“The Americans” wrapped up its first season on FX this week and I’m happy to say the early promise of the series was carried through to this year’s finale.
If you didn’t check out the show – and you really should find it online or on demand in order to be ready for the second season – you missed one of the most offbeat combinations of recent years: A Cold War espionage thriller crossed with a domestic drama about a spectacularly strained marriage.
Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Phillip, a married couple and parents of two kids in the greater Washington DC area in 1981.
Unknown to their own children, their friends and their new neighbor, an FBI agent played by Noah Emmerich, Elizabeth and Phillip are actually Russian spies. They operate out of a travel agency (how’s that for a moment in time?) and carry out missions like bugging Casper Weinberger’s study.
The stakes are high for these spies and their handler, the ruthless Claudia, played by “Justified’s” Margo Martindale, even though we know it wasn’t long before the Soviet Union as a threat to the United States was no longer a realistic one.
So as Elizabeth and Phillip and the feds – including a hardass Richard Thomas of “The Waltons” as the FBI boss – maneuver and kidnap and assassinate their way through what seems like ancient history, the series not only examines the relationship between the hard-edged Russell and the soft-hearted but steely Rhys and Emmerich, sympathetic as the fed carrying on a relationship with a Russian woman (the adorable Annet Mahendru as Nina) even while his marriage falls apart.
The first season ended with a gripping episode in which the cat-and-mouse game threatened to expose the spies to their FBI agent pal and cost them their lives. It left me wanting more, like any good TV series.
The surprise here is Russell, so far removed from her “Felicity” days. In “The Americans” she’s whipcord thin and looks like she’s made of coiled steel. Elizabeth is hard – justifiably so, based on her harrowing background – and dangerous. I can’t wait to see what she does next season.