Season six of “The Americans” starts in late 1987, during the run-up to a crucial summit in Washington. Three years have passed since the end of season five, and everything has changed. Philip has been living the free and easy life of a happy capitalist, having expanded the travel agency, driving a fancy car.

Elizabeth is starting to feel the strains of being a deep cover operative for a country that, whether she knows it or not, is embroiled in its final days. She is grooming daughter Paige to follow in the family business of espionage and as someone with Russian heritage. Some spoilers follow.

Spy vs. spy as the Soviet Empire is on the brink.

The first storyline to develop represents a KGB plot to undermine General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and end his reforms that threaten the very basis of the Soviet system.

The conspiracy sends a general from the Strategic Rocket Forces to meet with Elizabeth in a Mexico café. He tells her that they suspect that Gorbachev plans to trade a system called “Dead Hand,” designed to automatically launch a full nuclear strike on the United States in the event of the destruction of the Soviet leadership in exchange for SDI.

Meanwhile, Oleg, who has been enjoying a cushy job at the Ministry of Transportation, is reactivated and sent to America to meet with Philip. Philip is ordered to find out what his wife is doing and, if necessary, stop her. Now the two spies, who used to be such a capable team, are pitting against one another. Their marriage is already under considerable stress due to their separate careers.

Grooming the next generation of deep cover operative

One of Elizabeth’s projects is the transformation of her now college-age daughter into the next generation of deep cover operative.

Part of the process is exposing her to Soviet culture, which includes a screening of an Oscar-winning film “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” a movie President Reagan used to watch to try to understand the Russian soul.

Paige has become an irritating left winger, inveighing at a dinner against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork. As a spy, she is an unfinished work, trying to fend off the advances of a Navy sailor when she is on a stakeout. Elizabeth tracks the sailor down and murders him on a dark, Washington street. No one trifles with her little girl.

The audience of “The Americans,” one of the best shows of the current decade, has the advantage over the characters in that they know where all of this ends, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and soon after the Soviet Union itself. The estrangement between Philip, who represents the future of Russia, for better or worse, and Elizabeth, still trying to hold on to a dream of Soviet glory that is already slipping toward the ash heap of history, personifies what is happening in the wider world. The show is a great drama and a history lesson, albeit from the point of view of the enemy in the cold war.