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After an unintentionally extended blogging break brought about by a combination of comprehensive exams and a lack of quality TV shows worth reviewing, it’s finally time to kick of 2013 with an exciting new show, The Americans. Last week’s premiere was effective and engrossing, and I found myself looking forward to Wednesday to see what would happen next in the lives of “Philip” and “Elizabeth.”

As they were warned last week, this week our favourite suburbanite Socialists find the stakes irrevocably raised. They’re asked to do the impossible – plant a bug in the office of the Secretary of Defense in only 3 days, despite the fact that such an operation would normally take 6 months. The only way they can achieve the impossible is by putting themselves out there, revealing themselves (albeit in disguises primarily made up of yet more wigs) to the Secretary’s maid as they blackmail her into stealing the titular clock by poisoning her son.

What The Americans does so well is blend the human/familial aspect with the cold and calculating world of espionage. Neither Phillip nor Elizabeth enjoy poisoning the innocent son or terrorizing his mother, but they both recognize their actions as a means to an end. Additionally, both are upset about being placed in such a position in the first place largely because they know that getting caught would mean being separated from their children indefinitely. Elizabeth, always the pragmatic one, stays up at night worrying about how her children will react and reveals to Phillip that she has no intentions of being taken alive. Phillip, meanwhile, prefers to sweep it under the rug with a simple “they’ll be fine.” Still, after last week’s flirtation with defection to the other side, this week Phillip shows no inclination to betray Mother Russia. For better or for worse, Phillip and Elizabeth are in it together and they can only hope to continue to stay one step ahead.

While Phillip and Elizabeth are strong-arming the maid, their FBI neighbour Stan and his partner conduct a shakedown of their own. While stealing caviar and shoving speaker foam into a shopkeeper’s mouth pales in comparison to Phillip breaking the maid’s brother’s arm and Elizabeth poisoning her son with an umbrella, the FBI agents reveal that they’re not exactly “good guys.” Whatever the merits of their methods, they get what they wanted – a mole into the soviet office, tantalizingly close to where discussion of Directorate S is going on. I appreciate that this show, while the FBI agents are nominally the antagonists to the Soviet spy protagonists, they’re not portrayed as stupid. It’s easy in these kinds of shows to depict public officials as almost comically inept, but in this case, the FBI agents are already right on the Soviet’s heels. They might be a step behind, but they’re keeping in step.

I’m not sure what to make of Stan’s caviar session with Phillip. Does he still harbour suspicions even though his midnight search of the truck last episode revealed nothing? Or is he just being a nice neighbour? Phillip and Elizabeth continue to be wary of Stan’s true intentions and I’m looking forward to watching their back and forth continue.

Indeed, there’s much to look forward to. The ongoing dynamic of Phillip and Elizabeth’s marriage continues to become more and more complex as we discovered this week that both are using sex to get what they want from various marks, and neither are entirely comfortable with it. Elizabeth continues to struggle to connect with her thoroughly American children, particularly her daughter. I’m not sure how much I would’ve enjoyed my mother waking me up in the middle of the night to pierce my ears, but it served well as a bonding exercise. Finally, I’m not sure how long until this will get old, but I’m quite enjoying the ’80s technology on display – the comically large camera, the need for a giant clock to hide the listening device, and an entire trunk’s worth of space required for its receiver. Not to mention the never-ending array of wigs. I can’t wait to see what new tricks Phillip and Elizabeth break out next week.

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