On FX's new drama The Americans, two Russian spies move to the United States, start a family and spy on — you guessed it — America. Welcome to the height of the Cold War, an era when Americans lived in constant fear that the Russians could get the upper hand. The cleverness of The Americans is that the show actually gets you rooting for the bad guys. That's because, deep down, the series is a family drama — this just isn't your conventional family.
Brothers & Sisters' Matthew Rhys portrays the patriarch, Phillip Jennings, while Felicity's Keri Russell plays his reluctant wife Elizabeth. Recruited by the KGB at a young age, Phillip and Elizabeth were paired together and sent off to America to pose as a couple. But after several years of deep cover — which includes raising two American-born children who are completely unaware of their parents' secret — Phillip has begun to have second thoughts about their mission and what it ultimately might cost them. But those are feelings his wife does not share.
"When we meet Phillip, he's at an incredible time of transition in his life," Rhys tells TVGuide.com. "He realizes there's an expiry date on the life they're living and if it does come to end, it means his children will be in a home and they'll be in prison. He wants to safeguard and secure their future. His emotions for his wife have started to change for the real and he wants to take her with him and secure the kids' lives."
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Elizabeth remains dedicated to serving her country at any and all costs. "Phillip, on paper, is the more relatable one by far," Russell says. "He's the one who feels things. He loves his wife. I think she's all jammed up emotionally. She's such a good soldier and she's going to do the right thing and compartmentalize everything."
If you ignore the spy aspects of the storyline for just a moment, Russell says, "It really feels, at its best, like a metaphor on marriage. I know they're fighting about the politics of these giant countries, but really, at the root of it, there are these two people trying to be in a relationship and being at odds with each other."
Of course, this isn't a conventional marriage either. "They're allowed to sleep with other people. They have to be good at sleeping with other people and lying is a part of their job," Russell notes. "To me, the interesting thing is the marriage and being able to watch that unfold and get messy."
Adding a wrinkle to everything is something neither spy could've foreseen: In the premiere (Wednesday at 10/9c, FX), counter-intelligence FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) moves in across the street. With Phillip's wavering feelings about defection, Stan's proximity could cause quite a problem. "That threat will be ever-present," Russell says, noting that Phillip will actually befriend Stan in upcoming episodes. Adds Rhys: "You'll see him working Stan for the old adage that you keep your enemies close. I think he's going to use that to his full advantage."
Ultimately, the end of their story is already written. (News flash: the Soviet Union fell.) But that's doesn't mean we won't see the Russians come close to realizing their dreams — especially once President Ronald Reagan is shot early on in the series. "Once Regan gets shot, everything is heightened enormously because there's the threat of nuclear war," Russell says. "I think we, as Americans, didn't realize how close it actually came."
The Americans premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on FX.