Monday, June 02, 2014

Penny Thoughts ’14—The Americans, season 2 (2014) ****

TV-MA, 13 50 min. episodes
Creator: Joseph Weisberg

Directors: Thomas Schlamme, Daniel Sackheim, Constantine Makris, Lodge Kerrigan, Dan Attias, Charlotte Sieling, Kevin Dowling, John Dahl, Alik Sakharov, Stefan Schwartz, Gregory Hoblit, Andrew Bernstein

Writers: Joseph Weisberg, Joel Fields, Stu Zicherman, Stephen Schiff, Angelina Burnett, Melissa James Gibson, Joshua Brand, Peter Ackerman, Tracey Scott Wilson, Oliver North

Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner, Alison Wright, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Richard Thomas, Lev Gorn, Costa Ronin

Guest starring: Jeremy Davidson, Natalie Gold, Tim Hopper, John Carroll Lynch, Aimee Carrero, Erik Jensen, Anthony Arkin, Kathleen Chalfant, Owen Campbell, Michael Aronov, Jefferson White, Cliff Marc Simon, Cotter Smith, John Bedford Lloyd, Wrenn Schmidt, Lee Tergesen, Nick Bailey, Jeffrey Cantor, Reg Rogers, Kelly AuCoin, Gillian Alexy, Rahul Khanna, Zeljko Ivanek, Margo Martindale

FX’s “The Americans” continues to impress in its second season. Gone are the rough patches of trying to hold together a fake marriage while working deep undercover as Russian sleeper agents in the early 80s. The parents of the Jennings household are now a unified front. The trick is becoming keeping that front for their children.

The season cleverly begins with a glimpse at another Russian sleeper agent family with children about the same age. The Jennings have worked with this family before and neither set of parents can help being parents and wondering about each other’s children. However, the other family is suddenly killed in a hotel room with only their boy surviving by fortuitously being at the pool at the time of the murders. This murder will haunt the entire season and provide a shocking payoff for the season finale, which will greatly impact the Jennings going into season three.

We also get a great deal of uncomfortable deaths and relationships that are not what they seem, a great deal of wigs, some tricky double agentry by the once vulnerable Nina, assassinations, topical references to everything eighties, including another impressive soundtrack for the season. This show still has it all. It’s hard to express how satisfying this program is.

I particularly liked the way the façade of what the Russian agents have established is revealed to be much more fragile than it at first seems. More than last season it’s easy to see how close these people are to exposure. When an Army sadist is able to breakdown most of the safeguards surrounding the Jennings, it becomes clear that all you need is one key element to break their codes of conduct. The CIA is only missing that small bit of interaction, however minute, to catch the sleeper agents that live in their very own neighborhood. Rarely can a show keep these levels of tension with what appears to be almost no effort.

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