In Which Felicity Did It For Her Country
Monday, February 24, 2014 at 11:56AM
Alex in TV, dick cheney, felicity, keri russell

Felicity's Disguise


The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

Keri Russell's face resembles a fluttering parchment. The arch of her back is often speckled with azure. The promotion for her FX show The Americans should have been based around the idea, "Did you ever wonder how Felicity would parent her young children if she were also recruited as an agent for the KGB?" We cannot rule out that Felicity was ever not some agent for a foreign government. We can speculate, but never really know, that her job at Dean & DeLuca allowed her to collect various sundry information, and she did seem to spend a lot of time sitting on her bed talking to important men and Scott Speedman.

On The Americans, Felicity/Keri doesn't just talk anymore. Sex is now a part of her job as a KGB agent, and the information that men give out in the throes of love is always ideal, if not exactly certain. In the first ever scene of the Cold War drama (which begins its second season this Wednesday), Felicity/Keri performs oral on a mark, but it is never discussed again. On Felicity itself, the blow job would have been turned over endlessly. The moral of the story is that there is always a lot more of a grey area in life when a Republican president is in office.

I miss those days.

Keri Russell's husband on The Americans, Philip (Matthew Rhys), is the type of dutiful soldier you would expect her to be married to as part of her cover. Unexpectedly, real love (Real Love™) blossomed for this pair of spies late; the respect a man has for the abilities of his wife is easily confused with affection in many marriages.

Across the street from the Jennings family lives the worst FBI agent in the world, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich). Not only is Beeman letting a hard sex relationship with a KGB informant ruin what was left of his unhappy marriage with his wife, he also allows the two KGB agents operating across the street to leave their kids with him while they go off murdering Americans. Stan is a good man and a capable agent, but he has all the emotional maturity of a komodo dragon.

To be fair, some love relationships are worth the destruction of everything around them. Nina (Annet Mahendru) is a senior lieutenant for the resident at the Soviet Embassy; her collection of unusual underwear exceeds that of any comparable Western woman. We have to cheer as Stan casts aside what is left of his family and old life; a spy must make his own fun in the world.

Reinventing Keri Russell as a spy kind of made sense though. Felicity's main skill was lurking, her secondary skill was lurking ominously. She also vanished if you criticized her or mocked her openly, also true of undercover agents. Keri's two children suspect nothing of their parents' activities, although their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) wonders why her mother is up in the middle of the night so often folding laundry. The Jennings' children appear strangely muted, deprived of something ineffable that can never be reclaimed.

Because the vast majority of The Americans consists of two people quietly meeting in a car and then one person leaving and feeling slighly bereft, it can be difficult to keep track of exactly who is winning on either side of things. Stan Beeman appears to be a rising agent in the Bureau, but he could just easily be the fall guy for a more savvy politician in his organization. The important people are those who actually do the work of their betters, The Americans tries to point out, which is ludicrous on its face.

Both Russell and her husband are meant to be native Russians, recruited for the abilities in English and trained for decades of deep cover. Over time Philip has grown to enjoy living in America, claiming that he understands our latent love of freedom better than his wife. In one episode, he explains to her how he believes that Americans are not really capable of a certain kind of wanton murder more familiar to his own side. She comes around to her husband's way of thinking, and it is only us who are left to wonder at the naivete of killers.

Philip must also maintain a love relationship with the secretary to the head of counter-intelligence in the FBI so he can get information directly from the bureau. It is not so much that the woman is unattractive or lacking in traditional charms, but it is the way she loves the man who probes her for sensitive intelligence in her department that causes us to lose faith. To get her to plant a recorder in her bosses' office, Philip proposes to her by silently drawing the words M-A-R-R-Y M-E on her palm during a covert dinner out of town.

At one point she tremulously, disturbingly asks her fiance, "Is this real?" The expression on his face when he asserts that it is transmits a most disgusting feeling into the hearts of all thinking people.

At some point we begin to loathe everyone involved in this sordid drama, even the innocents who have no knowledge of what the people they claim to love do during their free time. Open war on an enemy is fractured and deadly, but it is also honest. The spy himself is morally complete, since his basic allegiance is concrete. The people he enlists in his schemes are corrupted by him - they are the ones who lose everything, only because they never had anything like the basic devotion to country the spy places above his or her own well-being.

Felicity may have been naive, but she never looked as silly as we do, watching these espionage activities decades later. It is so pathetically easy to forget all that was actually on the line. It is even worse, and a much darker journey, when you start to worry nothing was.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about his vision quest.

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