Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spywork Is No Family Affair


THE AMERICANS: COMRADES

After the great success that was the first season of The Americans, one wonders how they could possibly bring the complicated lives of KGB sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) into more complicated and brilliant stories.  Leave it to Comrades, the second season debut story, to give us one of the most thrilling, shocking, tense, and tragic hours I have seen so far on this series. 

Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) has recovered from her injuries and is home, just in time for her son Henry's (Keidrich Sellati) birthday.  Her daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor) is equally thrilled to see her mother back, as is Philip (Matthew Rhys).  Elizabeth and Philip appear to have reconciled, and while Henry might not be thrilled to hear that they are going on a date, Paige finds the prospect of her parents getting back together a joyful matter. 

Of course, Elizabeth and Philip didn't go on a date, well, one might call it a double date.  More spywork, this time with Emmett and Leanne Connors (Jeremy Davison and Natalie Gold), fellow sleeper KGB agents who are about the closest thing to social friends the Jennings have.  They not only can mix Socialism with socializing but can talk about their kids and the difficulties of raising them. 

As the Jennings start healing (and Paige finds that her parents really are back together, in 69 ways), things appear to be getting better.  As both a treat for Henry and Paige, as well as to do more work with the Connors, Philip and Elizabeth take the family to an amusement park in Virginia.  As everyone is having a good time, Emmett gets notice that some information is being delivered to them.  He can't do it, so he asks Philip to take it from someone passing by, but with a catch.  Philip has to be accompanied by Henry.  Philip at first immediately says no, telling Emmett the children, neither his or the Connors, are ever used for work under any circumstances.  However, there's no time and Philip is immediately dragged into this, and he in turn drags an unwitting Henry.

Things appear to go OK, until Philip and Elizabeth make a horrifying discovery when dropping off the material at the Connors' hotel room.
 

They go inside to find that not only Emmett and Leann have been shot point-blank in the head, but their daughter Amelia (Gracie Bea Lawrence) has been killed with them.  Only the Connors' son Jared (Owen Campbell), who had gone for a swim, manages to escape the family slaughter.  Philip and Elizabeth are stunned and horrified by what they see, and immediately both panic.  If someone was willing to kill Amelia, both Paige and Henry were also in immediate danger.  Elizabeth races back to the park in a desperate search for their children, while Philip quickly gathers what he needs from the room and leaves, passing an unsuspecting Jared, who comes in to this horror.

Elizabeth quickly finds Henry but Paige has wandered off.  Her panic growing more frantic, she is relieved to find that Paige is alive.  In what must have been a ghastly vision for her, Paige had her face painted in the same way Amelia had been painted when she was killed.  Elizabeth does not reproach Philip for having involved Henry, realizing that he didn't have time to think.  However, both of them are now fully aware that their children are vulnerable to danger.

Meanwhile, their unwitting nemesis, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) has problems of his own.  His marriage is hanging on by tenderhooks, while his mole/mistress Nina (Annet Mahendru) is still playing him in a game of her own making.  He tries to please Nina by getting a pirated video cassette (which I imagine some viewers have never heard of) of The French Lieutenant's Woman, but she finds the main character stupid.  As Stan does appear to try to make his marriage to Sandra (Susan Misner) work, she invites him to join her friends for a movie.  Guess what movie she picks? 

As Stan watches the Meryl Street/Jeremy Irons feature, he too finds himself oddly moved by it all.


Comrades keeps the metaphors down to one.  In the opening, Elizabeth nearly runs down a family of deer, and they do have that deer in the headlights look.  Here, I think we see what the season will involve: more danger coming out of nowhere, which may leave them paralyzed.   Joel Fields and The Americans creator Joseph Weisberg give us all the elements that make a great action drama (the opening with Philip masquerading as a Texan who kills mujahedeen representatives fighting the Soviets at a restaurant in the States is exciting).  However, Comrades also has a great deal of heart.

When Elizabeth and Philip are sharing a tender moment, I can honestly report that I was really happy for them.  It's almost as if these two, despite themselves and their cover, have become what so many people fail to be: a happily married couple.  Seeing them share an extremely intimate moment, with Paige as the unwitting witness, was both slightly amusing and shocking.  However, not as shocking as what would come right after.

We also see that they are parents above all else.  Seeing the horror of seeing their 'friends' killed along with their unknowing daughter must have not just come as a shock, but must have stunned them into the realization that their children, whom they genuinely care about, were also in great risk. 

Again, I don't think viewers of The Americans will ever really get over the shock of seeing Amelia shot through the head, her face paint still on her, or what must have been the horror of Jared coming upon this nightmarish scene.  We don't see Jared go into the room, but remembering what we had seen, we can only imagine the horror of Jared coming from a happy holiday to see his father, mother, and sister all killed, and worse, with neither Jared or Amelia ever knowing the real reason for the killings.

While it was unspoken, the impact and almost cruel irony of Elizabeth coming upon Paige with the same face paint she had just seen Amelia with must have shaken Elizabeth to the very core of her being.  The twisted irony of seeing her happy and unwitting daughter almost dressed up like the innocent dead girl must have pained the hard Elizabeth in ways unimaginable.

In this hour, I don't think I have been as moved, as shocked, and as involved as I was watching the Jennings at work and play.  With now both Paige and Henry getting slowly drawn into the dangerous work Philip and Elizabeth are in, the question becomes will Philip and Elizabeth be parents first, or agents?  Are they willing to pay the high price the Connors paid? 

We are on tenderhooks to find out...



10/10

Next Episode: Cardinal

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