Confusing Cold War drama “The Americans” deserves a second watch

Katie Sones

“The Americans” is a slightly confusing but thrilling show to watch. Credit: Fox Television Studios

One of the scariest things about the Cold War was that anyone could have been a Soviet spy. Even people you had known for years and had no recognizable accents could be infiltrators for the communists.

Such is the case of the Jennings in “The Americans,” a new show following the life of two undercover Russian spies living in America in 1981.

The two spies blend into American society completely. They live normal lives (on the outside), have a family together, have American accents and are indistinguishable from any other non-threatening suburbanite. The catch is, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings are actually KGB officers infiltrating the U.S.

Phillip works for the CIA, but with a different identity. His main job is being a KGB officer, but it was hard to figure out what his actual duties of that are, as he just seemed to make frantic phone calls and fight people.

Phillip (Matthew Rhys) has many personas with elaborate costumes and is great at playing each one, which is one of the many reasons that the show is confusing and hard to follow.

It is often hard to tell which side he is on, as there are other undercover Russian spies who slip in and out of accents and costumes so fast that it’s hard to remember who’s who and who’s a threat.

Even with my foggy idea of who was on which side, the show was fast-paced and exciting for the most part. There were wild chase scenes and high tensions with a neighbor who worked for the CIA and was on to the Jenning’s suspicious activity.

Phillip and Elizabeth’s children know nothing about their multiple secret lives, which is surprising considering they (loudly) beat and killed a man in their attached garage while the children were home. The children discovering their parent’s real identities would make for a great subplot later in the series, though.

One of the most interesting subplots was Phillip expressing his desire to defect to America to Elizabeth (Keri Russell). Her reaction was severe, and she couldn’t believe he would betray “the Homeland” in such a way. I’m very interested to see how this huge disagreement will play out in future episodes.

Major arguments like this between Phillip and Elizabeth aren’t surprising because they aren’t actually a couple, they were sent to America together to live as a couple, and through flashbacks to their first days in the country and everyday interactions, the viewer can tell Elizabeth feels slightly trapped in the relationship.

One small but important aspect of the show that really damaged the quality was the authenticity of the sets and costumes. Set in 1981, little things like packaged food on the table or soaps on a shelf are straight out of the present day. Seemingly trivial, when not accurate, they can really take away from the overall experience of the show.

These mistakes make the show look like it’s taking place in the present day, completely hiding the fact that the show is supposed to be about the Cold War, causing the entire point of the show to make a lot less sense.

Even though “The Americans” doesn’t appear to be in the correct time period and can be a bit confusing, it is thrilling and makes you want to know what happens next, so I’ll give the next episode a second chance. I think “The Americans” has the potential to be a great show, even if it is lacking in a couple of important aspects.

“The Americans” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

What do you think?