Courtney Cox | Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Tonight marks the third episode of the new spy drama “The Americans” on FX, and at this point I’m hooked.
It is the newest addition to the historical drama trend popularized by “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men,” but the difference is the history in this series is not so far gone.
The series, set when Reagan reigned supreme, is centered on Soviet spies placed just outside of Washington masquerading as a loving couple.
Keri Russell is frighteningly convincing as the icy Elizabeth Jennings. Despite living in the United States for years with her arranged husband Phillip, played by Matthew Rhys, her dedication to the motherland is unwavering.
She slips in little pieces of Soviet propaganda to her two children in subtle ways, like in the first episode when her daughter Paige is doing a report on the moon landing and Elizabeth says that it’s just an accomplishment to get into space at all.
Her husband, on the other hand, has become increasingly accustomed to the privileges of American life. They have made him much softer compared to Elizabeth.
In the first episode of the series, Phillip and Elizabeth capture a defected Soviet spy before he’s able to give away too much information. They hold him hostage in the trunk of their station wagon until they can figure out what to do with him.
Phillip begins to contemplate how easy it would be to defect as well. They would be treated like kings by the American government and would be free to live with the blessings of liberty for the rest of their lives.
Elizabeth’s staunch refusal leads to a strengthening of their resolve to remain loyal to the Soviet Union, despite the threat of a suspicious CIA operative moving in next door.
The best part of the show is it has drawn in viewers with the promise of suspense and excitement, and at the same time you’re genuinely interested in the training of these intense spies.
How did it come to be that Elizabeth and Phillip were chosen to live in this pristine suburb together? What level of commitment did it take to start a family from nothing and raise their children in the American way instead of the traditions of their beloved home country?
In the first two episodes you get the sense that Phillip truly does love Elizabeth simply from seeing her in action for so long, but Elizabeth has barely let him get close to her in all their time together.
One of the first moments when you see her show any affection to him is when she first reveals to him her real Russian name. It was something so intimate but so small that she had clearly never revealed before.
The most worthwhile qualities of the show come from the incredible performances of the lead actors. We’re used to seeing Keri Russell as a charming upbeat girl, but in “The Americans” she’s strong beyond belief. She displays incredible skill in hand-to-hand combat and a fierce loyalty to the Spartan values of the Soviet Union.
Matthew Rhys is finally in a position to shine in a starring role. He’s naturally a quiet actor, which suits the role of an undercover spy, but his subtle love for his fake wife is one of the most charming and heartbreaking parts of the show.
If the rest of the series is as promising as the first two episodes were, it’s likely that I’ll be supplementing my “Modern Family” Wednesdays with a dramatic twist on “The Americans.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
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