The Americans is one of the best shows on TV right now. The reason why it’s one of the best is because it uses actual history for its story lines. In season one, the episode “In Control” centered on President Reagan’s assassination. The whereabouts of the Nuclear Football and the Secretary of State Alexander Haig “I am in control here” quote were utilized to bring utmost fear and drama. The audience didn’t need to live the Reagan era to feel the tension. Knowing the history and the gravity of the situation was enough for the show to elicit this sense of doom and despair, and they did it magnificently.
Ronald Reagan’s budding “Star Wars” initiative was also used in a story arc. The poison umbrella was based from actual happenings, and Clark’s marriage to Martha did really happen back in the day.
“We can’t make the claim of teaching a history lesson, but it can be a springboard for learning about the fascinating real history,” says Joe Weisberg, creator, show runner, and a former CIA agent.
This season, the show will again tap into history for its plot. The first episode of the 2nd season showed us Philip (played by the Welshman Matthew Rhys) meeting with two Afghans in Virginia. The said Afghans were seeking monetary help for the support of the mujahideen during the soviet’s devastating war in Afghanistan. After a brief chat, the mustachioed cowboy (Philip’s disguise) shoots the two men and reminds them that “the KGB is everywhere”.
In episode two of the current season, Elizabeth (played by the beautiful Keri Russell) aids a Sandinista freedom fighter who went to Washington as a spy. As Mrs. Jennings was leaving, she tells the young Nicaraguan that her country’s Sandinista revolution is beautiful and that it has served as a strong foothold in Central America for the Soviet Union.
Weisberg says that the Contra War, Afghan War, the CIA, the Reagan administration will help mold the sophomore season. “We’re in the early days of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the United States’ not-so-covert action in that war—and that’s definitely going to be a theme,” Weisberg says.
“The Contra war in Nicaragua is going to be another theme,” he continues. “I can’t say too much, but [those two factors] will be closer to a frame for the season than just background.”
These themes are all drawn from the controversial parts of world history, but don’t expect this show to deliver a strong message of condemnation to either side. The cast and the crew of The Americans aren’t here to fight what has already been fought.
“For those who have not watched the show and wonder about rooting for the Soviets or rooting for the KGB, look, we know totalitarian socialism failed with the collapse of the Berlin Wall,” says executive producer Joel Fields. “So we know what happens. This isn’t at all about rooting for a government or ideology.”
As a fan and commentator of what the show produces, everything boils down to Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage and family. The espionage and politics is just the cherry on top. “Our show is political in the sense that characters are motivated by deep political convictions that they are willing to die for,” Weisberg says. “But in terms of evaluating it in terms of liberal or conservative, it is absolutely apolitical. We don’t feel those issue are interesting or relevant to the show.”
Watch The Americans, Wednesdays 10 PM EST/PST on FX.