The Americans Review: Message from the Dead

at . Comments

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 Since the show is based in 1981, we get to see old spy craft in action that is long outdated.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
  • 4.8 / 5.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
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+.


That said, the spy stuff was pretty cool this week too. Claudia is a spanner in the works for sure. Gregory was an excellent character/plot device and I'm sure we'll see him again, if only to contrast the then and now. I really like that the show is not in a hurry to show the Jennings turning against years of indoctrination. The seeds have been planted but it's going to take alot more time for them to really sprout. Them letting Robert's wife be driven off knowing she would be killed was cold-blooded but also reminds us what and who they work for. It's unpleasant to know what these two are capable of but it's also very real and I like that.


People should not forget we are only THREE episodes in. We needed this ep (and the last one) to build the foundations of what is clearly the emotional heart and content of the show, and the foundations of stories to come. Yes it was slower paced but it was so much richer in emotional content. This marriage is changing and Elizabeth ending a 15 year liaision because she's falling in love with her husband is not something you see everyday on tv. Phillip's hurt and devastation was palable, but it's clear they can't go back to just being colleagues who happen to be married. And standing O for Matthew Rhys and his performance tonight. He was incredible.


This ep, while still great, was a bit weaker than the others. "Grannie" is great. I hope we start to learn more about Philip's past. It's too one-sided on what we know about the characters before they were who they are now. I'm torn on the whole (years-long, emotional as well as physical) affair. While her attempt to explain helps me get there a bit, I still have trouble imagining a situation where a committed-to-the-cause, follow-the-KGB-rules agent would risk telling/recruiting an American or where a woman with such clear, serious issues with intimacy would be swayed by a "passionate" man. But I'm willing to go with it because it gave us great insight into the character and conflict for the relationship between P & E.

Tags: ,