Fx’s spy series The Americans flashbacks to an era of political thrillers that have long died out in favor of more action and supernatural antics. The Americans takes great pains to create high dramatic stakes even as it never goes after anything as lofty as presidential assassinations or a major terrorism plot. It’s all about infiltration and data gathering, an agenda that sounds boring compared to those found in 24 or Homeland, but which provides the basis for a riveting first season of near misses and intrigue.
What makes each episode of its first season sweeter was as it has to jump through fewer technological hoops and focus on Russian sleeper agents (played here by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) at fooling everyone around them,that includes their neighbor (Noah Emmerich), an FBI Agent who’s slowly growing wise to the presence of spies living among the neighborhood.
Assigned to a deep cover operation in 1980s America, two KGB agents create a life for themselves as common husband and wives complete with a home in the suburbs and two kids (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati) who have no idea who their parents really are. Presumably, on some level even Elizabeth and Phillip have begun to doubt their own identities as they’ve spent so much time as average Americans. Even they, began to question and sought rationale for why they retain loyalty to Russia. Those cracks start to affect their operations and, indeed, we see how it shaken their own convictions.
Would they find themselves recommitting to their mission, or allow themselves to be taken by the sham of marriage and upholding their values with their children?
If The Americans deserves credit for doing any one thing right, it’s the character development. The Americans balances the spy vs. spy aspect of the series and the inner turmoil of Elizabeth and Phillip as they simultaneously keep their mission on track even as their conviction to the goal wavers off. It provides us with plenty of glimpses into their past which reveal crucial tidbits as to what makes them act in ways that would otherwise seem counterintuitive or self-sabotaging, and consequently the characters and their relationship with one another grow remarkably with each episode. Imagine equally cheering on opposite parties, and hoping for an ending you’re not even sure of.
Contributing to the strength of the cable series is the truncated length of the season with The Americans opting for a 13-episode run that ends up feeling like a sprint once the drama hits its stride and only grows more intense with each episode. By the season’s end, it almost feels like we’ve been walking on egg shells all these time though one can say, not of the twists are too jarring that we can’t keep up.
By the time Margo Martindale is introduced as their new handler, the show has hit its peak and, with her help, operates at optimum efficiency all the way to the finish line.
This is some of the best drama FX has ever had, and in its first season it’s a solid rival to the more established Justified.