The Americans Season 2 Premiere Review: It Takes a Village to Raise a Spy-Child

By Ryan Sandoval

Feb 27, 2014

The Americans S02E01: "Comrades"

I could honestly watch a whole show about the Jennings just being a family. Henry wanted a rad Intellivision for his birthday, but instead he got a dorky telescope, while Paige discovered her parents sixty-nining. That’s basically Modern Family minus smirks. It’s called "life," guys, and The Americans started off its second season by reminding us all that this isn’t just a show about wigs and secret codes—there is an emotional center. Just like The Americans' best Season 1 episodes, "Comrades" offered heightened interpersonal conflict that in turn elevated the stakes of espionage. The most gripping subterfuge needs human drama to matter, and vice versa. So yeah, that's how a solid episode works, but what distinguished this expertly paced premiere from Season 1 was a very real dovetailing of the two spheres—spycraft and family—as The Americans moved into territory we knew was just around the corner...

No, that wasn't an average Super 8 Hotel room, that was the kind of room service that'll be in store for the Jennings if they don't shape up. A classic game of family Twister, only with way more bullet holes. Remember the days when you could have a fake happy spy family with a white picket fence and barbecues with the neighbors and trips to the amusement park in Alexandria WITHOUT the fear of being murdered all together in your hotel room? Those days are over! Though, to be fair, I DID experience something very similar at Disney’s California Adventure, so maybe this is not a tragedy exclusive to spies. Regardless, the Jennings have always struggled to keep the KGB away from the dinner table, and this new season is poised to make that challenge even more difficult.

I'm sorry, but it was legit sad when we saw the two spy families make plans to meet at a local theme park and then, as a viewer, to realize they couldn’t even acknowledge one another. In that exact moment, I felt like spies were the most unfairly persecuted of all minorities. It's like, spies are people too, you know? Only hoo-boy, talk about the danger of using your family as cover during an "op." Yeesh, why even sign up to be a secret spy? It’s like all you do is make excuses to every single person you know, and then you almost get killed a minimum of three times a day. Maybe that's fun in some cultures?

Or, as the series creators suggested in a friendly chat, this very conflict is what "animates" Philip and Elizabeth as people. It is the same premise that makes us excited to see them behave the way they do, while we intermittently shout "Just go to Canada or something!" at the flatscreen. Of course, it is way, way stressful to be a Russian spy with basically American children while trying to become closer as a family unit IRL, but that's what makes for OUR entertainment (a.k.a. I'm just explaining the basic concept of watching characters do stuff here). 

Look, I've seen a lot of Burn Notice and I learned a fair amount of spycraft from that program via narration, so I couldn’t help but notice Gaad's voice saying, "Someone’s going to have to take the fall" over Martha and connecting the dots. Pooooor Martha. I think there are four sources of humor in this show (wigs, parental squirming in front of the kids, dated references, and Martha’s life). She has no idea how duped she’s getting, plus she could face federal charges if the spy-pens ever get traced back to her. In a sick way, though, that’s kind of funny, because she’s so mainstream. Sorry for being a villain y’all, but Martha is sort of a fuddy-duddy and it's enjoyable to watch her play house in a fake relationship without even knowing it.  

Now, I have not seen the Meryl Streep flick that Agent Stan Beeman enjoyed with Nina and Sandra (it was NOT Death Becomes Her nor She-Devil), but it seemed like both viewings helped him understand Nina and himself a little more, while also furthering his sham marriage with Sandra "self-help" Beeman. Good for... Stan? Noah Emmerich's character has the most interesting starting point this season, and the most interesting potential journey, too. His partner is dead, he's got a source who no one believes, and he's already deep into an affair with the enemy who herself is spying on him. He's basically scrambling in the eyes of his boss, and everything he says at work, the Russians know. There are certainly some stacked chips there. But hey, everyone loves a comeback, and I’ve always felt that Stan's plight sometimes feels like that of a detective in a noir film; seeing him shamed in a disobedient world offers the best of both character arcs. 

Like, during Season 1, it was engaging to watch the straight-laced Stan loosen up and lose control in the process (R.I.P. Amador), and this season we'll see him slide further, or get his act together, or both. For the time being, he's content with borrowing pirated films from what I think was an early Blockbuster Video. That attendant offered GOOD movie descriptions, such as his take on Mad Max: "Guys on motorcycles, half the world’s destroyed." It reminds me of how Cassandra Ferguson of ABC’s The Bachelor described The Hobbit as "that movie about the people that live in the hills." Much like Bilbo's quest, there are murky, dangerous, and overall interesting places for Stan to explore if he chooses to continue down the extramarital path. 

Of course, no sophomore-season opener would be complete without a looming, unknown threat meaty enough to sustain 13 episodes. Just who orchestrated the Griswold Family Massacre? Could it have come from the "inside?" Yes, and my rubles are on Claudia: She sent her regards via the eventually murdered spy family, Philip once had to tell her to stay away from his own children, Elizabeth beat the tar out of her, and she’s got a ruthless streak when it comes to playing by the rules. Just saying.  

President Ronald Reagan once said himself that "family has always been the cornerstone of American society." Well wouldn’t you know it, turns out that’s true for non-American societies too. What community doesn’t in some way benefit from an older generation loving and protecting the younger one? Even spy societies value family. It’s just that in the case of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, they’re not only guarding a social unit, but a cover as well. Here's hoping they pull through without drawing too much attention. 


– Paige is snooping like crazy, but maybe walking in on her parents will put a stop to her curiosity.

– Oleg, the new administrative employee enjoying a cushy job with the KGB: Dang privileged military kids pulling strings just to work for the KGB in America. They have it so easy. (Also I like this guy, mainly based on his jamming to Rod Stewart at work. He's the Zack Morris of the Rezidentura). 

– Leo Buscaglia: One of a few references to help contextualize the era. Also: The French Lieutenant's Woman, WKRP in Cincinnati, and the FBI's own Robo-Secretary. I want one of those machines to bring me napkins in an orderly fashion. 

– Phil's questioning of the mark: "What do you think’s so different about tonight Roy? New cologne?" Ha, Roy's a dork.

What'd you think of The Americans' Season 2 premiere? 

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  • ben45tpy Apr 21, 2014

    Very accomplished start to Season 2. I hope I can catch up.

  • efonsecajr Mar 03, 2014

    I enjoyed it immensely. Will watch it again.

  • marcusj1973 Feb 28, 2014

    SO good this show.

    That is all.

  • geoffmaze Feb 28, 2014

    Strong start to season 2. Good job Americans. I do have to think however that Phillip is skating dangerously close (more so than usual) to getting caught. The 3 Afghans, followed by the 3 spies whom Phillip was seen leaving the room of. I doubt they had hotel security cameras at the time, but if they did. Look out.
    Like that Stan is developing as a character. He knows there's things that just aren't right but can't quite put his finger on it. It's odd his boss, John Boy, has gone to the reverse and has lost all his suspicion and paranoia.

  • klotensen Feb 28, 2014

    This show...
    Perfect beginning, I had to lol at Paige snoping in on her parents 69 but the breakfast after killed me with the stupid's brother story about choking on an apple - LOL! Who would have known that the Americans can be that funny?
    Also kind of funny: Gaad and Stan stating that "You think that ONE shot to the head was enough..." and the weird automated file despenser.
    The assassination of the Griswolds was for me absolutely surprising and I have no clue who's behind but it wasn't the FBI or any other US agency. Was it Claudia? Most probable but it could be someone "new" from outside.
    This freaked me out immensely:

    Both of the Jennings have been seen at the crime scene, the only surviving kid has nodded a hi to Phil... They are fucked and now I doubt it was Claudia because she KNEW the Jennings would come so why risking to compromise the assets? Too dangerous, even for Claudia.

  • geoffmaze Feb 28, 2014

    I wouldn't put it past Claudia to try and frame the Jennings, knowing they were coming to the room.. She's got a score to settle with them and she's a ruthless bitch

  • klotensen Feb 28, 2014

    So just to settle a personal score she sets the cops and the FBI on their heels? Blowing up the whole program? Therefore putting yourself in danger? I don't know. Admitted, the boy surviving and seeing Phil was probably NOT planned but that's the point: even angry Claudia wouldn't risk something so big - there is no reason big enough to ... wait: what if the KGB CUTS ALL TIES TO THE WHOLE PROGRAM AND THE JENNINGS GOT OUT JUST IN TIME? No that would be too huge to do at this point of the series, it's too early. Or is it? This show is so good, it makes me paranoid already!

  • angelayang501 Feb 28, 2014

    i am seriously just constantly blown away by this show

  • antmorris3511 Feb 28, 2014

    I predict Oleg wont last. His ass'll get banged up quick because he doesnt take his job seriously. The enemy's playin' for keeps, and they have no problem lettin' the hammers fly.

  • RyanSandoval Feb 28, 2014

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Oleg is an exceptional talent as a result of his connections. I could see him staying around as a foil to Nina's hard-earned history, and the way he rattled off the phrase about how "anything of legitimate value is too valuable to give away..." makes me think twice about his incompetence. I could even see him discovering something about Nina she doesn't want known, and blackmailing her with it.

  • AdriIbarra Feb 28, 2014

    we waited for so long and it is finally back!!! IT WAS GREAT!!!!

  • antmorris3511 Feb 28, 2014

    Yea it was, now calm down. There's more to come. I wonder who'll get shot up next?

  • samwalden505 Feb 27, 2014

    I think this was an awesome premiere.

  • j7k8 Feb 27, 2014

    This was awesome. I remember when I started to snoop around the house, but thankfully I never walked in on my parents.
    When the Afghani ripped Phillip's wig off I noticed how much force it took. Of course we already knew that from Clark, but the KGB had awesome wigs.
    It was heartbreaking seeing that family's son walk in on them like that. That may be one of the most devastating things I've ever seen.
    And Martha is still awesome. I do kind of feel bad for her, but she is so blissfully happy and it cracks me up.

  • caesteckered Feb 28, 2014

    Re: the wig that got ripped, I wonder if it was a shout-out to all those viewers who were complaining about how the wigs (especially Clark's) were able to stay in place in Season 1. If so, awesome!

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