The acclaimed spy drama The Americans return for a second series to ITV just as Western and Russian relations take a frosty turn over the political turmoil in Ukraine. Keri Russell (Austenland, Felicity, and Mission Impossible III) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters and Death Comes to Pemberely) return as deep cover KGB operatives, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, posing as American suburbanites during the 1980s. In between planning and executing a variety of missions, Elizabeth and Philip are trying to raise two children while attempting to build a real marriage. Complicating matters for the Jennings are individuals on both sides of the Iron Curtain including their neighbor, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (The Walking Dead and White Collar’s Noah Emmerich).
The crux of this series continues to be the relationship between spy couple Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. Series one was about the Jennings forging emotional and romantic attachments with one another. The Jennings are now more affectionate towards each other, even when they are not required to wear their public facade. Elizabeth and Philip’s date night featured a honey trap and a bit of blackmailing, but it ended with the couple having sex. The Jennings were reconnecting after their extended period of separation as a result of series one. During The American’s hiatus, Rhys portrayed the newest Fitzwilliam Darcy. Unfortunately Rhys’ character did not have much time for ‘special cuddles’ in Death Comes to Pemberely. This was probably because Elizabeth Bennet-Darcy was busy acting like a 19th century version of Ms. Marple. Fortunately The Americans rectified this situation but at the expense of the Jennings’ daughter Paige.
Episode one was also notable for its introduction of Emmett and Leanne Connors (Jeremy Davidson and Natalie Gold respectively), another deep cover KGB couple. The Connors provided a foil for the Jennings; Elizabeth and Philip were able to be more authentic with this couple because of their common occupation. The two spy couples celebrate completing a mission successfully by sharing drinks and discussing their children. The Connors showed how spies lead uncertain lives and that children could become collateral damage. It is a shame the episode ends in a manner that limits the potential for exploring the relationship between both families further. Perhaps Joe Weisberg (the show’s creator) and the other writers have plans to revisit the Connors in flashbacks.
Like the Jennings, Stan Beeman is facing professional pressures that have a negative impact on his family. Stan is unable to connect with his wife Sandra Beeman (Nashville and Person of Interests’ Susan Misner) and their son; he even recruited Philip to plan a holiday but that fell apart. Ironically it is Stan’s work with the FBI that provides him a haven from family and workplace stresses, especially when he is in the arms of Nina Sergeeva (The Blacklist’s Annet Mahendru). Stan believes Nina is his asset in the Russian Embassy, and that she is caught-up in his romantic delusions. Nina is in fact a triple agent feeding Stan information on behalf of her boss Arkady Ivanovich (The Wire’s Lev Gorn), the KGB’s resident.
The Americans is an excellent vehicle for examining contemporary issues through the lens of the 1980s. Subsequently the show’s emphasis on family makes the characters more believable while raising the dramatic stakes. The focus on domestic issues also helps distinguish The Americans from other espionage dramas such as Spooks. Unfortunately this episode was not new viewer friendly. The audience is required to absorb and process a large number of character relationships, double crosses, and triple crosses. Hopefully new viewers (or old ones) who watched the premiere episode of series two took advantage of ITV’s recent re-airing of series one. In case you are looking for more incentives to watch The Americans, Vladimir Putin does not make a guest appearance nor is he the inspiration for Matthew Rhys’ character.
The Americans continues Saturdays at 9.25pm on ITV.
Contributed by Mo Walker