Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Americans: "Pilot" (S01E01)

And THAT is how you start a TV show.

I've never watched The Americans, even though I've always wanted to. During its first run, I didn't have cable and after that you could only watch it on Amazon Prime. Since it just started streaming on Hulu, I thought I'd see what all the fuss is about and holy crap.

It's funny to look back at the reactions to the pilot. Early reviews were like, "It's good, I guess. It shows some promise." Now that it's widely viewed as one of the greats, you're clearly able to see all the elements of the show and how they're going to produce conflict. I'm really excited for this.

In case you haven't watched the show, here's the setup: Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) and his wife Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are deep, deep, deep cover KGB agents who live a normal life in America with their two children. Their life looks perfect: Beautiful house, picturesque surroundings, a seemingly happy marriage. Not all is well.

Near the beginning, we get an early highlight with a great chase scene. Philip and a coworker named Rob are trying to capture a KGB operative named Timoshev and return him to the Soviet Union. Timoshev defected to the US and got Soviet agents killed, and so the Soviets want him alive. During the chase Timoshev stabs Rob, and Philip and Elizabeth finally capture him after a thrilling chase. In an attempt to get Rob to safety, they miss their rendezvous with the boat that will take Timoshev home to the Soviet Union, and now they're stuck with Timoshev in their trunk.

Into this mess wanders Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the Jennings' new next door neighbor. Beeman has spent years undercover, so he's instantly suspicious of Philip. His wife tries to talk him down, but he still has his doubts. Philip and Elizabeth also have questions as to why this FBI agent lives so close to them. Philip has a bit of a panic and suggests defecting, a prospect which makes Elizabeth furious.

In a flashback to Elizabeth's training, we find out that Timoshev attacked and raped her. In the present day, we see that Philip removes Timoshev from the trunk in order to defect, and Elizabeth attacks Timoshev. Timoshev says he's sorry for hurting her, after which Philip deduces what happened and breaks Timoshev's neck.

Philip and Elizabeth's marriage, which has seemed perfunctory to this point, suddenly heats up after they dispose of Timoshev. Elizabeth meets a general named Zhukov, who questions her about the mission and asks if Philip can be trusted. She says yes.

Finally, Stan Beeman decides to break into the Jennings' garage to look in the trunk of the car. He finds nothing and leaves quietly, never noticing that Philip was waiting with a silenced pistol just in case.

There are so many little tidbits of this episode I loved. I love the way they delicately show how professional that the Jennings' marriage with small little things that you wouldn't notice unless you knew something was wrong. Noah Emmerich is also perfectly cast as a guy who just looks like an a-hole FBI agent. There's also an incredibly tense scene with jumper cables. No, no one gets shocked by them, but the power of this show is such that no one has to for you to be electrified. (Wordplay!)

Funny thing I noticed: I kept thinking, wow, this is a long episode but I kind of don't want it to end. That's an impressive feat for a show! Knowing that The Americans maintains this level of quality has me incredibly excited, and I hope you'll follow along with me!

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