Who doesn’t like a good spy film? If you’re a fan like I am, you can find yourself getting caught up in the action and allure of being an international man of mystery. All the women. All the lies. All the adventure. But, when you dig into the world of espionage, you find that it isn’t all James Bond and shaken martinis. Rather, it’s more like mid-sized sedans and suburban houses.
How about we forget that I just said that for a moment, shall we?
**Warning: This post may contain spoilers and/or foul language. Proceed at your own risk.**
The FX’s newest show, The Americans, follows the lives of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, a “typical” American family living on the outskirts of Washington D.C. They have two kids, a nice house and they both work as travel agents. Outwardly, they look like the model of suburban life in the 1980s, but at night, they are living another life.
They are both well-trained Soviet sleeper spies, and they’ve been living in America for some 20 years or more.
Now, they aren’t just your silly ‘photographing documents onto microfilm’ sort of spies, oh no. They are the ‘Imma kill ya, or fuck ya to get what I want’ type of spies. The last part definitely shows within the first 15 to 20 minutes of the pilot. I mean, there is just brazeers and undies and unbuckled pants and simulated fellatio everywhere!
Okay, it wasn’t quite that exciting, but still…
When coming into this show, you’ve got to throw James Bond aside and look at the world of espionage through realistic eyes. There are no high flying stunts or attention grabbing explosions. Rather, there is cleaver manipulating and shady deals done to get the information that is sought after, most of which is based on historical events.
The Jennings’ are very good at what they do, especially when it comes to killing KGB defectors.*
*Redacted By Order of the Kremlin
The story lines that the show’s writers have created are relatively simple, but highly entertaining and enthralling. On one hand, we see the story of the FBI as they hunt down Soviet sleeper cells around the country, most importantly in the Washington D.C. area, after the murder of a KBG defector and top-level informant named Nikolai Timoshev. Without him, the FBI must attempt to make new connections within the KGB and the Soviet Embassy if they hope to catch the sleeper cells before they do something more bold or damaging. But, as the FBI takes one step forward, the KGB sets them back two.
As for the story of Phillip and Elizabeth, it gets a little more interesting. After accepting their jobs as spies, they moved to America and assumed identities there. They were not allowed, once they went undercover, to speak in Russian, or discuss their previous lives to one another at all. Essentially they must live, eat and breath the American way of life. They married, establish themselves in the community, had a couple of kids and live their lives as a happy married couple. When the sun goes down, however, they go out on different missions and collect information or eliminate targets, as per the orders from their spy handler.
Of all of this I wonder – who is the hell is watching the children?
To me, though, the most compelling part of this show is watching Phillip and Elizabeth question their overall mission. When they began some 20 years before, they were all for the Soviet cause. Patriotism burned hot in their chests. I mean, how couldn’t it? To do what they do would have to take extreme devotion and determination. But, after all these years, something is changing.
In Phillip’s case, he is starting to see America as a good place to live and grow the little family the KGB had built for him. He is willing to give away his life as a spy to keep his family safe. All of this centers around the fact that he has grown to love Elizabeth as something more than a partner in espionage, and more like the mother to his children and the lover he’s always wanted.
On the other hand, Elizabeth is still somewhat loyal to the cause, although it is revealed that she has had her doubts in the past. Her problem is that she is developing feelings for Phillip, something that she had not expected to happen. Being that she had been in the service of the Soviet Union since she was in her late teens, Elizabeth admits that she didn’t have time to form a romantic relationship with anyone outside of Phillip. She admits that she had fooled around with men in America, looking for that certain spark. After all these years, she sees that spark starting to burn between her and Phillip.
Overall, The Americans gets a solid ‘A’ in my book. It is a show that I look forward to watching every week, and I can see it having a lot of potential as it gains it’s footing, more so than it already has. But, the true test for a show I’m waiting to fall in love with comes not from the mind, but from the heart. More specifically, can this show hold my attention enough to make me tear up? And, that answer would be yes. They shot me right in the feels, indeed. Should I have expected less from the Bolshevik masters of blatant trickery? They are cleaver spies after all. When they aim for the feels, they get the feels every time.
But, of the episode and event in which brought on said “feels”, I will never tell.