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The Americans Review: Making the Impossible Possible

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With the Cold War intensifying, the spy game was stepped up by both sides on The Americans this week. The Jennings were tasked with a seemingly impossible mission, while their FBI neighbor developed an important asset on "The Clock."

In The Americans premiere, Elizabeth used her sexuality to obtain crucial intelligence about the whereabouts of a Soviet defector. This time it was Philip's turn. The use of sex by spies is nothing new, but it's sure to complicate their already unique arranged marriage.

Risking It All

Through their years together, they have developed some level of love for each other and especially for their family unit. Going forward, I'm looking forward to seeing how Philip and Elizabeth's relationship grows, as well as, their loyalty to their homeland. 

After being fiercely dedicated to the Soviet Union, Elizabeth let the strain of the job start to break that down when given a few days to complete the mission instead of the usual months. It's one thing to build an asset, like the woman that Philip seduced into willingly getting photos for him, but an entirely different situation to force someone into action. This mission provided an outlet for Elizabeth to show her love for her family and concern for what would happen if they didn't succeed. The ear piercing provided a touching moment between mother and daughter.

The use of the maid, Viola, was a risky proposition, especially since neither Philip or Elizabeth could keep watch over her or her poisoned son the entire time. Philip's ability to change his appearance and demeanor helps him succeed as a spy. Whether he's interrogating the FBI employee, seducing an asset, or threatening Viola, he's believable and intense. He can be sincere and appear helpful in one moment and a killing machine the next.

After only one episode, both Elizabeth and Philip have been humanized in a way that even though they are both Soviet agents, I don't want to see any harm come to them. In their interactions with Viola and her son, I pulled for the agents to succeed for them, but more importantly, so nothing bad would happy to the maid or her family.

When Viola's brother attacked Philip, I was sure that the "breaking" noise was the American's neck and didn't doubt for a moment that the Soviet agent would kill if necessary for his mission. It was a relief that Philip didn't kill him. That intensity and conflicting emotions makes the show even more suspenseful.

Would Philip have killed Viola's son with the pillow if she didn't agree to replace the clock? Would Elizabeth have extended the countdown? In many ways, their own lives and that of their children was just as much at risk as Viola and her's even if an unspoken threat. Perhaps that's why it's not as difficult as it should be to support the Jennings' actions. 

In contrast, Agent Beeman went about uncovering a potential asset in the Soviet embassy. Just as the Jennings are willing to use manipulation and force to get what they need, Beeman did the same on the stereo shop owner. Nice touch taking the caviar and then sharing it with Philip. 

For the first time, we saw how the assets and intelligence gathering on both sides affect the other. The Jennings placed a bug in American Secretary of Defense's home office, then Beeman's new asset within the Embassy got wind of the good news. 

How long will it be before Beeman gets suspicious of the Jennings again? Being able to see both sides and how they react to the successes and failures of the other side is enough to overlook the plot point of the Beemans becoming neighbors of the Jennings.

Do you find yourself wanting Elizabeth and Philip to succeed even though their actions are against America? After another episode, how do you rate the show?

Review

Editor Rating: 4.6 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (63 Votes)

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

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    I think the show is great. I love the mixture of great acting, good fight and action scenes, suspenseful situations, and emotional conflicts.I am really glad they don't portray the US as "good guys" and Russia as "bad guys" they would weaken the story. I especially like the hint of classic spy story atmosphere where things develop slowly at a nice pace like a good book, not rushed and thrown in your face like most horrible major network shows were they don't let the audience think things through.

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    @ Lisa - the show is set in 1981, as I recall, and they established that Elizabeth at least was young when she was recruited. Philip is probably supposed to be a couple years older. That would put them in their late 30s to early 40s. The actors are both in their late 30s. The age difference between characters and actors is quite believable, particularly with the style of make-up used, and indeed nothing compared to, say, shows where 30-somethings play high school students.

    @ Madhubala - I AM American (and grew up in the 80s) and have no issue with them succeeding. Putting aside the fact that I've never been one to fall into the "Team USA! Destroy all our enemies! Blind patriotism!" mentality, it's a TV show. Some people just need to learn to separate reality from fiction.

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    Fantastic show. 2 episodes in and I'm already in love with it. Not being American, I don't have the instinctual reservation most of the audience has for the main characters. They're doing horrible things no doubt but the show makes it absolutely clear neither of them is happy about that job. Philip in particular is growing weary of the facade. He's in love with his wife, and she in turn is finally falling in love with him too, and all he wants is his family to be happy and safe and away from all the risks and danger. His torment over what he had to do to Viola and her son was heartbreaking. Elizabeth is the tougher nut to crack but I have a feeling there will be a role reversal between the two of them very soon. That Annalise is going to spell trouble, no doubt, personally and professionally. Can't wait for more!

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    I DO BELEIVE THEY LOOK THEIR AGE. SHE BEING AROUND 42 AND HIM, OLDER. I DON'T LIKE SEEING THEM SUCCEED, BUT AGAIN WE WOULDDN'T HAVE A SHOW IF THEY DIDN'T. CLEARLY ONE OF MY FAVORITE SHOWS. GOOD ACTING AND INTENSE, FOR ME. HOW DID HE ACQUIRE THE CAVIAR? THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE A HINT THAT AGENT BEEMAN DID STILL SUSPECT THEM,IF HE GAVE IT TO PHILIP SO HIS WIFE COULD HAVE A TASTE.

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    I want the Jennings to succeed, but only because I know that in the real world, their efforts came to naught, because Reagan finally came up tops in the Cold War. Nice touch that they use real people (Casper Weinberger; Margaret Thatcher) as the backdrop to the storyline. Although the name wasn't mentioned, wouldn't that have been James Baker (Reagan's Chief of Staff)that agent Breeman was talking to on the phone? Since Philip is not squeamish about taking someone "out", I don't think Anilese would be allowed to be troublesome for long, if she becomes a problem. In the end, I think the Jennings will come over to our side, or be captured but that possility is a ways off yet.

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    I meant to say spies not spys.Sorry.

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    I really love this show because it seems to be closer in reality to how spys really were back then then any other spy show out there.I love it that there are no clear cut "good guys" either.

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    Another great episode - this is fast becoming my favorite show. So many interesting layers and parallels to everything.

    GeneralRapunzel - not sure I agree with your hockey criticism. The "Miracle on Ice" was just in 1980. Would it be that unusual for a boy to get interested in the sport at that time (one who has been established to get excited about American Heroes)? Besides, as far as I'm concerned, it would be more suspicious if they were so against everything Russian-y. Protesting too much and all that.

    But I am definitely waiting for the crazy wife (Annelise?) to make more trouble.

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    I really like this show except if they were recruited in 1962, they would be in their mid-40's and need to look their age not like a young couple in their 30's. The FBI agent looks appropriate.

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    I do not want Philip and Elizabeth to succeed, but if they never did this wouldn't be much of a show. I am really going to enjoy seeing Agent Beeman hunt them. I think he still suspects. By the way, Philip is worried that Agent Beeman is still suspicious and he goes and plays hockey with his son? Hockey. Dude, Philip, pick up a basketball or baseball next time. I'm not saying Americans don't play hockey (I personally love it), but it was/is a dominant Russian sport.

    Anywho I think the wife of the deputy undersecretary of defense may come back to haunt Philip. Girl be crazy.

    Elizabeth is still very loyal to the Soviet Union. I don't know if Philip believes in the ideas anymore. The scenes with their kids and their growing relationship (and all it took was killing the guy who raped Elizabeth to bring down her walls) really humanize them. I'm glad to see that dimensionality brought out.




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