‘The Americans’ a brilliant spy story

Posted May 1, 2013


The Cold War was a period in America where paranoia and anxiety were the law of the land. It is a time that appeals from the eldest, who actually lived through the war, to the youth, who learn about the cold war as if they were reading a drama in history class.

Set in 1981, the new FX series The Americans is a brilliant combination a romanticized Cold War period and the recent fascination for dramatic spy series. The series premiered on Jan. 30, 2013 and had unanimously positive reviews.

Although the series follows the foundation of the series Homeland, with spies that could potentially be your next door neighbors, and the threat is closer than you could possibly imagine.

The storyline focuses on two Soviet KGB spies, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who live as an average American married couple, and even have children together as part of their cover. The period drama is set in Washington, D.C., right after Ronald Reagan’s election as president and tensions for both sides are high.

The series has the advantage of being a period drama, where there is nothing more necessary than a change of attire and a couple of mentions about events that were taking place at the time. This effortless transition to the past leaves little to ask for and much to expect in the evolution of the season. It is very believable.

The most compelling part of the series is the characters, who romanticize the period and are essential to the foundation of a drama. The intimate portrayal of two people forced to act on the behalf of a country they haven’t visited in years is beyond believable.

Russell is, as always, flawless in capturing the multifaceted complexity of her character. She is the strongest asset of the KGB in the team, being the most detached of the parents, always being stuck inside her head as she completes her missions as a spy and a mother. Rhys on the other hand, is the better of the parents and has a more difficult task in spying for the KGB at night.

This balancing act between the blind duty to a country and the monotony of an assembled life is the most fascinating component. Not only do they have a duality of citizen versus spies, but the balancing act between the two adds a third dimension that seems to be the most compelling part of the series, adding to the tension felt between the tension of the couple in the transition of their two lives.

The balancing act is not limited to the main characters, but also in the intangible culture differences. “In America, we see everything black and white, in Russia, everything is gray,” said Russell.

The tension between the character’s culture reflects the tension of the time. Two world hegemons striving for a peaceful world, yet racing for the most destructive way to obliterate each other.

More importantly, this series parallels many of the social concerns we have today. The issues of paranoia towards terrorists that are said to live in our midst and the blind trust America must grant counterintelligence without much information or approval of the American people, make the lines of democracy and accountability while at war far too blurred.

The pilot is, until now, a fair assessment of the series, and makes it a series that is bound stick around. With a compelling historical plot and the complex characters, this series will either be diluted by the dramas of the characters, or stick to the current success of focusing on the individual missions they encounter as spies, with their personal lives being the secondary plot.

  • Aired on FX
  • Season 1 began on Jan. 30, 2013
  • Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
  • Rating: A
  • Genre: Drama
  • Episode Length: 60 minutes
  • Air Time: 10 p.m.
  • Actors: Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys