The Americans Review: Message from the Dead

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Elizabeth had a secret lover? That was a situation I didn't see coming, especially with an asset. I would have guessed that she was too uptight to do something like that. Even more shocking is that Philip had no clue about his wife's escapades with "Gregory."

The introduction of Gregory added to the complexity of the Soviet spy network operating in the United States. He's not only an American working for the KGB; he's in love with Elizabeth. He had his own crew to help with assignments, but unless I heard it wrong they don't realize he's a Soviet asset.

Looking Into Robert

Given the evolving relationship between Elizabeth and Philip, it was timely that they needed their asset's help with an urgent situation -- Robert, a dead man, left a coded message in the newspaper.

One of the factors that makes The Americans different from other shows on television today is the limited influence of technology. Since the show is based in 1981, we get to see old spy craft in action that is long outdated. Technology still plays a role, but it's different. We saw the clock bug transmitting to a tape deck, Stan's pager, but not real-time trackers or mobile phones.

When Stan's asset confirmed that the deceased Robert was Directorate S, they couldn't run his prints or photo electronically and get an identity in seconds. Instead, they had to send the photo out to state DMV's to match his photo to a driver's license by hand. They got a match much more quickly than seemed realistic, but it adds to the complexity of the spy game.

Philip and Stan went from playing racketball (what a 1980s thing to do!) to working against each other to get to Robert's wife, Joyce. The FBI's decision to watch her instead of bringing her in worked against them. Though, it wasn't an entirely flawed plan since they were correct that she could lead them to the KGB, they just weren't able to catch them in the act.

Plus, Stan didn't give up the search for her and looked into Joyce's escape. With boots on the ground, Stan got a new lead by tracking the truck and then seeing one of Gregory's team. The FBI now knows that the KGB is active in the unexpected neighborhood.

It's definitely a risky world they all live in on both sides. A nice breakfast with your daughter isn't entirely safe when you are an undercover KGB spy living as an American in the United States. At least, that's what Philip found out, when his new contact, Grannie, spied on them. At least he got even by attacking and choking her on the street.

As a trained spy, it seemed a bit unrealistic that Philip would let her in on what was going on just by providing a few names he knew. Wouldn't he get notified or want confirmation from his higher ups that there's a new player in town?

Philip trusted her enough to tell her about Robert's secret wife and then worked with her to set up the meeting with Robert's contact. Not that it would have mattered anyway. Grannie was legit and she took care of the situation. Joyce was killed and Oscar was sent to the Soviet Union with his grandparents.

Robert was on to the anti-ballistic missile program before he died and before Philip got that intel from the bugged clock. For his service to his country, they didn't repay him very well, especially since Philip was able to retrieve plans for the program.

The spy world is complex and deadly. It would only take one wrong move by the Jennings and their family could be killed next. Philip's need for an escape plan makes more sense every moment they continue as operatives.

While Elizabeth was upset that Gregory outed their relationship to Philip, it probably will make the marriage stronger. Without Gregory's interference, the Jennings would not have had their heart-to-heart about their current feelings. It may have taken Elizabeth a long time to get there, but she has fallen in love with her husband. "I feel like it's happening now."

That may be the riskiest place for them to be now.

Odds and Ends

  • Did you notice "Jo" from Facts of Life on the cover of Paige's magazine?
  • Who watches the kids when Philip and Elizabeth are on these long missions?
  • Nice mention of Cuba as the place that Joyce and Oscar were going to relocate.
  • Excellent casting of Margo Martindale as Grannie.
  • One complaint I have is with Elizabeth's clothes. They don't feel authentic "1980s" enough. It's not that they look out of place for the time, but don't reflect the biggest trends of the day.


Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (42 Votes)

Carla Day is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


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At first, I was in full agreement about the wardrobe. But I think that the bigger issue is w/ E's HAIR. It's much too well coifed for a late 30's mother of 2 in 1981. That's what's throwing me off & not giving her look an 'authentic' feel. I really like this show - but I'm finding it hard to be sympathetic to the 2 main characters (mostly E actually). Even a show like Dexter, which is about a serial killer, you find yourself rooting for the serial killer. And with this show, there's not enough subcontext in the character motivation to make me root for them to win over the FBI/American Gov't. ESPECIALLY after this last episode where I do think that they (at least in their subconscious) knew what was going to happen with Joyce. I'm not even surprised that E had a lover...I'm only surprised that she had actual feelings for him. That's how cold she is to me. P is great though. He's the real standout of this show.


Sigh. People involved.


Yes, this episode has started to convince me fully that Elizabeth isn't faking her developing feelings. But at the end of the pilot, I wasn't quite there yet, and it would have been intriguing (to me) if they played that question out a bit longer. Like I said, I can see both interpretations of the Joyce ending. But one thing I'd like to add is that they've been doing this a long time - yes, that means they know what the KGB is capable of when it needs to be. It also means that they've at least started to perhaps buy into the lie and forget what things are like over there. Just last episode they were naive enough to think it was unfair to ask them to do their mission and that it would be an option to send a message saying they couldn't do it. It's been made very clear that the situation is escalating for them right now and so I wonder if they've mostly been doing relatively low-stakes stuff in the last few years where they've had complete control over what happened to the people involved.


And 2. I see no need for Elizabeth to break things off with Gregory if she was just playing Philip. She could have carried on the pretence and Philip would be none the wiser. As it is, she was hoping to end it without Philip finding out and if Gregory hadn't been so malicious, he never would have. Don't think she'd give up the one real romantic relationship in her life if she didn't genuinely feel another was emerging between her and Philip. JMHO.


T, interesting perspective and I understand what you're saying but I think 1. The Jennings are not naive enough to think that Joyce was really being driven off into the sunset. That's not how the KGB does things. Joyce is a threat and she was always going to be eliminated. They turned her over because so far, they are by the book operatives and they were hoping for the best but they knew it would probably go the other way.


This show is amazing! I love it and Rhys is a standout for sure.


However, I can see the other interpretation which is another part of this show I love. I'm not 100% on anyone's motivations/honesty. For example, is E really starting to soften towards P, or since learning of his priorities, has some part of her realized that pretending to will keep him dedicated to her/the cause? Carla-I've seen several people complaining about the clothes not being "80s" enough, which I don't understand. 1st, this is 1981, not full-on 80s. 2nd, the majority of people, then as now, don't dress in the biggest trends of the day but have a "normal" wardrobe that they've grown for years reflecting various trends. 3rd, this is a professional mother in her late 30s blending in with D.C. suburbs, not to mention a woman who has strong philosophical objections to material culture and "modern" American things. Why would she be dressed like what Hollywood and stereotype remembers as 80s fashion?


Interesting Delilah - I interpreted the end the exact opposite. Maybe it's naive, but I think they believed they would help Joyce start a new life. As their argument demonstrated, if they really wanted her dead, killing her themselves was an option. Why go to such an elaborate ruse? It's inconsistent that the two of them - after feeling guilt in the previous ep about tormenting an innocent mother and her adult son (who were strangers to them) and ultimately deciding to let them live - would then willingly and cold-bloodedly trick an innocent mother and her baby (who had a strong personal connection to them through a colleague/man they considered a friend) to her death. Philip wants to believe people involved in this life can have a happy ending; Elizabeth wants to believe this is a respectable organization and country worth sacrificing her own life for. In many ways, they're blinded to who they work for, and that's part of why turning from that is not going to be easy/may never happen.


Big fan of the series so far. But I am curious as if anyone else noticed the 100 dollar bills that flew all over the place for the missle plans were the ones with the large head on them. Printed 1990 and later.

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