The Americans Ep 1.03 ‘Gregory’ is smaller in scope, but bigger in heart

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the americans ep3

The Americans, Season 1, Episode 3: “Gregory”
Directed by Thomas Schlamme
Written by Joel Fields
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX

There’s a noticeable downshift in the pace of “Gregory,” relieving some of the tension behind the episode’s mission by keeping the FBI at arm’s length throughout. A smart move that gives the show time to relax into the two main characters a bit more (as well as highlight their terrific performances), ‘Gregory’ is a bit neater than The Americans’s first two episodes, but hardly a step down in quality.

At the heart of the episode are two secret marriages: one we’ve known about (Elizabeth and Phillip), and one that becomes the focal point of the episode. The KGB agent who died on the mission in the opening scenes of the pilot turns out to have a secret wife and child living in Philadelphia, and both the KGB and FBI catch wind of this at the same time. At the risk of being exposed, Elizabeth and Phillip reach out to a contact, a man named Gregory (and played by Derek Luke, who I haven’t seen in awhile), who Elizabeth once had a little on-the-side action with.

But this isn’t a romance thrown in the script for ancillary reasons: Joyce and her daughter’s fate paints a very stark picture for both members of the Jennings marriage as to what happens when a relationship is based on a fundamental (and deadly) lie. Phillip isn’t really hurt that she was having an affair: what hurt him was the emotional betrayal, not the physical one. She went to him because she shared a connection with him, a relationship that grew organically, not arranged with fake names and American accents. Like she says, making him a contact was simple, because he didn’t want anything but her. He was passionate about her – and for a girl who gave up her innocence at a young age, finding a real connection in a life full of lies held an important meaning for her.

It speaks to the fantastic writing on the show that this isn’t just scandalous sex (or a dramatic lack thereof). Elizabeth’s attachment comes out of a fundamental flaw in their marriage: they never got a chance to fall in love, to develop a passion and understanding for one another. Forced together like that and given new identities in a strange country, Phillip and Elizabeth probably felt more alone in America than when they were training in whatever cold hole of Russia they were living in. But as the world around them gets more dangerous, Elizabeth and Phillip find themselves clinging to each other more and more – and naturally, it’s bringing them closer to developing something real out of their marriage, although it’s proving anything but simple. It’s quite easy to make a big knot out of a long shoelace, but undoing those knots and frayed pieces of fabric takes a lot of work.

The overall plot isn’t advanced much in “‘Gregory” – outside of introducing Granny, Elizabeth and Phillip’s new KGB contact in town, the focus is on Robert’s wife, and the fallout of Gregory’s fling with Elizabeth. But a smaller scope does the episode well, slowing down the breakneck pace of the first two hours for some great character moments. It’s hard to rain universal praise on a show in its third episode, but The Americans is quickly establishing itself as both a spy thriller, and an intelligent, layered character study.

Other thoughts/observations:

– Simon Howell did such a good job with the first two reviews, he’s been called home to the mother land for a promotion and new assignment, so I’ll be covering the show through the rest of the season.

– Paige’s magazine has an article with 15 great after-gym hairstyles – a definite must-read.

– The racquetball scene that opens the episode is great: Stan is a sharp agent, and if Phillip “makes a mistake,” he’s definitely not going to miss out.

– “I warned them. Twice.”

– LASER TECHNOLOGIES.

– I love all the goofy 80’s technology on the show, but the massive “hidden” ear pieces take the cake.

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