Kids – especially pouty teenagers – and TV thrillers generally don’t mix. There has been ample evidence of this, much of it involving the irritated response to the daughters on “Homeland” and before that “24.” Still, “The Americans” appears to have bucked that trend, adding a clever component to its second-season finale that should power the FX drama – a high-wire act, regardless – into its third campaign with a powerful hook.
After nosing around in her parents’ business, and threatening to become her own version of “Homeland’s” Dana Brody, throughout season two, the finale set up a diabolically fiendish scenario (and SPOILER ALERT, needless to say, if you haven’t watched).
The Russian spies living and operating in the U.S., played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, are presented with a terrible choice: Turn their daughter (Holly Taylor) into a second-generation spy, and bring her in on the family secret, or risk facing the wrath of their Soviet handlers.
At first, the parents’ horror at the prospect suggests it will never happen. Despite all they have done, the two have gone to great (and at times narratively absurd) lengths to shield their children from their moonlighting adventures.
In a more thoughtful moment, though, Russell’s character asks whether the girl – obviously seeking something in her dalliance with organized religion – might be seeking something in her life, and whether this, logically, might fill the void.
Either way, the idea of involving their kids, or protecting them, almost instantly creates a huge dramatic arc for the central couple, who at times have felt like supporting players in what’s ostensibly their show. Indeed, the most poignant thread of the just-concluded season involved the Soviet embassy worker Nina (Annet Mahendru, who should come away from the show with plenty of capitalistic opportunities), whose compromised relationship with a FBI agent (Noah Emmerich), and subsequent attempts to redeem herself were as good and morally tough as anything the program has mustered in its two seasons.
Nina’s cruel fate (although one would probably be wise to harbor some skepticism about that, given the Center’s impenetrable nature) underscored the high level of collateral damage the show has amassed, while the cat-and-mouse game in which she participated was motivated by a race to obtain stealth technology that felt true to the show’s Cold War moorings.
Given how intriguing the concept appeared heading into it, “The Americans” hasn’t fully panned out for FX, in terms of either ratings (they’re OK) or prestige (despite its share of media admirers, it’s done without much awards attention); still, the program has a loyal audience to secure another spin toward that inevitable day when the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down, which has kept the longterm outlook for the show somewhat murky.
For now, though, this looming “What about the kids?” plot line leaves the foundation for “The Americans” heading into its third season looking pretty damn solid – and perhaps even overcoming the dreaded teen-daughter curse.
For that alone, the producers deserve to break out the vodka. Well done, comrades.