The Americans 1.1: Shock Value
The first scenes in the pilot episode consisted of sex formatted for cable tv and a thrilling car chase. While that is more than enough risqué footage to keep anyone wanting more, The Americans switched from eerie subtlety to heart pounding excitement throughout its lengthy season premiere.
We are not formally introduced to the thrill-seeking lead characters until about fifteen minutes in, leaving enough time for the viewer to question their initial interest in the show. After all, it is difficult to stick with a show without feeling anything for the people in it. But after waiting patiently, we learn that Keri Russell’s Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys’s Phillip Jennings are the ones chasing culprits all over the metro Washington D.C. area. Along with their children, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings portray the average American family in early 1980s suburbia, but that’s not who they really are. The Jennings parents are actually spies for the USSR, attempting to extract American secrets and generally wreck havoc however they can. Elizabeth and Phillip have been “married” for about twenty years when the show begins and I can’t help but develop the feeling that although Phillip has learned to love is phony wife over the years, Elizabeth’s main focus is serving her homeland and anything else is inconsequential.
In this episode Elizabeth and Phillip kidnap a former KGB officer who has defected to the USA. Their assignment is to capture him and send him back to Moscow where his superiors will take pleasure in torturing him to death. Unfortunately, the dynamic duo misses their time slot to throw the officer on the cargo ship and the two keep him in the trunk of the family Oldsmobile. All of this of course is set to the tune of popular 80s music. I am a big fan of the authenticity of this show. From the home décor to the Jordache jeans, The Americans does a great job of demonstrating what the early 80s looked and felt like.
Elizabeth and Phillip have no idea what to do with the kidnapped criminal inside their trunk. As we find out from a necessary flashback, Elizabeth wants to kill him because he sexually abused her during her training. Phillip doesn’t know this and wants to keep him alive until they receive further instruction from the motherland. The tension between them suddenly rises. I can tell that a big part of the storyline will be focused on loyalty to ones country vs. loyalty to each other.
As if the plot needs to thicken from what has happened thus far, we find out that the Jennings have new neighbors. Undercover FBI agent Stan Beenman, played by Noah Emmerich, and his family move into the quiet neighborhood and immediately gets a “funny feeling” about them. This seemed somewhat predictable considering someone had to be chasing these main characters. Later in the first episode, we find Phillip getting nervous about his new neighbor and attempting to turn in his former KGB prisoner over to agent Stan without consulting Elizabeth. Obviously, she is furious considering the cold bickering that has occurred , and she finally informs Phillip of their past. Phillip instead shows no mercy and kills the prisoner. That evening, the two hide the body in a warehouse after dousing it in acid. This scene was probably my favorite of the episode. It shows that despite their differences, Elizabeth and Phillip can stick it out and get the job done no matter how frightening it is. The two know that their marriage has deep-rooted, ideological issues, but in the throws of terror they find passion. The Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” tainted the feel of this passionate and emotional scene but I got the point.
Overall, I feel that The Americans is off to a solid start. While there were certain points of utter cheesiness and “I can’t believe they went there” vibes, the television show holds potential. The task ahead is a difficult one; not only does it need to hold my attention but after this episode, it needs to give me reasons to take it seriously. Hopefully, the next episode will keep me wanting more without all of the extra unnecessary bells and whistles.