Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell in 'The Americans'
Patrick Harbron/FX
Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell in 'The Americans'
CNN —  

The following contains spoilers about “The Americans” Season 5 finale.

“The Americans” has capped a fifth season that couldn’t match the depressing heights of the fourth – with the twin fates of those damsels in distress Martha and Nina – yet which has ably set up this engrossing drama’s final mission.

With Russian hacking commanding real-world headlines, FX’s Reagan-era drama set during the height of Cold War hostilities – with two KGB moles hiding in plain sight – took on somewhat different hues. The season’s major thrust, however, dealt with the growing disenchantment of one of those spies, as well as the corruption of a Soviet system essentially rotting from within, paving the way for its fall along with the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Those seismic events are still a few years away from where “The Americans” is in its narrative life, but the signs are there. In fact, this season’s most fascinating arc involved Oleg Burov (the terrific Costa Ronin), the former KGB agent and former embassy operative whose return to Russia unearthed his parents’ unsettling past and exposed him to risk from suspicious officials.

Closer to home, Philip (Matthew Rhys) came to suspect the Soviets of various atrocities, including the use of a biological agent that he had worked to retrieve. A scheme that ultimately resulted in a teenage boy’s attempted suicide further soured his outlook.

“Do we have to tear this family apart too?” he asked his handler, played by the ever-reliable Margo Martindale.

Philip and his partner in espionage and life, Elizabeth (Keri Russell), were also directly confronted by the horror of what they have done to their children, as conveyed via the stolen journal of Pastor Tim, who the couple’s daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) has taken into her confidence.

Teenage kids have long been a source of wrong turns among serious dramas – witness the groan-inducing antics of Dana Brody on “Homeland” – but Paige’s plight has been the sterling exception to that rule. The moment when Philip and Elizabeth were exposed to Tim’s musings about the depth of their betrayal in an earlier episode ranked among the season’s highlights.

The real question now is whether central duo – having spent so much time undercover in the U.S. – can go home again, or if they are in essence people without a country. Moreover, the audience harbors a knowledge they don’t about what the broader future holds in the Soviet Union, making their decisions all the more perilous.

Everything about “The Americans,” in fact, keeps coming back to moral dilemmas, including those facing FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who throughout the season was pressed by his bosses to betray confidences and past pledges. “I’m tired of feeling [lousy],” Stan lamented in the finale, reflecting that no one on either side of the Cold War conflict is likely to come away unscathed.

“It just keeps getting worse for you,” Elizabeth told Philip at the end.

While the evidence of that was written all over his face, “The Americans” has only gotten better as the seasons pile up, stoking anticipation – among its relatively small fan base – for the final act of this improbably timely period drama.