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‘The Americans': Oleg’s New KGB Boss Perfectly Sums Up America’s Problems in 2017 (Commentary)

KGB operative Oleg Burov has left the Rezidentura for a new job back in Russia that’s about a whole different kind of spying, and somehow this subplot rings truer today than anything else on this show about Russian spies infiltrating the U.S.

(Some spoilers ahead for the season 5 premiere of the FX original series “The Americans.”)

The premiere of “The Americans” Season 5 has seen some shakeups. For one thing, KGB operative and American technology specialist Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) has left the US and his grudgingly respectful relationship with FBI counterpart Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich). Oleg’s back in Russia, working some whole other aspect of Russian intelligence.

Up to Season 5, Oleg was one of the KGB resident spies in the Russian embassy, known to the local spy folks as the Rezidentura. Heading home to stay with his mother after the death of his brother in Afghanistan, Oleg’s been transferred to a different division. He’s no longer working on foreign intelligence or coordinating with spies to steal American secrets, as he has for the last four seasons. Now, he’s more of a internal affairs cop back in Russia.

Oleg’s job, as he’s assigned in the first episode of Season 5, is to investigate corruption in Moscow. In the US, he was more of an expert and coordinator, heading up the Directorate X division that was responsible for intelligence on America’s science and technology development. Now, he’s going to actually have to talk to people and do field work.

Specifically, he’s tracking down the double-dealers and bribe-takers that are affecting how food is distributed in the city. Oleg’s new superior (Oleg Stefan) thinks the major issue in the Soviet Union isn’t spying or the Cold War — it’s local corruption that’s damaging the communists. And it’s also contributing to regular Russians waiting in lines for food and struggling to get enough to eat.

The potential trouble for Oleg is that he’s part of the upper crust of Moscow. His father is the Minister of Transportation, and even in the US, Oleg’s colleagues suspected nepotism got him his job in the KGB. Back home in Russia, his family’s wealth and connections means they probably know some of the people responsible for the corruption he’s trying to root out.

This is a particularly juicy new subplot given all the unintentional (probably) parallels to the real world in 2017 — what with the Russian scandal that’s been embroiling the Trump administration for months.

Oleg’s story looks to actually be the juiciest parallel  of the new season because it deals with internal Russian politics rather than the Cold War spy conflicts he’s been enmeshed with for his entire time on “The Americans” thus far. Oleg’s new boss’s assertion that corruption at home is a bigger deal than whatever’s going on across the ocean is one that should ring true to us now. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and Paul Ryan and Jason Chaffetz aren’t the way they are because of Russian influence — they were always like this.

The alleged Russian connection to the Trump campaign and now administration is troubling to think about, yes. But it should be far more troubling to consider that all that’s really going on here is that our government is controlled by people who actually are Americans who were raised on American values.

In the context of “The Americans” and real history, Oleg’s new KGB boss is correct: The big problems in the Soviet Union have internal causes, not American ones. Just as in the United States in 2017, our biggest problems also have internal causes, not Russian ones.