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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

On Television (2) - The Americans, series three

The sinewy narrative that winds through series three of The Americans, a cable television series masterminded by Joe Weisberg, doesn't lead very far. It's almost as if this year's contribution put the series into a holding pattern while the creators went off to think of a slam bang finale that might coincide with the arrival of Bill Clinton in the White House. Key characters are re-positioned for what you assume will be some of the  action and excitement of series one and two. Tantalising plot elements develop with such small steps that its all you can do to speculate. Nina Sergeyeevena, formerly embedded in the Rezidentura in Washington, shagging both a KGB and an FBI agent and giving both the impression of love, is so far away from the action, being cooped up on a Siberian research institute attempting to make a kidnapped Jewish scientist work harder towards cracking the specifications of America's stealth bomber. The strand is far out of the mainstream story line except for the fact that Nina's name keeps being mentioned by FBI Agent Stan Beeman as a possible trade for a captured Soviet agent.

Maybe start from the start. The Americans  is posited on the idea, no doubt beloved of the spook fraternity in the USA that back in the 70s and on into the 80s, the Russians trained and then planted  a network of sleeper spies in deep cover eventually to be activated and to work as ruthlessly efficient operatives in the service of the Soviet Union. Notwithstanding their youth, these operatives were ruthlessly efficient killing machines, able to draw on a panoply of physical skills and spy craft to bamboozle their pursuers and wreak havoc with the minds and the structures of the American internal security system. Now spy story aficionados know that the peculiar pleasure of the genre lies in seeing or reading the details - the application of tradecraft, those deliciously brilliant acts of deception that spies can employ to outsmart their opposition or competition. Simple things quite often and if you read for instance John Le Carre's The Secret Pilgrim  you can get an idea of the particular pleasure that spies have in outsmarting others. 

Joe Weisberg, who is the brains behind The Americans is a former CIA employee and no doubt would claim to have seen more than a little front line action. his storylines revel in employing it in a series that is high on narrow escapes, improbable deceptions and endless disguise. Endless! The person who creates the wigs for the series deserves special credit because the young Soviet infiltrators routinely adopt anything up to half a dozen personas per ep, each designated by a hairy wig with an 80s hairstyle.We recognise them but nobody else does. In the small world of Washington DC its hard to believe that nobody ever runs into persons in the wrong place in the wrong disguise but there you are.

As per usual with 13 ep seasons, and 9 hours or so of drama, much attention is devoted to characters and tangling up their personal webs. It's probably over-coincidental that the Soviet agents find themselves living next door to an FBI agent, that the FBI agent will fall for the Russian agent in the Soviet Embassy and turn her into a double agent, that she in turn will fall for another and so on. The Soviet agents also get away with importuning a secretary at the FBI, frumpish and middle-aged, who plants a pen with a listening device in her Director's office. No doubt Joe Weisberg can give you chapter and verse of just such occurrences. 

There was apparently some doubt about FX renewing for another season but it appears that spy aficionados have won over the network.  Bring on Series four but not till 2016 apparently.

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