I very rarely love a pilot so quickly but this was a superb series premiere.
Before watching The Americans, I was afraid that I wouldn’t get attached to spy hijinks set the days before satellite surveillance and high-tech shenanigans. Oh how I couldn’t be more wrong; this Cold War drama set in 1981 Washington is an utter delight to watch. The pilot is a stripped-back, tense, and thought-provoking hour that capably crafts a layered world where two Russian sleeper spies have deeply ingrained themselves beyond enemy lines (and created a family in the process).
The performances are top notch. I’ve never seen Kerri Russel in anything (I do know she’s famous for being the iconic Felicity) but she was outstanding here. Elizabeth Jennings goes through the ringer in the pilot as she comes face to face with her captain (and rapist) and Russell perfectly captured her character’s angst, vulnerability and steely resolve. Now as good as Russel was, Matthew Rhys as her husband was a particular revelation. I’ve only seen Rhys on Brothers & Sisters and he was my least favorite character on that show. However, he’s perfectly cast here as the emphatic husband who simply wants a better life for his family. The character got some great emotional beats throughout from unleashing vengeance on his wife’s rapist to practically castrating a pedophile (in a subplot that did admittedly feel a bit out of place). Moreover, Phillip is nowhere near as loyal to his country as his unflinching wife so it’s an extremely fascinating partnership.
The pilot itself is a highly satisfying hour. The show really came together for me in that marvelous sequence set to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” as the Jennings disposed of the captain’s body and then proceeded to make love in their car, finally uniting after a life of secrets and betrayals. It’s a gorgeous moment that cemented the couple’s dynamic as the show’s strongest point. In addition, I loved Elizabeth finally opening up and telling her husband her life story (and real name for the first time). The two go through a real emotional journey in the span of one hour and that’s quite the achievement. The flashbacks in particular do a magnificent job of shedding light on their past (the rape is especially difficult to watch) including the day they first met in the “motherland” and their first experience on American soil. I’m already attached to the Jennings and I’m seriously looking forward to seeing their relationship evolve throughout the course of the series.
And finally, I absolutely loved the FBI counterintelligence agent moving in next door and starting to suspect his suburban neighbors. His final break-in was quite intriguing (loved Phillip watching from the shadows) and his future investigations are bound to be equally exhilarating.
Must Download Tune
Tusk by Fleetwood Mac
In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins
Beautifully realized and incredibly compelling, The Americans pilot is a brilliant beginning to a remarkably promising series.