The Americans 1×01 – Pilot

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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

Conclusion
Beautifully realized and incredibly compelling, The Americans pilot is a brilliant beginning to a remarkably promising series.

Nad Rating
A

9 comments

  1. Allo, Nadim.
    Nice review.
    It's great that you also watched this.
    Oh, I forgot; you are a show pilot addict! Hahaha.
    I'm sharing here some notes I also posted at Billie's
    I also found the pilot of this series promising and
    entertaining.
    There was a lost of opened ideas for at least a full season.:)
    It's great to watch a spy themed show using methods before all
    these techno thingies.
    Nowadays, spies or intelligence people would term these methods
    primitive, if not old school. 🙂
    I am also looking forward for this show creators to incorporate
    a lot of things (not just clothing) of the 80s.
    The music of the 80s alone would be a hit for the audience of
    this show.

    Here're parts of my posting at Billie's –

    Lots of story points.

    On the personal relationship
    between Philip and Elizabeth,
    it seems like the establishment
    of their emotional bond with
    each other is just starting.

    It's great to watch the spy era
    during the 80s.
    The “old” methods and procedures;
    the signals and dead drops.
    I think the “players” during those
    time are genius in creating/
    inventing these nuances.
    What is interesting is that they
    vary; unlike nowadays, you can
    predict that these things will be
    via comm devices and other electronic gadgets.

  2. Like you I absolutely LOVED this pilot! My favourite of the new January shows, can't wait for more!
    The relationship between the couple, their tense situation with the new neighbour, the orders from on high… it's all going to be thrilling!
    And it was cathartic seeing Elizabeth confront and deal with her “captain”, and then Philippe finishing the job. And that final scene in the car…
    More please!!!
    Question is: where do think it's headed? What do you think the series endgame is? I'm betting on their defecting after the soviet bosses decide 2nd generation spies are a good idea (their daughter) and that is the straw that finally makes Elizabeth break with the “motherland”. :p

  3. By far, my favorite of the new January shows. It started off a bit slowly for me, but once we got into the home life, it kicked off and never stopped. I, too, found the scene in the car incredibly moving.

    I can't wait to see where this is going.

  4. That's a fascinating scenario Cris that sounds quite appropriate. I can't WAIT to see where the show goes next. I have a feeling we're going to be discussing it for a long time to come!

  5. Indeed Platinum I'm really loving the lack of modern technology! It's just extremely compelling on every level and I'm eager to see the couple's bond grow further and evolve!

  6. I agree Chris. I wasn't impressed with the first ten minutes (although people online seemed to love the opening chase which I found bizarre) but as soon as we got to their home life…I was HOOKED. And by the way I'm STILL thinking about that car scene with “In the Air tonight”. Beautiful.

  7. Just watched this and I was blown away. What a fascinating way to start a show, really, and the performances are indeed FANTASTIC. I hated Rhy's character on Brothers & Sisters as he was often too whiny over there, so I'm glad he gets to play such a different role here. But Kerri Russel is definitely the standout. I don't think I've ever seen her in anything but she was just marvelous here. I loved every single scene she was in… Just breathtaking.

    I too really didn't enjoy the first 10-12 minutes and almost gave up on the pilot right there but after the chase was over and we were finally introduced to the “family”, I became instantly hooked to this show. I'm not sure how much I can watch since I feel like this isn't a perfect show to bingewatch but it definitely intrigued me enough to try a couple more episodes.

    My favorite part were the flashbacks, particularly the one where Elizabeth and Philip first arrive to America and move in together. I hope the show continues with the flashbacks because those were really incredible. Loved how amused they were by the AC in their room.

    Even the neighbor next door storyline is incredible as I'm sure the show will continue to tease us with near-misses now. And I can't wait. And that car scene! Wow, so moving indeed. It's really surprising me how much I enjoyed this hour considering I don't usually like to watch shows that don't take place in the present time, but the production and setting was all very convincing and top-notch.

    I see you were just as impressed with the second episode, yay! I hope I get to catch that one soon.

  8. Interesting choice that you started this.; Yes I saw all of season one and enjoyed it a lot. But for some reason I watched the season 2 premiere and dint continue. Apparently the show gets better and better in season two and three but I have no idea why I wasn't excited to stick with it. I think you will encourage me to get back into it soon and catch up since we have the same taste 🙂 keep me updated! I only reviewed the first two episodes and then the season wrap-up btw!

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