Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Americans: The Walk In Review


The Truth About Our Parents...

Few if any programs really balance the work and family lives of their characters, and it seems bizarre that the most accurate portrayal of the American family comes from a program where sleeper Soviet agents are our protagonists.  The Walk In keeps the focus on the curious domestic aspects of The Americans, putting the growing curiosity of the daughter and the tragedy of the Jennings' fellow spy's unknowing son into the evolving storyline of how work affects the family. 

Still reeling from the death of the Connors, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) remembers a promise she made to her fellow KGB agent Leanne (Natalie Gold) to deliver a letter to her son, Jared (Owen Campbell) telling him the truth about who his parents really were.  She is determined to honor that promise, over Philip's (Matthew Rhys) objections.  They, however, have work to do: investigate the new C & C cylindrical grinder that the U.S. is creating for their military.  As part of that investigation, they come across Derek (Dave T. Koenig), an employee whose suspicious of these 'officials'.  Without overtly threatening him, Elizabeth gets the information she wants, and also takes something else: a photo of Derek's youngest son, Danny.  He had shown her the pictures of his three sons, as calmly but with fear in his voice and face telling her they expected him for dinner that night.

Meanwhile, Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor), Philip and Elizabeth's daughter, goes to find that mysterious "Aunt Helen" that Elizabeth went to care for.  To her surprise, Helen DOES exist (Kathleen Chalfant) but at first says that Paige is "Shelley".  Later, "Aunt Helen" calls Philip, telling him Paige had come and visited.  On her way to Aunt Helen's house, Paige had met Kelly (Lizzy DeClement) on the bus and they became fast friends.  Philip makes his anger known about Paige's activities to her.   After visiting a still devastated Jared, Elizabeth decides to burn the letter instead.

Finally, in a minor subplot, Dameran (Erik Jensen), the titular walk-in, is an assassin who plans to kill representatives coming to a World Bank meeting.  FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) tracks him down and kills him, then later hops into bed with double agent Nina (Annet Mahendru) and tells her he loves her.  That, along with their tryst, goes dutifully into her report, while her Rezidentura co-worker Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin), continues to flirt with her.

After all the spying and bed-hopping, at the heart of The Walk In's brilliance is in the family dynamic.  Everywhere we turn, it isn't the intricacies of espionage that are the threats.  It's the domestic side.  There's Elizabeth's fears for her children and the agony of seeing Jared so tormented with the idea that if he had skipped going to the hotel pool (which Leanne had asked him to) his parents MIGHT have been alive.  There's Paige's growing suspicion that her parents are not telling her the truth, especially about her 'family'.  Stan has little concern that his extramarital affair is more than threatening his career.  Derek is faced with the real prospect of leaving his sons orphans. 

Every place we look at, it is the fears and hopes for the characters families that drives them more than loyalty to their particular country.  Even the squabbling the Jennings have about their decision early on not to associate with others now has repercussions.  Neither Philip or Elizabeth ever entertained the idea that Paige and Henry might find out who they really are, or that Paige and Henry themselves might be in danger.  Now with Paige getting more and more curious, the Jennings might find they have a new cause for concern other than the FBI.

Taylor is the standout in The Walk In, as we see Paige go from mere teenager to trying to make sense of all these various threads presented to her.  It looks like her investigations will be a growing storyline for Season Two, and we get a great preview here.  Taylor has great scenes that capture the evolution of her character, the scenes with her new friend Kelly being a highlight.  This being The Americans, I immediately began to wonder whether Kelly just happened to be there, or is part of the KGB itself.  It makes for great speculation.

Russell continues to shine as Elizabeth.  She and Koenig have a great interplay as Elizabeth never overtly threatens Derek, but everyone knows that Derek is in danger.  As threatening as Elizabeth is, we also see that she is highly conflicted about Jared. She masquerades as a child advocate to gain entry to Jared's temporary home, and seeing him collapse again at his guilt and agony breaks your heart, as does Elizabeth's understanding that revealing the truth about his parents would be something from which he probably will never recover from, if he barely recovers from this.  Campbell gives a brilliant performance as Jared, and seeing him and Russell together creates an impactful scene.

About the only thing in The Walk In that doesn't work is the actual 'walk in'. Unless that was a set-up for a greater storyline, getting the guy who wanted to betray his country killed the next episode does seem a bit of a time-waster.  Furthermore, what's all that rambling about Ronald Reagan not caring?  Who are you with: Occupy Wall Street?

Minus that, The Walk In had a great set of performances and hopefully sets things up for a great season.

So tell me how your day went, Paige.
Do any good spying like your Mom & Dad?


Next Episode: A Little Night Music

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