Last week I pondered what it was about The Americans that lacked a spark. It’s a great show, and “Gregory” proved in a number of ways why (the complexity of Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage, the perfect execution of the heist, a look into the inner workings of a deep spy cover). Still, I find the show dour and self-important, and as one commenter mentioned last week, it very simply lacks humor. There’s never a reason for so much as a smirk (thank the lord for the advent of Margo Martindale as Gabriel’s replacement, but even still). The Americans isn’t as hardcore as Sons of Anarchy or evenBreaking Bad, but both of those series find plenty of ways to inject some much-needed comic relief from time to time. Hit the jump for why, in Soviet Russia, the jump hits YOU!
In some ways The Americans reminds me of another FX series, Damages (which moved to DirecTV for its last two seasons). Even though I never laughed once through five seasons of that show (it was also very serious), I also craved the next hour and the next hour with crazy interest … something The Americans doesn’t yet seem to do (at least for me, and at least a handful of you readers). Damageskept things engaging though a mesmerizing use of flashbacks and flash-forwards and twists. The Americans has given us some backstory flashbacks, but certainly no idea of where things are headed, and almost zero twists.
What it does give us is a nuanced portrayal of an arranged marriage, and of two people who “made the best of things” for fifteen years before finally starting to love each other (although I think Philip has always loved Elizabeth and she is only now coming around to the idea of him as more than just a partner in crime). The situation with Gregory unfolded quickly but also naturally. Him striking out at Philip because of his hurt over Elizabeth wanting to end their affair was contrived, but her both Elizabeth and Philip’s emotional responses to it were worth the set up.
The show (and Gregory) also gave us yet another great featured heist. Like the others, the kidnapping went by at a whirlwind pace (where the rest of the episode was devoted more or less to a lot of dialogue and shifty looks), but it was so much fun to watch. Even Philip acknowledged that what Gregory did was brilliant, right down to how he runs his crew.
As for the discourse, there were a few hints about how much certain things, like the briefcase or the tailing of Joyce, really mean. I lamented last week that there’s no real feel for the stakes, given our hindsight. Stan dropping in the fact that finding Joyce was the closest the bureau had gotten to an active KGB spy on American soil since 1957 was telling, but the stakes still feel low. No one’s losing their job over the blunder to keep tailing her and not bring her in, and while it could have saved her life in the end, that’s an unlikely outcome.
Perhaps a little more interesting is applying the Russian’s paranoia over a U.S. missile shield that could harm (or render inert) their weapons arsenal to current suspicions about what other nations are doing with their nuclear arms. It’s a stretch to use the word “interesting” though. Actually a more apt phrase is probably something like “worth a mental footnote.”
And again with the stakes — did anyone have any doubt that Gregory’s man would escape Stan when he was spotted? Or that Joyce would be killed and the baby taken back to the Motherland? There were little moments like when Philip and Elizabeth handed Joyce off to “Granny” that there was a touch of Pontius Pilate to the whole thing. Martindale’s “Granny” act dropped as soon as the van door closed, and her eyes and voice became steely as she asked for the briefcase. If anyone else still doubted, that was the moment it all became clear. Elizabeth and Philip watched the van roll away and knew, though maybe with some internal denial, that they had sent a woman to her death. But her blood wasn’t on their hands any more.
It was a small moment, just like when Elizabeth explained to Philip about Gregory’s significance in her life and their own changing relationship, but these were great ones. Still, I’m not sure if it will keep holding an interest for long. There seems to be a lot of bread to chew up before we get to the cream filling.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Ahhh the ole “she was a junkie, that’s what killed her!” set up. A classic.
— “I did warn them. Twice.” – Philip. I like it when he gets badass like he did collecting the briefcase. Getting to that deal worked out pretty coincidentally. Still, him uncoding the piece of paper to get the name and number so casually was a nice buried moment.
— I mean Philip is ok, but Gregory … hello, sir.
— I like how effortlessly racially diverse the show is. Race is pointed out, but it’s pretty much handled like it’s handled in the real world. I don’t understand why so many shows have a problem figuring that out. It’s really not that hard.
— Is Elizabeth the best dressed person of the 80s? Keri Russell works those high-waisted jeans!