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Elizabeth: You loved it here. You started loving it more and more. Now look what finally happened.
Philip: I fit in! I fit in, like I was supposed to. And, yes, I liked it. So what?
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The Americans is a television drama that aired on FX from 2013 to 2018. Created by former CIA operative Joe Weisberg, Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters) play Soviet deep cover agents masquerading as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a married couple living in the suburbs of northern Virginia in the early 1980s. Noah Emmerich plays Stan Beeman, an FBI counterintelligence agent hunting for Soviet spies like Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, and he's just moved in down the street.

The series juggles the balance between the domestic and the spy plots, organically interweaving Philip and Elizabeth's concerns about their constructed marriage and family while they do their job as KGB agents.

There are similarities with the film Little Nikita, but in this case being much more from the parents' perspective.

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This original series contains examples of:

  • The '80s: The setting of the series. The timeline stretches from early 1981 to December 1987.
  • Action Girl: Elizabeth. She also counts as a Dark Action Girl.
  • Adult Fear: Paige and Henry try to hitchhike home from the mall and are picked up by a guy whose behavior turns more and more inappropriate.
    • The second season deals with Philip and Elizabeth's fear of their children being injured or killed by their work.
    • The entire show has the pervasive fear that someone you know, someone you trust or respect or even love, might be a completely different person, or might be betraying you, or using you for a nefarious purpose. Or might be a spy. Or a murderer.
  • All for Nothing: The series ends with Phillip and Elizabeth giving up their lives in America, losing their children and returning to Moscow... in 1987. The duo are unaware that in just four years, the USSR will collapse, the KGB will be disbanded, and everything they spent a decade fighting for will be for a cause that was long lost.
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  • Ambiguously Evil: We don't really know whether the guy who picks up Paige and Henry is a Jerkass with child abuse on his mind or if he is about to drop some advice on the kids about the dangers of hitchhiking and doesn't realize just how creepy he is coming off. Henry thinks it's the former...
  • American Title: The Americans, an example of the more cynical use of this trope.
  • Amusement Park: In "Comrades" a Jennings family outing to an amusement park turns bad when the other Deep Cover Agent family that Philip and Elizabeth meet are murdered.
  • Anti-Hero: Philip and Elizabeth are ruthless spies who are working for the Russians, but they are portrayed sympathetically. A big part of the series is the pair struggling between doing their duty and following their morality. Another part of the series is showing that, whatever its flaws, the USSR is populated by people who are just as human as the Americans and willing to fight just as hard for their homeland.
  • Anti-Villain: Larrick is an interesting case. On one hand, he is as ruthless and willing to use extreme violence as the Jennings. On the other hand, he serves for the right side of history, and would have had nothing to do with the KGB if they hadn't been threatening to reveal his homosexuality. Further complicating matters, when he actually begins to threaten the Jennings, he is chiefly driven out of his desire for revenge after Phillip murdered two of his friends.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • The FBI Director has this for Stan after his affair with his mole.
    Agent Gaad: Has she had you for breakfast, Stan?
    • Sandra asks Stan if he's having an affair.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Philip and Elizabeth, by the KGB. Also presumably Emmet and Leanne. Averted with Robert who married a third party.
    • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: It seems that the KGB sets up its agents with each other. This was averted with real life husband and wife spy teams. note 
  • Artistic License – History: The show does a good job in following history as closely as possible, but it takes some liberties from time to time:
    • The show is premised on American and Soviet agents committing brazen assassinations as part of the Cold War. As real-life Cold War operatives have pointed out, no one in either government would have actually dared commit anything so aggressive, as that would have risked sending the world into outright nuclear war.
    • The Afghan War and ISI Sub plot plays it straight. Possibly due to modern day political sensitivities, the Afghan War is given the popular version of history, the actual nuances and timelines are quite mixed up. For instance:
      • The CIA is seen as being highly involved with the Afghan resistance in 1982. In real life, while the CIA did provide support, major assistance was not forthcoming until 1984, when the war started turning sour for the Soviets. Far from the ISI deliberately keeping the CIA away from the Mujahideen as alleged in the show, the arrangement was to provide the US with deniability.
      • There is a great deal of angst about the ISI's fundamentalism bent. The Pakistani spy even moans about "officers growing beards, and getting questions on religiosity". In reality, the ISI was at the time led by the very secular officer (Akhtar Abdur Rahman), who was quite suspicious of religious elements and often clashed with CIA officials over that. ISI support for religious groups came after the end of the Afghan War... and in Kashmir.
      • Pakistan and the ISI's motivations are also couched (probably for purposes of modern American opinions, which are quite anti that country) as being for religious reasons. In real life, they were a lot more complex, but generally a mixture of anti-communism, and fears of further Soviet expansion.
      • The Mujahideen are portrayed almost as proto-Taliban, which is admittedly the popular narrative today. In actuality, except for a couple of senior commanders, the Taliban mostly consisted of people who were too young to fight the Soviets (the hint is in the name, Taliban=Students). The Taliban fought and defeated the remaining Mujahideen factions in Afghanistan after the USSR collapsed. Most of the Mujahideen factions that actually fought the Soviets joined the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Stan Beeman comes in for this when after having heavily complimented Nina on her looks, he checks back in with her later on and asks her how she got her information from the Rezident Vasili.
    Nina: I sucked his cock. Just like you told me to.
  • As You Know: Occasionally during debriefings and to the benefit of the audience, agents spell out to each other concepts that are obviously familiar to them, as they are the proverbial bread and butter of their Spy Speak.
  • Auto Erotica:
    • Philip and Elizabeth celebrate this way after completing a mission in the pilot.
    • Annelise has driver's seat sex with Phillip in "EST Men", and feels bad about it afterwards.
  • Badass Boast:
    • When Philip flies off the handle, wanting to go after a mark who got too rough with Elizabeth, she lets him know that she doesn't need taking care of.
    Elizabeth: If I wanted to deal with him, you don't think he'd be dealt with?
    • Philip gets one in the opening of season two:
    Philip: The Americans can't save you. Allah can't save you. And the KGB is everywhere.
    • Larrick gives one to Elizabeth:
    Larrick: I see any of you guys again, I swear I'll kill every Soviet ambassador in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Badass Israeli: The Mossad agents guarding Baklanov fight Philip and Elizabeth on equal terms and even manage to steal Baklanov right back from them.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Beeman figures out a simple, yet effective, plan to throw suspicion off the real mole, Nina. The Rezident is put on a plane as a result, and all it required was a basic understanding of Soviet presumed-guilty paranoia regarding their high officials.note 
    • The United States Government pulls off a Batman Gambit in season 2. They come up with faulty rotor designs for submarines and plant them at facilities all over the country, knowing full well that the Soviets will try to steal them. Russia obtains the plans and retrofits one of their submarines with the new rotors. The "improved" submarine has a rotor malfunction that kills the entire crew (over a hundred Soviet sailors). The US tricked Russia into stealing plans that would kill its own military personnel. It goes a level deeper when Oleg uncovers the fact that the fake plans wouldn't have caused such a disaster if the Soviets hadn't insisted on using the designs on the wrong type of submarine with minimal testing.
  • Becoming the Mask: Philip's central problem is that he likes being a middle class American far too much for a Soviet mole. In season six he actually quits spycraft for a while and focuses solely on his cover job.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Philip is established right away as more sensitive and less zealous than Elizabeth, but he's still a Russian agent and also significantly larger. Philip occasionally reminds the audience that he's perfectly capable of murder, and Elizabeth often relies on his brute strength to overcome an opponent.
    • Stan Beeman is a nice guy and a heroic FBI agent, but he's also capable of getting dirty and even murders a man out of vengeance.
  • Big Bad: Larrick in Season 2. Neutralizing him is Philip and Elizabeth's primary endgame since halfway through the season. However, both he and the Jennings came to a collision course as a result of the actions of...
  • Bittersweet Ending: Although for some characters it's a straight-up Downer Ending. The Jennings family is broken, but everyone survives. Elizabeth and Phillip are outed as deep cover Soviet spies and return home, to a place they haven't visited in 20 years. Paige and Henry remain behind and must deal with the fallout of having Russian agents as parents. Stan is wracked with guilt for both not suspecting the Jennings for so long and ultimately letting them go. He also suspects that his girlfriend Renee is another agent. Oleg is doomed to spend decades in prison, destroying his family.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Our protagonists are murderous KGB spies. The FBI guy hunting for them murdered a newbie KGB agent in cold blood and cheated on his wife. Nina is a Triple Agent who also isn't above callously betraying her cellmates. Martha eventually knowingly betrays her country.
  • Blatant Lies:
    Martha: Is this real?
    Philip: Yes.
    • Also Stan lying to Nina's face about murdering Vlad.
    • Elizabeth does a lot of this in season 6 when Paige starts asking pointed questions about whether or not agents have to perform sex work for missions.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: After finding the listening device in Caspar Weinberger's office, the FBI does this in order to lay a trap for Directorate S.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Or rough sex and erotic spanking is bad, as the guy who whips Elizabeth demonstrates.
  • Boring, but Practical: In contrast to the KGB's flashy, subterfuge-ridden spycraft, when it comes to business the FBI agents of the series simply follow the book and procedure.
    • Following Martha's defection, the FBI put surveillance on the mail robot she's known to tamper with. Sure enough, they catch a KGB hireling working on it.
    • Stan and Aderholt manage to arrest William simply by checking the papers of the company he works for.
    • In season six, the FBI starts unraveling the spy network by figuring out how the spies are obtaining their vehicles and then assigning dozens of agents to spend days going through thousands of newspaper ads and sale records. It is an extremely slow process but it gives them leads that they could not have gotten otherwise.
  • Bound and Gagged: Larrick does this to KGB handler Kate after overpowering her. This trope is often used for Fanservice but in this instance is very scary and disturbing.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Paige, who was already more or less this, gets even worse in Season 1 after Philip and Elizabeth separate and he moves out of the house. And in Season 2 she gets into Christianity, in what is clearly at least in part an effort to irritate her nonreligious parents.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Philip hands one of these over in exchange for sensitive information in "Gregory", but not before he uses it to bust up a couple of Mooks who wouldn't get out of his blind spot.
  • Bring It: Elizabeth before taking down Timoshev.
  • Bully Hunter: Philip tries to intervene when a pedophile starts hitting on his daughter, but backs down and doesn't try to stop him from leaving with another girl, proving him to be a subversion of this trope. However, later in the episode, he snaps Timoshev's neck when he learns Timoshev raped Elizabeth during training. Even later, he beats the shit out of the pedophile and has to be stopped from murdering the target of a honey trap who beat Elizabeth during rough sex.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Episode 1-2, "The Clock", introduces Annelise, Phillip's girlfriend, the wife of a Defense Department official. She's clingy and emotional, and it seems it will be a major plotline—but she doesn't reappear until 21 episodes later in "Yousef", when Phillip maneuvers her into being a Honey Pot for a Pakistani agent.
    • Vasili, the head of the KGB office in Washington, is framed for espionage in the first season by Nina and Stan and bundled off to the Soviet Union, presumably for execution. However, he pops up again in the second season as the dissident Russian scientist's supervising officer.
    • Lyle Renhull, the colonel from Season 1 finale "The Colonel" who gave Phillip some important intel, pops back up in Season 6's "Tchaikovsky", now a general. His interaction with the KGB doesn't go nearly as well this time.
    • After being packed off to Russia and essentially dropping out of the plot in season 4, Martha shows up for a few brief appearances in season 5, the final of which implies she's going to adopt a young girl from an orphanage, referencing her desire to have children with "Clark".
  • ...But He Sounds Handsome: Elizabeth can't resist making offhanded remarks about how cool the Soviet Union's accomplishments are ("walking on the moon is OK, but getting into space is the real thing")
  • Buxom Is Better: In "Pastor Tim", Henry, now a teen awash in hormones, tells Stan Beeman that he lusts after one of his teachers. When Stan asks about her, Henry says "She's got..." and makes a gesture indicating large breasts.
  • Call-Back: In Season 2 episode "Echo" Philip starts to tell Elizabeth a story about when he was a boy in Tobolsk and gangs of kids would mug him when he was bringing milk home. He's interrupted before he finishes the story. Two seasons later in Season 4 premiere "Glanders", we see the violent end to that interrupted story, in a flashback to Philip's youth.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Chris's offhand comment early in the season about how he once dated Martha leads to Chris asking Martha out again in "Mutually Assured Destruction" — which leads to Chris seeing Martha looking in a file cabinet she shouldn't be looking in and acting all shifty, which leads to Chris getting suspicious and following Martha around.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Nina betrays every 'side' she's on. Even after being imprisoned for treason in season 3, she informs on her fellow prisoners in exchange for better treatment and meals from the guards. Ultimately the one time she refuses to betray someone and report on Anton Baklanov, she's executed because of it.
  • City of Spies: Washington DC is full of not just KGB, CIA, and FBI agents, but also Contras, Sandanistas, South Africans (both pro- and anti-goverment), Mossad, ISI, Mujahadeen, and others.
  • Clark Kenting: One of the alter egos is also called "Clark". And this Clark looks a lot like Philip with a toupee and glasses. However, for the most part the disguises are not meant to completely change the agents appearances, just to look nondescript.
  • Consummate Liar: Saying that the "Jennings" are extremely good at deception would be an understatement. This comes with the job description for cover agents, since their dual (and something trial or quadral) lives depend on it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Who moves in right next door to two Soviet Deep Cover Agents? An FBI agent who works in counterintelligence and is hunting Soviet agents, that's who. Somewhat excused by the fact that it's a Washington, D.C. suburb with a high density of government employees. Lampshaded by Elizabeth: "FBI agents have to live somewhere."
  • Covert Distress Code: In the next-to-last episode, after narrowly escaping an FBI trap, Phillip calls home and tells Elizabeth he has to work late at the office. It's a distress code, and the Jenningses flee the country immediately.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The Jennings run a travel agency. This provides them with sufficient excuse to travel and to meet different types of people.
  • Cowboy Cop:
    • Stan has a knack for unsanctioned work and is often following his own, accurate hunches. One time he bullies the guy in the stereo store without even a hint of a warrant, another he breaks into the Jennings' garage. When Amador is killed, this becomes even more pronounced, particularly in his speech about how hunting dogs carry the birds they catch to their master's feet to a terrified captured KGB agent. He's also the first to become suspicious of Martha and puts her under surveillance without telling the bosses.
    • Elizabeth and Philip ignore direct orders from the Center and think outside the box sometimes, which doesn't sit well with the rigid Soviet structure.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The KGB agents, operating far from home and support, have a lot of preparation to ensure their safety.
    • They have a fake demented "Aunt" for the kids if they ask too many questions.
    • Someone monitors Martha's line to ensure she does not reveal "Clark" to the US.
    • Season 3 reveals that if Directorate S agents ever find themselves being tailed, they can call someone and get a made-to-order traffic collision that will allow them to escape the tail.
    • Phillip has a fully-furnished and seemingly lived-in apartment for "Clark", in case Martha ever asks to go there. It comes in handy when she actually does, in the middle of the night.
  • Criminal Procedural: The show examines what it takes to be an illegal spy (sleeper agent) in the United States. It involves murder and deception of regular people on a regular basis.
  • Cultural Cringe: Philip and Elizabeth cozy up to a Soviet defector in the fifth season who almost constantly lambasts the USSR in favor of the US. This annoys not only them (privately) but also his wife, who didn't want to defect.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Paige has been training with Elizabeth for years and manages to beat up two grabby college boys, but when Philip spars with her to make a point, he tosses her around with casual ease.
  • Cycle of Revenge: A rogue faction of the KGB causes the deaths of three FBI agents, and the Americans retaliate by killing a number of KGB officers. The KGB wants to end the feud, but some of their agents seek personal revenge for the deaths of their friends.
  • Dance of Despair: Phillip takes up country line dancing in order to fill up all the spare time he now has as his spying career ends and his business falls apart.
  • Dead Man Switch: The season 6 premiere, appropriately titled "Dead Man", reveals this to be part of the MacGuffin. The Soviets have created a "dead man" system to destroy the Americans in a nuclear war, even if the whole Soviet leadership is taken out by an American first strike. The anti-Gorbachev clique in the KGB is afraid that Gorbachev will bargain this away in the upcoming summit.
  • Deal with the Devil: Larrick forces Elizabeth to take this while he strangles Lucia.
    Larrick: It's either her or me. You choose.
  • Deep Cover Agent:
    • "Directorate S", the KGB program which has installed deep cover agents in the United States masquerading as American citizens. The Jennings' aren't even allowed to speak Russian to each other at home, and were instructed to never ask the other about their actual background, instead only learning their invented back stories.
    • Stan was also a deep cover agent for the FBI, before the events of Season 1. He just recently returned from a very long mission and is clearly having trouble re-adjusting.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: While Russia is often shown to be Not So Different from America, there are moments highlighting how different life in the Soviet Union was:
    • One scene shows a Russian market where shoppers glumly browse sparse shelves in unflattering light. We later learn that this market is so bountiful by local standards that it's immediately suspicious.
    • Flashbacks reveal a Russian infatuation with jeans and other bits of American culture in spite of harsh Soviet crackdowns.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The wife of an American working for the Russians died and he is on the verge of a mental breakdown. His handler is convinced that if he can just talk to the man, he would be able to calm him down and bring him back from the brink. However, the Russians cannot get away from FBI surveillance so Elizabeth is ordered to kill the man before he does something that would expose the spy ring. In the same episode Claudia recounts the story of one of her assets in West Germany. The Russians decided that he was not useful anymore and recalled Claudia back. Shortly after being abandoned, the man killed himself since spying for the Russians had become his main purpose in life.
  • The Determinator: Stan has elements of this, particularly after his partner is killed.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The last episode of the series, "START", takes place in early December 1987. As Phil and Liz are frantically trying to escape as the FBI hunts for them, there are Christmas decorations everywhere.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Happens off-screen Season 4 finale. Beeman comes home after work and finds Paige and Mathew hurriedly fixing their hair and clothes.
  • Dies Wide Open:
    • Joyce, the wife of the agent who died in the pilot, meets an unfortunate end in "Gregory".
    • The same happens to Agent Chris Amador.
    • Poor unfortunate Annelise after an intelligence op ends with her getting strangled to death in "EST Men".
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Season 2 finale "Echo" reveals that Jared killed his parents and his sister after his parents refused to let him spy for the KGB.
  • Double Agent: Nina becomes this after coming clean to Arkady. Actually, given that she was a KGB officer to begin with, she's really a Triple Agent. Or perhaps a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Paige and Matthew talk about his father Stan's dangerous job in "In Control". Paige says "My dad doesn't do stuff like that. He's just a travel agent."
    • When Amador is killed, Stan goes to Philip to blow off steam. Philip is the one who has killed Amador, although Stan does not know that.
    • When in the first season finale, Elizabeth is shot by Stan during a car chase, Stan knows the car contains agents but not who they are. The Jennings are forced underground while Elizabeth heals. They ask Stan to take care of their kids.
    • In "Cardinal", Martha, spooked by the murders at the hotel, justifies buying a gun by saying "Clark, I don't want to be a victim". She is of course a victim of Philip, who has lied to her and tricked her into a sham marriage to use her as an intelligence source.
    • Viewers will know that the dissolution of the USSR occurs in 1991, which is only four years away by the final season. The Communist ideals that Philip and Elizabeth fight for (and in which Elizabeth so fervently believes) are already in their final years.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Ronald Reagan to the Soviets. Which is Truth in Television — the Soviet government viewed Reagan as very dangerous.
    • Larrick. Even Claudia is frightened of him.
  • Dream Sequence: Stan has a pretty bad dream in "The Echo" which features Vlad (the guy he murdered), his wife humping a Russian, and Martha stealing documents (possibly indicating that Stan has some subconscious suspicion).
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: There is a long, lingering shot of Annelise's naked corpse (face down) in "Baggage".
  • The '80s:
    • The series starts off in early 1981, right after Ronald Reagan's inauguration. The March 30, 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan is a major plot point, and the main arc of Season 1 is Russian attempts to find out details about American research into what later became Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively nicknamed "Star Wars" (Henry's "Star Wars" bedsheets may or may not be a Historical In-Joke).
    • The second season is set in 1982, and P and E discover the secret American support for Nicaragua's Contras, which would later become a major scandal.
    • The third season starts in November 1982, soon after the death of Leonid Brezhnev. Yuri Andropov, Breznev's successor, is alluded to a couple times over the course of Series 2.
    • The rest of the series continues through the decade, with the sixth and last season going through a three year Time Skip, ending around the time of the Washington Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev in December 1987.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: In the pilot, after a child predator makes crude remarks about his daughter, Philip catches the guy barbecuing in his backyard. Philip beats his ass and then walks away with a hot dog off of his grill.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In his first scene of the series, Philip beats up a guy who had previously beaten up the entire Japanese Olympic judo team, revealing that he is badass. He also recalls the specific rank that team held when the guy beat them up, revealing that he is a Genius Bruiser.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Reagan gets shot, Elizabeth believes there is some sort of power play behind the scenes in the American government meant for the war hawks to take over, just like how things happen in the Soviet Union. She never considers that it was just some random psychopath, or that the war hawks might not be interested in taking over.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Philip and Elizabeth are not evil per se, but they make it very clear that they don't want their kids to follow them into their lives of espionage.
  • Fake Guest Star: Richard Thomas as Frank Gaad, Stan Beeman's supervisor at the FBI. Nearly two seasons in and Thomas has appeared in every episode of the series except one. Keidrich Sellati and Holly Taylor, who play the Jennings children, have appeared in fewer episodes, despite being main cast members Richard Thomas is finally Promoted to Opening Credits in Season 3.
  • Fall Guy: When a Soviet submarine sinks with all hands lost, the tragedy is caused by faulty propellers that were built based on plans stolen by Philip and Elizabeth. The KGB is blamed for falling for a US trick and stealing defective plans deliberately planted by the Americans. Oleg uses his connections to discover the real truth: the submarine was rushed to sea without proper testing and the propellers were never designed to work with that type of submarine. However, since the official finding was that the plans were defective, the KGB will take the blame even if it was not really its fault.
  • False Flag Operation: Philip is exploiting Martha, Agent Gaad's secretary, by pretending to be another FBI agent investigating the counterintelligence unit.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Claudia is close friends with a General Zhukov, but not that General Zhukov.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • "Clark" and Martha are played by attractive/average people, and they don't do anything strange, but their sex scenes still come across as off-putting.
    Martha: Shoot it into me!
    • Elizabeth begs Phillip to role-play in bed as Clark, which ends terribly.
  • Fanservice: Sexy KGB spies Nina and Elizabeth show their comely backsides repeatedly, which is apparently the limit of how far this basic cable show can go.
  • FBI Agent: Stan, Chris, Agent Gaad.
  • 555:
    • On a news broadcast about the kidnapping of Joyce in "Gregory".
    • On a Leo Buscaglia infomercial in "Comrades".
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • President Reagan survives the assassination attempt. There is no military coup and World War 3 does not start. This trope is examined in-universe: the Russians assume that a military coup will occur based on their own experiences with America's allies. Philip, by all accounts the Soviet character who 'gets' America the best, is the only one who notices the Americans have no such expectations.
    • The plot by KGB hardliners to derail the 1987 summit and overthrow Gorbachev will fail, and the summit will go smoothly. (There was just such a coup attempt in 1991 by KGB hardliners, but it quickly collapsed.)
  • Foreshadowing: In Season 2, Stan dreams about Martha stealing classified documents from the mail robot. Come Season 3, the FBI finally finds the bug Martha installed in Gaad's pen, which results in a full-fledged internal affairs investigation on Stan's department. When an internal affairs officer asks Stan if he could think of anyone being a mole in his department, he hesitates, but then, after he gets out, he asks to see Martha right away.
  • Going Native:
    • Philip, but explicitly not Elizabeth.
    • Oleg clearly has gotten himself assigned to the Washington DC KGB office for a chance to go native and experience American culture.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Elizabeth's relationship with Gregory can be seen as the good type in-universe given that she is a fish out of water in a "marriage" that is, at the time, only a professional arrangement "in a strange country with a strange man" as she puts it and is looking for some sort of real connection. It is bad to the viewer because Philip is sympathetic, probably cared for her long before she started caring for him, and is deeply hurt.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted with Nina, who's mentioned to have had an abortion in the past but is not portrayed badly for it. In fact, she's probably one of the nicest characters. The father, her estranged husband, seems to not hold it against her or be upset, merely speculative as to how things would have been different if she had kept it.
  • Grand Finale: at the end of Season Six. The FBI investigation finally leads to Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who have to flee for their lives.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The finale is clouded with really shitty weather, including a non-scripted snowstorm.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Jared.
  • Greedy Jew: Alluded to by Philip in "The Deal" when he mentions the "shekels" he supposes an Israeli agent is working for.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: So very much of it. Lampshaded by Nina in "Duty and Honor":
    Nina: You Americans are so white and black. For us, it's all grey.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Henry breaks a beer bottle over a pervert's head in "Trust Me".
  • Groin Attack: Elizabeth does this to an uncooperative bookie in "Duty and Honor".
  • The Handler:
    • Claudia ("Granny") is this for Philip and Elizabeth, taking over from their previous handler at the start of the show. She and Elizabeth don't get along in the early seasons.
    • In Season 2, Philip and Elizabeth get a new handler named Kate after expressing their displeasure with Claudia to the higher-ups.
    • At the end of Season 2, Claudia returns, ordering Phillip and Elizabeth to begin preparing Paige for eventual service in the KGB, as they had intended for Jared to do.
    • In Season 3 an older agent named Gabriel, their handler prior to Claudia, comes out of retirement to work with them.
    • Claudia's back again for Season 6, manipulating Elizabeth on behalf of a rogue faction of the KGB.
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Philip does this to escape the FBI in Season 1 finale "The Colonel".
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: In "Pastor Tim", Phillip strangles a security guard at the back of an airport shuttle bus and the teenage girl near the front is wearing a Walkman and listening to "Tainted Love" doesn't hear it. It helps that Phillip is very quiet in his killing, as usual.
  • Heel–Face Mole: "Stingers" reveals that Stan was right about Zinaida. She's not really a defector, and in fact is spying for the KGB.
  • Heroic BSoD: Stan after his confrontation with the Jennings in which he learns his next door neighbors and good friends are KGB spies and that his wife might be one as well. He lets the Jennings leave, returns to his house in a stupor and spends the rest of the night sitting in a chair watching his wife sleep looking completely broken.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Stan Beeman after Philip's unplanned abduction and killing of Amador.
  • Holding Hands: A lot in the first three episodes seeing as how the start of the series marks the beginning of the agents really connecting.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Elizabeth. She reacts to Paige's joining a church youth group as if her daughter takes to drugs or prostitution. As a rule, while the average Soviets did frown upon religion, they wouldn't exactly freak out like Elizabeth either. Even Philip has to tell her to cool it a bit-she'd been shown to take stereotypical Soviet values far more seriously than him already.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Amador and his knife.
    • In the shootout between the West German bomber and Philip+Elizabeth, he ducks into the hotel bathroom. The KGB agents toss the bomb into the bathroom just as he sets it off.
    • The Soviets actively steal American engineering designs. One of those designs are defective and when the Soviets try it on their sub the whole thing sinks.
  • Honey Pot:
    • Both Philip and Elizabeth act as Honey Pots regularly. They almost never fail to seduce a target.
    • Nina is a Honey Pot for Vasili after she gets turned by the FBI, and then for Stan after switching her loyalty back to the KGB.
    • Philip gets his girlfriend Annelise to be a Honey Pot and seduce a Pakistani agent. She goes through with it but is very upset afterwards.
    • Kate was this for Jared, after his parents refused to recruit him.
  • Hope Spot: In Chloramphenical, Oleg's father agrees to help Nina in exchange for Oleg remaining in the USSR. There is a scene of Nina being "transferred" suggesting that just that might be happening... except then she is told her sentence hasn't changed and she is unceremoniously shot in the back of the head.
  • Ice Queen / Defrosting Ice Queen: Elizabeth vacillates back and forth between these tropes.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: The first person to hear of the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (a fact which will have major implications on the series) is Paige, who listens to the news for a second before flipping to The Jeffersons.
  • I Have a Family: An excellent example in Season 2's "The Walk In": Philip & Elizabeth masquerade as inspectors to get into a shipyard to get a look at some secret military submarine propellers, and a worker catches Elizabeth breaking a crate open. While keeping her tone light and casual, she picks up a crowbar. The worker, still speaking casually but quite obviously terrified, leads Elizabeth to the propeller. While still speaking casually, he shows her pictures of his kids and says, in a quavering voice, "They're expecting me home." Elizabeth eventually leaves, but not before taking the picture of the youngest kid.
  • IKEA Erotica: Nina's official reports on her seduction of Stan read like this.
  • Immediate Sequel: Season 3 finale "March 8, 1983" is set on this date. Season 4 picks up the very next day with season premiere "Glanders".
  • Impairment Shot: Used when Philip wakes up in "Cardinal", after being zapped into unconsciousness by a footlocker that was actually electrified.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In the series finale, Paige abandons her parents at the last moment, getting off the train right before it crosses the Canadian border, choosing to stay in America. The last scene we ever see of her, she enters Claudia's abandoned apartment, pulls a bottle of vodka out of the fridge, and downs a shot.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Paige and Henry develop one with Pastor Tim and Agent Beeman respectively, which serves to underscore that despite their genuine care, the Jenning's parenthood is lacking, as the boys seek out another parental figures.
  • Ironic Episode Title: The series finale was titled "START", a reference to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that was then starting to be negotiated, but also an obvious joke.
  • Irony: The Jennings' longest-serving and most loyal employee is an immigrant from the Polish People's Republic who is nonetheless not one of their Soviet allies.
  • It's Personal:
    • Stan's actions after Amador is killed can be seen in this light.
    • A variation with Philip. When an Afghan freedom fighter presents an undercover Philip with a blade which he claims he killed many Russians with, note the way that Philip's expression changes. He would probably have killed him anyway and in fact that was almost certainly the reason for the meet but he was far more eager to comply after that statement.
    • Lucia's motivation to kill Larrick as his work in Nicaragua lead to the death of members of her family.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Philip is subjected to this in "Trust Me" when the KGB is trying to determine if he is a mole.
  • Just Train Wrong: The train to Canada in "START" is clearly a Metro North train made up to look like an Amtrak train, though Amtrak does have a route that runs from New York City to Montreal, the Adirondack. It uses a modern GE Genesis locomotive painted in the Amtrak livery of the time when the episode is set, but in real life the F40PH was the main road diesel in that era. Amtrak mainly used Turboliner trainsets on routes that ran in upstate New York, including the Adirondack.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: In "Comrades" Philip decides to end a meeting with an Afghan anti-Soviet guerrilla this way.
    "You Russians have no idea who you're—" BANG
  • Lady Drunk: The embittered middle-aged CIA officer who passes classified info to Elizabeth over drinks in a bar in "EST Men." She has immediate second thoughts, with unfortunate consequences for Elizabeth.
  • Lethally Stupid: Father Andrei suspects that he has been outed as a Soviet agent to the FBI but he still goes to a meeting with Philip and takes his sweet time telling Philip about his suspicions. He is then confused when Philip immediately cuts the meeting short and walks away.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Stan's hunting parable to Vlad after his abduction.
  • Let Off by the Detective: Stan has the Jennings dead to rights in the finale, but ultimately lets them go.
  • Little Miss Badass / Small Girl, Big Gun: In "Mutually Assured Destruction" Elizabeth goes to an arms dealer's house and finds him there with his daughter, who looks about ten. Dad tells the girl to go to her room and she does, only to come back toting a shotgun, getting the drop on Elizabeth. Philip then enters the scene from behind and disarms her.
  • Loss of Identity: Elizabeth may not believe so, but she seems to be going through this to some extent. Her softer approach to people now is a far cry from when she was little Nadezhda living in a hardened Soviet Union.
  • Love at First Sight: A one-sided example. At the start of the series it's fairly obvious that Philip cares deeply for Elizabeth, while Elizabeth still views her marriage to Philip as an assignment. It isn't until the third episode that Elizabeth admits that she's starting to feel love for Philip for the first time in their twenty-year marriage.
  • Love Redeems / Love Makes You Crazy: Or at least less rational. Philip was ready and willing to deliver the KGB defector to the USA and defect himself, in order to get a better life for his family than he could reasonably expect in Russia. However, once he gets to learns that said defector raped Elizabeth, he kills him with his bare hands, effectively cementing his career as a Soviet spy. Elizabeth on the other hand, who until then was cold and distant toward Philip, starts to warm up to him after this.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Martha and Stan. Both are completely played by their supposed lovers.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: In "Mutually Assured Destruction", Elizabeth kills a professional assassin by tossing a bomb at him right before it detonates. Afterward there is nothing left of the man but a mess of blood and tissue covering the floor and walls.
  • Mad Bomber: A rogue faction of the KGB hires an assassin who likes to blow up his targets with bombs and does not seem to care about collateral damage.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • In the episode "Gregory", the KGB murders Joyce (Rob's wife) by making it look like she died of an accidental heroin overdose.
    • A variation in the episode "In Control". After murdering the security guard, the Jennings leave the body in a wooded area and leave behind clues suggesting the man was killed by a woman he was having sex with.
  • Mama Bear: Claudia is revealed as this in the final episode of season 1.
  • Manly Gay / Straight Gay: Larrick in Season 2. Blackmailed into working for the KGB, because he's a homosexual. Also a badass Navy SEAL who is exceptionally good at tracking down and killing people.
  • Marriage Before Romance:
    • Philip and Elizabeth. It's mentioned at one point that when Philip was introduced to Elizabeth for the first time he was relieved by how pretty she was, but he could tell by her face that she was disappointed by him. It isn't until the third episode that Elizabeth admits that she's starting to feel love for Philip for the first time in their twenty year marriage.
    • Philip and Martha's fake relationship and fake marriage starts to get more real by Season 4, like in season premiere "Glanders", when he's going to Martha for comfort and telling her things he doesn't tell his other wife.
    • From what we saw in the Season 2 premiere, Emmet and Leanne also qualified.
  • Married to the Job:
    • Most of the FBI agents know for a fact that serving their country takes a serious toll on their personal lives.
    • Philip and Elizabeth gradually provide a literal example.
  • Master of Disguise: Phillip and Elizabeth, with their numerous false identities, are good at transforming their appearance. Lampshaded by Gregory in "Only You", in which he directly states "You guys are the masters of disguise".
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Claudia identifies a woman in the US as a Nazi collaborator who killed Soviet POWs based on them being the same age and height, Philip asks whether this means they're really the same person, or just share those characteristics. Claudia says "Yes".
  • Mercy Kill: Elizabeth euthanizes Erica after her husband gave her an overdose of morphine that didn't work, at her request.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Supervisor Gaad has a Vietnamese wife he met while he served there during the war.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Irina, Philip's old girlfriend from his life in Russia, shows up in "Duty and Honor" as part of a mission.
  • The Mistress: Nina becomes Stan's in "Duty and Honor".
  • The Mole:
    • Not our leads (who are sleeper agents) but Nina, a KGB officer stationed at the Soviet embassy, who the FBI caught stealing and smuggling caviar. Stan pressures her into working for them to avoid being turned over to the Soviet authorities.
    • Martha is this without even realizing it, when "Clark" convinces her to spy on the FBI by saying it's a counterintelligence op. Eventually she figures this out, but rather than turning herself in, she becomes Philip's willing mole.
  • Moral Myopia:
    • Elizabeth having a decade-long secret relationship with another dude? It's okay for her, because he was "passionate about her", while she herself clearly didn't feel that way about Philip at the time, and she apologized for it. Philip rekindling his relation with his first true love, after feeling betrayed by Elizabeth due to the events from an earlier episode, but immediately breaking it off? Kick the bastard out!
    • Similarly, Elizabeth's dim view of Ronald Reagan often overlooks the fact that her country didn't have a great human rights record.
    • Aside from Oleg, the Soviets are enraged that the Americans have purposely planted defective engineering plans, one of which results in the sinking of a Soviet submarine, killing everyone abroad. Oleg is the only one to question why the Soviet engineers did not find the defect and why more extensive testing was not done on the submarine before putting it in service. Also none of the Russians seem to consider that the disaster was caused by them stealing the plans and that they wouldn't have had this problem if they'd just designed their own submarine.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: A recurring, conversed theme, usually in tandem with "cushy America makes you weak."
    • Elizabeth believes that "there's a weakness" among Americans (very specifically, the white middle class she occupies), and wants to subtly encourage her children to become socialists, or at least sympathetic to the radicals of the recent past who she admired deeply.
    • Claudia is also skeptical towards American women since she considers them not being used to really struggle for a better life—as opposed to her own country's history, where the women's equality movement was very closely tied to violent communist revolution. At the time, in pure terms of elected representatives in office compared to the US, she's ''technically'' correct.
    • When discussing that a 5'4'' woman knocked out two FBI agents, one of them remarks "they make them tough over there."
  • More Deadly Than the Male: While it's never established that Elizabeth is a better fighter than Philip, she is routinely characterized as a more ruthless and committed agent than Philip.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The season 5 episode "Pests" has a scene set in rural Illinois but very clearly filmed in the rolling countryside of upstate New York.
  • Mugging the Monster: Two ruffians intercept Elizabeth and Page on their way to the car. Elizabeth hands over her wallet as any regular person would do, but when one of the muggers keeps approaching Page with ill-intent, she fights them, killing the one who pulled a knife.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Philip's reaction when he gets rough with Elizabeth while wearing his "Clark" disguise. It was actually at her request (she was intrigued by a comment Martha made), but he tears off his hairpiece in disgust when she breaks down crying.
    • Philip deals with this quite a bit in Season 2, like when the Russian scientist that he kidnaps gives him a You Bastard! speech, or when his efforts to infiltrate the Operation Martial Eagle base lead to the deaths of three innocents.
    • Martha says this in Season 4 premiere "Glanders" after realizing that Philip killed Gene to cover for her.
    • Philip has maybe his most serious instance of this when his years-long weird friendship with Kimmie the teenager finally leads to sex. The whole idea is for him to go to Europe with Kimmie so he can lure her behind the iron curtain and into the clutches of the KGB, but he refuses, cutting the relationship off and giving Kimmie an oblique warning.
  • Neck Snap: How Larrick the badass Navy SEAL dispatches Kate in "Stealth".
  • The Needs of the Many: The reason why the Israelis turn over Baklanov to the Soviets, so that 1,500 Soviet Jews are allowed to emigrate to Israel.
  • Nerves of Steel: Reverend Tim, the pastor of Paige's church. He doesn't succumb to Philip's intimidation and even manages to force Philip to retreat in the end.
  • Nipple and Dimed: The Americans is a master class in the art of showing people rolling around naked in bed without ever revealing a woman's nipples. Notable examples are the sex scene between the gorgeous prostitute and the German assassin in "Mutually Assured Destruction", or Annelise's sex with Yousef in "EST Men".
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. The Mossad agent Philip takes hostage has to do it. In front of Philip. Who has to wipe his asshole afterward.
  • No Delays for the Wicked: Generally played straight although, occasionally averted. The KGB is highly efficient. Forged government IDs? No problem. Safe houses across the Washington metro area? Got them. Files on American top-secret security personnel? Piece of cake. They even have an office facility that can pass itself off as the CIA's. Admittedly, the KGB has the advantage of surprise, by being undercover, they have the advantage of deciding where and when to strike, the US has to react to them.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Elizabeth delivers a surprising and brutal one to Claudia after her torture at her own agency's hands.
  • Nothing but Hits: Iconic music from the 80s is seamlessly played and the songs are almost another character in the show, often containing lyrics that put a point on what's happening.
  • Not So Different: Elizabeth uses this angle with Pastor Tim, arguing that they both work to end nuclear threat, for justice and for equality. Pastor Tim thinks otherwise and points out the mistreatment of religious grups in the Eastern Bloc.
  • Oblivious to Their Own Description: While he interrogates a group of Pentagon engineers, Stan warns them that the secrets they're embarrassed to admit the most are the one the KGB will use to turn them. That's exactly what happens to him.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The Americans planted defective submarine plans for the KGB to steal, so that when the Soviets try to build those submarines themselves the resulting product will kill the Soviets who board them. None of this is shown on-screen, but the subsequent shock among the KGB characters is still palpable. Then again, insider Oleg thinks the sinking was simply incompetence on the part of the Soviet navy.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Elizabeth and Philip both have a subdued one when they realize their new neighbor Stan is an FBI agent who works in counterintelligence.
    • The KGB officers in the embassy have one when they listen to the tape recorded at the house of the US Secretary of Defense. They are overjoyed over this massive intelligence coup, but then they get to the end of the conversation and hear that the Americans are planning a ballistic missile defense screen.
    • The look on their deceased comrade's wife's face when she realizes they're spies.
    • Philip gets a pretty spectacular one when he comes to Martha's apartment in "Covert War" and she confronts him with her parents.
    • "The Colonel" gives us perhaps the most epic one yet when Claudia and Philip figure out the titular colonel is not the trap, the routine tape pickup Elizabeth was sent on is.
    • "Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?" gives one to an elderly bookkeeper who comes in late at night to do the bills for her family's Mail Robot repair shop....unfortunately at the same time the Jennings are planting a bug in a Mail Robot used by the FBI. Elizabeth watches over her, and the two strike up a casual conversation about their families....until the bookkeeper asks where Elizabeth's mother lives.
    Elizabeth: Russia.
    Bookkeeper: Oh. Your English is very good.
    Elizabeth: We've been trained.
  • Old Flame: Philip reunites with his ex-girlfriend Irina to discredit a Polish pro-democracy leader.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Invoked by Philip when he approaches Arkady in a public place. It is a gross violation of operational security and Philip does it specifically to let Moscow know how deadly serious he is about making sure that his children are off-limits and that he will never permit that they be recruited as spies, without consent of him and his wife.
  • Out of Focus: Henry was never the focus of the show, but he was seen less and less in later years, as Henry was sent off to boarding school while Paige was groomed to join the family spy business. In the finale Henry is seen in only two scenes and only has dialogue in one.
  • Overt Operative:
    • Everyone knows the real duties of the people in the Rezidentura. Most of their cover jobs are not ever mentioned at all, and the people themselves make no attempt to hide their actual responsibilities. Truth in Television, as it has always been common practice for intelligence agents to work in embassies as "diplomats", giving them diplomatic immunity.
    • Kate does this when she shows up in a headscarf and trenchcoat to a meet. Lampshaded by Phillip.
    "Seriously? You look like a character in a spy flick."
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Paige has to deal with this in "Comrades" when she barges in on her mom and dad going 69.
  • Period Piece: The series is set in the '80s, at the height of the Cold War.
  • Pet the Dog: The KGB is a brutal secret police organization whose agents and officers are responsible for a multitude of murders, tortures, abductions, sabotages, and human rights violations. Even so, they vehemently oppose South Africa's apartheid and institutional racism.
  • The Perils of Being the Best: Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings are two of the KGB's best undercover spies... which means they've both done a shitload of sleeping with and murdering people for no other reason than because the Centre told them to. They're both constantly dealing with the emotional toll of that kind of work.
  • Playing Drunk: Philip and Elizabeth attack an Israeli operative and are dragging him away when they're stopped by a cop. They claim they're just escorting their too-drunk friend home. The Israeli, not wanting to make a bad situation even worse, plays along by slurring through a few bars of Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler" along with a nearby jukebox.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Each of the first three seasons use this trope.
    • In the pilot, a Directorate S agent that is on a mission with Phillip is killed. This tips the FBI off to the existence of Directorate S.
    • In the second-season premiere, two more Directorate S agents that had met Phillip and Elizabeth for a mission are killed in their hotel room. The mystery of who was behind the murders drives the plot for the whole season.
    • In the third-season premiere, Yousef falls into the KGB's clutches when Phillip confronts him immediately after Yousef murdered Annelise.
  • Poison-and-Cure Gambit: The whole plot of "The Clock", in which Philip and Elizabeth do this in order to force a maid to plant a listening device in Caspar Weinberger's house.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • A badly phrased comment on TV by Secretary of State and retired four star general Alexander Haig causes the Russians to suspect that the US military is staging a coup following the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. As a result Philip and Elizabeth are told to prepare for the outbreak of World War 3 and start scouting out the best location for assassinating the Secretary of Defense. Elizabeth then kills a security guard who interrupts them. Inverted later when Philip refuses to tell the KGB about an important piece of intelligence because he believes that it will unnecessarily increase tensions and could trigger the war.
    • A communication problem between Stan and his partner almost causes them to expose their agent in the embassy, which would get her killed.
  • Porn Stash: Paige catches pubescent Henry with a photo of Sandra Beeman in a bikini top that he has no good reason to possess. Later, episode "Stingers" reveals that it's part of a collection of photos of scantily-clad ladies that Henry has torn from newspapers and magazines, and has hidden under the floorboards of his closet.
  • Protest By Obstruction: Pastor Tim chains himself to the gates of an army base to protest nuclear proliferation.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Rezident Vasili is called back to the USSR to stand trial. We learn in season two that The Bus Came Back, but to Siberia.
    • Martha gets burned and is successfully exfiltrated to the USSR. A later episode checks back on Martha, whose rather sad life in Moscow is lightened when the KGB matches her up with an orphan to adopt.
  • Primal Scene: In the second-season premiere, Paige walks in on her parents going 69 on each other. Ick.
  • Professional Killer: Both the Jennings are this in spades, but Elizabeth (at least as of the middle of season 2) comes off as the colder of the two.
  • Properly Paranoid: Stan. He stops being proper by the end of Season 1, when his feelings to Nina makes him unable to see her deceptions.
  • Punk in the Trunk: For most of the pilot episode-several days in-episode-the Jennings' Oldsmobile has a Soviet defector in the trunk.
  • Rape as Backstory: Elizabeth, in training. It's later revealed by the same individual that all the instructors were raping the female trainees as a "perk" of the job. Or not-the revelation is coming directly from the mouth of a defector who was being held at gunpoint for his transgression by Philip, desperately seeking excuses, making him an Unreliable Expositor. It comes back in season two, where Elizabeth makes Philip have sex with her as "Clark" and triggers a PTSD attack when he acts roughly.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Wounds suffered by the characters can be fatal (for example Robert in the series premiere) or require a long rehabilitation process.
    • Highly trained agents are unable to fight their way out of sudden unexpected ambushes and are captured (in the KGB "test") or the other spy couple and their daughter in their hotel room in the second season premiere.
    • Killing and other unpleasant activities take an emotional toll on the Jennings.
    • Growing children are becoming more aware of their surrounding and are not oblivious.
    • Nobody is above anybody when it comes to political dealings. Anton Baklanov, a Jewish refusenik himself, is traded by Mossad-the very Israelis who promised to protect him-for 1,500 more Jewish refuseniks from the USSR.
    • Asking your husband to make love to you as he does to his mark makes both of you very upset and is not enjoyable or titillating.
    • Your hostage has to shit. And he shits in front of you. And then you have to wipe his ass.
      Mossad agent: Mr. KGB-man! I need to shit.
    • It's not a good idea to go after a highly-trained Navy SEAL colonel you're specifically and explicitly forbidden from attacking. Your boss not only has to stop using him, you'll also die.
    • There are no second acts in Soviet lives, and no redemption. Treason and failing the motherland are rewarded with a bullet to the brain, 1984-style. This is made painfully explicit in Nina Sergeevna's storyline.
    • Philip suspects that Paige has grown overconfident in the fighting skills she's learned from Elizabeth, so he forces her to spar with him and casually demolishes her, forcing her to realize that attacking people twice her size is incredibly dangerous no matter how much training she receives.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Vasili is seen in Season 2 heading up a remote scientific outpost in the middle of Siberia.
  • Red Herring: Both season one and season two have arcs within the Jennings family that don't pan out as expected:
    • Season 1 seems to paint early on that Phillip has a desire to defect, but once Elizabeth is nearly mortally wounded we realize each of them are still very committed to the cause, but have different attitudes to life in their posting.
    • Season 2 amps up Paige's suspicion that something is not right about her parents - to the point of snooping through their belongings and then walking on them having sex. While she ultimately doesn't discover the truth, her suspicious nature may take on a new angle - as her parents have now been ordered to prepare Paige for eventual indoctrination as a KGB agent.
    • At several points in Season 2, it appears that Clark/Phillip's sham marriage to Martha has become too complicated to be useful, with Elizabeth even posing as Clark's sister and getting her drunk to pump her for information about Phillip. While by the end of the season Martha is still OK, the relationship has grown more complicated when Clark discovers Martha has bought a gun for protection, against his wishes and that Martha has known for quite a while that Phillip is wearing a toupee when he poses as Clark.
    • Martha's Chekhov's Gun, bought, much to Philip's unpleasant surprise, in episode 2-2, "Cardinal". Martha takes target practice with it in Season 3 premiere "EST Men". Martha's storyline ended in Season 4, with the gun never fired.
  • Redemption Equals Death:
    • Col. Larrick at the end of season two resolves to capture the Jenningses and turn them over to the American government, and to confess to his own involvement with them and his betrayal of his country and his brothers-in-arms, saying that he doesn't care what happens to him. Just at the moment he seems on the brink of success, Jared shoots him in the shoulder, and then Phillip in the resulting struggle kills him.
    • After Nina is returned to the Soviet Union and imprisoned for spying on them, she is given the opportunity to improve her situation by spying on and betraying the confidence of her cellmate. After she does so, her next task is to do the same for Anton, the scientist kidnapped in an earlier season. Rather than take advantage of the woman his captors seemingly offer him, he tells her how guilty he is for losing his family, and notes that in order to retain one's independence one must refuse any benefits offered by their masters. When she finds the letters he is secretly writing for his son, she decides to smuggle them out rather than rat him out. Even Anton is shocked by this, but she is confident it's the right thing. She is caught and promptly executed as a result.
  • Remember the New Guy?: KGB agent Gabriel, introduced in the first episode of Season 3 as an old friend. Apparently he was Phil and Liz's handler at some point before the time frame of the series.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Whether Renee is a Russian agent or not. The Jennings never figure out for certain, but share their suspicion with Stan, who is stuck between loving her and suspecting her.
  • Right Hand vs. Left Hand:
    • A group within the KGB hired an assassin to kill fourteen American scientists. Apparently they did so without informing their superiors who realize that this could start a war and order Philip and Elisabeth to stop the assassin at all costs.
    • Philip invokes this when he is impersonating an FBI agent from the Oversight group. He complains that the other FBI divisions do not share information with them and then Oversight gets blamed because they do not know what is going on. This is a ploy to convince his asset/lover to give him information FBI counterintelligence has gathered on an assassin. It grows even more complicated when he later marries his mark.
    • Phillip and Elizabeth first approach Larrick posing as American intelligence agents, but he sees through the ruse fairly quickly, especially when he later discovers Phillip tailing him.
    • In Season 6, factions within Russia begin working to opposing ends through KGB agents in America. Philip and Elizabeth side with opposite factions, at least for a time.
  • Romantic Fake–Real Turn: Elizabeth and Philip.
  • Run for the Border: When Elizabeth and Philip's cover is blown, they flee to Canada and then back to Russia. Paige goes with them at first, but decides to stay in America. They leave Henry behind.
  • Scrabble Babble: Philip and Gabriel play Scrabble during their meetings in Season 3.
  • Secret Identity Identity: Philip seriously considers defecting to the United States in the pilot. Elizabeth doesn't exactly approve of this plan.
  • Secret Stab Wound: Elizabeth's gunshot wound in "The Colonel".
  • Shoe Phone: In "The Clock", Elizabeth poisons Grayson by injecting him with a needle hidden in the tip of an umbrella. This sort of device is Truth in Television, and the KGB used the Bulgarian Umbrella in real life to assassinate a Bulgarian dissident writer living in London.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • To a surprising degree; the entire arc around the Reagan assassination, for example, is based on actual KGB chatter and analysis.
    • During the Cold War, male Stasi "Romeo" agents would seduce and even marry the secretaries of West German government officials, and would then spend months or even years extracting information from them. This is exactly the same thing that Philip/Clark ends up doing to Martha.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Episode "Stingers" is full of them. Stan goes to see Tootsie, and there is a poster for The Verdict outside the theater. Henry does an imitation of Eddie Murphy's "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" from Saturday Night Live. And the last one is obscure enough to verge on Genius Bonus. The day after Phil and Liz confess their true identities to Paige, they come home to find her watching an episode of General Hospital— specifically, a scene from a plot line in which one of the handsome young doctors at General Hospital is eventually exposed as a Russian illegal spy.
    • Season 6 premiere "Dead Hand" has Paige, who is getting more immersed in Russian culture now that she's starting her own career as a KGB spy, watching the Oscar-winning Russian film Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Later in the season, in "The Summit", a depressed Philip rents another Russian film, The Garage.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: An interesting example. Arkady intends to play Kirk at Gaad by showing him the photograph of Vlad in order to guilt him of Vlad's death. Gaad quickly shuts him down by bringing up Amador's murder at the hand of the KGB. Arkady doesn't mention that Amador was vengeful (and likely drunk) when he was killed, almost certainly in self-defense, unlike Vlad who was a prisoner.
  • Slipping a Mickey: A KGB agent does this to a Polish dissident in order to frame him for rape in "Duty and Honor".
  • Spiteful Spit: Kate does this to Larrick after he questions her in "Stealth". It ends badly for her.
  • Spy School:
    • Elizabeth is shown in the pilot learning both physical combat skills and the finer points of idiomatic American English. Then things turn very bad.
    • In Season 3 Elizabeth is giving a new character lessons on how to tail someone.
    • Season 3 episode "Salang Pass" includes a flashback of Phillip going through KGB sex school. He is tasked with having sex with a hot lady. Then a wrinkled old lady. Then a fat man.
    • Much of Season 6 has Elizabeth taking Paige through Spy Homeschooling, as Paige starts taking basic instruction on spycraft. (It's really just the 101 course as the idea is for Paige to be a mole in the government rather than a field agent.)
  • Spy's Suspicious Spouse: Suspicious daughter. Paige is becoming more and more suspicious of what exactly her parents are hiding. By Season 2 she's trying to listen in on their phone calls.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Stale Beer variety.
  • The Spymaster: General Zhukov, who runs Directorate S and is a father figure for Elizabeth.
  • Strictly Professional Relationship: Invoked. Philip is pretending to be an FBI Internal Affairs investigator and has convinced Martha, an FBI secretary, to help him investigate the counter-intelligence division. Martha is clearly attracted to him and he makes a big show of convincing her that he reciprocates her feelings. Until his investigation is concluded, they have to maintain a strictly professional relationship. However, Philip is actually a Soviet spy and has no romantic feelings for Martha whatsoever. Despite this, he eventually gets into a relationship and even marries her to keep up the op.
  • Suicide by Cop: In "Only You", Gregory chooses this route instead of fleeing to Moscow.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: By the middle of season 2, both Elizabeth and Philip have enough innocent blood on their hands for this trope to apply, with Philip considering himself one, particularly after the events of "Martial Eagle."
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The show's focus reveals that the two leads really aren't bad people, but are forced to do heinous things for their country.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Philip and especially Elizabeth don't get along with Claudia, their new handler.
  • This Means War!: In the pilot episode, President Reagan effectively declares a covert war against undercover KGB operatives in the United States after Philip and Elizabeth kidnap a Soviet defector living on US soil.
    Agent Gaad: The Attorney General and I have just come from the White House. President Reagan is outraged that the KGB thinks it can kidnap someone with impunity on American soil. The President has signed top secret executive order 2579 authorizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation counter-intelligence office to take all necessary measures to neutralize Soviet Directorate S sleeper cell agents in the continental United States. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to war. It is a war that will be fought quietly by the men and women in this room. It will not be short and it will not be easy, but we have truth and justice on our side and we will prevail.
  • Time Skip:
    • Seven months pass in the middle of one Season 4 episode, while the Jennings are relieved from their duties.
    • The sixth and last season skips three full years from the end of Season 5, all the way to 1987, a time in which Soviet-American relations had greatly thawed due to Mikhail Gorbachev. Liz and Phil's bosses in the KGB aren't happy about this.
  • Title Drop: Regularly with episode titles. Phil and Liz also sometimes speculate about what "the Americans" will do.
  • Token Minority: Stan's partner Chris is one of only three minorities in his department, which, according to Stan, gives Chris license to roughly interrogate suspects.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Elizabeth gets a tooth busted up in a fight with FBI agents in the Season 3 premiere. Eventually she has to have it pulled, but the FBI is on a lookout for anyone matching Elizabeth's description who goes to a dentist. So Phillip has to extract her busted tooth, without benefit of anesthesia.
  • Toplessness from the Back:
    • Provided by Nina as she slides into bed with Vasili in "Trust Me".
    • And again by a hooker in "Mutually Assured Destruction".
    • Elizabeth gets a full body version in Season 2.
  • Translation Convention: Notably absent, with all Russian dialogue depicted in Russian, which can lead to around 1/4 of the dialogue in an episode being subtitled. This is also partly why Philip and Elizabeth are forbidden from speaking Russian, as their actors would have to reveal their thick American accents. Only a couple phrases of Russian are spoken by them here and there in the series.
  • Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: In the pilot episode, the Jennings kidnap and later kill a former KGB agent who defected to America. Truth in Television, by the way: the Soviets had no tolerance for traitors, and they would often launch covert operations to assassinate defectors. Soviet defectors often spent the rest of their days hiding under new identities.
  • Truth in Television: Philip's long-term operation with Martha is based on a strategy used by Stasi spymasters where agents would marry "spinsters" and pump them for information for years, sometimes decades.
  • Tyke Bomb: What the KGB is hoping to get from a program for "second-generation illegals". They want to recruit the American-born children of their sleeper agents, who would have a much better chance than their parents to get into high-level government positions.
  • Undercover as Lovers: A married couple with children, no less.
  • The Unfair Sex: Elizabeth's affair with Gregory (which lasted for years) is portrayed in a sympathetic light because he was "passionate" about her and Elizabeth hadn't yet started falling for Philip. But later when Philip has a one night stand with his former lover in the aftermath of Elizabeth betraying his trust, she decides to kick him out of the house.
  • Unique Pilot Title Sequence: In the pilot, the names of the cast members pop up over the action movie-style. Starting with the second episode the show adopts a new sequence featuring Soviet iconography and Cyrillic letters.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: By meeting with Philip while under FBI surveillance, Father Andrei ends up being the one who blows the Jennings' cover and forces them to flee America.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Martha. She knows Philip as "Clark", and she believes he is another FBI agent investigating the counterintelligence unit. She starts off by passing him FBI gossip and then graduates to passing him classified documents, believing all the while that she's helping the good guys catch the bad guys.
  • Verbal Irony: When commiserating about the supposed suicide of Gene from IT, who was also supposedly the leak in the FBI's office, Martha says "I guess you never really know anyone, do you?" Martha is the only one in the office who knows that she is the real mole.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Creator Joseph Weisberg, who actually worked for the CIA from 1990 to 1994, was inspired by a totally real 2010 story in which the FBI arrested ten Russian deep cover agents.
    • One of the couples in that 2010 "Illegals Program" was apparently enlisting one of their kids as a second-generation spy when the group was busted.note 
    • The scene in "The Clock" where Elizabeth poisons some guy by stabbing him with a tricked-out umbrella is inspired by the real-life murder of a Bulgarian dissident in London in 1978.
    • Mohammad Yousaf, the Pakistani officer in charge of training and supporting the Mujahideen, shares a name with a similar, real-world person.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Annelise keeps her spy camera in "The Clock".
  • Villains Out Shopping: The trope may as well be named after this show.
    • From the American viewpoint, the Jennings and the other KGB are evil. But, we see the Jennings doing decidedly non villainy things all the time, including raising their children, going out on family gatherings, having sex/relationship problems etc etc. After one mission to seduce and entrap a US Defense contractor, Elizabeth and a fellow female agent drink beer sitting on the hood of their car and discuss Elizabeth's recovery from her injuries as they await their husbands return. When the men arrive, the conversation turns to their kids.
    • The FBI is the villain for the protagonists. We see Stan's relationship with his family, other agents celebrating a promotion. When Stan shows up unexpectedly at the Jennings business, what is his purpose? He wants to set up a bachelor party for his brother in law.
    • Even the KGB brass gets its turn, with Vasili being annoyed at the inability of his coworkers to brew tea properly. Arkady gushes about his new microwave. And later curses it when his potato exploded in it, forcing him to wear bandages for a time. And then Arkady is shown browsing the magazine rack, like any ordinary person.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: Averted, for the most part, as the Jennings are under deep cover. If the vodka comes out, it's because something serious has happened.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Echo", the Season 2 finale. Jared reveals, as he is dying, that he was complicit in the murders of his sister and parents, because he had found out that his parents, like him, were KGB agents and didn't want him being recruited. He also admits to having at least some kind of crush on Kate, his handler.
    • "Stingers", in Season 3. Paige finally has had it and bluntly asks her parents what their strange activities mean. They reveal to her that they are Soviets, and are spying on the USA.
    • "March 8, 1983", the Season 3 finale. Paige tells Pastor Tim that Philip and Elizabeth are Russians.
    • "Jennings, Elizabeth", the episode before the series finale. Elizabeth sides with the pro-Gorvachev side against the KGB, Oleg is detained, the FBI keeps closing the circle, Philip barely escapes and drops the bland line "things are very topsy turvy at the office" on Elizabeth, which is code for "we have been made, evacuate."
  • Wham Line: "Your appeal has been reviewed and denied. Your sentence of death stands, and will be carried out shortly."
  • Wham Shot: In the series finale, just after a fleeing Elizabeth makes it past the security at the Canadian border and the train starts moving again, she looks out the window and sees that Paige, who had been accompanying her parents back to Russia, has gotten off the train and is standing on the platform, effectively abandoning them forever.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Philip gives Elizabeth a major tongue lashing after he finds out that she told their handlers that he seems to like living in America a bit too much. Comments like that could get him executed, and he views it as a major betrayal.
    • He also gives her a bit of this after she murders a security guard in "In Control".
    • Gaad gives it to Stan when the latter asks him to help about Nina. He flats-out refusing to listen at all, after being sacrificed for the Vlad murder mess.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer...: KGB tradecraft seems to mainly involve putting bullets through people's heads. Or seducing them. In most cases, it involves seducing someone, then putting a bullet through their head.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: The Jennings use wigs, glasses, different clothes and makeup to put on a unique appearance for each asset. Philip's "Clark" wig remains amazingly durable during numerous sex scenes with Martha. Though Martha does know it is fake and assumes that it is a toupee, which actually strengthens his cover of being in love with her.
  • With My Hands Tied: In the second season finale Elizabeth fights Larrick after being handcuffed and does well enough that Philip, who is also cuffed, is able to get the drop on him and steal the gun out of his waistband and shoot him with it. Justified in this instance, as Jared had shot Larrick in the back first.
  • The Worf Effect: In the very first scene of the show, an antagonist is characterized as a badass for having beaten up an entire Olympic hockey team. Philip promptly beats him up.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The ending of Season 3 premiere "EST Men". Annelise is boning Yousaf with Phillip listening from the next room. Annelise starts to grow a conscience and tells Yousaf what's really going on. Phillip bursts in, moments too late from preventing Yousaf from strangling Annelise to death. Before her body is cold, Phillip is improvising on the spot, telling Yousaf "I can make this go away", getting him under KGB control.
  • You Bastard!: It's way too easy for the audience to forget that our protagonists are, in fact, ruthless career murderers serving a deeply flawed government. Baklanov's desperate pleading to Philip at the end of "The Deal" is a painful reminder of that fact.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The KGB is particularly bad at this, killing or abandoning agents and allies once they've learned all they can. Several characters lampshade the idiocy of this policy, in contrast to the Americans who encourage loyalty and defections with money and a better life.
  • You Keep Telling Yourself That: Pastor Tim is not at all fooled by Elizabeth's Not So Different speech about their work. He points out that in the Soviet Union, religious people are persecuted, bringing up not only the plight of Soviet Christians but also the Jews. Elizabeth is thus reduced to admitting her country is not perfect.
  • You Monster!: Tied with the You Bastard! above. When Philip doesn't even look at him while he's pleading, Baklanov accuses Philip of this, and rightly so.
  • Your Cheating Heart: All of the main characters. Elizabeth had a longtime affair with an American KGB asset, and Philip doesn't react well when he finds out in "Gregory". Then both Philip and Stan cheat on their wives in "Duty and Honor". In Season 2, Sandra actually tells Stan that she is going off on a sex weekend with her new boyfriend, and by the end of the season they've agreed to divorce.

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