Note: Do not read on if you have yet to see Season 1, Episode 3 of "The Americans," titled "Gregory."
More than a crush on "The Americans," I have a crush on FX. Their gritty, unsettling programming always has its way with me. Who needs Nucky Thompson when you can have Vic Mackey, the corrupt cop of "The Shield," who opened the series by shooting his partner in the head and spent seven long seasons trying to cover it up while we rooted for him? Between "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," give me "Sons of Anarchy," where there are no good guys, really, but just uber-violent gangsters and the trashy women who love them. And who wants to be in HBO's Louisiana backwoods with vampires when you can galavant in Kentucky with "Justified's" Timothy Olyphant?
Enter "The Americans," where Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two KGB agents living the American dream. After watching them botch a mission in the series premiere and face their new, curious, counter-intelligence officer neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), I'm not sure who I'm rooting for. Or what we're supposed to be worried about. Them getting caught? Or the state of their marriage?
But in this week's episode, "Gregory," we finally start to see where it's going.
After spotting a coded message in the classifieds section of a newspaper (seriously), the Jennings need to go to Philly. Turns out that Robert, the partner they left to die in the series premiere, had a secret wife and child. And he left a message for that wife, Joyce, to send if he turned up missing.
Meanwhile, the FBI, with neighbor Stan leading the charge, is on the same tail. After recruiting his own KGB informant, Beeman and the counter intelligence outfit are able to identify Robert and head to Philadelphia to tail the wife just as Elizabeth and Philip's enlisted helpers head out to find out who she is and what she knows.
There are two key points to this plot-line. The first is that the showrunners decided to film the Philly scenes in Queens, NY and didn't even bother to blur out obvious street signs post-production (Philadelphia doesn't have an 117th Street and would do very dirty things to get an El Line that ran that length of road).
The second, and more important point, is that Elizabeth has to enlist her lover to tail Robert's wife. You heard me: lov-ah. Turns out that while Philip was having the little fling we saw last episode with that little blonde lunatic, Elizabeth has been downright serious with Gregory, a man she met at a Martin Luther King rally back in the day (seriously) and managed to recruit for the cause.
When she goes to him to ask for his help in finding the wife in Philadelphia, she turns down his advances and essentially ends things now that "things are getting better" between her and Philip. Turns out that embarking on high stake missions with Philip and watching him kill her rapist was a turning point for their 15 year-long cover marriage. I reckon the car sex to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" in the series premiere is what did it.
But more on that later.
In Philly, they scoop up Joyce and her baby, only to learn that the she knows nothing. But she does have a piece of paper that Philip manages to decode, like a boss, with basic household ingredients while listening to Gregory explain the decades-long affair with Elizabeth.
When Philip leaves the safe-house, he runs into Claudia, played by "Justified's" Margo Martindale. In a quick plot twist, she turns out to be the Jennings' new handler. Granny, as Philip calls her, informs him that Robert was on the brink of buying intel on an American anti-ballistic missile ray.
She sends Philip to finish the buy, in return for Joyce and the baby, and he does. They put Joyce into a black SUV and tell her they're taking her to Cuba, white beaches and all, but the episode ends with Beeman finding her dead in a car in
Queens Philadelphia, and the baby safely returned to his grandparents' home in the Motherland.
Before finding Joyce in the car, Beeman spends most of his time this episode convinced that Joyce was a KGB agent and the counterintelligence team wastes time and precious minutes of the episode debating the best way to handle her.
In all, I'm not sure how seriously to take this show. I am distracted by Keri Russell's Jordache jeans and ageless skin just as much as I am drawn to the darkness of her character. In a way, she's reminiscent of "Homeland's" Brody; earnest in her cause and yet caught up in the mess she's created. Unlike Brody, though, her relationship to her husband only gets more interesting.
"Gregory" ended with an already very different Elizabeth. Tearfully, and without the coldness of the first episodes, she reaches out to Philip and tries to explain her side of the story and how she's coming to, maybe, love him. But poor Philip just wants to defect with her and their kids and live happily ever after. When he yells at her to carry on as she wishes with Gregory, you just want to give him a hug. At the start of the episode, Philip tells Beeman during a racquetball game that he'll "win any way he can." It's like he's losing his grip on just about everything he thought he was.
The teaser for next week shows that we'll be dealing with the assassination attempt on Reagan and it looks like Beeman and the FBI will start to get their act together in the chase. Emmerich's Beeman is the silver lining to the whole series. His hunch that something is just not right with these people is going to be fun to watch pan out. His eyebrows raise at all the right things. All the things the Jennings aren't paying attention to.
"The Americans" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on FX.
Stills from "The Americans"
Stills from "The Americans"
Stills from "The Americans"