Since the first time we heard J.J. Abrams describe the way he came up with the idea for "Alias" -- he imagined what Felicity, the titular character in that other female-centric TV series he'd created, would be like as a spy -- it's been impossible to shake the hope that that idea, specifically, would come to fruition, with "Felicity" star Keri Russell kicking some serious bad-guy booty.
And now, thanks to FX, the network with the most reliable habit of introducing the next show we'll get hooked on, it has. Because in the series premiere of "The Americans," Keri Russell, as undercover KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings, does seriously, and literally, kick a bad guy's, well, head.
But we're jumping ahead.
Elizabeth and her husband, Phillip, are Russian spies who have been posing as an American couple -- theirs was a marriage arranged by the KGB -- for 15 years. When we meet them, they have two children, a house in the 'burbs and a whole slew of deadly skills and weapons stashed around their house.
It's also the height of the Cold War, as Ronald Reagan has just been elected, and he's most definitely got his dander up about their kind: undercover Russian agents who are integrating themselves into American society.
The premiere opens with Elizabeth flirting with a bragging U.S. government official at a bar. With Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart" as the soundtrack, she entices him back to his room, where she, ahem, gets down to the business of getting him to 'fess up some information she wants.
Info procured, in the next scene she's running out to her car, where she meets up with two men who, after an impressive display of hand-to-hand and hand-to-knife combat skills, kidnap another man and throw him into Elizabeth's car.
The two guys: KGB spies. The one with the combat skills: Phillip Jennings. And the man they've stuffed into the Oldsmobile: a KGB spy who's defected, and who the Jenningses and their pal are trying to keep away from the U.S. government.
And yes, Elizabeth is a married woman, and yes, as a KGB operative, she often has to engage in the extracurricular dance with no pants (and other activities in which pants are most definitely optional). This is not the casual behavior she pretends it is; as we're going to soon learn, her heart has been hardened by a shocking event in her past, one that's about to come full circle.
Keri Russell on playing Elizabeth Jennings:
But again, we're jumping ahead.
With Captain Traitor in the car, but their KGB cohort injured in the grab and in need of hospital care, Elizabeth and Phillip miss the handoff and have to hide the cap'n in the trunk.
The next day, while their clueless children eat breakfast and prepare to head out for the day, a mom jeans-wearing Elizabeth plots with Phillip to drop a secret message to their superiors that they have the cap'n in their possession. Though he's trussed up in the Olds, Elizabeth adds that she's going to stay home for the day to make sure he remains secure.
With her family out of the house, she heads into the garage, and, hands about to open the trunk, flashes back to 1960 Russia and a combat-training session.
Elizabeth was showing herself to be quite skilled while being trained by a superior who was clearly her mentor and fond of her. Mid-session, a man walked in, a man addressed by the trainer as "Captain," and the Captain's smug look was enough to suggest that he was trouble. But the hesitation with which Elizabeth's trainer handed her over to the Captain was downright creepy. A few cheap shots later, the Captain threw Elizabeth to the ground, pinned her arm behind her back, and raped her.
Flashback over, we're back in 1981 D.C., and as Elizabeth opens the trunk of the Olds, she looks into the face of evil, and with a fury so strong that she's shaking, she asks the man in the car, "Remember me, Captain?"
She'll deal with him later.
Back to her other life, as suburban mom. Elizabeth and Phillip are in the kitchen discussing what they're going to do with their trunk package before they go off for ice cream with the kids.
Fun aside, which we need as a diversion right now because we're still really traumatized about what that guy did to Felicity: The name of their local ice cream hut is the Tastee Freez, and yes, we know that John Cougar didn't release "Jack & Diane" until 1982, and maybe the writers didn't intend to make us think of that song when they decided to use that name, but we did, and now it's stuck in our head, but we're thinking it's now "a little ditty about Elizabeth and Phillip," even though there are too many syllables in their names to make it fit.
Anyhoo, the ice cream outing does serve as more than a reminder of how lame John Cougar Mellencamp's name game was. It also gives us a look at the Jennings family dynamics, when Phillip plays a silly game with the kids while Elizabeth sits there, distracted, obviously, by the Captain in the trunk but also somewhat detached from her family unit in a way that Phillip isn't.
Phillip, who also reveals during ice cream time that the family business is a travel agency, shows that he is very comfortable with his role as a dad, and through a subtle gesture in which he wipes a smidgen of ice cream from Elizabeth's nose, with his role as Elizabeth's husband. Her flinch in response to his touch and lack of humor about the family silliness tie in to that Quarterflash song and show that her commitment to being a KGB agent is her main motivator in participating in this arranged life.
Matthew Rhys on playing Phillip Jennings:
After hubby drives the fam home from the Tastee Freeze, he scoots off, bag of disguises in hand, to pose as a federal agent who's providing security for the security, in this instance the FBI. Phillip interviews the secretary of an FBI honcho, and under that pretense, he gets the scoop on what the U.S. government knows about the kidnapping of the Captain.
Once back at home, Phillip is locking up his disguise supplies when he comes across the tape that Elizabeth made while interrosexing that dude from the bar. His pained look while listening to her antics again reveals that he sees his marriage as more than a ruse, though a slight smile creeps across his face when he realizes that she's being very specifically manipulative with her sexual choices.
He shares with Elizabeth what he found out during his surveillance trip and that the result is that they're stuck with the Captain for a while longer. She suggests they just kill him, which puzzles Phillip. Aha! He doesn't know what the Captain did to Elizabeth. Yet.
Phillip also, half-jokingly, offers to Elizabeth the possibility that they could defect themselves. The Captain, while trying to persuade Phillip to free him, said the U.S. government would be willing to pay him millions if he and his wife defected. Phillip tells Elizabeth that it would solve all their problems … money, their family would be secure, they wouldn't have to live with the constant fear of being caught by the American government. Her response: She rolls over in their bed, away from him.