The premise of The Americans is simple. Set during the Cold War, two sleeper KGB agents move to America to pose as a travel-brochure-ideal American family (two kids, nice suburban home with a white picket fence) only for their mission to be complicated when an FBI agent moves in across the street.
But what sets it apart is the ability to take aspects of a taut espionage thriller – covert handoffs, seedy assassinations, bugged government offices and natty wigs all make a comeback – and blend them with a complex domestic drama for an inextricably gripping mixture that has only become more so with “Comrades”, which kicked-off season two on ITV last night.
It’s seems that the writers are keen to remind us just how absorbing this mixture can be as we see how the inherent paranoia that comes with being an enemy spy in a foreign land can seep into family life. Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is on edge after her near-fatal shooting last season, checking all windows and doors are locked and watching breathlessly every time a car makes a pass of the house. There’s even a literal deer caught in the headlights just to ram home the metaphor.
Meanwhile Paige is sifting through her mother’s dirty laundry looking for clues and staying-up late to fret over her parents whereabouts (this ends when she walks in on her parents in a, ahem, compromising position, which is never good, no matter how cute Flora make it appear).
Yet it’s not just the Jenningses who are struggling to keep their professional and private lives separate. FBI agent Stan Beeman may be trying hard to repair his broken marriage, but he still continues his safe-house trysts with Nina, the beautiful Russian Embassy worker, as both try to ply each other for information while hiding their true affection for one another. The blurred lines between these relationships is laid bare when Stan takes his wife to see a movie that he had previously watched with Nina on a pirate VHS tape (one of the many period pieces subtle placed throughout the season).
Naturally, the Jennings’s fragile boundaries between their professional and personal lives come crashing down in a tense finale when Philip is forced to carry out a risky hand-off during a family outing. Philip makes it clear to the Emmett that he’s uncomfortable bringing his son along to the exchange and putting his family so close to danger. It’s a fear that, it transpires, is entirely justified when he finds Emmett and his family coldly murdered in their hotel room. The moment Emmett’s son finds his family and collapses in a fit of screams acts as a painful reminder to Phil of the fate that could so easily befall his own son.
Considering Paige’s increasing suspicion of her parents activities and the fact that the FBI appear to be getting closer to the Jenningses now they’re investigating the deaths of two Afghan men that Philip clumsily dispatched early on, it appears the main focus of season two will be how the tension of working for the KGB impacts the Jennings’s wider family unit rather than just their marriage. It will be interesting to see how Philip and Elizabeth react as their secret comes closer to being revealed, and my hunch is that the family will be pulled apart before the season ends. One thing is certain, though: The Americans just keeps getting better and better.
Click here to watch the trailer for The Americans