Tuned In

The Americans: Do You Pledge Allegiance?

FX unveiled the first chapter of its Cold War story about a fascinating fake (or is it?) marriage.

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Craig Blankenhorn / FX

Quick spoilers for the series premiere of The Americans below: 

I reviewed The Americans (based on three episodes) earlier this week, and you can read my full review for my full take. In brief, I really liked it:

One thing that distinguishes this Cold War story from its predecessors is that there are two protagonists perpetuating a fiction, against another country, against their neighbors, against their own children–even, to an extent, against each other. So as much as The Americans is the thriller you’d expect–tense, well-paced and laced with well-curated period detail–it’s also an intriguing study of marriage as partnership. Reversing the common order of things, The Americans asks whether marital routine can develop into actual love.

Just a few more things I didn’t discuss in the review, to avoid spoilage:

* I’m immediately interested in both characters and their conflicted sense of duty, but by the end of the first hour and a half I’m really intrigued by Keri Russell’s Elizabeth. As Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in her review, she feels like a new possibility for the antihero formula, because she’s acting not mainly out of self-interest but actual idealism–albeit idealism for the principles of a repressive regime that was once the mortal enemy of most of the viewers’ home country.

* That aspect of her character makes Elizabeth’s rape backstory doubly important. She was violated, if not by her own country, at least with the tacit approval of the institution she served. It’s significant that she not only faces her rapist, but hears from him that it was routine for KGB trainers to be allowed to have their way with female recruits. Does this shake her faith in the Motherland? Is it something that she’s compartmentalized in her mind already?

* That said, I’m not sure I completely bought the notion of Elizabeth suddenly finding passion for Philip after he kills her attacker–not so much because of the damsel-in-distress aspect (she can clearly handle herself), but because it felt like a necessary plot device, to explain her stirring of feelings for her husband after a long fake marriage. But their relationship is fascinating and mysterious enough that I can look past that and see how it plays out.

I could go on, but I said this would be short, and there will be plenty to write about this series going forward. Mainly I want to hear your thoughts: are you ready to swear loyalty?

3 comments
Poppersci
Poppersci

It may be an arranged marriage, but they have been married for so long, and have produced two children, that love or strong like must be there. The sex after killing scene probably isn't new. These people were new agents, unused to the dirty work, and in a hostile country. They must have had a lot of sex to relieve the tension. They're the only people in the country like themselves they know. So a bond must have formed. I don't want them to be bad guys simply because they're KGB agents and we were expected to hate the Russians during the Cold War. If this show can criticize the America of that time period, and Reagan, whose presidency ushered in the current religious zealousness we have in our body politic today, then it will be very good. In other words, I want there to be more reason for the setting other than its the Cold War period.

drewwhitcomb
drewwhitcomb

Thought the performances by Russell, Rhys, and Emmerich were all fantastic and sold the somewhat forced "FBI counterintelligence operative moves across the street from the Russian spies" storyline. They did good showing the awkward neighbors meeting neighbors thing while also giving the audience a glimpse into how hard it must be to segment a person's life like all three of them have done.

Also, I found the re-finding passion scene after Phillip killed the attacker realistic because Elizabeth saw that Phillip truly cared about her enough to vanquish any potential threat to her, consquences be d*mned. I think a woman who grew up in the KGB probably didn't ever know what true love was, instead replacing it with a love of country. But now she's starting to get a feel for what love is, a commitment between two people to put each other (and their children) above anything else. 

I'll be interested to see how this newfound perspective changes her view of the motherland as the series continues. Especially as James predicted in his review, as Russia starts to come apart at the seams.

I could just as easily see The Americans being a tragedy, a triumph, or a mix of both at the end of the series. That intrigues me. I hope it gets the ratings to live on to tell its full story.

AndrewBare
AndrewBare like.author.displayName 1 Like

For all the attention Keri Russell is getting for this show (and it's understandable, as she's the biggest name), I found her more workmanlike than good. She wasn't able to reach the intensity level required of her character, excepting only the line James referenced earlier ("I'm not done with them yet!"). 

I think Rhys is being overlooked, which is a shame, because to my mind he put together a wonderful performance, one that encompassed a lot of different challenges and complexities and handled them all brilliantly.