When I first sat down to watch the premiere of The Americans on FX tonight, my initial thoughts surrounded the fact that I’m the absolute antithesis of a history buff, and my forte is most definitely not politics, let alone the politics surrounding the 1980’s segment of the Cold War. This was set to be my most unintentionally humorous recap and review ever, and yet, the pilot of The Americans proved not only to be damn great but easily digestible to all. It was, in a sense, the Kraft Easy Mac of Cold War dramas, and I’m already a fan!
The Americans seems, on its surface, to be a difficult sell for an audience that is, well… American. How can FX expect a huge portion of the viewing audience to not be turned off by the fact that we’re intended to relate to and root for the KGB? Step 1: Cast Felicity! Keri Russell’s hair grew back nicely, rest assured.
The show opened with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) donning a snazzy looking blonde bombshell of a wig and seducing a government official. This woman got down and dirty pretty quickly with the intention of sucking out some confidential government information, of course. It was cool to see the arranged married couple at work, with another comrade in tow, right out the gate. We were able to see their super-spy tactics and maneuvers, coupled with some badass fighting skills. After securing the captive, the dynamic duo was forced to think fast, as their accomplice was left with a ghastly looking knife wound. With only a short window of time to hand off their prisoner for shipment back to Moscow, they dropped their buddy on the side of the road to wobble to a nearby hospital as a John Doe. Good luck, red bro! Unfortunately, they ended up missing their ship anyway. Plus, their partner inevitably died. With no true identity, he’d be linked to the crime, and the crime would be linked to the KGB.
The reason why the opening action sequences were so great had much to do with the fact that they came immediately coupled with a cheery breakfast scene that followed. These people have kids, and guess what… the children are clueless! Talk over at the Counter Intelligence division of the FBI alerted us that a big-time defector turned USA rat-speaker had gone missing. Well, we at least knew he was uncharacteristically late for work.
Guess where he turned up? Right, in the trunk of Jennings family Oldsmobile! Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings would have to decide how to handle their past-due hostage. Phillip spoke to the man first. Initially, we were tipped off to the fact that this man was a deserter by his Russian accent. As it turned out, the government paid him $3M to squawk about the KGB. Phillip acted disgusted with the traitor, but later we’d learn a little more about our protagonists that would reveal otherwise. When Elizabeth decided to pay the gagged hostage a visit, things went a little differently. We found ourselves experiencing our first flashback sequence, taking us to the Soviet Union in the year 1960 for one of Elizabeth’s training sessions. Things seemed to be going swimmingly, until the captain showed up to test her skills. Once she ended up on the losing end of a sparring match, the man raped her on the mat and in front of her trainer. Now, she had him by the balls; gagged, straight jacketed, and in the trunk of her sensible car.
Again, dark and heavy scenes like the aforementioned came coupled with scenes of average American family life. The kids brought some humor to the pilot; goofing around with their father over ice cream or studying for US history class (a.k.a. anti-Soviet class) in front of their mother.
Phillip had made some attempts to contact leaders in the area to no avail. In an attempt to crack the C.I. he threw on a wacky disguise and interviewed an easy target from the department. The woman, who foolishly believed in a government safeguard division for the safeguard division, fed Phillip answers to any questions he needed to know. Anything to protect her country! From this talk, Phillip was able to gather than the government was on to their Oldsmobile and that witnesses revealed very small clues of their appearances to the feds. Still, it was clear that their minor screw-ups had snowballed into a huge investigation.
This is where things really started to get interesting. When alone, Phillip put away his disguise and picked up a recorder. There, he listened to the tape Elizabeth had procured from the man she’d seduced at the episode’s start. Basically, he listened to her boinking the guy, and we immediately realized that he was pissed. In his mind, he is her husband!
With the new understanding that they were being shunned as a result of the spreading infection they’d caused from their screwy attempt at successfully delivering the defector, Phillip and Elizabeth would have to decide what to do with the super important hostage stowed in their trunk on their own. Elizabeth, obviously, wanted to kill the man on the spot. Phillip, on the other hand, decided to test the waters for the first time with Elizabeth. Phillip appreciates the way of the American life. Well, he attempted to play it off as if things in America were just eh, fine as opposed to, say, heinously heinous, as they’d been trained to believe. Phillip eventually proposed a plan to deliver the captain to the feds in an attempt to make a plea deal for a boatload of money. In that case, they could move out to the middle of nowhere, be honest with their children, and live as thought they were really the Jennings family. Appalled, Elizabeth shot his dream down on the spot. Although, it was made clear that Elizabeth cared immensely for her children, as well. Why would she want them to think their entire lives were lies, too?
One of my favorite scenes during the pilot came when Phillip took his daughter to the mall. There is nothing more American that a shopping mall. To top it off, Phillip suggested that his daughter get cowboy boots, before throwing down with a little bit of a square-dance himself. Honestly, Phillip had some moves! He drew a bit of a crowd! When a pervy older dude hit on his thirteen-year-old daughter, Phillip had to play the role of defenseless dorky dad to protect his identity; however, he got a gander at the guy’s credit card and eventually punished him hardcore in his own backyard! Free hamburgers!
Half the fun of The Americans stems from the fact that their new neighbor is an agent for the C.I. After bringing over some brownies, the Jennings clan found themselves rubbing elbows all episode long with Stan (Noah Emmerich), the FBI agent who seemed pretty great himself, actually. The question truly was whether or not Stan had coincidentally turned out to be their neighbor, considering the fact that they’d just acquired their captive captain. At one point, Phillip was asked for jumper cables and was forced to allow Stan to check out his car. Stan just barely missed catching a glimpse in the trunk.
We got another gander into the past when Phillip went out for a run. Moscow, 1962; the couple was introduced for the first time. After tearing up a photo of whom we assume was his lover, Phillip got his first glimpse of Elizabeth. The two were then instructed to sit down, erase their pasts, and create new American histories.
After taking his son to go see an American astronaut speak, and emotionally reciting the pledge of allegiance, it was absolutely clear that Phillip is enamored by America. I loved Elizabeth’s line to her son over breakfast the next day.
Elizabeth: “The moon isn’t everything. Just getting into space is a remarkable accomplishment!”
Eventually, Phillip, about to burst at the seams, decided to go behind Elizabeth’s back to turn in their hostage in the middle of the night. I mean, Stand does live just across the street. Elizabeth, however, caught the two leaving the garage and all Hell broke lose. Elizabeth wanted her revenge for what was done to her the last time they sparred. This time, she totally kicked his ass. She even refused to let Phillip participate in the brawl. Interestingly enough, when the captain apologized, somewhat sincerely, she backed off. Phillip, however, killed him on the spot. They’d never shared their true histories!
Time for an acid bath! Nothing like dissolving an entire person to spark a romance, huh? For what was probably the first time ever, the two ended up getting hot and heavy in the back seat of their Oldsmobile. Later, Elizabeth would share her true past with Phillip. Her father died fighting the Nazis. Interesting, right? This show knows how to make these leads likable, that’s for sure. I also appreciated the scene where Elizabeth visited a KGB safe house alone, and was questioned about Phillip. She protected him with lies, of course, after having shared doubts in the past.
What was made clear by the pilot is that this is the point in time at which the Cold War heated up. There was no more room for either side to make errors. Ronald Reagan had just been elected, and he was livid. The final scene of the episode surrounded Stan snooping in the Jennings’ garage, unbeknownst to the fact that Phillip was all the while watching with a gun from the shadows. Stan, an agent who formerly went undercover for years with white supremacists, will prove to be both a formidable opponent and a decent friend, I’d guess. These guys like each other!
What did you all think of the series premiere of The Americans? Didn’t the extended pilot fly by? Can we actually end up rooting for a fictional KGB couple?
Thanks for reading my Recap and Review of the series premiere of The Americans!