bill bodkin is on the clock…
“We need some espionage this week.”
This was the statement that Pop-Break’s senior writer and pop culture maven, Jason Stives, IM’ed me right before the premiere of the second episode of FX’s The Americans.
And espionage was exactly what we got.
You really can’t have a show about spies without the classic, chess match episodes. Those episodes where the table is set for bigger, juicier storylines by the cloak and dagger actions of the spies involved in them. Where the tension is palpable, where every action has dire consequences and the suspense is ratcheted up to a very uncomfortable yet still entertaining (for the audience at least) level.
And an episode like this was exactly what The Americans needed to cement itself as one of the premier, must-see shows on television right now. After last week’s Bourne-esque, neck-breaking, slugfest of a premiere, ‘The Clock’ showed The Americans’ smart side. Yes, the premiere had a lot of really solid emotional and character development, but this week showed the show knows how to craft classic a Cold War-era spy thriller — real, classic potboiler stuff that filled the silver screen for decades.
‘Clocks’ revolves around the Russians wanting a bug planted in a high ranking U.S. government official’s home (placed strategically in a clock he owns) so they can overhear a conversation between said official and the British Prime Minister. The operation is a completely last second, highly dangerous mission and it’s dropped in the laps of Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), who sees the mission as a deathtrap, and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), who despite her fears, sees this as an ‘orders are orders’ situation.
Outside of the clever spy game plotline of The Americans, what makes the show tick is the acting of Rhys and Russell. The two have this terrific chemistry together and their individual charisma is remarkable. Rhys has killed it since day one as the conflicted KGB agent — a man whose loyalties to his family are much stronger than the ones to Mother Russia. Meanwhile Russell, who was portrayed as ‘country first’ in the premiere really showed a lot of maternal emotion, especially when it comes to her teenage daughter. She realizes she’s been so caught up with her work that she’s missing her daughter become a woman. The ‘redemption’ for Russell’s character comes in a really sweet scene where she pierces her daughter’s ears for her. It might sound a bit odd, but the tenderness and warmth in this scene are something you don’t see on TV very often. Emmy Awards will be knocking on Ms. Russell’s door very soon.
We’d be remiss to not mention how great Noah Emmerich, one of today’s great character actors, is as FBI agent and the Jenning’s neighbor, Stan Beamon. Emmerich plays Beamon, a decorated and honored fed, as the ‘walk softly and carry a big stick’ type of law enforcer. He’s suspicious of his new neighbors, but is so cool, calm and collected that, despite the fact he’s a good guy, we see him as the villain of the series. He’s a menacing force that could burst the domestic bubble of the Jennings at any moment if they make a wrong move. And that right there is great writing — making an American FBI agent, the ‘villain’ in a show about undercover KGB agents trying to subvert our own government. And really, only someone like the lanky and soft-spoken Emmerich could pull this off in terms of performance.
The Americans, ‘Clocks’ and the show in general is, like we said, must-see television week-in and week-out. If you’re a fan of Homeland or if you’re just looking for damn good television, Wednesday nights at 10 on FX are where you should be.
All photos credited to CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX.