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

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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.