Most critics are still raving about The Americans ten episodes into its freshman season. I want to be able to share their enthusiasm, but though I still like The Americans, I’m finding it harder to sit through. After the premiere episode, I lobbied the UPROXX guys to let me cover The Americans because I saw so much potential in the pilot. But as we near the season’s end, I feel like it’s never really improved substantially on the opening episode. It’s still missing something, an ingredient that’s keeping it from becoming one of the better dramas on television.
That something is charismatic character like Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones or Walton Goggins in Justified or a Roger Sterling or even the guy who plays Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire. The Americans is weighty and introspective, but it has no sense of fun. It has no heart. It has no crazy, and great dramas need a little crazy, or a memorable character to push them into the top tier. Don’t get me wrong, The Americans is still a good show — and last night’s episode had the heaviest moment of the series so far — but it’s just not as good as a series with Graham Yost in the producer’s seat ought to be.
This week’s episode, “Only You,” picked up where last week’s episode left off: Everyone is reeling from the death of Chris Amador (who, sadly, was the show’s most colorful character). Stan Beeman and the FBI launch into a full-blown investigation into the death while Phillip and Elizabeth work to cover it up. The trail that would eventually lead Beeman to Gregory is a little far-fetched and straight out of the procedural handbook: Amador left his ring in the trunk of Phillip’s car as a clue. The search for that clue would lead Beeman to a salvage yard, where the car was spotted being dropped off. The racist owner of the salvage yard was able to look through mug shots and identify a man that Stan had seen in Philly in a previous episode. That led to his apprehension, and after an interrogation, Gregory was identified as the man behind the death of Amador.
Claudia helped the FBI to draw that incorrect conclusion by planting evidence in Gregory’s house linking him to the death of Amador, and then the episode turned to Gregory, who was all out of options. Honestly, there wasn’t much mystery surrounding his fate. I think we all knew he’d be dead by the end of the episode. Either Phillip would shoot him, or he’d take the deal to go to Russia, and as we saw with the wife of the dead KGB agent earlier in the season, a trip to Russia is apparently a euphemism for a staged drug overdose.
The means of Gregory’s death, however, was a surprise. A couple of crucial scenes between Elizabeth and Gregory helped us to invest emotionally in the character, although those same scenes provided a heavy contrast between how much we had become involved with Gregory after only a few appearances in The Americans and how little we still cared for Phillip and Elizabeth, even after 10 episodes. Thanks to a very resonant and well-placed song at the end of the episode, however, Gregory’s death-by-cop would become the most heart-rending scene of the series so far.
I do wish, however, that we’d gotten to know Gregory better, that we understood more why he would turn on his home country, other than the fact that he was disillusioned with the Civil Rights movement. What was it about communism to Gregory that would inspire him to sacrifice is own life and take out a few police officers on his way out? Or was it really just his infatuation with Elizabeth? What is it about Elizabeth that would elicit such a reaction? She’s proven herself to be, like the show, cold and calculating, a woman who prioritizes the Homeland over everything else. It’s only in the scenes with her children that we feel anything at all for her, and in recent episodes, the children have been reduced to bit players, existing only to heighten the tension between Phillip and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of slack in that tension because the outcome of Elizabeth and Phillip’s relationship is not all that interesting. Will they? Won’t they? Who cares? There’s no passion or chemistry between the two, anyway.
Again, I’m coming down a lot harder on The Americans than perhaps it deserves for being as good as it is. I think the show is exactly what the showrunners want it to be: A superbly acted, high-stakes drama set against the backdrop of the Cold War. It’s an effectively brutal show, just not a fun one. I think the showrunners should’ve thought to add a more charismatic character or two, a clever bad ass we could root for. At this stage in the season, we should feel more for these characters; we should care more about their fates. The most dynamic characters in the series so far (besides Claudia) — Chris and Gregory — have been killed off. Who are we supposed to give a sh*t about now?