The Americans: Season 2
Television and movies provide us with a plethora of benefits. Most would immediately cite entertainment at the top of that list, which undoubtedly is proper. Still, there are so many things that visual media bring to us. They are able to catch in detail the specific time and place, and unlike many historical textbooks, they are able to infuse the material with the human aspects of how emotional and psychological effects are manifested. We who proudly hail from the baby boomer generation began our path down life’s road during a time called ‘The Cold War’. In the aftermath of two world wars, the geopolitical landscape fundamentally collapsed into two diametrically opposed superpowers; the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. Unlike any other war in the history of man, this one was not dependent on massive shows military might. Much of it was fourth in the shadows by covert agents engaged in espionage activities that went so far as to surreptitiously planted enemy agents in plain sight as stalwart members of the society they are working to bring down. Thanks the people such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, those of us growing up may have been too young to understand details and nuances of the Red Menace will be fully understood that it was deeply affecting the adults. With each side in possession of more than sufficient number of nuclear weapons to annihilate the globe several times over, the prevailing price inexorably trickled down to us. Almost all of the entertainment pertaining to the Cold War was understandably from the side of the Americans. Spies were either American or British and the forces of evil always represented by soulless Soviet agents. The FX Cable Network for pushing the limits past those generally acceptable on traditional broadcast TV. One of the main ways that they achieve this has been utilizing morally ambiguous characters and storylines that reverse the expected dichotomy between heroes and villains. One of their most successful endeavors using this methodology is a spy thriller unlike any you most likely have come across in the past; ‘The Americans’. It follows a pair of KGB agents in the deep, assignment to blend in as a normal American suburban couple. Actually, they are ruthless killers completely devoted to their comrades back home.
An observer watching the Jennings family would not be anything overtly different. The husband and father, Philip (Matthew Rhys) is actually a highly trained Soviet agent named Mischa. His wife Elizabeth (Keri Russell), a.k.a. Nadezhda, is the epitome of everything we expect from a female spy; in possession of variety of ways to gather information through seduction, torture or assassination. While not fulfilling their mission to undermine the American way of life, their parents of two children; Paige (Holly Taylor), a teenage girl, and her younger brother, Henry (Keidrich Sellati). In public, they do their utmost to resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, but that is only a façade. Henry is too young to really catch on to what’s actually going on, but page is old enough to know that there is something that is eroding the relationship between her parents. In season two, Paige begins to act out in many ways like any rebellious teenage girl. Begins questioning her parents about very uncomfortable matters and becomes involved with a Christian organization after befriending a girl she met on the bus. The parents are quite upset over this not only because it’s directly opposed to the atheistic worldview, but that indoctrinates daughter’s mind with dangerous thoughts and allows how to socialize with American teens pulling her right from their direct influence.
The first season perform this function quite admirably. She gave us the back stories of all the principles and a glimpse at how they are entwined. Nadezhda was only 17 when indoctrinates them into the KGB. Is rather meek young woman, her training took amazingly well for that now and season two, she has no qualms about seducing some nerdish classical music for with access to desired information. Sex is just another weapon in her arsenal, one that she has been highly trained to deploy. Meanwhile, they put an end to the separation between Elizabeth and Philip. This is done, not so much for the sake of the children, but definitely indifference to their mission. Philip, in the guise of one of his many aliases, as a faux marriage to a woman, Martha Hanson (Annet Mahendru,) who was a secretary to a man highly placed in the American intelligence community. A dark cloud is on the horizon for Phillips contrived relationship. Martha, initially blinded by love, is beginning to question the need for such secrecy. She is not to tell anybody about the marriage never divulge any information about her ‘husband’ and absolutely never fill out the official documents tying the two of them together. When circumstances arise that require her to put her husband’s name on a document she is more than just tempted to do so, much of the chagrin of Philip. It would be difficult to just cut her loose because she is in the office staff of Senior Agent Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas), a supervisory agent at the FBI. He is also the direct boss to Philip and Elizabeth’s neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who works at the FBI as a Counter-Intelligence agent.
In some ways the official deceit and degradation of personal relationships, effects, Stan is well. He entered into an affair with Nina (Annet Mahendru), an office worker at the Soviet Embassy. One of the prevailing themes of this series is that neither side can be seen as having the moral high ground. Unlike the jingoistic spy thrillers about you, American agents utilize many of the same morally reprehensible tactics at this Soviet counterpart. Both stand and Philip are cheating on their wives. They both justify it to themselves as necessary means of obtaining information about the enemy, and gathering intelligence that will help save their country. It is highly doubtful that they are thinking about their respective countries flags proudly waving while they are having sex with these women. A large aspect of what makes ‘The Americans’ such a deliciously well-constructed series that even within such a fairly obvious juxtaposition infidelity on both sides of the social political conflict, the writers infuse the plot thread nuances that subtly add far greater dimension to this particular aspect of the story. While both Soviet and American agents are cheating on their wives, Philip is open about it to Elizabeth. She knows it is part of his job and that she has done the same many times before and will continue to do so. For the Soviets concepts such as love and fidelity within this context, is an indulgence that proves Americans are soft and decadence; bound to be crushed by Soviet superiority. Of course, other touches, including the fact that despite their rigid training by the KGB, Philip and Elizabeth are human beings, subject to the same foibles and emotional distractions as any of us.
Many television series undergo a phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘The Sophomore Slump’. While the first season is an impressive access, after renewal, the second season finds it difficult to accomplish the two goals of such a season; retain the elements that made the show a success, while introducing sufficient differences to ensure the show continues to be fresh. With The Americans, this is an instance that demonstrates it’s possible to do so. The fundamental appeal of the show is to give audiences an unusual vantage point to a familiar theme. Rather than looking at espionage to agents of the side you live in, the primary characters are dedicated members of our sworn enemies. Many of us were brought up to believe the Soviet Union wanted nothing less than the complete annihilation of capitalism and democracy. After a childhood of hearing about the godless communists infiltrating us in order to destroy the American way of life, this series offers us the opportunity to observe the same events for the opposing side. Nadezhda was brought up on propaganda from her government that villainized the American way it of life as the all-consuming evil out to destroy them. Nadezhda sincerely believes the work she is doing; the infidelity, the lies and murders are not only justified, but necessary in order to preserve the lives of millions of our comrades.
The treatment of this information is brilliant. It seamlessly fuses first on our expectations and complete reversals of everything we have ever thought about the Cold War by allowing us to see those familiar events from an unfamiliar vantage point. As is almost always the case, when such an inventive perspective is presented with impeccable writing, tight direction and brilliant acting the results have the potential for something ingenious and exceptionally entertaining. Admittedly, I thought this might be a one season wonder, instead, once again FX has changed the landscape of television something that is so worthwhile that it deserves the third season that is about to begin.