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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. 


SPY NOTES

– 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? 


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/21/2014

Season 2 : Episode 13

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