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 Phillip 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, interweaving organically 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.
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.
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...
The $100 bills that Phillip 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 Phillip stays during his separation from Elizabeth has a magnetic card reader lock.
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: Phillip and Elizabeth celebrate this way after completing a mission in the pilot.
Badass: Phillip and Elizabeth. Stan seems to fit the bill as well.
Elizabeth: If I wanted to deal with him, you don't think he'd be dealt with?
Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: In the premiere episode Phillip 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 enought 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 Not to mention some planted diamonds.
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.
Bratty Teenage Daughter: Paige, who was already more or less this, gets even worse after Phillip and Elizabeth separate and he moves out of the house.
Briefcase Full of Money: Phillip 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.
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 honeytrap who beat Elizabeth during rough sex.
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 a LIRR line. A scene set in Philly clearly shot somewhere along the 7 line in Queens. The list goes on and on.
Chekhov's Gun: 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.
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."
Elizabeth and Phillip 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.
"Directorate S", the KGB program which has installed in the United States Deep Cover Agents 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 backstories.
Stan was also a deep cover agent for the FBI. 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 he 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 Elisabeth 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.
Joyce, the wife of the agent who died in the pilot, meets an unfortunate end in "Gregory".
The same happens to Agent Chris Amador.
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 Phillip to blow off steam. Phillip 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 fact, the two families really are genuinely friendly and get along. The above two examples are the most blatant version of this trope and the trust is real and understandable.
Double Agent: Nina becomes this after coming clean to Arkady. Actually, given that she was a KGB officer to begin with, she might be a Triple Agent.
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.)
Enemy Eats Your Lunch: In the pilot, after a child predator makes crude remarks about his daughter, Phillip catches the guy barbecuing in his backyard. Phillip 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.
Fake American: Both Phillip and Elizabeth are this in-universe, being Russians masquerading as Americans. Matthew Rhys is also this out of universe, given that he's Welsh, but Keri Russell actually is American
False Flag Operation: Phillip is exploiting Martha, Agent Gaad's secretary, by pretending to be another FBI agent investigating the counter-intelligence 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.
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. Phillip, 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, Phillip 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.
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 Phillip is sympathetic, probably cared for her long before she started caring for him, and is deeply hurt.
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.
Honey Pot: Both Phillip and Elizabeth act as Honey Pots regularly. Nina is a Honey Pot for Vasili after she gets turned by the FBI. The ending of Season 1 implies that Nina is going to become this for Stan.
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. Phillip 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 Redeems / Love Makes You Crazy: Or at least less rational. Phillip was ready and willing to deliver the KGB defector to the USA and defecting himself, in order to get a better life for his family than he could reasonably expect in Russia. However, once he gets to know 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 towards Phillip, starts to warm up to him after this.
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.
Mama Bear: Claudia is revealed as this in the final episode of series 1.
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 Phillip at the time, and she apologized for it. Phillip rekindling his relation with his first true love, after feeling betrayed by Liz due to the events from an earlier episode, but immediately breaking it off? Kick the bastard out!
Moscow Center: Better known as the KGB. Phillip and Elizabeth work for them.
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.
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.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Elizabeth delivers a surprising and brutal one to Claudia after her torture at her own agency's hands.
Elizabeth and Phillip 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.
Phillip 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 Phillip figure out the titular colonel is not the trap, the routine tape pickup Elizabeth was sent on is
Old Flame: Phillip reunites with his ex-girlfriend Irina to discredit a Polish pro-democracy leader.
Pac-Man Fever: There is an odd but quite literal example in "The Oath". Claudia plays a game of Ms. Pac-Man in an arcade. However, the sounds are those of the original Pac-Man, which are very different.
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.
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 that all the instructors were raping the female trainees as a "perk" of the job.
Red Herring: In "The Clock" the audience is introduced to Annelise, Phillip's girlfriend and active spy who is married to a State Department official. Annelise is clingy and emotional. It seems like it will be a big Season 1 plotline. She's never seen again.
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.
Sadistic Choice: Nina in "The Colonel". She has to choose between redeeming herself to the Soviet Union by betraying the FBI's plan to the rezident, or betraying the KGB for a chance at extraction.
Secret Identity Identity: Phillip seriously considers defecting to the United States in the pilot. Elizabeth doesn't exactly approve of this plan.
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.
Suicide by Cop: In "Only You", Gregory chooses this route instead of fleeing to Moscow.
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.
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 Phillip as "Clark", and she believes he is another FBI counterintelligence 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.
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.
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.
Wig, Dress, Accent: The Jennings use wigs, glasses, different clothes and makeup to put on a unique appearance for each asset. Phillip's "Clark" wig remains amazingly durable during numerous sex scenes with Martha.
Your Cheating Heart: All of the main characters. Elizabeth had a longtime affair with an American KGB asset, and Phillip doesn't react well when he finds out in "Gregory". Then both Phillip and Stan cheat on their wives in "Duty and Honor".