Keeping up with The Americans

*Spoiler alert!* It is unsurprising that in a time when American politics have reached new levels of dysfunction, Hollywood has capitalized on it by pumping out political dramas left, right, and centre. Hit series such as Scandal and House of Cards focus squarely on the inner workings of Washington politics: the backroom dealings, the power players, and their litany of flaws. The Americans, on the other hand, opts to take a different look into the world of political theatre through the lens of the American Dream.

Using characters who are KGB undercover agents and FBI G-men, The Americans—like most television shows worth watching—chooses to focus on the human condition. Dead drops, dead ends, and dead spies are only a way to examine relationships between people and consequently, the show allows viewers to empathize with people who are just like them. At times during the first season, it didn’t matter who the incognito Jennings family were or what they actually did. All  that mattered was that they were a married couple struggling to make the most of a life that was planned out for them in the Moscow Politburo.

The second season begins slowly, with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) emerging from her gunshot wound-induced slumber in the middle of the woods. As she comes home to her family, the viewers realize that two to three months have passed by. Now that Phil and Elizabeth’s marriage has stabilized, the focus shifts to their ability to raise a family. Their teenage children, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), are growing up and growing curious. At the end of last season, Paige was seen heading downstairs to see her mother emerging from the laundry room in the middle of the night. The teenager’s naivety wears away as she begins questioning her parents’ guidance, routinely sneaking around to learn more about the secrets her parents keep from her. However, this backfires on Paige as she walks in on her parents rekindling their love, a situation which requires a family meeting to weather the fallout.

Also of note is the brief introduction of another family to the fold, albeit only for one episode. The family, whose parents are spy friends of Phil (Matthew Rhys) offers an interesting parallel to the Jennings’. At an amusement park in old town Alexandria, the two families are seen in a peaceful and tranquil state, simply enjoying a quiet weekend away from it all. The serenity is ominous as Phil later walks into their hotel room to find that family brutally murdered—a sign that despite how quiet or peaceful things may seem, danger is always lurking.

Thus far, the show hasn’t introduced any major new characters; and even more interestingly, Claudia, (Margo Martindale), who acted as the Jennings’ constant thorn-in-the-side handler, has been nonexistent. It will be interesting to see how she reintroduces herself to their lives as the tension between Moscow and the Directorate S operatives rises.

Also of interest is the development of the relationship between Nina (Annet Mahendru) and Agent Beeman (Noah Emmerich). So far, Nina has fully embraced the role of being a triple agent and it is clear that she has Beeman in the palm of her hands. If she is able to continue to manipulate her former lover, it will be a great favour to the cause, but I won’t be surprised if Agent Beeman—who so powerfully controlled the narrative of the first season—returns.

The most important plotline to follow coming up will be how each of the characters gains or relinquishes the trust of their fellow characters. In a world where victories are measured by economic resources, scientific progress, and the number of nuclear weapons a given side has, simple characteristics become the most powerful bargaining tool any character in The Americans has. Simply put, trust is scarce, and finding someone to trust is nearly impossible. The sooner everyone begins operating under the philosophy that they can trust no one, the safer—and more paranoid—they will be.

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