The Americans: Safe House, review

Russian Spies, parents, families... just your typical day on The Americans.

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The Americans isn’t just a show about two separate groups of operatives — FBI and KGB — but two separate families as we watch the slow-motion deterioration of possibly both the Beeman and Jennings marriages. We’re also getting an answer as to when an agent would be motivated to go “extrajudicial”. Hint: Its for good reason.Like any great post-Sopranos action show the secret sauce is that you mix your physical violence with your emotional violence. Breaking Bad, as another example, works because it’s not just Walt and the meth but Walt and his family. Same difference here.So we start out this episode with our Russian spy parents giving their kids “the talk” about what looks to be a trial separation. The daughter, who the mother suspected of being weak, seems to be handling it better than the son. Here’s a secret confession: The writer is someone who tends to stay away from the kind of deep emotional attachments that are portrayed here. In fact, the marriage and relationship stuff is actually more painful and disturbing to me than the physical violence. I also agree with the daughter that its “mom’s fault”. Women really determine where or if relationships go on and whether they end. Our first scene before the beginning credits roll (I wish FX would run those credits on Youtube…) is a sad and dejected Philip packing his bags and leaving the house.
This week’s plotline goes like this(*spoiler alerts*):
The FBI badly wants revenge for the two agents and one scientist that the Russians killed — somewhat accidentally it turns out because they had reversed the order — in last weeks thrilling episode. And apparently what better place to plot revenge and murder than at Stan Beeman’s house party, attended nonchalantly by the Jennings couple. Just because you’re separated doesn’t mean you can’t be sociable and figure out who all the FBI spies are over some beers and hot dogs. Here we learn that the FBI head guy — played by John Boy or that guy from that awful soapy show The Waltons where nobody ever got divorced probably — wants to kill a KGB agent in retaliation. I guess the FBI believes in the Chicago Way.But admirably Beeman wants out. He won’t do anything “extrajudicial”.Meanwhile Philip, who has a nice job option in that he can fuck anyone he wants as long as its work related, starts screwing the somewhat clueless FBI secretary (named Martha Hanson and perhaps a nod to Robert Hanssen noted FBI traitor…) who he’s been pumping for information so to speak. We’re not sure if its only because he wants to get information or if he has no place else to go. Usually when there’s a sex scene on the cable its supposed to be, you know, mildly thrilling. But you look into Philip’s eyes and you get that going through the motions look. As if you can hear “The things I do for the Motherland…” going through his head or this is a definite step down from banging Keri Russell. He decides to stay over because, hey… where else does he have to go? The only thing I can’t figure out is how he wears his contacts at night. I thought you had to take those old contacts out but then wouldn’t she know his real eye color? How does his blonde wig stay on during all that rough sex? Anyway, Philip finds out that they’re planning to kill a KGB agent. So he hustles out after she leaves for work and tries to warn the bosses at the embassy. He then runs into FBI agent Chris Amador, who used to be Martha’s old flame. Again, we’re not sure if he’s worried about secrets or if he just wants to bust the chops of someone who’s dating his ex. I’m just not sure. So a fight ensues and being that this isn’t any other American TV show the Russian guy wins (Have you ever seen Spetznaz training?). Amador gets stabbed with his own knife and gets taken to another “Safe House” to be interrogated and tortured.The FBI and Beeman figure out that Amador may have been taken even though it was really just an accident and just business. We’re also treated to a number of touching flashback scenes where the Bro Love — completely heterosexual and manly bro love mind you — between the partners is illustrated. Beeman is so pissed off that he takes his partner’s place in the “extrajudicial” activity of murdering or capturing a Russian agent. But the guy they’re after doesn’t show. It’s another Russian. Beeman captures him anyway in the hopes of a trade. By the way, this happens all the time where assets are traded. I mean it’s a lot of work developing those assets. They’re not easily replaceable. That’s exactly what happened to the Anna Chapman Russian spy ring. They were sent back to Russia in exchange for four of our own operatives.Now, most American shows give you a nice happy ending. The USA channel’s “Blue Sky” shows (because we see so much blue sky) like Burn Notice or their other spy show might feature a key character getting kidnapped but rest assured unless its the season finale they’ll probably make it back in one piece. But the FX lineup is just a lot darker. Amador dies on a bed like most of us would if we were stabbed in the field and treated by Russians who only knew first aid. Now earlier Beeman threatened their captured Russian’s life if something happened to his partner. I kind of thought he would let him go. I was wrong. Beeman goes the hardcore “extra-judicial”. Disturbing even in an era full of disturbingly violent television. But riveting drama.The other nice touches on the show were as usual the little things that tell you that we’re living in the 80s. We see an old fashioned answering machine in Amador’s apartment. I think that’s the one with cassettes. We watch the son playing with a Rubik’s cube. We see Beeman staging his flashback scene in a video game parlor long before video games could be taken home. I think I heard Asteroids in the background (or was it Space Invaders). I know it wasn’t Ms. Pacman because I spent hours playing that game…The other intriguing question about the show since it was created by a former CIA operative: did any of this stuff actually happen?
We live in a scary world if it did.

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