FX’s new series about a Soviet sleeper cell couple in 1980 America proves to have a unique plot full of deceit, loyalty, sex, and violence.
In last night’s series premiere of “The Americans” we were introduced to the undercover lives of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, who, as Soviet informants, now reside in the suburban D.C. area. Their longtime dedication to the motherland comes with the hefty price of giving up any aspirations for a future. Living in America since 1965, they have grown accustomed to the American lifestyle but they face the constant pressure bearing down from their KGB superiors. For Phillip, the decision whether or not to abandon his homeland seems transparent but for his wife, Elizabeth, the thought of betraying her beloved Soviet Union is not plausible by any means. This discrepancy between wife and husband seems to have manifested into a tense relationship that is by no means stable.
The episode starts off with a dark chase through D.C. as Elizabeth and Phillip join up to take down their turned comrade so they can send him back to Russia for a long overdue execution by the hands of the state. But in their failed attempt to complete the mission on time, they are faced with the predicament of having to house this traitor until they can figure out how they can smuggle him out of the country.
Their captive (who we later find out was actually Elizabeth’s trainer in Russia who was not afraid to frequently rape her) quickly offers them $3 million to set him free. This negotiation sparks an interest with Phillip, but Elizabeth has to quickly talk him down in order to stop him from betraying their country and negating their whole lives work. In the end, Phillip decides to take matters into his own hands by taking the money and securing a future with his wife in kids in America.
Upon discovering his plot to set their captive free, Elizabeth turns to a more physical solution. Her cold blooded personality is fully unveiled when she proceeds to punt their captives head through dry wall. After Phillip finds out that this man used to rape his wife before they moved to America, he gets a quick throat rip in. This ends up being a turning point in the episode and opens up for the rest of the season as they both now seem to be on the same page, which means death to America and long live socialism.
The duo of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is perfect for a series that entails the events surrounding the latter years of the Cold War. This was a frantic time for America as they were constantly under the threat of a seemingly imminent nuclear war. In being part of this American culture for 15 years, the Jennings family also shares some anxiety in never knowing who is looking over their shoulder. Problems in the political realm reflect the struggles at home for Elizabeth and Phillip as they try to stay focused on their long term goal of sabotaging America while dealing with the life of an average family in suburbia.
Russell plays an excellent character that is capable of putting up a facade in dealing with her hatred of American capitalists. Her blank expressions make the audience unable to predict what she will do next. Rhys on the other hand plays a less reserved character that allows us to question his motives. As we can see in the series premiere, he is starting to believe that he must abandon his prior loyalty to the Soviet Union. The life that he wishes he had is only a few steps away, but his wife stands in his path. Ultimately they both realize that every decision they make must be mutual, because in the field they only have each other. One thing that is certain is that this complex relationship will experience some turbulence in episodes ahead.
Judging from the first episode, “The Americans” looks like it will have a much deeper storyline than I initially thought. The story jumps around from the two main character’s previous lives in Soviet Russia in the ’60s, to 1965 when they became sleeper cells in Virginia and then eventually Washington D.C. in 1980. In knowing very little about their old lives there is definitely a lot of room to work with for the writers. It is also very interesting how the storyline has a lot of historical relevance of the Reagan administration near the end of the Cold War. “The Americans” will gives us an intriguing fictional side note of the events that happened behind closed doors of both American and Soviet counter intelligence.
From the early looks of it, “The Americans” is going to be the next best series on television, so you should hop on this communist train while it’s still within arms reach. But if people getting stabbed in the chest with a grill fork, kicked through dry wall, and getting their trachea ripped out isn’t your cup of tea, then I suppose this show is not for you.
Here’s a first look at the new series: