The Americans "Gregory" Review: The Heart Is a Lonely Spy Hunter

By Ryan Sandoval

Feb 14, 2013

The Americans S01E03: "Gregory"

The FBI and KGB raced to make contact with fallen fellow spy Robert’s secret wife and baby, while Phillip discovered another hidden relationship between Elizabeth and a longtime asset. Named for her lover, "Gregory" was a mostly solid episode that briefly sacrificed momentum in favor of addressing broader plot points. Overall, the third chapter of this very exciting spy tale anticipated a need to expand the universe, traveling out of town to introduce some new players in the spies-are-people-too club. The result was a painful one for the devoted Phillip, who found himself emotionally cuckolded by a family partner whose Siberian-like coldness he'd once rationalized as just being part of the job. In other words: Happy Valentine's Day!

Now that the rules of this world have pretty much been established (i.e. spy missions + family probs + the FBI), the conceptual elephant in the storytelling room (for us nitpickers) is the question of how many angles The Americans will be able to create by juxtaposing emotion and cold-hearted spy responsibilities before repeating combinations of each. The quick answer is "a finite amount." Should this excellent drama continue (sorry to think this way, but TV is so fickle!), it won’t always be about how well Phillip and Elizabeth juggle these two spheres of life—just like Breaking Bad stopped being about Walter White battling the expenses of cancer via meth kingpinship, and grew to be more about his deeper struggles as a character with whom we became engaged.

Heck, even if there were an endless number of ways to explore feelings + spy life, would that be as enjoyable as watching fictional people grow in real ways? Like, a procedural, but about new and different examples of how espionage complicates the homestead? The answer is no, which is why we’re already getting a thread right up front addressing romantic infidelity in the same episode that explores a sort of professional unfaithfulness. No offense to Phillip, but thank goodness Elizabeth dropped this common marital dirty bomb on him while their peculiar situation still has the dramatic juice to, uh, "capitalize" on it.

If Robert’s secret family was a logistical problem to the KGB, then Elizabeth’s history with Gregory (a remarkable Derek Luke) was the emotional equivalent of a ballistic siege for Phillip. And not the good kind. After fifteen years of playing house together he had come to believe the cover, and who could blame him? Countless are the non-secret-agent marriages where one party feels more strongly than the other, or the ease of tradition stands in the way of domestic upheaval. Enter Gregory, a passionate African-American activist who Elizabeth connected with at Martin Luther King, Jr. rallies, who gave her everything her husband couldn’t, and with whom she nearly abandoned Phillip for a month before giving birth to Paige. His apartment has paintings! Youch. It’s the classic case of Lover A's appeal being the polar opposite of Lover B (#valentinesday). Most importantly, his introduction changes Elizabeth from a withholding, lonesome partner to a more self-sufficient individual. Rather than settle for assigned circumstances, she took the initiative to find satisfaction—a trait that will come in handy should she ever buck the KGB structure to ensure her own family’s safety.

If any character gets the sympathy award this episode, it's definitely Phillip. Not only did he suffer through that silly earring-and-beanie disguise combo, but he also nobly defended a dead pal ("Robert was my friend.... If you touch his wife I'll kill you"); turned pain into a borderline desperate threat with lines like "You don’t have a family, do you Gregory?"; and basically experienced the worst kind of romantic betrayal a committed partner can. It doesn’t matter how many necks he snaps, or blonde assets he takes to bed, Phillip’s measure of strength and intimate fulfillment is decided solely by Elizabeth's willingness to complete his family. To have his happiness barometer crushed under the surprise of a long-form, domestic lie further humanized him, when already Phillip seemed pretty dang suburban. Not only is he a husband and a father, now he’s one who’s experienced something plenty of non-spy patriarchs have too. Or has he? Elizabeth's retort of "Lied? What does that even mean to us?" was that kind of real talk that brings arguments to a halt with glass-cutting logic and left Phillip utterly vulnerable. So THANK GOODNESS she followed it up with the admission that she felt as though what she once had with Gregory, she was now starting to have with Phillip. Case closed!

Moving outside the personal arena and into the public, we were treated to some downright mesmerizing, wordless sequences of FBI agents getting duped by Gregory’s network of Philly dudes. Sometimes the human drama is so engaging I forget there are actual spy games at play, so the moments of espionage are as satisfying as they are surprising. I'm not exactly sure how to phrase it, but there's an added enjoyment in being able to watch all the secretive action play out amongst unassuming citizens, as though the presence of regular passersby makes one aware of the privilege in seeing what’s really going on. After all, if there was no "normal world," how else would these spies and their hunters function? They need day-to-day happenings in order to maneuver. Robert’s mistake was in attempting to bridge these two worlds without a) informing the KGB, and b) informing his wife. He stands as an example of the instability that arises when the burden of secrets is taken on alone. Even Gregory's team—which had no idea of their leader’s Russian connection, risked exposing Phillip and Elizabeth to the tenacious Beemon, and you can believe it’s going to come down to Gregory having to protect Elizabeth when the FBI comes knocking down doors.

Scariest of all was the handling of Joyce and baby by new KGB supervisor Claudia (Margo Martindale/the beloved Mags Bennett from Justified). What better an ally/adversary for the suburban Jennings than a similarly domestic grandma figure with sinister power? Warmly receptive on the outside, but ultimately passing Joyce and her child off to an ominous black van on a darkened forest road, was a pretty clear metaphor for being given over to the shadowy abyss of death. Here's a rule everyone should follow: Don't get in black vans! If that wasn’t a clear-enough image, then Joyce winding up dead from a drug overdose with the bleakness of a William Friedkin film drove home the point that when it comes to relationships, be they spy or otherwise, secrets kill.


ADDITIONAL INTEL


– Lots of cool spy stuff (secret newspaper codes, invisible ink, briefcase hand-offs, "tails.") Keep it coming!

– Thankful Robert's baby made it to Russia. KGB are not child killers. So far.

– Man I could seriously give a care (at least this episode) about the ballistic defense system plot. I know it's necessary for the framework of the season, but there was so much other interesting stuff going the mere mention of it stuck out as a low point.

– On that note, HATED the fight sequence while retrieving ballistic defense system plans. After such naturalistic action choreography in the first two episodes, this felt like something out of a straight-to-DVD movie filmed in Prague.

– Beemon’s work with Nina is proving him to be a capable, and sometimes likable adversary.

– I swear Amador's getting sidelined in the office. I totally think this will come into play down the line.

– Had to look up this '80s reference: "She just disappeared out of thin air. Is she Doug Henning?" Turns out he was a magician.

– Also had to look up "Rudolf Abel." A pretty famous spy who eventually got caught, sentenced, then swapped for the release of an American pilot

– Phillip: "I will snap your neck and I will move on with my day." The thing is, he totally WILL.

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  • PauletteHamil Aug 25, 2013

    yes robert and his secret wife was betrayed by phillip and the KGB, I knew they would kill her and take the babby the minute, they decide to call home roberts wife was toast. I felt the betrayl of phillip more since he was madly in love with her at first site and the same could not be said of elisabeth which is usally the case in aranged marriages the men fall in love quicker then the women who are forced into this union. the chemistry between gregory and elisabeth with palable and I wonder what will happen when he does get caught, see if the FBI was not so racist back then they could have black spies working for them instead the KGB does.

  • turretgunner Feb 19, 2013

    I am really enjoying this show. The acting and writing are first rate. And there is nothing like seeing the anguish a person goes through when finding out that their spouse has been unfaithful, especially for so many years as in this case. Yes, both Elizabeth and Phillip lie for a living, but as Phillip says, not to each other. It certainly explains why she was treating him like crap in that first episode. It's also ironic that the very emotional connection that Phillip was seeking to have with Elizabneth in the beginning, which she showed no interest in having, was the reason she cheated on him. She needed it just as much.

    Even in a fictional setting, Elizabeth's betrayal cut Phillip to the bone and I hated her for it, regardless of her "reasons." As a result, my feelings of immense sympathy for what she went through during her training has turned to complete disdain. Phillip will forgive her, but I think it's more than she deserves. I applaud Kerri Russell's acting. I now want nothing but bad things to happen to her character. Every show needs a good villain and Elizabeth has become (for me) the character I am going to love to hate in this show.

  • paintcan Feb 18, 2013

    Margo/Claudia just barely suppresses Mags from erupting as a second entity. Margo's performance as Mags was terrific acting . Looking for similarly well developed character here.
    Turn her loose writers .

  • natesjokes Feb 18, 2013

    Although it was obvious, I would've rather seen the KGB stay true to their world about the wife and brought her to Cuba.
    I feel that they did this only because the show essentially asks you to root for the "bad guy" but wants to remind you that they actually are the "bad guy".
    I would prefer they put more effort into making the KGB look like they're "good", at least for now.

  • bleumystique Feb 18, 2013

    Somehow missed this review. Hate it when that happens. This was a fantastic one.
    -I am thoroughly loving and enjoying this show and this episode was no exception. I loved the introduction of Gregory and the nice backstory that went along with him. It really did serve as giving us more insight into Elizabeth as a character. I've loved Phillip, almost instantly and he continues to draw me in more than anyone else, but I was so grateful for this further insight into Elizabeth because despite the storyline with her being raped....I just feel like we haven't had the chance to connect with her like we have with him. It's true...knowing that she had an affair and almost considered leaving her husband, certainly transforms her from being the emotionally detached and cold one to being the complex character that she is. I love when the characters on a show are so complex and likeable that you can't even feel compelled to choose sides. I like Phillip, I like Elizabeth, I even like Gregory. It brought up so many interesting points, I mean Phillip threw himself into this cover and got lost in it, believing it, but Elizabeth has been more logical in her approach to all of this, so when she basically threw out there that their marriage wasn't really real for so long...she was making sense, and Phillip knew that so it hurt even more to process it. Loved it. I like that she acknowledges that they are making progress and really becoming something, though.
    -I knew what was going to happen to Robert's wife but I still gasped when they found her in car dead. There is something so simple about this show that makes it just that much enjoyable. I love the time period because they can't write themselves out of scenarios or explain away things with technology. It opens the plot up more...things take time, and I love that.

  • ionee24 Feb 16, 2013

    think the problem is that their job is to be married. Phillip turned their family into this one thing that defines him and Elizabeth is not there just yet. For her, he's still her job, a colleage, the guy at work that she can be herself with but he isn't home. They aren't even in love, Phillip wants to be but he isn't any more than she is IMO.

  • Shreela Feb 16, 2013

    I just knew I'd hate Margo's character. Other than her intro, the soap opera triangle was a bit blah. Still like the show and hope it improves and draws us in.

  • BrezhnevsGhost Feb 15, 2013

    I thought the first two episodes were terrific, but this one was a disaster. You knew that they would have to introduce a major black character to mollify the PC Gods, but it need could have been done with a lot more plausibility and therefore been much less ridiculous.

    All the anti-groups of the 60s and 70s--antiwar, civil rights, etc.-- were massively infiltrated by law enforcement. No way would a deep KGB agent be found within a million light years of a march. Elizabeth meeting Gregory at a Martin Luther King rally is just beyond stupid.

    As Mokie22 notes below, the Russians, of all white people, are the most xenophobic and nationalist. Just read up on the experience of the Cubans, Angolans, Chinese, etc., to see how racist the Russians were during the Cold War. I know Elizabeth was raped by a fellow Russian in training (at 17 and a virgin), and that might be the basis for her getting "jungle fever", but then she's no longer the fanatically committed agent presented in the first Pilot. She can't be both, a fanatic and a rebel, and if she's rebel enough to fall in love with a black man in 1968 she would have defected long before or never have made it through the KGB screening to get to America.

    Finally, Gregory has to be militant himself--the only blacks in the 60s who would have been theoretically open to working with the KGB would have been those with extreme attitudes--he would have been in the mold of Malcolm X and his "blue eyed devils" rather than than Martin Luther King and his "judge me not by the color of my skin." If Gregory is a militant Black Panther type . . . hardly someone you want privy to your secret you're a KGB spy. The man would have had an FBI file two feet high.

    I could go on--the "Magic Negro" able to confound the retarded FBI white guys, happens all the time, don't you know, we have so many great examples of . . . the main point is that the show has jumped the shark way before its time and for no good reason other than to satisfy our race fetishes of 2013. What made the Sopranos and The Wire excellent was their willingness to stare hard reality in the face--the dramatic licenses had a purposes, they weren't just tossed out there to make sure in a week or two the race hustlers don't start crying "The Americans" is racist because it has no major black character.

  • sethaustin507 Feb 20, 2013

    The president was born to a black/white couple 20 years prior to the setting of this show. But on television at the time you couldn't even have a black man and white woman alone in the same room, never mind holding hands or kissing or having sex. So contrary to your delusions, real life has always been well ahead of television in terms of interracial romance. Maybe why it's so shocking to you is because television has failed to keep pace with real life in that regard.

    Ideologically at least (if not always in practice) communism frowned on race and ethnic hatred. As I told your buddy below, hundreds of thousands of black African students studied in the Soviet Union. They had Russian girlfriends and wives in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Nevermind the 80's and beyond. There is a community of Russians today known as Afro-Russians, who are primarily the children and grandchildren of those relationships.

    Xenophobia and ultra-nationalism in Russia are more recent phenomenon, which thankfully, the government is cracking down on hard. Prior to the collapse of communism, there were hardly any racist incidents in the Soviet Union. You are trying to graft modern-day reality onto pre-collapse Russia.

    Remember, the USSR positioned itself as the defender of the oppressed and downtrodden. When the U.S. supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the Soviets supported the ANC and the blacks. In fact whenever the U.S. or the European powers were in conflict with non-whites, the USSR invariable would be on the side of the non-whites.

    I'm struck by how people like you are constantly race-baiting and playing the race card, while ironically accusing others of doing it. You're going nuts because the show introduced a key character who happens to be black. In a country that is about 15% black and in urban settings that are even more black, you would expect white characters to encounter black characters on occasion. The United States is not your all-white utopia. Look elsewhere. And the idea that a black person has to be "magic" to be smarter than a white person is also asinine. I'm black and from my experience, being smarter than whites is a common occurrence.

  • mokie22 Feb 15, 2013

    There is no way a white Russian girl was going to hook up with a black guy back in those days. Just another attempt by the ultra liberal networks to push our buttons. I enjoyed the show up to this point. Won't be watching anymore.

  • sethaustin507 Feb 18, 2013

    Total stupidity. Are you saying there were no Russian women dating or marrying black men in U.S., Russia, Africa, Europe or wherever in the early 80's? Why not? Even your daughter can hook up with a black guy despite your racist indoctrination. It just happens.

    Furthermore, socialists/communists considered themselves to be free of racism. In contrast, they depicted Americans as being racist reactionaries. This was one of their selling points in the third world. Thousands of Africans studied in the USSR, had Russian girlfriends and wives. The only reason the U.S. opened up immigration from Africa was to compete with Russia for hearts and minds. So in a very real sense, Russia is responsible for Obama.

    As for the show, no one needs you to watch.

  • sethaustin507 Feb 18, 2013

    This comment has been removed.

  • Thirdover4 Feb 15, 2013

    Great review but I got to disagree with you on something. I thought the SDI thing was a stroke of genius because normally they would invent some world threatening sci-fi bomb/virus etc. for the McGuffin, but in this case they are using a real, and eventually well known "thing" that has potential implications in the real world. The fact that it never materialized makes it that much more interesting to me.

    Also, I thought the fight with the sellers henchmen was actually understated in that he went off on them not because they were about to kill him but because they were making him nervous and uncomfortable and were unnecessarily creating a threat. He did not dispatch them with ease, it was a clumsy fight that left the money scattered and Phillip injured and out of breath. I thought the only cliche contrivance they've stooped to so far was the scene where he beat up the pedophile in the pilot. The scene was satisfying but obvious and telegraphed. All the other viloence on the show has a layer of realism rarely portrayed on TV.

  • RyanSandoval Feb 15, 2013

    Fair enough, the show does get points for interweaving true history rather than cooking up a less believable device. Overall, I don't have a problem with the SDI in and of itself, it's just in this particular episode the main focus was the marital trauma, so traveling to that basement meetup didn't really play off what Phillip was going through. It was a diversion (albeit necessary), but the SDI had the unfortunate association of the low point for this episode. I want it to be cool, and big, and important, but I don't want it to be there just for the sake of being cool, big, and important.

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