‘We Are Going To War’ – First Impression Review of FX’s “The Americans”
“I’m a KGB officer – don’t you understand that after all these years I would go to jail, I would die, I would lose everything before I would betray my country.” ~ Elizabeth
The pilot episode for FX’s The Americans aired on 30 January 2013. The drama series, now into its 10th episode of Season 1, was created and produced by Joe Weisberg. It follows the life of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two Soviet KGB officers posing as American citizens. Set in 1981 during the Cold War period, Elizabeth and Philip parade as a married couple living in suburbia with their two children, Paige and Henry. Their mission is to keep tabs on government communications and prevent anti-Soviet activities – by whatever means necessary. With inside sources, a procession of disguises, concealed weapons and a head honcho calling the shots, The Americans showcases a secret war between two fiercely patriotic countries.
A Mission In Disguise…
At first glance, The Americans may seem suspiciously like a history lesson on the KGB, but it’s not. In the opening sequence, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) dons a blonde wig and leather-fitted dress and uses her ‘tipsy’ façade to get Timochev to cough up a few FBI secrets. As it turns out, Timochev is the target for abduction, and after a 3-day stint Philip (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth and Rob (another spy) chase him down. We soon understand that Elizabeth and Philip mean business; despite missing the allocated drop-off time, they’re going to keep this scoundrel under belt and gag until they find another way to smuggle him out of the country.
“3 million dollars?!” ~ Philip
“He can buy himself a diamond-plated coffin.” ~ Elizabeth
The Neighbours Be Damned…
As The Americans is set in the 1980’s, it allows for a more believable tale. When the President authorises the FBI to neutralize Soviet agents; pooling all their resources into acting out this order, it has the required impact. It is typical of American patriotic pride not to let the mistreatment of an US citizen go unpunished. Noah Emmerich, who plays FBI Agent Stan Beeman, is a welcome addition to the cast. It may have been coincidence that Stan and his family moved across the road from Philip and Elizabeth, but it was a brilliant move on the show’s part. What better way to keep the Russian spies on their toes than with a man who is trained in undercover operations inviting himself over for jump-start cables? His workmates at FBI headquarters are a little unforgettable; it may be the mirror-image suits and ties that make your eyes skip over them. However, the show uses its supporting cast in a way that magnifies the lead actors. Philip and Elizabeth’s children are prime examples. A few scenes give us greater insight into the Jennings’ as parents and as a family unit. Overall the cast mesh well together and that makes the events easier to watch.
“When you’re betrayed by one of your own, you’re not inclined to put him out of his misery fast. I would bet the Russians would go to considerable lengths to get him back there so they can look him in the eye before they blow his brains out.” Stan
Killers To Lovers…
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are powerful actors: both for different reasons. Russell’s character is loyal to a fault – we learn that she was recruited in 1960 (perhaps earlier) and undertook intense training. Russell is mesmerizing as she depicts Elizabeth’s struggles with keeping Timochev in their garage without being able to stab a knife through his gut. Rhys, on the other hand, showcases Philip’s restlessness. Where Elizabeth would lose body and soul if it meant saving Russia, Philip is searching for a way out of their spy life. Where Elizabeth shows distaste and disgust for the American lifestyle, Philip appears saddened and confused; maybe even a tad conflicted by his predicament. But together, they make an unstoppable team. There is definite chemistry between Russell and Rhys, and it’s when Philip decides to end someone’s life that their bond ignites. Whoever kills together, stays together – and we’re treated to some breathy car action between them as well.
“We just take the good life, get relocated and be happy.” ~ Philip
The Life of a Spy…
The concept of Russian spies infiltrating the US government isn’t a new one, however The Americans has a larger focus on the relationship between Elizabeth and Philip. With the pressure of their secret identities (including the lives they had before they met each other), husband and wife must be both loyal partners and doting parents. We are treated to a few flashbacks of their complicated relationship, and it was good to see where they were coming from. There were a couple of notable scenes that upped the cheese-factor and felt unnecessary. Nevertheless, the show treats us to chases, kidnapping, trade-off’s, fist fighting, knife stabbing and passionate sex in a stationary vehicle. Not to mention the flashbacks to yesteryear – complete with comic books, classic cars and suspicious-looking haircuts – all of which was enjoyable.
What Makes A Patriot?
The Americans‘ creator Joe Weisberg has written for TNT’s alien apocalypse series Falling Skies, as well as DirecTV’s legal drama Damages. Joining him on the production team is series creator of Justified Graham Yost, and screenwriter, producer and playwright Gavin O’Connor. While The Americans doesn’t boast aliens or an old-Western feel, it does have that crime-buster take; yet it questions the illusion of what makes a criminal. Is being a patriot to your country a justifiable reason to be hanged? We assume that Philip and Elizabeth are trained killers, but their main mission is to kidnap and deliver Russian traitors. The show features the undeniable suspense of the ‘chase’ – that cat and mouse dance between two opposing forces, both believing they’re in the right. If you’re a fan of crime dramas or action films then you’ll appreciate the lengths the writers have gone to craft a show that is both enticing and gripping.
“Ladies and gentlemen we are going to war. It is a war that will be fought quietly by the men and woman in this room. It will not be short and it will not be easy, but we have truth and justice on our side and we will prevail. ~ Attorney General
Worth The Watch?
My first impression of The Americans is that it is bold, daring and intriguing. I knew little of the show before I settled in to watch the pilot, and the first episode dangled enough carrot to make me want more. I liked the risqué actions the show took on Elizabeth’s past, as well as the obvious inner struggle she was having with their failed drop-off. Similarly, I enjoyed Philip as a character – his playful banter with the kids, the gentle nature that seems to be buried beneath the façade of a Russian spy. I loved Stan’s role as the nosy neighbour and undercover pro, and despite the forgettable team at FBI headquarters, the threat of the President’s new order will hopefully be a challenging roadblock. The Americans has all the ingredients for a chilling secret agent drama, and while you may feel as though you’re getting educated on the Soviet Union, it’s too good to turn away from.
Check out the series promo below, and be sure to keep an eye out for our final impression review!
“The Americans” airs on Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX Network