The recent headlines about Russia’s hand in American politics — not to mention the salacious and unsubstantiated allegations about President-elect Donald Trump that have come out in the past few days — may seem surprising, full of the kinds of twists and turns that many believed were limited to fiction. To those who haven’t thought about the US-Russia conflict since the Cold War, it can feel like Russia has shown up out of nowhere to make sure we know it still matters.
Of course, if you’ve been watching The Americans, recent revelations about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election might not seem so surprising.
FX’s spy drama is a meticulous recreation of ’80s-era espionage, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as a pair of undercover Soviet agents posing as an American married couple living just outside Washington, DC. By way of a canny combination of fastidious fact-checking and creator Joe Weisberg’s past experience working for the CIA, The Americans has become a valuable portrait of the personal stakes and grueling work inherent to the world of undercover intelligence — a portrait that remains just as relevant today.
That’s why Russia’s current prominence in the news cycle hasn’t surprised the show’s creative team.
“We’ve been doing these stories,” Weisberg told me on January 12, when the show was presenting its upcoming fifth season at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “We’ve been showing how [espionage] works.”
That extends to the so-called “kompromat” operations that incorporate the seedier layers of espionage involving sex and blackmail (which almost always go hand in hand).
“The whole Don operation last season [in which a spy drugs a man to make him think he slept with her], that was a kompromat operation,” Weisberg said. “That’s exactly what it is.”
It’s understandable that many people who weren’t old enough during the Cold War to understand what was going on — and many more born in the decades since — are only newly grappling with the reality of Russia as a pressing threat. But those who’ve been aware of the gritty, grueling details of Russian espionage, as The Americans producers have been, aren’t exactly shocked by what’s happening now.
What it comes down to, as Weisberg put it, is that “[Russia’s] been doing this for years.”
Season five of The Americans premieres Tuesday, March 7, at 10 pm on FX.