Analyzing “The Americans” | Pilot

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As promised, I re-watched the pilot of The Americans—and took three full pages of notes (front and back)—so that anyone still debating whether or not this is a show they would enjoy can come to a final decision. Plus as I mentioned, I love analyzing and not just watching. If you want my opinion (which you should, if you’re reading), just cough up the $25 like me and settle in for a long weekend on iTunes. Need more convincing? Well, I’ve never seen the merit in recaps, although I’m sure there are instances where they come in handy, so rather than give a full synopsis, I’ve chosen to go with bullet points. The pilot alone is only a couple bucks, so if you have any level of interest, just suck it up. Obviously, be prepared for SPOILERS! My view on spoilers has always been thus: If the show has already aired, it’s fair game—I may be behind on this one, but I know I’m probably not the only one, so you’ve been warned.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • This isn’t Alias. The last spy show I watched involved Jennifer Garner looking smokin’ hot in different disguises while using ridiculously high-tech gadgets to complete missions. Don’t assume that’s what we’ll be getting here. Set in Washington D.C. in 1981, the “disguises” are just bad outfits and fake mustaches, the “bugs” are mini tape recorders and wow, what did we ever do before cell phones? Where’s Marshall when you need him? It’s an interesting viewing element just to watch what they can achieve without technology, especially because …
  • We’re rooting for the bad guys. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings could be our neighbors. They’re the nice folks who work at the travel agency and bring brownies to our house when we move in and they take their kids out for ice cream and play checkers round-robins. They play American so well, they make the rest of us look bad by comparison—which of course makes them all the more dangerous. But the thing is, we see their struggles. We know they believe they’re doing the noble work of the motherland, but we also see the conflict in their eyes when their “job” becomes too much to live up to. So we empathize with the enemy—well maybe not with our “heroine” just yet, because …
  • Elizabeth is a machine. Elizabeth was born and bred to fulfill her KGB duties, that much is obvious. When she stands over the man who raped her during her training, her former captain and current captive, her eyes crackle with a crazy intensity. We can see that she has used that experience to fuel her fire, rather than hold her back. She doesn’t so much as flinch when using sex to acquire intel. She’s controlled, calculated, almost cold. And therein lies the conflict between husband and wife, because …

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  • Phillip loves his wife. It’s difficult to watch Philip try so hard and get nothing in return. While Elizabeth has clearly viewed their arranged marriage as a job and nothing more, Philip slipped up. In a flashback, we see he had someone in his life before meeting Elizabeth and he still tried to make the best of an awkward situation. He’s grown into their relationship and genuinely cares for her. When he reaches for her and she pulls away, when he tries to play with her in front of the kids and she’s visibly irritated, when he kisses her neck and she pulls a knife on him—all of this is reflected in his eyes, especially that last. “You’re my wife,” he reminds her. “Is that right?” she replies, the mistrust plain on her face. And he walks away, because what else can he do? His struggle is made all the more painful for us to watch when we see how much …
  • Philip loves his kids. Everything he does, he does for them. He sees them growing up into normal American kids and he’s torn between wanting to do right by his country and being the dad his children believe he is. One of my favorite scenes was when he sang the National Anthem beside his son. He looks at Henry and sees how excited he is, then at the flag, then we almost see the lyrics sink in for the first time. And suddenly he’s not sure he’s doing the right thing anymore. My other favorite was when he took Paige shopping. Just the simple act of comparing shoes and spending quality time with his daughter—he’s become a family man. With that, it seems the life he lives after his kids go to bed has started to feel like a betrayal. This leads him to ask the pivotal question …

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  • What if they defect? The U.S. government would pay them millions to switch sides, so to speak, a little detail they pick up from the guy stashed in their trunk. At this, dollar signs flash in Philip’s eyes and he starts to picture the life they could have. Elizabeth, naturally, thinks he’s lost his mind. His proposition isn’t so crazy: “Maybe this is the perfect time for us just to think about living the life we’ve been living, but just really living it.” Nope, too crazy for Elizabeth. Philip gets a swat on the nose—figuratively, because he literally gets bitch-slapped—and the discussion is dropped. After all, they have enough to worry about because …
  • Life is hard enough without also dealing with nosy neighbors. The new guy across the street just so happens to work for FBI counter-intelligence. Former undercover agent to boot. He’s got the Jennings in his sights and he’s ballsy enough to break into their garage at night to see if they’ve been tied to a recent kidnapping. Enough said. But I’m not too concerned, since the end of the episode showed a definite turning point for our spies, the most important element being …
  • Maybe Elizabeth does love Philip. When Philip finds out the real reason why Elizabeth is out for their hostage’s blood, he snaps. The guy’s neck, that is. The look on his face/tone of his voice when he asks Elizabeth, “How did he hurt you?” and the sharp crunch of a windpipe is apparently enough for her to finally get it. After they dump the body, she kisses him in the car. Phil Collins sets the soundtrack as they get busy. And later, finally, Elizabeth takes his hand and starts to tell him about her life before (something that was strictly warned against when they first met), even revealing her real name. Looks like she’s ready to embrace the fact that he truly is her partner, in more ways than one.

I realize the above is a somewhat vague and convoluted mess, but it’s just a taste of the 1 hour and 12 minute premiere—hopefully tantalizing enough to make you want to indulge. Those who watched will fully get what I was going for. Those who watched will also get the following: Of course, as with any TV show, there was still some eyebrow-raising over certain aspects. After all, believability sometimes has to take a backseat to convenience when selling stories to audiences. As I watched, these were my questions:

1. How did Timoshev know he was about to be chased? Who just stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk like that?

2. Who the heck is watching their kids while they’re out chasing bad guys in the middle of the night? Are they just leaving them home alone?

3. Flashback Philip has straight hair. Where did the fro come from? (Matthew Rhys has naturally curly hair, so why bother making it straight to represent youth? People don’t just develop different hair later in life.)

4. How did Philip find Errol? The card on the counter was a credit card, not a license. Did he memorize the number just by glancing at it and look it up later? Is that a thing? Could they do that in the ‘80s? But hey, BBQ fork to the groin, awesome.

5. Philip was already in the garage when Beeman broke in—did he hear him coming and run down? Was he already in there? And with the trunk being so freshly cleaned (thoroughly, I would imagine, to get rid of any blood), wouldn’t it smell like cleaning products? It’s a small enclosed space, not unlikely. That would’ve been a tip-off to Beeman for sure.

Lastly, and I think most interestingly—Their oldest kid is 13, which means they’ve been at this for quiiiiite some time. Are we really supposed to believe that this is the first time EVER that they’ve felt some sort of romantic feelings for each other? Some sexual tension? They have two kids after all, so what was conception like, a business transaction? Get in, get out, get off, get back on your side of the bed? And what about the birth? Was he in the room with her when she delivered? Were they happy? Did they cry? There are so many aspects of marriage that we view as normal, but what about when your marriage is a sham and you don’t even know if you can trust your partner on the most basic level—what kind of strain does that put on the everyday things?

I mentioned this already, but I have seen the second episode as well, so I’ve already started to see the evolution of a few of the above points. I can’t wait to watch the rest of season 1. Full steam ahead!

Fans of The Americans—I want to hear your thoughts! Chances are I’ll knock out the rest of the season by the end of the weekend, so don’t hold back. Will you be watching season 2? Why or why not?

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4 thoughts on “Analyzing “The Americans” | Pilot

  1. Looking forward to your thoughts on the rest of the season. A fantastic show- by the finale I was wishing for January. Keep up the good work!

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  2. Oh, some of those questions you raise will eventually be answered. To a certain extent. Just keep watching. 😉

    Like

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