Monday, July 21, 2014

The Americans: The Colonel Review


True Spies...

As we close out The Americans Season One with The Colonel, we have stories tied up, some great final hurrahs, and an emotional and heartfelt reunions.  We got some brilliant twists and turns and at the end, when so many other programs would leave us with a cliffhanger, The Colonel leaves us with resolution.

The frosty relationship between Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) and his wife Elizabeth (Keri Russell), both of whom are really KGB spies, has soften a bit.  While still not on the best of terms, we see that they do love their children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati).  One person they don't care for is Claudia, whom they nicknamed Grannie (Margo Martindale), their minder who has been reassigned.  However, she has to see their latest mission through: that of getting the colonel Elizabeth's operative Sanford (Tim Hopper) to meet with them and provide important papers on the Strategic Defense Initiative (which was later dubbed 'Star Wars' by the press). Elizabeth is still convinced that all this is a trap, especially since Sanford is in prison and the FBI holding him.  FBI agents Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Gaad (Richard Thomas) have him, but they have a bigger trap set for the couple they are looking for. 

Using the bug they now know about, they intent to have some hot information for them, and wait until someone comes to pick it up.  Despite Elizabeth and Philip's misgivings on the Colonel, they make plans in case it is a trap.  One of them will flee with the children to Canada, while the other faces the music.  After a lot of discussion Elizabeth makes it Philip has to be the one to flee, while she will meet with the colonel.

Grannie meanwhile has her own scores to settle, but not with Elizabeth for once.  Posing as a slightly muddled sweet old lady, she manages to get CIA Director for Soviet Planning Richard Patterson to let her into his apartment.  After all, what harm could a little old lady do, right?  To Patterson's total shock, she paralyzes him and coldly informs Patterson that she and Zhukov had been lovers, having met in Stalingrad during the war, before coldly slitting his throat. 

A woman is not to be denied.

Despite Elizabeth's plans Philip has left early and left a note telling her she should leave with the children while he takes the meeting with the Colonel.  In turn, Elizabeth will collect the information from the Weinberger bug.  Nina (Annet Mahendru), who will be kept on in the Rezidentura, alerts the Soviets that the FBI knows something, but thinking it involves the Colonel, they send an urgent message to abort the meeting.  However, when Claudia gets the signal and interrupts, both she and Philip are puzzled as to why the FBI hasn't already come out after them.  Immediately they realize this isn't the trap, but that it's the one Elizabeth is going to.  Philip races to stop her, collecting her as she is within sight of Beeman, who while immediately realizing this is the same couple that kidnapped Patterson is completely unaware they are his neighbors/friends.  The FBI attempts furiously to stop them, but Philip's insane driving has them escape.  Elizabeth, however, is hit and is rushed to a safe house.  As she hovers between life and death, Elizabeth finally breaks down, telling Philip in Russian, "Come home".  Philip gives Paige and Henry (who have been staying with the Beemans while waiting for their parents) a cover story about Elizabeth having to care for an aunt who has taken a hard fall and staying with her while she recovers.

At long last with The Colonel we find that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have indeed formed a bond that neither of them intended.  We see in Russell's performance just how much she loves Philip, for in those simple words Elizabeth says so much.  The fact that she reverted to their native language and the fact that she meant it gives this such a powerful undertone of love and forgiveness. 

I also have to hold up Martindale for her performance.  She uses Grannie as a more complex figure, who is in many ways like Elizabeth: devoted to The Cause but who in this one case, like her frenemy, opts to enact a cruel revenge for her lost love.  She still is outwardly the pleasant figure of innocence, but within her is a cold and ruthless persona.  Elizabeth and Claudia are so much alike, with the exception that Grannie does not have children or a husband to bond with (as far as we know and certainly not in America). 

The Colonel is also thrilling in that it is completely cat-and-mouse, and Joel Fields and The Americans creator Joe Weisberg put the viewer one step ahead of the characters.  WE know what they don't, and the pleasure comes from the tension of when THEY will learn.  There is action (Elizabeth's rescue in particular being a highpoint), but within all that there is a true human core to all the proceedings, which makes both The Colonel and The Americans such a great experience.

The Colonel balances the emotions, particularly with regards to parental feelings over children, with the thrills of a good espionage story.  As a season finale, it closes a lot of storylines, gives us a few more (Paige's growing suspicion about her parents in particular) and has a great mix of action and emotion.


Season One Overview

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