My parents and I immigrated to the United States from the then-Soviet Union in 1977. My father is a staunch anti-Communist. He is also a very cryptic, closed off man (teddy bear rescues aside). As a result, my brother and I are in agreement that, should he turn out to actually have been a Soviet sleeper agent for all of this time, we’d be surprised–but not too surprised.
When FX announced their new series, “The Americans” for Wednesday nights at 10, I knew I had to give it a shot. For two reasons. One) It was about a pair of Communist agents living undercover in the States, pretending to be a couple of perfectly normal, Mom and apple pie loving, suburban citizens. And Two) It was set in the 1980s.
Like the VH1 specials proclaim: I love the 80s.
The fashion, the music, The Evil Empire. What’s not to love?
I also suspected that “The Americans” would be good for a few laughs–whether the creators intended them or not.
And I was right. At one point during the second episode, when two mustache-twirling agents were speaking Russian, I finally gave up and asked my husband (rhetorically, he doesn’t speak the language), “Are they just making up these subtitles?”
The pilot was packed with errors as well, ranging from the seemingly trivial–actress Keri Russell’s hair (oh, “Felicity,” why does it always come back to hair with you?) in the Soviet-era 1960s flashbacks was pulled back in a ponytail; it should have been a braid–to the more serious: her character’s reaction to being raped by her commanding officer during KGB training.
Without getting into the incredibly complex and sensitive issue of rape in real life, let me just say that a hard-core Communist like our heroine would not have reacted in such a… for want of a better word, American manner to her assault. By this point, she would have been so thoroughly indoctrinated, that there would have been no I left. There wouldn’t have even been a we, as in her and the partner masquerading as her husband. There would only be an us, i.e. those dedicated to the greater cause, and those against it. She simply would not have taken the rape personally–because there would, by that time, be no person left.
In the second episode, when their superiors order them to undertake what could potentially be a suicide mission, and her husband begins to question the wisdom of those orders, Keri Russell’s “Elizabeth” insists, “If they say it’s necessary, then it must be necessary,” in a tone that leaves no room for doubt. That would have been her attitude about the rape, as well. If a party member did it, then it must have been the right and, more importantly, necessary thing to do. She doesn’t need to understand why. She just needs to accept their infallibility. (Thousands of devoted Communists went to their deaths in gulags convinced that if Comrade Stalin ordered their murders, then it must have been for the good of the cause. In that grand scheme of things, a one-off sexual battery is nothing to get upset about. And if one is improperly upset, one would still keep it to themselves, or risk being thought a traitor to the Motherland.)
On the other hand, my husband and I both burst out laughing when, in trying to convince his wife to consider defecting, “Phillip” points out, “America isn’t so bad. Their food is pretty great. They have big closets.” (When we first immigrated to the United States, I assumed the walk-in closet in our new apartment was another bedroom. What? It had a light-bulb in it! Who ever heard of a closet with a light-bulb? Closets are a huge part of what I associate with the bounty that is America.)
Ultimately, though, what might end up being the most interesting aspect of “The Americans” is the characters’ relationship with their two children, a pre-teen boy and a teen girl. Since they are deep undercover, the spies are forced to raise their children as true-blue Americans–with all the Reagan-era jingoism that entails. While their mother secretly hopes that they’ll grow up to be “socialists, or trade union workers,” the fact is, at the moment, her kids hero-worship American astronauts and write papers about how Soviets cheat in their arms treaties. And there is nothing either parent can do about it.
If I were to really put my Master’s in Media Analysis to the test here (and as I demonstrated with my take on intermarriage and cartoons, I have no qualms about whipping it out for even the most seemingly trivial of topics), I’d say the show is a metaphor for all parents who find themselves on the opposite side of the political aisle from their offspring.
Doesn’t every parent live in fear that the child they love and adore will one day morph into everything they hate about humanity? Or if not hate exactly, then at least look down upon as uniformed, gullible, and just plain stupid?
We all know our children are brilliant. So how can they possibly fall for the other side’s obvious, clumsy, and plain old deceitful propaganda (insert FOX, MSNBC, The New York Times and/or The Wall Street Journal here)? Sure, their hearts are in the right place, but the way they are going about it is absolutely, positively, tragically wrong. It must be the friends they hang out with. Or something we did wrong in bringing them up.
It couldn’t possibly be merely the nature of parents and children.
Or the nature of “Americans.” (This whole freedom of speech, expression, and opinion sure can get in the way of one’s child rearing, can’t it?)
Intrigued? You can watch “The Americans” on Amazon Instant Video here.