The Americans Watch: Episode 2 - The Clock

The big flaw thus far with The Americans is that we still don't have enough background on Philip and Elizabeth; when we watch them do things that are fairly terrible, it's hard, at this point, to be sympathetic. All it does is distance us from them, which isn't a great place to be at two episodes into the series.

Where last episode began with Elizabeth using sex to get what she wanted, this time we get Philip screwing his way into some intelligence; he beds a secretly smart "dumb blonde" to gain information about her husband, a higher-up in the department of defense. We get it, people. Sex is a powerful intelligence-gathering tool, and these people have an intimacy problem because of how sex is weaponized. It still comes across as a little cheap. And Elizabeth seems mostly cool with it...and Philip tries to pass as a "Swedish" spy, and is pretty unconvincing to us, at least.

Anyway, it's all to gain information on a meetup between US and UK defense leadership, and Philip and Elizabeth are almost off-puttingly ruthless. Elizabeth poisons a teenage boy (via umbrella, which apparently actually happened at one point, historically--those Russians are wacky), whose mother is the maid of the defense secretary. The maid then gets conscripted into bug-planting service if her son is to survive.

The problem, though, is that the maid is incredibly devout and god-fearing, which leads to some sort-of-interesting parallels between the "godless" communists and her faith, and how morality can and can't play into their lives in the absence of religion. Her brother tries to get the antidote via physical violence, but that ends poorly for him. Not quite as poorly, though, as Philip's terrible fake facial hair.

Anyway, it all ends happily--the bugged clock is planted, the boy survives, the KGB gets what they want via the defense talks.

Meanwhile, FBI man next-door Stan don't seem to be on the trail of the spies next door; they spend the episode using an illegal caviar ring (what?) to blackmail a Soviet embassy worker into becoming an informant. Nothing really to do with the A-plot of the episode, but at least we see how the (actual) Americans work their spy magic, versus our Russian friends.

All in all, this episode seemed to go for high stakes that didn't quite pay off, as we're too early in. Elizabeth makes it quite clear that if the maid blew their cover, she'd kill herself; we're less sure about Phillip, who drowns his sorrows in outdoor hockey. We get a nice mom-daughter moment at the end where Elizabeth pierces Paige's ears; it's both homey and kind of violent, which I guess is a theme of this show.

In the next couple weeks, something has to happen to a) make me really care about this family, and b) make me fear for their cover being blown. Everything feels a little disconnected right now. But one well-written episode could change all that.

So, what did you think?