I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Americans S01E02: "The Clock"

In this episode, superspies Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings undertake an impossible mission in order to get ears on a meeting between US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and her defense secretary John Nott regarding the Strategic Defense Initiative. For that to happen, they will have to attach a bug to the clock in Weinberger's office, hopefully without blowing their cover and sacrificing nearly two decades of residency. Meanwhile, Agent Beeman has a similar strategy: he wishes to convince a woman to work for the FBI as a spy in the Soviet embassy.

Due to the likelihood of this mission going bad, Elizabeth Jennings is forced to look at her own mortality and to examine the consequences for their children should their mission in America go bad. Phillip is much more concerned with the details of the mission while Jennings appears to spend her time worrying about the family, which stands in stark contrast to the events of the first episode where Jennings nearly ratted out her husband for losing his faith in the mission and wanting to live a normal life with their American children. While the pilot episode brought intrigue, the second episode brought depth - both of these people are both Soviets and Americans. Their concerns are divided over two worlds, and they believe that only one of these worlds can win.

With all of this one the line, Phillip is forced to bluff Weinberger's maid into switching out the clock for them with only the threat of her son's death and the threat that there are more of these operatives watching her every move. We see him walk a tight rope, hoping all the while that things will go all right. The thin wall between victory and failure is shown by comparison to Phillip's relationship with his son. Phillip gives young Henry an imperative, and Henry's response is, "Or you'll do what?" What would happen if the maid were to ask the same thing? Would he have to kill her and find some other way into the office?

As I mentioned in my first post for The Americans, the creators have no problem dealing with difficult sexual situations. In the pilot, we see that Phillip is disturbed when his wife has a one night stand with an American government official. But in this episode, Elizabeth is jealous when she sees a picture of the beautiful blonde that Phillip has spent a decent amount of time turning into an asset. Certainly, Elizabeth's extramarital sexual act is hard to deal with, but what of Phillip's repeated infidelity and the fact that he's convinced this woman that he's in love with her? Add to this the fact that the Jennings family is forced to put these under-trained operatives in harms way time and time again with a fairly high mortality rate and you run into some serious moral dilemmas.

Many reviewers ooed and aaed about the pilot of The Americans and complained that the second episode wasn't as good. I'm here to say that both episodes are of the same quality. They tell a fantastic family story balanced with intriguing spy action. The Americans is developing into a robust family story with the potential for several seasons of quality entertainment. If you're not watching it, you're missing out.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

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