Sometimes a good drama takes a turn that makes it a great drama. With its explosive premiere, The Americans seems poised to make that leap. After a good inaugural season, the show still had some problems, mostly related to its quasi-procedural aspects. But its strongest point was always the interpersonal relationships, particularly between Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) Jennings. This new season of the show has already capitalized on that in a huge way, and while there are some things about it that are still deeply tied to the spy genre, the show has now opened itself up in ways that look to change it forever. Hit the jump for more.
Though there was a small time jump, almost everything in “Comrades” picked up just where things left off last year. It was a great episode not only in how it reoriented us back into what’s happening between Philip and Elizabeth, but also with Stan, Sandra, Martha, Nina, Arkady, and all of the other major players from last year. It’s a lot to keep up with, but “Comrades” kept to a fairly contained, tight story line throughout, with the idea of couples — the nuances of which the show excels in exploring — as the main focus.
The duality of Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship with Russia and America was played out in couplings, from Elizabeth’s three-way to Philip going “home” to Martha, as well as Stan splitting his time between Nina and Sandra while Nina splits hers between him and Arkady. It’s complicated. But also fascinating and engrossing to watch unfold.
The couple who made the biggest impression though, of course, was one who served as a mirror for Elizabeth and Philip. Here was another pair who had two children, a little older than Paige and Henry, with whom the Jennings could relax and drink a beer with after having just performed a compromising act (all part of the job!) As the two took loving looks at each others’ brood at the fair ground, the reality of their job compromised that simple joy — Philip needed to facilitate a drop, and he needed to use Henry as a cover. His hesitation was noted, but pushed aside in service of the deed. And, as a later scene in the hotel horrifyingly showed, there were many ways for that to go so very wrong.
It’s almost shocking to be able to be shocked when watching cable dramas these days. The amount of violence and gore is often so cartoonish. It’s hard to say what made the slaughter in the hotel room so specifically sickening. It’s not that it was necessarily unexpected, or that it was bloodier than most. Maybe it was that the show had done such a good job of lulling us, just for that moment, the same way that Elizabeth and Philip were lulled. They’re professionals, it will be ok. Until it isn’t.
With this act, The Americans rebooted itself. Now, it’s not just Elizabeth and Philip going after marks week by week, it’s that they are being targeted, and may have to make a choice about their American family versus their Soviet mission. We aren’t there yet — it’s only week one after all — but even aside from this big shift, “Comrades” also showed there’s plenty else brewing not just with the Jennings, but with Stan, the FBI, the Pentagon, the Soviet Embassy, and everything else. Everything is possible, and next week can’t come soon enough. A fantastic start.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Is it just me, or does it seem like Philip finally got some better wigs?
— I wanted to spend some time talking about the cold open, too. Philip is a very different person than we saw last year. What went down in the restaurant was at first reminiscent of last season — something goes wrong, people are killed. But Philip murdering the innocent in the kitchen was foreshadowing of a lot of bloodshed, and not all of those who are victims are deserving. Another big change. The stakes were high last year, semi-major characters were killed off, and there was always a sinister pall but … “Comrades” really was a game-changer.
— So Claudia is still around … any chance she has something to do with the carnage?
— Seeing Elizabeth really try in her relationship with Philip is a nice, and earned, change. I like how even he seems surprised by her supporting him, both at the travel agency and in their missions. Also good to see him getting his badass card back and taking charge!
— Oh Paige, Paige. Snooping around will cost you, like seeing your parents 69! GROSS!! (except here, kinda hot).
— I loved the little touch of hiding the papers in the Aspirin bottle.
— Ohhh The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Or should I say, whore!
— I like Stan mentioning how the gambler had been shot twice in the head … necessary to subdue him, or more like to punish him?
— “He’s a bad mattress. Too soft” – Nina. I’m not sure where Nina stands exactly with Stan. Sandra trying her best with him and him responding coldly was sad. The Americans excels in such emotional tragedy!
— Very interesting that Philip was concerned Paige had “checked in” on them before. That plot seems like it could go a lot of places. I like it when a show can realistically incorporate the kids it’s introduced – kudos to The Americans for that.
— Those who read my recaps last year will know that I was never fully on board with this show, and was really not that jazzed about covering it again. Consider that all in the past, now. The game’s afoot!