Appearances aren’t what they seem as he spies, she spies…
In 1980s America, married undercover Soviet KGB agents get a new neighbour who works for counterintelligence for the FBI.
The Americans Official Trailer 2013 HD, kickassvideosus
I do adore a Cold War based movie or TV Show, and The Americans (2013-18) was the TV Series that ignited this recent love. I got seriously hooked after joining this show a few episodes into this first series, and I was devastated when the show ended a few years ago. I’m still trying to find a show to fill that Cold War void and so far have only filled it with movies such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011), The Fourth Protocol (1987) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).
This review is on the pilot episode of The Americans, as this acclaimed series now streaming here, there and everywhere. So, I don’t want to give the whole plot away to wannabe watchers. This six season, 75 episodic American series is in the English language, but all the Soviet characters speak Russian (and are subtitled). This with the exception of the two leads who speak English (even with each other).
The lead characters are the married Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys). These two are KGB agents who were introduced during their training, and then married as part of their “story”. Now they are believed to be part of an all American family, with their young son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor). The Jennings family live in suburban Washington where Philip and Elizabeth run a small travel agency.
Their two children are both American born. Both the kids are unaware of their parent’s true identities, “professions” and nationalities. Through flashbacks, we learn that Philip and Elizabeth only know each other’s fictional lives which were created by the KGB. This series is as much about their marriage and their family relationships. The plot effortlessly blends American and Soviet political events as required by the plot.
The pilot show begins in Washington in 1981 during the Ronald Reagan presidency. A pretty blonde is being chatted up by a man at a bar. He works for the Department of Justice, and he impresses her with his ID card. She seems flirty and captivated as he tells her about his job. He stresses that there are unknown dangers out there, and he warns her that there are others out there who are set out to destroy the American way of life.
Later in a hotel room, she undresses him and she initiates foreplay as he talks more about his work. Then the blonde leaves, gets in her car and drives off after she takes off her wig… and we meet Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) for the first time.
Three days later, in the dead of night, two men Philip (Rhys) and Robert are observing a defector, Timoshev (David Vadim). These two men give chase after him and Timoshev stabs Robert. Philip then fights Timoshev and Timoshev is injured. Then both the injured men are bundled into the passenger seat of a car by Philip and Elizabeth. Then with military precision, the car number plates are changed in an alley.
There is some conflict heard between those sitting in the front seats of the car. Elizabeth stresses that “the mission comes first” as they are running out of time to reach their “delivery point”. Philip, the driver, believes that their accomplice needs hospital care and he then drives towards the hospital.
After he drops Robert off near the hospital, the car heads for the port. They have just missed the cargo boat that they were due to “deliver” an alive Timoshev to for his return to the Soviet Union. Their mission failed, they then put the tied up and gagged Timoshev in the car boot. Then Philip drives home and parks the car in their garage. Elizabeth and Philip are then revealed as a married couple, and it appears this in name only.
More of the true identity of this man is revealed, Timoshev is a one time colonel of the KGB, and a defector from the Soviet Union. The next day, Timoshev was due to give a talk to the Counterintelligence agents at the FBI Headquarters. Chris Amador (Maximiliano Hernandez) tells his new colleague Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) about this defector saying he is unusually late.
He tells Stan that Timoshev has informed the FBI that there are undercover KGB agents from the S-Directorate in America. Timoshev has claimed that these Soviet spies are given secret identities, lives and resettlement packages and then masquerade as American families. These families speak fluent English and are not allowed to speak their native Russian.
Meanwhile, in the garage, Timoshev tells Philip that he will be able to get a reward if he hands him in to the FBI. Timoshev adds that he will get more if he defects and works for them as a consultant. The Jennings then have breakfast and Philip claims the car needs to be fixed. Philip seems to have considered the benefits of their defection, although on talking about it with Elizabeth, she is against it and more scorning towards their captive.
In a flashback, Elizabeth is seen to know Timoshev from her KGB training, as he raped her during a fight training session. She opens the car boot and asks her captive if he remembers her. Meanwhile, Philip dons a blond wig and spectacles, and he becomes “Clark” from a Committee that oversees the United States Counterintelligence Agencies. He meets with CIA Headquarters secretary Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) at her home in a “classified” meeting.
Through his clever questioning, he discovers that the FBI is investigating Timoshev’s disappearance. After Philip returns home, he listens to the tape of the activities between Elizabeth and the Department of Justice bureaucrat. This bureaucrat talks about giving 100,000 dollars to a defector. However, Philip looks upset as he hears them make love.
Across from the Jennings house, it seems that a new family is moving in. Elizabeth turns on Philip with a knife after he makes a romantic pass at her and tells him to stop. Philip tells Elizabeth about the information he received from Martha, and suggests they defect, she is appalled at the idea of this.
Elizabeth makes some chocolate brownies and then the Jennings family visit their new neighbours. Their new neighbours are a young family, Sandra (Susan Misner) who introduces her teenage kid Matthew. She then introduces the Beeman patriarch, Stan.
Stan – who we met earlier- introduces himself to the Jennings, and he tells them he works for CIA Counterintelligence. Elizabeth and Philip are left to wonder if he knows their true identities and is on their tail or if it’s just a crazy coincidence… and there is much, much more to this compelling first episode.
For the first episode, the show had much exposition and new information for the newbie watcher. The show also tells about the Jennings’ first meeting, as “Elizabeth” and “Philip”. The pair were told by their handler not to share their real names and stories even with each other in case their covers were blown. It is clear that at the start there is little affection from Elizabeth towards this man she didn’t know before coming to America and marrying him.
This Soviet pair both have impeccable American accents. The show also shows Elizabeth’s strong love for the cause and for her homeland. In this episode it is clear that she will do anything in her duty towards the country, even sleeping with her enemy in the form of the bureaucrat or letting one of her injured colleagues die. The latter is seen as she insists the mission comes first, as it is Philip who wants to take Robert to the hospital.
They also both take up the American way of life in their unique ways. This shows their differences in their love for their new “host” country. Philip buys cowboy boots to go line dancing and he even demonstrates his talents in this activity at the store.
Elizabeth however buys an American cake mix to make the Brownies for their new neighbours. She then passes them off as homemade. The use of a mix and then passing them off as made by her add to her pretence – with the Brownies as fake as she is – and the cultural behaviour in keeping their appearances as Americans up to the neighbours. It also suggests she doesn’t particularly enjoy making “American” food.
Philip is keen to defect, and he suggests this possibility several times in this episode. He suggests that they hand Timoshev in to the FBI and later to his neighbour, Stan) to his wife’s horror. Philip tells about those little American things he loves;
America’s not so bad. We’ve been here a long time. What’s so bad about it? The electricity works all the time. Food’s pretty great. The closet space…
A flashback scene set in 1965, shows the pair having just moved to America. Philip and Elizabeth appear to enjoy feeling the air conditioning on their hands in the hotel.
In the pilot episode, Philip constantly talks in this episode about the security they would have as a family, should they defect. The Jennings also have added to their masquerade by having two children. These children appear to have been conceived not through love but to add to their “cover” story. Interestingly their children couldn’t be any more American. This is reinforced in scenes, particularly with Henry.
One scene illustrates the Jennings’ allegiance to their countries. At Henry’s school, there is a presentation from an American astronaut. Philip attends with his son and they sing the American National Anthem. Philip mouthing the words but Henry passionately joins in. Elizabeth does not attend. Philip observes his son also looking on with pride at this all American hero.
Tension is created throughout the episode, and this is felt after the Jennings meet their neighbours in this conversation (from IMDb) after finding out Stan’s job…
Philip jokes “I have to make sure I don’t do any spying around here.” Agent Beeman tells him, “Especially not for the Russians.” “Oh, they’re the worst, right?” Philip says. “They certainly are, Philip,” Agent Beeman says. “They certainly are.”
It is also felt as Clark meets with Martha. Through Martha’s answers to Clark’s questions, we learn the Americans are suspicious about the possible kidnapping of Timoshev, possibly by the Soviets. She tells him that they are looking for two men and a woman seen in a gold 1977 Oldsmobile with D.C. plates at the scene of Timoshev’s disappearance.
These facts are remembered by Stan as he borrows some jump leads from the Jennings for his car. He sees that his new neighbour’s car meets the description of the car involved in the Soviet’s kidnapping. As Philip then goes to collect the leads from the boot of his car, he is followed by Stan. As we know that there is a whole lot of baggage for the “all American” Jennings found in the boot of this car, as the series continues…
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The American Experience on Film Blogathon No 13, 2021
This film was added to Moon in Gemini’s The American Experience on Film Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Matthew Rhys in my posts for Columbo, Archer, the Hotties Tag and The Scapegoat. Susan Misner stars in Something’s Gotta Give and Chicago. Elizabeth Jennings is discussed in this review of Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters by Karen A Romanko (2016)