It is the ’80s, and the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States is raging. Travel agents Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) look like the perfect couple with their two children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati). They live in a nice neighborhood and have new neighbors in an FBI agent named Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and his family. Philip and Elizabeth are hiding a secret…they are deep cover agents for the KGB and have secretly been working against the United States for years. The Cold War is escalating and the danger could threaten their manufactured world forever!
The Americans—Season 1 aired from January 30, 2013 to May 1, 2013 on FX. The series was released to strong reviews and ratings. The season was nominated for two Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Margo Martindale).
Like series before it stemming from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad, cable dramas seem to have a formula which has characters that live normal lives but have a secret life and the balance between family and their work. The Americans in this sense is no different, but like many of the other cable series before it, The Americans utilizes this format for a strong and interesting series.
The basis for the series does have roots in a long-time Soviet sleeper cell uncovered in Massachusetts in 2010. Unlike that situation, the characters in The Americans are doing some very high tech spy work that has them always in the line of fire or danger. It might not always be realistic (like sneaking into the trunk of a car on a lift and accidentally ending up at FBI headquarters), but the taunt drama keeps the thrills coming.
What I find more interesting are episodes that tied in directly to events going on in a historical sense. You have the characters trying to uncover the secrets of Reagan’s Star Wars program and the episode in which Reagan was shot is particularly interesting in that it paints a very believable picture of what could have been going on in counter intelligence couple of days surrounding the incident due to real life miscommunications that today seem implausible.
Keri Russell has proven in the past to be a strong female lead and continues to really hold the story together as the more dynamic of the pair, but Matthew Rhys’ more internalized moral debate really gives heart to the situation of an agent in deep cover. Margo Martindale’s gruff handler, who is introduced a couple episodes into the season, continues to show her range as a character actress in shows like this, Dexter, and Justified. Noah Emmerich is a little flat as the FBI agent, but he does have that no nonsense feel that is probably needed. The Waltons’ Richard Thomas takes an important role as the director of the office and you can’t help but feel for the two women caught up in the espionage played by Alison Wright and Annet Mahendru.
Series set in the past always have challenges. There are some idioms that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have been used in 1981 (like “hit the pause button”) and merchandise that just wouldn’t have been around. The series does casually remind the viewers how far we’ve come technology-wise in that you wish that the characters could just pick up a cellphone and call when there is a problem (or that surveillance tech is also much better and much smaller).
The Americans is a good series that has a lot of potential. The idea that their children are Americans leads to a lot more questions about loyalty in the future (as an ’80s Cold War kid it was pounded into you that Soviets were evil…and finding out your parents were Soviets would be a catastrophic conundrum) and depending how far the series stretches, what happens when the Soviet Union begins to fall apart? I would love to see how some of these things unfold along with other major real events…with the Americans become Americans for real?
The Americans—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:
1.1 Pilot Airdate: 01/30/13
In 1981, deep cover KGB agents Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) try to abduct a defector named Nikolai Timoshev (David Vadim) and deliver him to a drop-off point. When the assignment goes south, an associate named Rob (Chase Coleman) is killed, and Elizabeth and Philip are left with Nikolai as their captive, they must determine what to do with them. Meanwhile, FBI counter-intelligence agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) investigates the abduction of Nikolai and learn that Reagan is increasing the pressure to root out spies in America. When Beeman and his family move next door to the Jennings, Philip begins to question if Beeman is on to him and if he and Elizabeth should defect. While Elizabeth vows loyalty to the Soviets, Philip is about to learn that Nikolai and Elizabeth have a past that could threaten the situation.
1.2 The Clock Airdate: 02/06/13
When Philip and Elizabeth are ordered to complete a mission on a sped up timetable, they must take drastic measures by poisoning a teenager and forcing the enlistment of his mother (Tonye Patano) who works as a maid in the home of the Secretary of Defense. Beeman and his partner Chris Amador (Maximiliano Hernandez) try to get a woman named Nina (Annet Mahendru) from the Soviet Embassy to become a spy. Philip faces troubles with his liaison Annelise Gerard (Gillian Alexy) who sees their relationship as more while Elizabeth worries what will happen to their children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) if they are captured.
1.3 Gregory Airdate: 02/13/13
Philip and Elizabeth find a surprise when they get a message from the deceased Rob to meet with them. Learning that Rob has left a wife (Audrey Esparza) and a child, Philip and Elizabeth must find a way to them out of the country before their cover is compromised. Nina alerts Beeman to Rob’s identity and counter-intelligence searches for his wife. With a new KGB contact named Claudia (Margo Martindale), Philip and Elizabeth must enlist Elizabeth’s friend Gregory Thomas (Derek Luke) to reach Rob’s wife first…but Gregory has a surprise for Philip.
1.4 In Control Airdate: 02/20/13
President Reagan has been shot, and the pressure is on to find out if there is Soviet involvement. With pressure to find out who is in control of the country and who responsible on both sides, Elizabeth and Philip must go into emergency protocol to potentially unleash Operation: Christopher…which leads to more conflict between Elizabeth and Philip. Nina finds Stan wants to meet with her but her actions raise suspicions with her bosses.
1.5 COMINT Airdate: 02/27/13
An undercover agent named Adam Dorwin (Michael Countryman) is on the brink of breaking with stepped up surveillance of agents. Elizabeth tries to find the key to how the surveillance works at a bodily risk to herself when her contact reveals he has a kinky side. Stan has Nina investigate who the agent is that is turning…and Nina gets the information through unconventional means from her boss Vasili Nikolaevich (Peter Von Berg). Elizabeth and Philip learn getting hold of the surveillance device could be difficult since they are held in the trunks of agents’ cars.
1.6 Trust Me Airdate: 03/06/13
The Soviets know that there is a spy in their system and are out to root the mole out putting Nina under pressure. Philip is grabbed as he contacts his target Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) and learns that Elizabeth has also been taken. Paige and Henry hitchhike home from the mall when Elizabeth doesn’t show up…and run into danger.
1.7 Duty and Honor Airdate: 03/13/13
Philip heads to an assignment under the guise of a travel agent convention and is reunited with his former love Irina (Marina Squerciati). With Irina, Philip is supposed to stop a Polish defector named Andrzej Bielawski (Andrew Krukowski) who intends to join Reagan in encouraging Poland to buck-off Soviet control…but Irina has a surprise for Philip. Elizabeth is assigned to bring Dorwin’s agent under her control, but learns that Sanford Prince (Tim Hopper) has his own problems. With Philip gone, Elizabeth spends more time with Sandra Beeman (Susan Misner) and learns not everything is perfect between them as Stan faces a test of his own.
1.8 Mutually Assured Destruction Airdate: 03/20/13
The Soviets have sent a bomber (Chris Sullivan) after top scientists in the U.S. administration…but a decision to recall him leads to a problem. Elizabeth learns that Philip lied to her about his experience at the travel agent convention and questions their decision to move forward as a real couple. Philip works Martha at the FBI as their relationship escalates leading to suspicion with Martha’s coworker Chris Amador (Maximiliano Hernández), and Stan discovers that his affair with Nina is changing his feelings on the assignment. With little intel on the bomber, Elizabeth and Philip must track him down before any of the scientists are hit.
1.9 Safe House Airdate: 04/03/13
The FBI is on high alert and looking to enact vengeance for the death of their agents in the bomb attack. Elizabeth and Philip announce their separation and Philip’s night with Martha leads to an accidental confrontation with Amador. Holding Amador hostage, Elizabeth and Philip must find out what he knows about the FBI’s plans for retaliation but find they are also caught in a snare when Stan takes his own hostage (Vitaly Benko).
1.10 Only You Airdate: 04/10/13
Amador is dead, and Stan and the FBI have made finding his killers their top priority. Nina deals with the death of her coworker Vlad, but Stan hides that he’s responsible. When the murder is tracked to Gregory’s crew, Elizabeth finds getting Gregory out of the country might become a necessity…whether Gregory agrees to the plan or not.
1.11 Covert War Airdate: 04/17/13
An attack on Soviet soil by the United States leaves Elizabeth’s confidant and mentor General Zhukov (Olek Krupa) dead. Vowing to avenge him against the orders of Claudia, Elizabeth enlists Philip to hunt down Richard Patterson (Paul Fitzgerald) who she deems responsible. Meanwhile, Philip discovers his relationship with Martha might be moving faster than he thought.
1.12 The Oath Airdate: 04/24/13
Sanford Prince comes to Elizabeth with information on an upcoming meeting with a colonel holding potential defensive information. While trying to determine if it is a plot and if Claudia can be trusted, Philip seeks to bug the office of Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas) with the help of Martha…but it could force Philip into a big decision. As plans surrounding the colonel develop, the FBI investigates the potential male-female Soviet spies and find help from a surprising source. Nina tries to determine Stan’s involvement in Vlad’s death and makes a big decision.
1.13 The Colonel Airdate: 05/01/13
Nina has secretly flipped sides and is now working for the Soviets as a double agent without Stan’s knowledge. As Philip and Elizabeth question if they are walking into a potential trap, the two debate what should be done about the children and who should take the more dangerous mission…but the danger could be the assignment they least suspected.