The Best of Us, “The Americans,” Might Be Russian…

What’s more important? Figuring out who we serve? Or figuring out whose we are? True […]

Howie Espenshied / 6.11.18

What’s more important? Figuring out who we serve? Or figuring out whose we are?

True confession: I’m not moved much to action or opinion regarding our current political landscape. (This is not a political post; for that to be so, it would presuppose that I much care.) Mid-term primaries in our troubled times don’t interest me. I may or may not have cared to vote this past Tuesday here in Georgia. I deeply appreciate freedom, but it has never been my highest value. Proud of my country? Yes. Do I root for America in the World Cup and the Olympics? Absolutely! Yes. Do I feel like I was kind of just born here? Also yes.

This brings us to the series finale (after 6 tremendous seasons) of The Americans, which concluded late last month — the excellent FX Network spy caper about a sleeper Russian spy couple serving “faithfully” in Washington, D.C. during the Cold War. They wake up from sleeper status in the early 80s to serve Mother Russia (after spending the last 15ish years in D.C. perfecting the language and assimilating to the culture, and having babies so that they can represent the perfect suburban couple — jobs, status…you know, American bad-asses). That assimilation goes swimmingly. And then something interesting happens. They start to wrestle with real American parenting.

In an effort not to spoil much of anything, let me just say, watch The Americans — particularly if you have ever been a person who is/was trying to figure it all out in the American middle class. Yes, Phillip and Elizabeth are totally Russian spies, and they are here to aggressively propagate the pre-Gorbachev communist agenda. Guess what? So would I — if I were born in Russia when they were and had the corresponding indoctrination.

They are atheists/communists, but their daughter (because she doesn’t know her parents’ true identity) has joined the newest, coolest, seeker-sensitive church youth group. Worse, and many of us can identify here, the pastor has an odd connection with the daughter, and he’s a bit of a flake. (Ugh, that creepy 80s preacher hair!) But (spoiler) the pastor turns out to be a good dude — and a big part of what makes the show surprisingly great.

In The Americans, our two protagonists Elizabeth (Kerri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) are mercilessly murderous Russian spies. They are also us — two kids growing up in America, albeit thrown into it all subversively. But who among us (born free in the USA — queue up Kid Rock and Bambi) doesn’t feel like we have been thrown into all of this a bit subversively?

Amazingly, Phillip and Elizabeth become like us. They flounder and struggle with their marriage, with their kids, and with their American jobs and friendships. They are actually really good at the spy stuff, until they fall in love and start wrestling with what might be something like eternity in the souls of their offspring. Then it all gets real, and it’s heartbreaking and beautiful.

The Americans is billed as a TV spy thriller, and it is. If that’s what you like, watch it. To me, though, it’s more like Friday Night Lights, and Parenthood, and This is Us, and Gilmore Girls. It’s mostly about two American kids (who happen to be Russian spies) growing up in the heartland.

“Who we serve” seems arbitrary to me. Certainly Scripture is clear that we should not serve ourselves. However, if we fall out of the womb into bleak Communist Russia, and we receive heavy doses of all of the corresponding big “L” Law, then we are left alone to figure out love, and life, and meaning, and identity. Mind you, this is all with only Lenin/Stalin/Marx and their “thou shalts” as the guiding light. That’s dark. That is so, so dark. Thus, for our protagonists, struggling through the muck and the mire and the dead bodies (yikes!) only to find themselves falling unwittingly onto some semblance of a rock ain’t a bad place to end up.

Elizabeth and Phillip don’t come to Jesus in the American sense. They do however grow up, and learn, and stay redeemable (maybe alive — not telling!) and present in all things. They are somehow given over to something they can’t explain (though they’re so adept at explaining everything). Phillip and Elizabeth become fully realized adults who figure out that, whatever their hope is, it sure as hell isn’t themselves, or Mother Russia, or even America…

Team Phillip and Elizabeth all the way.