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TV Review: The Americans – “The Colonel”

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FX draws season one of The Americans to a close with “The Colonel.” Despite reservations by many involved, the KGB orders the meet with The Colonel (Victor Slezak, Treme) to go forward, feeling the valuable intel they expect him to provide is worth the risk. Of course, this not go smoothly.

The Americans has really crafted an entertaining and complex world in this first season. It’s easy to get lost into the cat and mouse spy game of the 1980s in such a richly developed world, and the cast and writers have done an amazing job at making the story accessible. While the season started a bit slow, in my opinion, by this week’s finale, I am firmly a fan.

The central question of this episode, rather or not to meet with The Colonel, is an engaging plot. As the viewer, we are kept at much in the dark about The Colonel’s sincerity as the characters are. We don’t know if they should meet with him, but because every main player is wary, we feel tense at the thought.

Which is why, when The Colonel turns out to be as harmless as the Star Wars program the Russians are seeking information about, it’s a great surprise. Spy shows do a good job delivering nasty twists, but to get an unexpected nice reveal is a treat.

Unfortunately, while The Colonel is harmless, the FBI has still set up a sting to catch the KGB agents. It feels weird to be saying ‘unfortunately’ in that sentence, but The Americans has me rooting for Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell), and as much as I like Stan (Noah Emmerich) on the other side of the equation, I don’t want him to catch them. At least not until the story can move in a direction that lets all three work together.

Phillip actually takes the meeting with The Colonel away from Elizabeth to protect her. Ironic that the mission she is left with, picking up the tape, ends up being the dangerous one. They fail to get their objective, but it’s likely their objective has been tainted anyway.

More importantly, we get to see Phillip play the hero towards Elizabeth, not just in switching her assignments, but in rushing to her rescue when she gets into trouble. Their sham marriage has been rocky, which is a shame, but it’s clear that some affection has grown between the couple in all the years they’ve been together. Phillip’s actions, and Elizabeth’s response to them, asking Phillip to move back home, proves this.

Phillip may have a problem repairing his marriage to Elizabeth, though, since he now also has a second union with Martha (Alison Wright). It’s part of the job, not cheating, thankfully, but Elizabeth doesn’t seem comfortable around Martha, posing as Phillip’s sister, even though she herself sleeps with the enemy in service for her country. One wonders if Elizabeth sees Martha as more of a threat because she is such a fixture in Phillip’s going-ons. Will Martha be a serious obstacle to Elizabeth’s matrimonial bliss?

I don’t think it will be long before Stan catches onto his neighbors’ secret lives. Not only does he already have suspicions of them prior to “The Colonel,” but he is present for what goes down in this season finale, so when Phillip asks him to watch their children when Elizabeth is shot during the chaos, it’s likely to rile his instincts even more.

The thing that might delay Stan’s investigation is his wife, Sandra (Susan Misner, promoted to main cast for season two). She refuses his offer of a vacation this week. If Stan wants his marriage not to fall apart he may have to concentrate a bit more on his home life, rather than his work. This would be good news for Elizabeth and Phillip.

Stan’s life may be complicated even more by Nina (Annet Mahendru), assuming she isn’t shipped back to Moscow. She isn’t in anyone’s good graces, Russian or American, her loyalties torn. She might just disappear between seasons, or she might want revenge on Stan for not helping her get out of the mess with her people. We’ll have to wait and see about her.

The more immediate person close to finding out about them is Paige (Holly Taylor), their daughter. However, even after going into the laundry room where her mother has a hidden compartment in the wall, Paige doesn’t see anything. She has no reason to think that her parents are Russian spies, so she may stay in the dark. But there’s a bit of a fake out this week in regards to her.

I’m anxious to see how the kids will take the news when who their parents are is eventually revealed. They are born and raised in America, taught to hate and distrust the Russians as much as any American kid. Elizabeth, as hard as it might be for her, and less so for Phillip, doesn’t correct this view. I wonder if Paige and her brother, Henry (Keidrich Sellati), will be able to support and love their parents, no matter what?

Another nice reveal we get in “The Colonel” is that Claudia, a.k.a. Granny (Margo Martindale), is a good person who cares about her charges. The way she backs up the KGB’s orders makes her seem cold and stupid. But in a private moment this week, we see that just because she passes down said orders doesn’t mean she agrees with them. She’s a soldier who obeys, but when appropriate, questions, authority. We see how much she looks out for Elizabeth and Philip, which should instantly change many opinions about her.

It’s too bad she is slated to be transferred as this season comes to a close, at Elizabeth’s request. Elizabeth can’t be blamed, as Claudia does appear to be unreasonable when relaying orders. But now, having seen who she really is, fans of The Americans likely won’t want her to leave. She’s become too vital a part of the fabric of the show.

Martindale is in a sitcom pilot, but if we’re lucky, it won’t get picked up. If that happens, The Americans should sign her as a full-time cast member immediately.

The Americans has been renewed for a second season and will return to FX in 2014.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com