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?