Ranking The Biggest Deceptions On ‘The Americans’

Deception is synonymous with FX’s The Americans, with married KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) donning countless wigs and disguises to lie and spy their way into gaining intelligence for the USSR. And they’re not the only ones pulling the wool over the eyes of others, since their network includes many others loyal to Mother Russia, as well as the larger web of the FBI lurking nearby.

Because of this, it’s impossible to identify everyone that’s ever been lied to and every underhanded thing that’s ever been done on the show, but we’ve zeroed in on some of the most significant deceptions that have occurred throughout its four-season run. Below, we’ve ranked them based on the level of deceit required, and the consequences each action had on the parties involved.

Warning: Spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up.

5. Philip And Irina

When Philip reconnects with his former lover – with whom he learns he has a child – it doesn’t take the pair long to fall back into bed with each other. The only problem is that Philip’s sham marriage has recently blossomed into anything but, and his betrayal of Elizabeth has serious consequences on their union. While he initially lies to his wife about sleeping with Irina, he ultimately confesses; the infidelity is too much for Elizabeth to bear, especially since things have been dicey between them for weeks, and she kicks him out. Though their separation is short-lived, Philip’s dalliance still stings, especially when he learns that his son is fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan, and he tries to persuade Gabriel to get the young man reassigned. The pained expression on Elizabeth’s face when discussing the situation proves that she’s still not completely over Philip’s deception.

4. Nina, The Triple Agent

Nina was working for the Soviet embassy (and for the KGB on the sly) when Stan caught her smuggling stereo equipment back to the USSR. In exchange for her freedom, Stan blackmails her into spying for the FBI, turning her into a double agent. Nina and Stan begin an affair (though it’s clear Stan is more interested in Nina than she is in him), but when she discovers that he’s the one who killed Vlad, another embassy employee, she confesses to her superiors and begins working as a re-doubled (a.k.a. triple) agent. Unfortunately for Nina, the Soviets aren’t exactly pleased that she betrayed her country, and despite her spying on Stan, she’s eventually shipped off to a prison camp in the USSR. Stan never knew Nina was working him, and though he and Oleg fight for her return — or at the very least her pardon — she’s eventually executed.

3. Young-Hee

From the moment we first saw the smiling Mary Kay sales rep at the beginning of season four, we had a sinking feeling something terrible would happen to her. What Elizabeth and the KGB had in store for Young-Hee and her family wasn’t revealed until later in the season, but man, was it a doozy. Elizabeth – posing as Patty, an aspiring Mary Kay consultant – befriended the woman in order to get to her husband, Don, whose government clearance gave him access to security codes needed to procure samples of chemical weapons to send back to Russia.

Over the course of many months, Patty becomes close with Young-Hee and her family, going to the movies, attending dinners, and even babysitting the kids overnight, before drugging Don and making it appear that they had sex after one too many glasses of wine. Patty later confronts Don and tells him she’s pregnant, and when he brushes her off, her family – a disguised Philip, Gabriel, and fellow KGB computer expert – come to his office to tell him she committed suicide; while distracting a distraught Don, they make off with the necessary codes. It’s an intricate long con that’s fairly ingenious, but also completely devastating, both for Young-Hee’s family (did Don ever tell his wife what happened to her good pal Patty?) and for Elizabeth, who made what felt like a real friend for the first time since she began her mission in America – and ultimately had to destroy her. While playing Young-Hee, Elizabeth was also playing herself, pretending she could have a normal relationship with someone outside of the KGB. That latter deception may have been even more difficult for the spy to swallow.

2. Emmett And Leanne’s Murder

Season two opened with the grisly murders of Emmett and Leanne – fellow married Russian spies and friends of Philip and Elizabeth – and their daughter, Amelia. The Jenningses stumble upon the horrific scene and make it their mission to track down the culprit, spending most of the season zeroing in on American naval officer Andrew Larrick. Larrick was blackmailed into working with Emmett and Leanne before their deaths, giving him ample motive, though it turns out that he’s innocent of the crime. In a shocking twist, the murderer turns out to be the spies’ son, Jared, who killed his parents after they tried to intervene in the KGB’s attempts to recruit him to the cause. That stunning revelation also leads to Philip and Elizabeth learning that the Center has similar plans for Paige, and wants the Jenningses to begin recruiting their daughter (something which Philip is completely against). This sets in motion Philip and Elizabeth eventually telling Paige their true identities, a disclosure that’s still causing shockwaves. And it puts into further contrast Philip and Elizabeth’s differing levels of loyalty to the cause, as the tension created by their inherent disagreement over what to do about Paige continues to reverberate.

1. Clark And Martha

There’s a laundry list of reasons why the mousy FBI secretary is known as Poor Martha among fans of the show, and just about all of them revolve around Philip’s alter ego, Clark. Thinking he’s a government agent, Martha has no problem revealing FBI secrets to Clark, and when their relationship turns romantic, her crimes become more and more elaborate. That Clark convinces Martha to marry him – and keep it a secret – and continues to ask her to do him favors (like stealing documents from the mail robot) may be the cruelest deception ever carried out by a spy. The fact that Martha is so obviously in love with Clark – and firmly believes their marriage to be anything but a sham – makes it all the more heartbreaking.

Clark eventually coaxes Martha into planting a bug in her boss’s office, and when it’s discovered, their relationship quickly starts to crumble. Clark ultimately confesses he’s a spy, reveals his real name(s) (and his real hair), and has to break the news to Martha that she’s about to get a one-way ticket to Russia. Up until her tearful goodbye on the runway, when she urges him not to be alone, Martha still believes Clark truly loved her. Philip soon realizes that he did, in his own way – and deceiving himself and Elizabeth about that fact only further complicates the spies’ already shaky union. It will take a long time for Philip to truly let Martha go – and the implosion of her life will no doubt weigh heavily on the spy throughout the rest of the series.