You,” once a universally beloved synth-pop ditty, will never sound the same after last season, when it served as the soundtrack to Phillip putting the moves on a CIA agent’s teen daughter. But it never becomes a cheap gimmick. When one agent explains why it’s good to learn how to use a home computer (“It’s a life skill these days”), we don’t snicker at how primitive they were back then; we shudder because it raises unsettling questions about surveillance and privacy, and makes us realize how close we are to this world in some troublesome ways.
Elizabeth and Phillip have always clashed over their daughter: She wants Paige to follow in their footsteps and serve Mother Russia; Phillip wants her to grow up American, go to college and never find out what a ruthless killer her daddy is. His one dream in life — the hope that kept him going — was to protect his daughter from the life. Now it’s too late for that, and you can see new levels of despair in his never-exactly-cheerful eyes. When he goes undercover wearing one of his wigs, he looks disconcertingly like Bob Odenkirk playing Saul Goodman — he’s lost in the American dream the same way Saul is, except even more fundamentally hosed. Whether he’s going to an EST seminar or planning a murder, he keeps looking at his life and wondering how it could possibly get worse. Then it keeps getting worse.