Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Americans on FX: First Thoughts


Like millions of other people, I tuned into the new FX series The Americans last night. They had me at Cold War, Keri Russell, the 80s and Michael Rhys, but it was completely different experience than I expected.

In the last week, the United States lifted the ban on women on the front lines in the military. While the series doesn't exactly compare the two situations, the focus on Kerri Russell's character, Elizabeth (her American name), and her love of country versus Michael Rhys' character, Phillip and his love of family made the conversation a bit more interesting.

The usual rule is women and family, men and country. Instead, in Elizabeth we saw a young girl clearly betrayed by her country as a cadet at a very early age, yet still willing to lay everything aside for her love of and allegiance to the Soviet Union. Her family, at least until the pilot, was secondary.

Phillip, on the other hand, had found a soft spot for his adopted country. The food wasn't so bad, after all. He had raised his children as Americans. They had been living as Americans for 20 years. It was becoming difficult for him to see the benefit of being a spy when all that he loved was in the house he shared with Elizabeth and his two children.

It especially hit home when Phillip took his son to see the astronaut. His son was waving an American flag and proud of the accomplishments of America, not the Soviet Union. It's easy to see how confusing it would be to be fighting a war from within. He and Elizabeth vowed never to bring their kids into their world. How will they ever reconcile the truth with them? Will they forever be separated by the false lives they have created?

Would it really have taken 20 years for Elizabeth to see the love Phillip had for her? She needed the man who raped her to come back into her life and remind her of who she once was to bring back a flood of memories and for Phillip to put her first to understand how deeply engaged he was in them, not just the assignment they had set out to play. Twenty years is an extraordinarily long time to live with someone and never share your past, your real name, your history. I'm not sure I bought it, but I'll play along for the sake of beginning the series at a perfect point for historical reference.

As an added bonus, the Jennings family will now have to fight not only the Americans, but their own neighbors. With the heightened Cold War initiative and Stan, the counter intelligence FBI man moving in down the street, things are about to get even worse.

After the setup of the premiere, what I'm most excited to watch is the struggle between Elizabeth and Phillip as they marry up their American lives with their Soviet agenda. Given the first hour, I wonder how they've managed to do it so long without breaking. Elizabeth made several calls bringing Phillips loyalty into question, so they're on the Soviet's radar. How close with they become and toward what country will their fealty lean? Will they each be able to make a choice between country and family and which will it be?

The Americans was one of the most engaging pilots I've watched this year and Keri Russell's best since Felicity. I'll be tuning in every week.

PS - If any of what was written was based off of the experiences of real women, I think the United States need not fear the tenacity of women in a combat situation. While they may lose in hand to hand missions, they'll go the distance with their heart and minds.

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