… whoever they are.
I was only around for the second half of the 80s, and I was a wee child at the time, so I can’t say that I really know much about the era other than what the history books and VH1 have told me. But if The Americans is even a little bit historically accurate, it would seem to me that it was quite the wild ride, Jordache jeans and huge glasses and all.
The Americans is FX’s newest drama, starring Keri Russell (yep, Felicity) and Matthew Rhys as KGB spies in Reagan-era Washington, D.C. I’m four episodes in, and I’m still sort of disoriented, but in a good way. It’s not that the show is confusing; on the contrary, it’s pretty simply laid out and easy to follow, while maintaining a high level of intrigue. It’s just that, because the protagonists of the show are anti-America, it’s hard to root for them. And yet I do. They’re likable enough people, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, and bit by bit (through flashbacks, of course), we see who they used to be, where they came from, how they were trained, and what their mission is. Sort of. It’s still in the dark, mostly.
One of the many complicated reasons why they’re so sympathetic is because they joined the KGB so young, at around age 18. Old enough to make their own choices, sure, but young enough that maybe they didn’t know what other choices they had. The two had past lives, identities, interests, but all of that was erased for the mother country, for service, and for the greater good. As Americans, they’ve completely assimilated and even started a family, which brings me to Sympathetic Reason #2: their kids. Poor Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), it would seem, right? At this point in the story, we don’t know if they’re adopted or not, but we feel for them because they’re not in the know about their parents, and it’s probably only a matter of time. Or maybe it’s not. It’s hard to say. They seem well-adjusted, smart, and curious, but they also seem like they’d be completely debilitated if the truth ever came out. (Like any kid would.) Because of them, I root for Elizabeth and Philip not to get caught, to maintain some sense of normalcy for their kids. During the second episode, “The Clock,” in which the Jennings target the housekeeper of the Secretary of Defense to get her to plant a mic in his office, I kept thinking about what would happen if they got caught. Where would the kids go? How would they defend themselves? What would happen to the rest of the organization? It’s eerie to think about.
Sympathetic Reason #3, then, is the “opposing” force, the FBI. I never thought I’d actually root against the FBI, but that was before I saw Dexter. Now I have another reason, and it’s Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich). This guy. He’s got a pretty strong spidey sense about things, but he always seems to be behind by just enough time for the KGB to get away from him. I want to like Beeman, because he’s working for the good guys, but he’s got this dead-eyes look about him that just screams, “I’ve got a secret!” And the fact that he’s always off by a few minutes or steps leads me to think that maybe he’s not as good of an agent as he’s made out to be. In the third episode, “Gregory,” his slow-on-the-draw-ness causes the FBI to lose track of a suspected KGB affiliate they had been following; I just hope that this doesn’t become a regular plot device, because it’s sort of depressing to watch our supposedly strong government screw up repeatedly. In any case, “Gregory” was my favorite episode of the four I’ve seen, because it gave me more of an objective reason to root for the Jennings, even if I’m hesitant to support their “cause.” The KGB intercepts the affiliate before the FBI can get to her because they’re so efficient and well-connected. Hard to argue with that.
So, I’m in it for the long haul. I can’t wait to see what happens, particularly with geniuses like Jean de Segonzac, Adam Arkin, and Tommy Freakin’ Schlamme taking turns directing episodes and fantastic songs like Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and Roxy Music’s “Sunset.” I still haven’t really made up my mind who I’m going to root for, but I’m hoping my repeated “It’s hard to say” will morph into something more definitive by the end of the season. Maybe it won’t; it’s hard to say.