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Series: The Americans

The Americans is a television drama that premiered on the FX Network on January 30, 2013. Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters) play Soviet deep cover agents masquerading as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a married couple living in the suburbs of northern Virginia in the early 1980s. Noah Emmerich plays Stan Beeman, an FBI counterintelligence agent hunting for Soviet spies like Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, and he's just moved in down the street.

The series juggles the balance between the domestic and the spy plots, organically interweaving Philip and Elizabeth's concerns about their constructed marriage and family while they do their job as KGB agents.

There are similarities with the film Little Nikita, but in this case being much more from the parents' perspective.


This original series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Elizabeth. She also counts as a Dark Action Girl.
  • Adult Fear: Paige and Henry try to hitchhike home from the mall and are picked up by a guy whose behavior turns more and more inappropriate.
    • The second season deals with Philip and Elizabeth's fear of their children being injured or killed by their work.
  • Ambiguously Evil: We don't really know whether the guy who picks up Paige and Henry is a Jerkass with child abuse on his mind or if he is about to drop some advice on the kids about the dangers of hitchhiking and doesn't realize just how creepy he is coming off. Henry thinks it's the former...
  • American Title
  • Amusement Park: In "Comrades" a Jennings family outing to an amusement park turns bad when the other Deep Cover Agent family that Philip and Elizabeth meet are murdered.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The $100 bills that Philip hands over in exchange for sensitive information in "Gregory" are the post-1996 design with the larger portrait of Benjamin Franklin, when they should be the older style with the smaller Franklin that had been in use for several decades prior to 1996. (In "Trust Me" they got this right, using the old-style bills.)
    • In "Duty and Honor" a Polish dissident in the United States is talking about forming a Government in Exile. Poland already had one in London, which had been in continuous operation since Poland was occupied by the Nazis and Soviets in 1939. It remained in operation, albeit mostly unrecognized, until it dissolved itself to make way for Lech Walesa's non-Communist Polish government in 1990.
    • The motel room where Philip stays during his separation from Elizabeth has a magnetic card reader lock.
    • Phillip describes the separation to the kids as "pushing the pause button". While there were devices already out by 1981 that had a pause button (including Walkmans, which are seen and were a very recent invention), it seems unlikely that an expression like that would have had the time to enter the vernacular, especially that of a mid-to-late-30s man.
  • Anti-Villain: Larrick is an interesting case. On one hand, he is as ruthless and willing to use extreme violence as the Jennings, who themselves are Villain Protagonists. On the other hand, he serves for the right side of history, and would have had nothing to do with the KGB if they hadn't been threatening to reveal his homosexuality. Further complicating matters, when he actually begins to threaten the Jennings, he is chiefly driven out of his desire for revenge after Phillip murdered two of his friends.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • The FBI Director has this for Stan after his affair with his mole.
    Agent Gaad: Has she had you for breakfast, Stan?
    • Sandra asks Stan if he's having an affair.
  • Arranged Marriage: Philip and Elizabeth, by the KGB. Also presumably Emmet and Leanne. Averted with Robert who married a third party.
    • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: It seems that the KGB sets up its agents with each other. This was averted with real life husband and wife spy teams. note 
    • Perfectly Arranged Marriage:: The Jennings...eventually. From what we saw in the Season 2 premiere, Emmet and Leanne also qualified.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Stan Beeman comes in for this when after having heavily complimented Nina on her looks, he checks back in with her later on and asks her how she got her information from the Rezident Vasili.
    Nina: I sucked his cock. Just like you told me to.
  • As You Know: Occasionally during debriefings and to the benefit of the audience, agents spell out to each other concepts that are obviously familiar to them, as they are the proverbial bread and butter of their Spy Speak.
  • Auto Erotica: Philip and Elizabeth celebrate this way after completing a mission in the pilot.
  • Badass Boast:
    • When Philip flies off the handle, wanting to go after a mark who got too rough with Elizabeth, she lets him know that she doesn't need taking care of.
    Elizabeth: If I wanted to deal with him, you don't think he'd be dealt with?
    • Philip gets one in the opening of season two:
    Philip: The americans can't save you. Allah can't save you. And the KGB is everywhere.
    • Larrick gives one to Elizabeth:
    Larrick: I see any of you guys again, I swear I'll kill every Soviet ambassador in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Badass Israeli: The Mossad agents guarding Baklanov fight Philip and Elizabeth on equal terms and even manage to steal Baklanov right back from them.
  • Badass Preacher: Paige's church has one of these. When Philip shows up at his church intent on either killing him or assaulting him, the pastor acts completely unafraid and even gets Philip to back down just by saying he has faith in him.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: In the premiere episode, Philip sits on a park bench scanning his surroundings while preparing to place a surveillance device. He then sees two city cops trying to chase down a perp, clearly winded and disorganized. He smirks knowingly, aware that local law enforcement can't keep up with him. He then feels confident enough to plant the bug.
  • Batman Gambit: Beeman figures out a simple, yet effective, plan to throw suspicion off the real mole, Nina. The Rezident is put on a plane as a result, and all it required was a basic understanding of Soviet presumed-guilty paranoia regarding their high officials. note 
    • The United States Government pulls off a Batman Gambit in season 2. They come up with faulty rotor designs for submarines and plant them at facilities all over the country. Russia obtains the plans and rushes a submarine with the new rotors into production. The newly-commissioned submarine has a rotor malfunction that kills the entire crew (over a hundred Soviet sailors). The US tricked Russia into stealing plans that would kill its own military personnel.
  • Becoming the Mask: Seems to be the case with Philip, but then ultimately subverted.
    Elizabeth: You like it too much here.
    Philip: I FIT IN! Yeah, I like it here, so what?
  • Berserk Button: Do not question Philip's loyalty. Or Elizabeth's for that matter.
    • Do not murder Larrick's buddies in the Navy.
  • Big Bad: Larrick in Season 2. Neutralizing him is our Villain Protagonist's primary endgame since halfway through the season. However, both he and the Jennings came to a collision course as a result of the actions of...
  • Black and Gray Morality
  • Blatant Lies:
    Martha: Is this real?
    Philip: Yes.
    • Also Stan lying to Nina's face about murdering Vlad.
  • Bluff The Eavesdropper: After finding the listening device in Caspar Weinberger's office, the FBI does this in order to lay a trap for Directorate S.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Or rough sex and erotic spanking is bad, as the guy who whips Elizabeth demonstrates.
  • Bound and Gagged: Larrick does this to KGB handler Kate after overpowering her. This trope is often used for Fanservice but in this instance is very scary and disturbing.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Paige, who was already more or less this, gets even worse in Season 1 after Philip and Elizabeth separate and he moves out of the house. And in Season 2 she gets into Christianity, in what is clearly at least in part an effort to irritate her unchurched parents.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Philip hands one of these over in exchange for sensitive information in "Gregory", but not before he uses it to bust up a couple of Mooks who wouldn't get out of his blind spot.
  • Bring It: Elizabeth before taking down Timoshev.
  • Bully Hunter: Philip tries to intervene when a pedophile starts hitting on his daughter, but backs down and doesn't try to stop him from leaving with another girl, proving him to be a subversion of this trope. However, later in the episode, he snaps Timoshev's neck when he learns Timoshev raped Elizabeth during training. Even later, he beats the shit out of the pedophile and has to be stopped from murdering the target of a honey trap who beat Elizabeth during rough sex.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Episode 1-2, "The Clock", introduces Annelise, Phillip's girlfriend, the wife of a Defense Department official. She's clingy and emotional, and it seems it will be a major plotline—but she doesn't reappear until 21 episodes later in "Yousef", when Phillip maneuvers her into being a Honey Pot for a Pakistani agent.
    • Vasili, the head of the KGB office in Washington, is framed for espionage in the first season by Nina and Stan and bundled off to the Soviet Union, presumably for execution. However, he pops up again in the second season as the dissident Russian scientist's supervising officer.
  • But He Sounds Handsome: Elizabeth can't resist making offhanded remarks about how cool the Soviet Union's accomplishments are ("walking on the moon is ok, but getting into space is the real thing")
  • California Doubling:
    • New York doubling. Shot after shot after shot featuring present-day NYC parking restriction signs, MTA bus stops, bodegas, etc. One train station scene clearly shot along an LIRR line. A scene set in Philly clearly shot somewhere along the 7 line in Queens. The list goes on and on.
    • Quite obvious in some of the later episodes of Season 2, supposedly taking place in DC and Virginia in March and April, but featuring snow everywhere due to the brutal winter of 2013/2014 in NYC.
  • Clark Kenting: One of the alter egos is also called "Clark". And this Clark looks a lot like Philip with a toupee and glasses. However, for the most part the disguises are not meant to completely change the agents appearances, just to look nondescript.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several
    • Chris's offhand comment early in the season about how he once dated Martha leads to Chris asking Martha out again in "Mutually Assured Destruction"—which leads to Chris seeing Martha looking in a file cabinet she shouldn't be looking in and acting all shifty, which leads to Chris getting suspicious and following Martha around.
    • A literal one with the gun that Martha bought, much to Philip's unpleasant surprise, at the end of Season 2. Not fired as of yet.
  • Cold War: The early 1980s being an especially tense period of the Cold War, following the accession of Ronald Reagan to the presidency and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Who moves in right next door to two Soviet Deep Cover Agents? An FBI agent who works in counterintelligence and is hunting Soviet agents, that's who. Somewhat excused by the fact that it's a Washington, DC suburb with a high density of government employees. Lampshaded by Elizabeth: "FBI agents have to live somewhere."
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The Jennings run a travel agency. This provides them with sufficient excuse to travel and to meet different types of people.
  • Cowboy Cop:
    • Stan on occasion, especially when he bullies the guy in the stereo store without even a hint of a warrant or when he breaks into the Jennings' garage. When Amador is killed, this becomes even more pronounced, particularly in his speech about how hunting dogs carry the birds they catch to their master's feet to a terrified captured KGB agent.
    • Elizabeth and Philip ignore direct orders from the Center and think outside the box sometimes, which doesn't sit well with the rigid Soviet structure.
  • Cycle of Revenge: A rogue faction of the KGB causes the deaths of three FBI agents, and the Americans retaliate by killing a number of KGB officers. The KGB wants to end the feud, but some of their agents seek personal revenge for the deaths of their friends.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The KGB, oh dear god. Probably justified, as the agents operate far from home and support, so such preparation comes in handy.
    • They have a fake demented "Aunt" for the kids if they ask too many questions.
    • Someone monitors Martha's line to ensure she does not reveal "Clark" to the US.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Oleg, Larrick. Agent Gaad.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Elizabeth.
  • Deal with the Devil: Larrick forces Elizabeth to take this while he strangles Lucia.
    Larrick: It's either her or me. You choose.
  • Deep Cover Agent:
    • "Directorate S", the KGB program which has installed deep cover agents in the United States masquerading as American citizens. The Jennings' aren't even allowed to speak Russian to each other at home, and were instructed to never ask the other about their actual background, instead only learning their invented back stories.
    • Stan was also a deep cover agent for the FBI, before the events of Season 1. He just recently returned from a very long mission and is clearly having trouble re-adjusting.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The wife of an American working for the Russians died and he is on the verge of a mental breakdown. His handler is convinced that if he can just talk to the man, he would be able to calm him down and brink him back from the brink. However, the Russians cannot get away from FBI surveillance so Elizabeth is ordered to kill the man before does something that would expose the spy ring. In the same episode Claudia recounts the story of one of her assets in West Germany. The Russians decided that he was not useful anymore and recalled Claudia back. Shortly after being abandoned, the man killed himself since spying for the Russians had become his main purpose in life.
  • The Determinator: Stan has elements of this, particularly after his partner is killed.
  • Dies Wide Open:
    • Joyce, the wife of the agent who died in the pilot, meets an unfortunate end in "Gregory".
    • The same happens to Agent Chris Amador.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Season 2 finale "The Echo" reveals that Jared killed his parents and his sister after his parents refused to let him spy for the KGB.
  • Double Agent: Nina becomes this after coming clean to Arkady. Actually, given that she was a KGB officer to begin with, she's really a Triple Agent. Or perhaps a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Paige and Matthew talk about his father Stan's dangerous job in "In Control". Paige says "My dad doesn't do stuff like that. He's just a travel agent."
    • When Amador is killed, Stan goes to Philip to blow off steam. Philip is the one who has killed Amador, although Stan does not know that.
    • When in the first season finale, Elizabeth is shot by Stan during a car chase, Stan knows the car contains agents but not who they are. The Jennings are forced underground while Elizabeth heals. They ask Stan to take care of their kids.
    • In "Cardinal", Martha, spooked by the murders at the hotel, justifies buying a gun by saying "Clark, I don't want to be a victim". She is of course a victim of Philip, who has lied to her and tricked her into a sham marriage to use her as an intelligence source.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Ronald Reagan to the Soviets. Which is Truth in Television-the Soviet government viewed Reagan as very dangerous (and they were right to).
    • Larrick. Even Claudia is frightened of him.
  • Dream Sequence: Stan has a pretty bad dream in "The Echo" which features Vlad (the guy he murdered), his wife humping a Russian, and Martha stealing documents (possibly indicating that Stan has some subconscious suspicion).
  • The Eighties:
    • The series starts off in early 1981, right after Ronald Reagan's inauguration. The March 30, 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan is a major plot point, and the main arc of Season 1 is Russian attempts to find out details about American research into what later became Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively nicknamed "Star Wars" (Henry's "Star Wars" bedsheets may or may not be a Historical In-Joke).
    • The second season is set in 1982, and P and E discover the secret American support for Nicaragua's Contras, which would later become a major scandal.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: In the pilot, after a child predator makes crude remarks about his daughter, Philip catches the guy barbecuing in his backyard. Philip beats his ass and then walks away with a hot dog off of his grill.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Reagan was shot, Elizabeth believes there is some sort of power play behind the scenes in the American government meant for the war hawks to take over, just like how things happen in the Soviet Union. She does not understand that one does not simply coup the President of the United States.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: The Soviet spies are not evil per se, but on the wrong side of history. Yet, they are good parents.
  • Fake American: Both Philip and Elizabeth are this in-universe, being Russians masquerading as Americans.
    • Matthew Rhys is a Welshman playing a Russian pretending to be an American and thus is always speaking in an American accent and it is quite convincing.
  • Fake Guest Star: Richard Thomas as Frank Gaad, Stan Beeman's supervisor at the FBI. Nearly 2 seasons in and Thomas has appeared in every episode of the series except one. Keidrich Sellati and Holly Taylor, who play the Jennings children, have appeared in less episodes, despite being main cast members
  • Fall Guy: When a Soviet submarine sinks with all hands lost, the tragedy is caused by faulty propellers that were built based on plans stolen by Philip and Elisabeth. The KGB is blamed for falling for a US trick and stealing defective plans deliberately planted by the Americans. Oleg uses his connections to discover the real truth: the submarine was rushed to sea without proper testing and the propellers were never designed to work with that type of submarine. However, since the official finding was that the plans were defective, the KGB will take the blame even if it was not really its fault.
  • False Flag Operation: Philip is exploiting Martha, Agent Gaad's secretary, by pretending to be another FBI agent investigating the counterintelligence unit.
  • Fan Disservice: "Clark" and Martha are played by attractive people, and they don't do anything strange, but their sex scenes still come across as off-putting.
    Martha: Shoot it into me!
  • Faux Affably Evil: Claudia/"Granny," Philip and Elizabeth's new KGB contact, basically seems like Mags Bennet if she were a KGB agent, and that's before she has Joyce murdered.
  • FBI Agent: Stan, Chris, Agent Gaad.
  • 555:
    • On a news broadcast about the kidnapping of Joyce in "Gregory".
    • On a Leo Buscaglia infomercial in "Comrades".
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • The audience knows how the Cold War ends-the Soviet Union collapses.
    • President Reagan survives the assassination attempt. There is no military coup and World War 3 does not start. This trope is examined in-universe: the Russians assume that a military coup will occur based on their own experiences. Philip, by all accounts the Soviet character who 'gets' America the best, is the only one who notices the Americans have no such expectations.
  • Foreshadowing: On what might well be the eve of World War 3 after Reagan's near-assassination, Philip and Elizabeth consider what would happen to their children should the spies be killed during guerrilla activities. Elizabeth's worries about Paige's ability to face hardship but has little concern for Henry, believing he is a natural survivor. Two episodes later when Paige and Henry are stranded at a mall and try to get home, they get in over their heads via hitchhiking. Paige is trapped like a deer in headlights and seems to be headed right into a tragic headline, but Henry attacks the adult three times his size and hurts him enough to allow the two to escape.
  • Full-Name Basis: Everybody at the Rezidentura addresses each other this way (Truth in Television-the first name and middle name/patronymic were used).
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Elizabeth's relationship with Gregory can be seen as the good type in-universe given that she is a fish out of water in a "marriage" that is, at the time, only a professional arrangement "in a strange country with a strange man" as she puts it and is looking for some sort of real connection. It is bad to the viewer because Philip is sympathetic, probably cared for her long before she started caring for him, and is deeply hurt.
    • Played with somewhat in that both of them are expected to seduce targets, to the point where Philip actually marries a source in character. Arguably it borders on Orange And Blue Morality.
  • Going Native: Philip, but explicitly not Elizabeth.
  • Greedy Jew: Alluded to by Philip in "The Deal" when he mentions the "shekels" he supposes an Israeli agent is working for.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: So very much of it. Lampshaded by Nina in "Duty and Honor":
    Nina: You Americans are so white and black. For us, it's all grey.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Henry breaks a beer bottle over a pervert's head in "Trust Me".
  • Groin Attack: Elizabeth does this to an uncooperative bookie in "Duty and Honor".
  • The Handler:
    • Claudia ("Granny") is this for Philip and Elizabeth. She and Elizabeth don't get along.
    • In Season 2 Philip and Elizabeth get a new handler named Kate.
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Philip does this to escape the FBI in Season 1 finale "The Colonel".
  • Hero Antagonist: Stan. Initially a Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist, he becomes less heroic when he shoots an innocent man working in the Soviet embassy through the head.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Stan Beeman after Philip's unplanned abduction and killing of Amador.
  • Holding Hands: A lot in the first three episodes seeing as how the start of the series marks the beginning of the agents really connecting.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Elizabeth. She reacts to Paige's joining a church youth group as if her daughter takes to drugs or prostitution. As a rule, while the average Soviets did frown upon religion, they wouldn't exactly freak out like Elizabeth either. Even Philip has to tell her to cool it a bit.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Amador and his knife.
    • In the shootout between the West German bomber and Philip+Elizabeth, he ducks into the hotel bathroom. The KGB agents toss the bomb into the bathroom just as he sets it off.
    • The Soviets actively steal American engineering designs. One of those designs are defective and when the Soviets try it on their sub the whole thing sinks.
  • Honey Pot:
    • Both Philip and Elizabeth act as Honey Pots regularly. Nina is a Honey Pot for Vasili after she gets turned by the FBI, and then for Stan after switching her loyalty back to the KGB.
    • Philip gets his girlfriend Annelise to be a Honey Pot and seduce a Pakistani agent. She goes through with it but is very upset afterwards.
    • Kate was this for Jared, after his parent refused to recruit him.
  • Ice Queen / Defrosting Ice Queen: Elizabeth vacillates back and forth between these tropes in Season 1.
  • I Have a Family: An excellent example in "The Walk In". Philip Elizabeth have bullshitted their way into a shipyard to get a look at some secret military ship propellers. A worker catches Elizabeth breaking a crate open. While keeping her tone light and casual, she picks up a crowbar. The worker, still speaking casually but quite obviously terrified, gets Elizabeth a look at the propeller. While still speaking casually, he shows her pictures of his kids and says, in a quavering voice, "They're expecting me home." Elizabeth eventually leaves, but not before taking the picture of the youngest kid.
  • Impairment Shot: Used when Philip wakes up in "Cardinal" after being zapped into unconsciousness by a footlocker that was actually electrified.
  • It's Personal: Stan's actions after Amador is killed can be seen in this light.
    • A variation with Philip. When an Afghan freedom fighter presents an undercover Philip with a blade which he claims he killed many Russians with, note the way that Philip's expression changes. He would probably have killed him anyway and in fact that was almost certainly the reason for the meet but he was far more eager to comply after that statement.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Philip is subjected to this in "Trust Me" when the KGB is trying to determine if he is a mole.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: In "Comrades" Philip decides to end a meeting with an Afghan anti-Soviet guerrilla this way.
    "You Russians have no idea who you're—" BANG
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Stan's hunting parable to Vlad after his abduction.
  • Little Miss Badass / Small Girl, Big Gun: In "Mutually Assured Destruction" Elizabeth goes to an arms dealer's house and finds him there with his daughter, who looks about ten. Dad tells the girl to go to her room and she does, only to come back toting a shotgun, getting the drop on Elizabeth. Philip then enters the scene from behind and disarms her.
  • Loss of Identity: Elizabeth may not believe so, but she seems to be going through this to some extent. Her softer approach to people now is a far cry from when she was little Nadezhda living in a hardened Soviet Union.
  • Love at First Sight: A one-sided example. At the start of the series it's fairly obvious that Philip cares deeply for Elizabeth, while Elizabeth still views her marriage to Philip as an assignment. It's also mentioned at one point that when Philip was introduced to Elizabeth for the first time he was relieved by how pretty she was, but he could tell by her face that she was disappointed by him. It isn't until the third episode that Elizabeth admits that she's starting to feel love for Philip for the first time in their twenty year marriage.
  • Love Redeems / Love Makes You Crazy: Or at least less rational. Philip was ready and willing to deliver the KGB defector to the USA and defect himself, in order to get a better life for his family than he could reasonably expect in Russia. However, once he gets to learns that said defector raped Elizabeth, he kills him with his bare hands, effectively cementing his career as a Soviet spy. Elizabeth on the other hand, who until then was cold and distant toward Philip, starts to warm up to him after this.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Martha and Stan. Both are completely played by their supposed lovers.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: In "Mutually Assured Destruction", Elizabeth kills a professional assassin by tossing a bomb at him right before it detonates. Afterward there is nothing left of the man but a mess of blood and tissue covering the floor and walls.
  • Mad Bomber: A rogue faction of the KGB hires an assassin who likes to blow up his targets with bombs and does not seem to care about collateral damage.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: In the episode "Gregory", the KGB murders Joyce (Rob's wife) by making it look like she died of an accidental heroin overdose.
    • A variation in the episode "In Control". After murdering the security guard, the Jennings leave the body in a wooded area and leave behind clues suggesting the man was killed by a woman he was having sex with.
  • Mama Bear: Claudia is revealed as this in the final episode of season 1.
  • Manly Gay / Straight Gay: Larrick in Season 2. Blackmailed into working for the KGB, because he's a homosexual. Also a badass Navy SEAL who is exceptionally good at killing people.
  • Married to the Job:
    • Most of the FBI agents know for a fact that serving their country takes a serious toll on their personal lives.
    • Philip and Elizabeth gradually provide a literal example.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Supervisor Gaad has a Vietnamese wife he met while he served there during the war.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Irina, Philip's old girlfriend from his life in Russia, shows up in "Duty and Honor" as part of a mission.
  • The Mistress: Nina becomes Stan's in "Duty and Honor".
  • The Mole:
    • Not our leads (who are sleeper agents) but Nina, a KGB officer stationed at the Soviet embassy, who the FBI caught stealing and smuggling caviar. Stan pressures her into working for them to avoid being turned over to the Soviet authorities.
    • Martha is this without even realizing it, when "Clark" convinces her to spy on the FBI by saying it's a counterintelligence op.
  • Moral Myopia:
    • Elizabeth having a decade-long secret relationship with another dude? It's okay for her, because he was "passionate about her", while she herself clearly didn't feel that way about Philip at the time, and she apologized for it. Philip rekindling his relation with his first true love, after feeling betrayed by Elizabeth due to the events from an earlier episode, but immediately breaking it off? Kick the bastard out!
    • Similarly, Elizabeth's dim view of Ronald Reagan often overlooks the fact that her country didn't have a great human rights record.
    • Aside from Oleg, the Soviets are enraged that the Americans have purposely planted defective engineering plans, one of which results in the sinking of a Soviet submarine, killing everyone abroad. Oleg is the only one to question why the Soviet engineers did not find the defect and why more extensive testing was not done on the submarine before putting it in service. Also none of the Russians seem to consider that the disaster was caused by them stealing the plans and that they wouldn't have had this problem if they'd just designed their own submarine.
  • Moscow Center: Better known as the KGB. Philip and Elizabeth work for them.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong:
    • Elizabeth believes that "there's a weakness" in Americans, and wants to subtly encourage her children to become socialists.
    • Claudia is also skeptical towards American women since she considers them not being used to really struggle for a better life as opposed to Russian women, who basically have to wrestle everything from the hands of the men.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Philip's reaction after "Clark" brutalizes Elizabeth and makes her cry. He's so disgusted with himself that he rips the hairpiece off of his head.
    • Philip deals with this quite a bit in Season 2, like when the Russian scientist that he kidnaps gives him a You Bastard speech, or when his efforts to infiltrate the Operation Martial Eagle base lead to the deaths of three innocents.
  • Neck Snap: How Larrick the badass Navy SEAL dispatches Kate in "Stealth".
  • The Needs of the Many: The reason why the Israelis turn over Baklanov to the Soviets, so that 1,500 Soviet Jews are allowed to emigrate to Israel.
  • Nerves of Steel: Reverend Tim, the pastor of Paige's church. He doesn't succumb to Philip's intimidation and even manages to force Philip to retreat in the end.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. The Mossad agent Philip takes hostage has to do it. In front of Philip. Who has to wipe his asshole afterward.
  • No Delays For The Wicked: Generally played straight although notably averted at times. The KGB is highly efficient. Forged government I Ds? No problem. Safe houses across the Washington metro area? Got them. Files on American top-secret security personnel? Piece of cake. They even have an office facility that can pass itself off as the CIA's. Admittedly, the KGB has the advantage of surprise, by being undercover, they have the advantage of deciding where and when to strike, the US has to react to them.
    • Averted in the very first episode, the Jennings miss the ship that they needed to send the KGB defector on.
    • The Jennings fail to stop the bombings of scientists.
    • In the first season finale, the Jennings fall for an FBI trap and only Arkady's quick thinking allows them to get away.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Elizabeth delivers a surprising and brutal one to Claudia after her torture at her own agency's hands.
  • Not So Different: Elizabeth and Claudia.
  • Oblivious To Their Own Description: While he interrogates a group of Pentagon engineers, Stan warns them that the secrets they're embarrassed to admit the most are the one the KGB will use to turn them. That's exactly what happens to him.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The Americans planted defective submarine plans for the KGB to steal, so that when the Soviets try to build those submarines themselves the resulting product will kill the Soviets who board them. None of this is shown on-screen, but the subsequent shock among the KGB characters is still palpable. Then again, insider Oleg thinks the sinking was simply incompetence on the part of the Soviet navy.
  • Oh Crap:
    • Elizabeth and Philip both have a subdued one when they realize their new neighbor Stan is an FBI agent who works in counterintelligence.
    • The KGB officers in the embassy have one when they listen to the tape recorded at the house of the US Secretary of Defense. They are overjoyed over this massive intelligence coup, but then they get to the end of the conversation and hear that the Americans are planning a ballistic missile defense screen.
    • The look on their deceased comrade's wife's face when she realizes they're spies.
    • Philip gets a pretty spectacular one when he comes to Martha's apartment in "Covert War" and she confronts him with her parents.
    • "The Colonel" gives us perhaps the most epic one yet when Claudia and Philip figure out the titular colonel is not the trap, the routine tape pickup Elizabeth was sent on is.
  • Old Flame: Philip reunites with his ex-girlfriend Irina to discredit a Polish pro-democracy leader.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Invoked by Philip when he approaches Arkady in a public place. It is a gross violation of operational security and Philip does it specifically to let Moscow know how deadly serious he is about making sure that his children are off-limits and that he will never permit that they be recruited as spies, without consent of him and his wife.
  • Overt Operative: Pretty much everyone knows the real duties of the people in the Rezidentura. Most of their cover jobs are not ever mentioned at all, and the people themselves make no attempt to hide their actual responsibilities.
    • Averted with the Illegals.They are the definition of deep cover agent.
    • Lampshaded by Philip when Kate shows up in a headscarf and trenchcoat to a meet.
    "SERIOUSLY!!!??? You look like a character in a spy flick."
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Played straight mostly, but justified. Anyone who knows the Jennings will not be fooled, and indeed in season 1 at one point when under threat of capture a disguised Elizabeth says outright that Agent Beeman will recognize her. They also don't bother with disguises with people who might know them. The purpose of the disguises instead are to put on and highlight notable but false features, such as scars, moles, skin depigmentation, hairstyle, beards etc which the real couple do not have. So that when a description is given, it does not lead to Philip and Elizabeth. This works, the sketch that he FBI have is clearly show little resemblance to them.
    • The disguises are different from each other so that any description will not match each other and make the FBI more suspicious.
    • Another advantage is practicality, they sometimes have to go out quite quickly and they don't have time for elaborate disguises.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Paige has to deal with this in "Comrades" when she barges in on her mom and dad going 69.
  • Period Piece: The series is set in the '80s, at the height of the Cold War.
  • Plot Triggering Death: Each of the first two seasons use this trope.
    • In the pilot, a Directorate S agent that is on a mission with Phillip is killed. This tips the FBI off to the existence of Directorate S.
    • In the second-season premiere, two more Directorate S agents that had met Phillip and Elizabeth for a mission are killed in their hotel room. The mystery of who was behind the murders drives the plot for the whole season.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: The whole plot of "The Clock", in which Philip and Elizabeth do this in order to force a maid to plant a listening device in Caspar Weinberger's house.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • A badly phrased comment on TV by Secretary of State and retired four star general Alexander Haig causes the Russians to suspect that the US military is staging a coup following the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. As a result Philip and Elizabeth are told to prepare for the outbreak of World War 3 and start scouting out the best location for assassinating the Secretary of Defense. Elizabeth then kills a security guard who interrupts them. Inverted later when Philip refuses to tell the KGB about an important piece of intelligence because he believes that it will unnecessarily increase tensions and could trigger the war.
    • A communication problem between Stan and his partner almost causes them to expose their agent in the embassy, which would get her killed.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Vasili... and we learn in season two that The Bus Came Back.
    • Nina is put on a bus at the end of Season 2, bundled off to Russia, her fate uncertain.
  • Primal Scene: In the second-season premiere, Paige walks in on her parents going 69 on each other. Ick.
  • Professional Killer: Both the Jennings are this in spades, but Elizabeth (at least as of the middle of season 2) comes off as the colder of the two.
  • Properly Paranoid: Stan. He stops being proper by the end of Season 1, when his feelings to Nina makes him unable to see her deceptions.
  • Punk in the Trunk: For most of the pilot episode-several days in-episode-the Jennings' Oldsmobile has a Soviet defector in the trunk.
  • Rape as Backstory: Elizabeth, in training. It's later revealed by the same individual that all the instructors were raping the female trainees as a "perk" of the job. Or not-the revelation is coming directly from the mouth of a defector who was being held at gunpoint for his transgression by Philip, desperately seeking excuses, making him an Unreliable Expositor.
    • Comes back in season two where Elizabeth makes Philip have sex with her as "Clark" and triggers a PTSD attack.
  • Reality Ensues: Sometimes averted, often played straight.
    • Wounds suffered by the characters can be fatal (for example Robert in the series premiere) or require a long rehabilitation process.
    • Highly trained agents are unable to fight their way out of sudden unexpected ambushes and are captured (in the KGB "test") or the other spy couple and their daughter in their hotel room in the second season premiere.
    • Killing and other unpleasant activities take an emotional toll on the Jennings.
    • Growing children are becoming more aware of their surrounding and are not oblivious.
    • Nobody is above anybody when it comes to political dealings. Anton Baklanov, a Jewish refusenik himself, is traded by Mossad-the very Israelis who promised to protect him-for 1,500 more Jewish refuseniks from the USSR.
    • Asking your husband to make love to you as he does to his mark makes both of you very upset and is not enjoyable or titillating.
    • Your hostage has to shit.
    Mossad agent: Mr. KGB-man! I need to shit.
    • And he shits in front of you. And then you have to wipe his ass.
    • It's not a good idea to go after a highly-trained Navy SEAL colonel you're specifically and explicitly forbidden from attacking. Your boss not only has to stop using him, you'll also die.
  • Reassigned to Siberia: Vasili is seen in Season 2 heading up a remote scientific outpost in the middle of Siberia.
  • Red Herring: Borders between this, or aborted story arc. But both season one and season two started with a hint of a conflict which never developed. Season one seemed like the story was going to be about the the Jennings' (particularly Phillip's) desire to defect. The second seemed like it would be about Paige's suspicion that something was not right about her parents. Both were insignificant by the end of the season.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Philip blue, Elizabeth red.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Col. Larrick at the end of season two resolves to capture the Jenningses and turn them over to the American government, and to confess to his own involvement with them and his betrayal of his country and his brothers-in-arms, saying that he doesn't care what happens to him. Just at the moment he seems on the brink of success, he gets shot in the back, and then the Jenningses kill him.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: In the pilot episode, the Jennings kidnap and later kill a former KGB agent who defected to America. Truth in Television, by the way: the Soviets had no tolerance for traitors, and they would often launch covert operations to assassinate defectors. Soviet defectors often spent the rest of their days hiding under new identities.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand:
    • A group within the KGB hired an assassin to kill fourteen American scientists. Apparently they did so without informing their superiors who realize that this could start a war and order Philip and Elisabeth to stop the assassin at all costs.
    • Philip invokes this when he is impersonating an FBI agent from the Oversight group. He complains that the other FBI divisions do not share information with them and then Oversight gets blamed because they do not know what is going on. This is a ploy to convince his asset/lover to give him information FBI counterintelligence has gathered on an assassin.
  • Secret Identity Identity: Philip seriously considers defecting to the United States in the pilot. Elizabeth doesn't exactly approve of this plan.
  • Secret Stab Wound: Elizabeth's gunshot wound in "The Colonel".
  • Shoe Phone: In "The Clock", Elizabeth poisons Grayson by injecting him with a needle hidden in the tip of an umbrella. This sort of device is Truth in Television, and the KGB used the Bulgarian Umbrella in real life to assassinate a Bulgarian dissident writer living in London.
  • Shown Their Work: To a surprising degree; the entire arc around the Reagan assassination, for example, is based on actual KGB chatter and analysis.
    • During the Cold War, male Stasi "Romeo" agents would seduce and even marry the secretaries of West German government officials, and would then spend months or even years extracting information from them. This is exactly the same thing that Philip/Clark ends up doing to Martha.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: An interesting example. Arkady intends to play Kirk at Gaad by showing him the photograph of Vlad in order to guilt him of Vlad's death. Gaad quickly shuts him down by bringing up Amador's murder at the hand of the KGB.
  • Slipping a Mickey: A KGB agent does this to a Polish dissident in order to frame him for rape in "Duty and Honor".
  • Spiteful Spit: Kate does this to Larrick after he questions her in "Stealth". It ends badly for her.
  • Spy Couple: The two main characters.
  • Spy School: Elizabeth is shown in the pilot learning both physical combat skills and the finer points of idiomatic American English. Then things turn very bad.
  • Spy's Suspicious Daughter: Paige is becoming more and more suspicious of what exactly her parents are hiding. By Season 2 she's trying to listen in on their phone calls.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Stale Beer variety.
  • The Spymaster: General Zhukov, who runs Directorate S and is a father figure for Elizabeth.
  • Strictly Professional Relationship: Invoked. Philip is pretending to be an FBI Internal Affairs investigator and has convinced a FBI secretary to help him investigate the counter-intelligence division. The secretary is clearly attracted to him and he makes a big show of convincing her that he reciprocates her feelings. Until his investigation is concluded, they have to maintain a strictly professional relationship. However, Philip is actually a Soviet spy and has no romantic feelings for the secretary whatsoever. Despite this, he eventually gets into a relationship and even marries her to keep up the op.
  • Suicide by Cop: In "Only You", Gregory chooses this route instead of fleeing to Moscow.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: By the middle of season 2, both Elizabeth and Philip have enough innocent blood on their hands for this trope to apply, with Philip pretty much considering himself one, particularly after the events of "Martial Eagle."
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The show's focus reveals that the two leads really aren't bad people, but are forced to do heinous things for their country.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Philip and especially Elizabeth don't get along with Claudia, their new handler.
  • Third Act Stupidity: Larrick falls to this trope at season 2 finale. He decides to take Philip and Elizabeth into custody instead of executing them on the spot; naturally, another player suddenly comes in to the Jennings' rescue, saving them and killing him. This is a Justified Trope: he couldn't expose KGB's Illegals Program if the Jennings are dead.
  • This Means War!: In the pilot episode, President Reagan effectively declares a covert war against undercover KGB operatives in the United States after Philip and Elizabeth kidnap a Soviet defector living on US soil.
    Agent Gaad: The Attorney General and I have just come from the White House. President Reagan is outraged that the KGB thinks it can kidnap someone with impunity on American soil. The President has signed top secret executive order 2579 authorizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation counter-intelligence office to take all necessary measures to neutralize Soviet Directorate S sleeper cell agents in the continental United States. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to war. It is a war that will be fought quietly by the men and women in this room. It will not be short and it will not be easy, but we have truth and justice on our side and we will prevail.
  • Title Drop: Regularly with episode titles.
  • Token Minority: Stan's partner Chris is one of only three minorities in his department, which, according to Stan, gives Chris license to roughly interrogate suspects.
  • Toplessness from the Back:
    • Provided by Nina as she slides into bed with Vasili in "Trust Me".
    • And again by a hooker in "Mutually Assured Destruction".
    • Elizabeth gets a full body version in Season 2.
  • Truth in Television: Philip's long-term operation with Martha is based on a strategy used by Stasi spymasters where agents would marry "spinsters" and pump them for information for years, sometimes decades.
  • Tyke Bomb: What the KGB is hoping to get from a program for "second-generation illegals". They want to recruit the American-Born children of their sleeper agents, who would have a much better chance than their parents to get into high-level government positions.
  • Undercover as Lovers: A married couple with children, no less.
  • The Unfair Sex: As stated in the Moral Myopia entry above: Elizabeth's affair with Gregory (which lasted for years) is portrayed in a sympathetic light because he was "passionate" about her and Elizabeth hadn't yet started falling for Philip. But later when Philip has a one night stand with his former lover in the aftermath of Elizabeth betraying his trust, she decides to kick him out of the house.
  • Unique Pilot Title Sequence: Or a lack of one, as the names of the cast members pop up over the action movie-style. Starting with the second episode the show adopts more regular opening credits that feature Soviet iconography and Cyrillic letters.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Martha. She knows Philip as "Clark", and she believes he is another FBI agent investigating the counterintelligence unit. She starts off by passing him FBI gossip and then graduates to passing him classified documents, believing all the while that she's helping the good guys catch the bad guys.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Creator Joseph Weisberg, who actually worked for the CIA from 1990 to 1994, was inspired by a totally real 2010 story in which the FBI arrested ten Russian deep cover agents.
    • The scene in "The Clock" where Elizabeth poisons some guy by stabbing him with a tricked-out umbrella is inspired by the real-life murder of a Bulgarian dissident in London in 1978.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Annelise keeps her spy camera in "The Clock".
  • Villain Protagonist: The protagonist couple. The show aims for a Punch Clock Villain angle in that they are soldiers fighting a covert war and whose violence and manipulations are not pointless but serve a purpose and have a cold logic behind them. All the same, while they're not in it for selfish reasons, the show also makes it clear that everything the Jennings couple does, they do it consciously, readily, and willingly.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Loads!!!!! The trope may as well be named after this show.
    • From the American viewpoint, the Jennings and the other KGB are evil. But, we see the Jennings doing decidedly non villainy things all the time, including raising their children, going out on family gatherings, having sex/relationship problems etc etc. After one mission to seduce and entrap a US Defense contractor, Elizabeth and a fellow female agent drink beer sitting on the hood of their car and discuss Elizabeth's recovery from her injuries as they await their husbands return. When the men arrive, the conversation turns to their kids.
    • The FBI is the villain for the protagonists. We see Stan's relationship with his family, other agents celebrating a promotion. When Stan shows up unexpectedly at the Jennings business, what is his purpose? He wants to set up a bachelor party for his brother in law.
    • Even the KGB brass gets its turn, with Vasili being annoyed at the inability of his coworkers to brew tea properly. Arkady gushes about his new microwave. And later curses it when his potato exploded in it, forcing him to wear bandages for a time. And then Arkady is shown browsing the magazine rack, like any ordinary person.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: Averted, for the most part, as the Jennings are under deep cover. If the vodka comes out, it's because something serious has happened.
  • Wham Episode: "Echo", the Season 2 finale. Jared reveals, as he is dying, that he was complicit in the murders of his sister and parents, because he had found out that his parents, like him, were KGB agents and didn't want him being recruited. He also admits to having at least some kind of crush on Kate, his handler.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Philip gives Elizabeth a major tongue lashing after he finds out that she told their handlers that he seems to like living in America a bit too much. Comments like that could get him executed, and he views it as a major betrayal.
    • He also gives her a bit of this after she murders a security guard in "In Control".
    • Gaad gives it to Stan when the latter asks him to help about Nina. He flats-out refusing to listen at all, after being sacrificed for the Vlad murder mess.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: The Jennings use wigs, glasses, different clothes and makeup to put on a unique appearance for each asset. Philip's "Clark" wig remains amazingly durable during numerous sex scenes with Martha. Though Martha does know it is fake and assumes that it is a toupee, which actually strengthens his cover of being in love with her.
    • In what may be a Leaning on the Fourth Wall gag about all the incredibly durable wigs that the protagonists wear, Philip has one ripped off during a struggle in "Comrades".
  • With My Hands Tied: In the second season finale Elizabeth fights Larrick after being handcuffed and does well enough that Philip, who is also cuffed, is able to get the drop on him and steal the gun out of his waistband and shoot him with it. Justified in this instance, as Jared had shot Larrick in the back first.
  • You Bastard: It's way too easy for the audience to forget that our Villain Protagonists are, in fact, ruthless career murderers serving a corrupt, oppressive dictatorship that bullies most of its own people into submission. Baklanov's desperate pleading to Philip at the end of "The Deal" is a painful reminder of that fact.
  • You Monster!: Tied with the You Bastard above. When Philip doesn't even look at him while he's pleading, Baklanov accuses Philip of this, and rightly so.
  • Your Cheating Heart: All of the main characters. Elizabeth had a longtime affair with an American KGB asset, and Philip doesn't react well when he finds out in "Gregory". Then both Philip and Stan cheat on their wives in "Duty and Honor". In Season 2, Sandra actually tells Stan that she is going off on a sex weekend with her new boyfriend, and by the end of the season they've agreed to divorce.
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