The Americans Watch: Episode 3, Gregory

FX seems to be trying to corner the market in a certain type of show; it’s like they’re going for a weird sort of gritty that doesn’t quite have the clout or the seriousness of something you’d find on HBO or AMC. It’s a good thing that I dig it, then; The Americans is growing on me, week by week. With “Gregory,” we start to see where this show might be headed. It crystalizes some of the problems of the last two weeks—namely, the fact that the Jennings were juuuuuuust on the border of being considered unlikable at best and sociopathic villains at worst—and starts to give us a glimpse of what we could consider the first season’s major arc.

The Jennings receive a coded message via newspaper ad (this is both laughable and apparently true-to-form as far as how spies used to operate) and travel to Philadelphia, where we meet the secret wife of Robert (their buddy who got stabbed and killed in the premiere), who also bore his child. Friendly neighborhood FBI guy Stan picks up on the same info, and leads a team to Philly.

So, let’s get this out of the way right now—the Philly scenes are clearly not shot in Philly, and someone didn’t even care enough to even pretend. It’s definitely Queens, going by the street signs, and my God, we Philadelphians would kill to have that kind of awesome above-ground rail transit.

This brings us to the titular Gregory, a lover of Elizabeth’s she met at a MLK rally (…what) shortly after arriving in America, and he seems to be totally invested in their cause. It seems to be pretty serious and open and honest, as he clearly has the hots for her but she looks to actually, for perhaps the first time, be working on her relationship with Philip. That’s how you really seal the deal on Valentine’s Day, boys: kill your pretend wife’s rapist, and have a little sex to some Phil Collins, and most relationship problems will just melt away.

I was disappointed to find out that Robert’s wife knows nothing; that could’ve been a fun new dimension to the show. The FBI basically thinks the same thing, or at least Stan does; there’s a lot of federal hemming and hawing about how to handle her. Anyway, in a fun bit of FX cross-casting, Philip runs into Claudia, their new KGB conduit, who is played by Margo Martindale of “Justified.” Robert’s final mission involved information on some sort of anti-missile device, so Philip completes the deal and hands over Robert’s wife and baby. Anyway, she ends up dead, the kid ends up shipped to mother Russia, and that’s that.

The most surprising and developing part of the episode came at the very end, with Elizabeth, suddenly warmer and more emotional, trying to connect with Philip and explain the situation with Gregory and how she may finally be coming to love her fellow sleeper agent. Philip, though, is still stuck in his sole definition of a happy ending, which involves defecting and disappearing with her and the kids. Oh, and I LOVED the opening scene of a racquetball match between Stan and Philip—I want more of this in the show, a cat and mouse game where we don’t know who exactly is holding which cards.

Oh, and something else that made me happy—last night’s episode was directed by Thomas Schlamme, one of the key creators of The West Wing--and it showed. The slow-burn feeling to the episode, the low and tight angles—this isn’t quite Jed Bartlet’s White House, but it felt familiar enough to make me smile.

Next week we get our first bit of Mad Men-style historical intersection, as we watch our heroes deal with the assassination attempt on Reagan. I’m learning to really love this show; here’s hoping we get more of the same next Wednesday.