Cable shows operating on tighter budgets and less episodes has led to cable stations really defining a new idea of “the season” of TV is. With 13 episodes in the bag The Americans ends it’s first (and very good) season on FX, by this point the de facto home for interesting basic cable drama yearly. The network has built this reputation on the strength of it’s content and since September 11, 2012 I have watched FX on Tuesday nights at 10 without fail. Sons of Anarchy, Justified, and now The Americans gives the network more diverse, interesting, and compelling trio to make viewers stick around even after one of these shows has ended. FX has the movies and good original content on par with most stuff on HBO.
Most spy plots and episodes of The Americans relies on characters acting dumber then they probably should be. This is masked by acting passionately with little to no information. Just their guts and enough information to point them in the a direction. “The Colonel” still has that passionate action and everyone is right for a change, just no one is able to come to the right conclusions.
Elizabeth (and Claudia) have been feeling a setup with the Colonel from a mile away after her agent, Prince, completely broke protocol and recruited someone else. Exacerbating this tick is the fact that Prince has been arrested for lack of child support making everything scream even more that it's a trap. There is very little time paid to if Prince’s arrest was actually a random act of good police work or part of some larger FBI scheme. He is sent into Federal custody, where he has a nice meeting with Stan, but there isn’t anything pointing to a set up. At the wedding Elizabeth claimed Prince would break with a feather duster. He does break but he last longer than anyone expected besides he is getting $500k and immunity out of the deal.
The FBI and Stan are this close to catching their mystery couple. They have found a KGB bug and are staking it out after sending out just enough information to make the Russians bite. With everything pointing to the Colonel being a setup there is little thought paid to the fact that the bug could have been found. Arkady doesn't even realize that he is aborting the wrong mission. Going off the pilot episode it would have been very easy to characterize the FBI and Stan as incompetent and buffoonish. The Americans writers never made anyone in the show act a fool, it was the characters themselves making the foolish by acting first and thinking later. It kept the status quo but everyone looks good in the end. So when the FBI are about to pull the noose you belive that one of the Jennings will be going down.
The meet with the Colonel itself was short but great. His instance that the Reagan Star Wars program technology was incredible in a literal sense, and that it all could just be a plot to force the Russians to spend themselves to death, was tongue and cheek and totally believable. How will the KGB react to this intel even after the abort signal was given. “This would be the biggest thing since we got the atom bomb” Arkady ritualistically assures Claudia, who then points out that’s the thing they all say before agents die for nothing and all that is left is the realization that it was so obviously a trap. They have the intel, maybe The Americans goes into alternate history territory a little bit next season.
Once everything is set in motion and the final car chase is afoot The Americans is in full control and properly ratchets up the tension. These action in and of themselves would have provided some kind of tension but all the groundwork laid in the first half. As Philip and Elizabeth argue over who will meet the Colonel and pick up the tape weeved all the personal and exterior threads together into soemthing worthy of season finale kinda tension. It also gave the episode plenty of great character moments and paid off once the game was afoot. Making The Americans about the Jennings marriage this season and the realness of the fakery(tm) in general allow for this show to be something more than a period spy show. It has actually gotten me to care about the characters inhabiting the series. Things that cannot be said for stuff like Mission Impossible.
The audiences read of a situation is often predicated on the point of view of the character. The Jennings don’t like Claudia so neither do we. Giving every scene Keri Russell and Margo Martindale share together an antagonistic vibe. During their meeting this episode Claudia plainly tells Elizabeth that she doesn't know anything about her, which is very true. Back in "Covert War" Elizabeth nearly ends her career after being manipulated by Claudia. She admits to using her but that she was also in love the Zhukov. As it turns out they were close as Claudia takes her revenge against the man she holds responsible for his death. It’s a scene that comes out of nowhere and has little to no bearing on the overall plot of “The Colonel” but seeing her sit above her slowly bleeding victim was great and I didn’t care. Wish they had kept on that scene a bit longer.
Showing that the audiences read on a character is wrong (or ill informed) doesn't go over very well most of the time. It completely reshapes past scenes and forces them to actually think. At the same time it also can come off as a brutish way to move characters forward (see Amador, Chris). Making Claudia out to have an actual heart works and hopefully she will stick around in season 2. Series logic be damned Keri Russell and Margo Martindale have great chemistry.
At other times are reads of situations can be over informed. We know that Nina is now a double(or is it triple) agent . With Arkady having her spy on Stan with the end game being to turn him. It is now impossible to not read her scenes with tinges of of a black widow. At the same time as she comforts Stan after he returns heartbroken that the mission failed I don’t think she is trying to work him. Stann and Nina should provied yet another good mirror to view the Jennings and the realness of fakery.
Elizabeth as my mother often puts it is a “cold bitch”. She certainly has an icy exterior and lack social skills, I was prepared for some spy shit to go down when Paige catches her mom out of bed. But Keri Russell has played things so well and shown the humanity underneath it that you can understand why she is a “cold bitch” sometimes. Watching her listen to her mother speak also came out of nowhere but is perhaps the best moment Russell has had since she watched her children sleep.
The Americans opened with a great action sequence set to Tusk by Fleetwood Mac. It also ended on rather obvious montage set to “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, but cmon if you’re going to have an 80’s show set at night how do you not use that song eventually. They close the season set to Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” with all types of possibilities hanging for season 2. Paige is beginning to suspect something. But in the end the song and dance remain the same and no real headway has been made. "Games without frontiers, war without tears"
The Bits At The End
I’m going to look for more relevant TV stuff to cover I need to catch up on Rectify and Newrsroom doesn't start till July. Suggestions would be nice!
I’m going to miss the many faces of Matthew Rhys
Also what do you think of my writing? Tell me about it? Tear it apart (but don’t be a jerk about it) Not drawing any heat is worst than getting X-Pac Heat.
You can follow MrMaZZ on twitter @MaZZM and over at mazzz.net . In both places he talks about, the extetional crissi of seeing Iron Man 3 at midnight. Why stares still scare the crap out of him. How Greys Anatomy was once a good show. And other random junk that dosen't sound witty.