REVIEW: The Americans The Complete First Season
Nadezhda is a stranger in a strange land; recruited young, she was extensively trained by the KGB and then partnered with a slightly older Mischa. Both are brought to America in the 1970s where they pretend to be a happily married couple running their own travel agency. The reality is that they are embedded espionage agents working near the nation’s capital, endangering our peace and prosperity.
Sleeper agents are nothing new to spy fiction or reality but what FX’s The Americans has done is humanize them so you’re actually rooting for the bad guys. By making it as much about the marriage as it is about spy craft, the show makers for arresting viewing. The Americans: The Complete First Season is now out on Blu-ray from 210th Century Home Entertainment and if you missed this last winter, now is a good time to check it out with the second season due to kick off on the 26th.
America fell in love with Keri Russell and her curly hair when J.J. Abrams introduced us to her on Felicity, where she was a shy and awkward ingénue and as she has aged, she has grown more beautiful and deeper in range as a performer. Her steely cool Elizabeth Jennings is the calculating, logical agent, making the tough decisions for the pair. She is now only now coming to love Mischa, having previously only allowed herself to be emotionally involved with Gregory Thomas, (Derek Luke), a black militant who has remain her key asset.
Mischa, played with verve by Matthew Rhys, an Aussie best known for his work on Brothers & Sisters, has come to enjoy the creature comforts offered by the enemy state. His Philip Jennings has longed for Elizabeth but is now forced to turn an FBI secretary Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) by romancing and marrying her. Meantime, he’s also developed a friendship with new neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) who just happens to be working on an FBI task force seeking Russian moles following Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 2579.
The show is about relationships, many of which parallel and intertwine as every couple faces marital strains with adultery an expected part of the job, although in Stan’s case, it happened by chance and has become a tool he and Russian agent Nina (Annet Mahendru). By far the most riveting of these storylines is the tense connection between Elizabeth and her handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) which is exceptionally well handled, notably in “Trust Me”.
The poor children, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), have no clue their parents are Russian spies although Paige now knows something’s amiss, a thread that will no doubt play out next season.
Weaving in and around the latter years of the Cold War, the show is a snapshot of an America at the cusp of major technological changes. In fact, the state of the art spy gear is downright laughable today although the featurette “Ingenuity Over Technology” does a good job showing what they had to work with.
The thirteen episodes look and sound great. There’s a just-right number of extras including commentary for the season finale, “The Colonel”, from former CIA agent turned executive producer Joseph Weisberg, producer Joel Fields and actor Noah Emmerich. The background leading the series’ creation is covered in “Executive Order 2579: Exposing the Americans” while the many wigs and mustaches used to disguise the agents is given a nod in “Perfecting the Art of Espionage”. There are a handful of deleted scenes for several episodes and a fun Gag Reel.