For my last blog post, I wanted to write about a TV show that has been airing for a couple of years now. The show is called The Americans, the plot is about two KGB spies living in the US undercover, spying for the Soviet Union, and the difficulties they face in their day to day lives. I just started this show recently and was excited when I saw we might have the chance to get to this time period in Russian history in class. The show depicts the spies during the height of the Cold War, and is based on the Illegals Program, which was an FBI investigation of multiple Russian SVR spies living undercover here in the US. The investigation led to the arrest of 10 Russian spies in 2010.
The show’s director, Joe Weisburg, is a former CIA operative. He had a very short career with the CIA, but after he got out he began writing. He stated that many of his ideas for the show came from his training from the CIA and discussing stories with other spies who lived abroad with their families. In an interview with DirecTV, he stated, “I was in the CIA in the early 90s, so a lot of the tradecraft and espionage type stuff that’s in this show is based on stuff that I learned at the CIA. The tradecraft is period. So the dead drops and the communications protocols and the way that the agents are handled is all based on the training that I received rather than how things are done today . . . I never served abroad but I worked side-by-side with people who did and I was struck by a lot of things including their stories about what it was like to live and serve with a family and spy abroad. Particularly, I was very moved by what it was like to raise kids while not telling the kids what you really did. And then, to sit down with those kids one day as teenagers and have what was called ‘The Talk’ with them and tell them what mom or dad really did for a living because they were finally old enough to keep a secret. I was very interested in bringing that to TV – the idea of a family of spies, not just a single spy” (Weisburg).
The show is immediately captivating. Right away the viewers are introduced to the main characters and their true identities. An article by the theguardian.com explains the plot perfectly, “the premise is dynamite. In the 80s, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) pose as travel agents living outside Washington DC, but they’re really Russian spies who have been deeply integrated into the community. We see not only their daring missions to save the motherland and destroy imperialism during the height of the cold war, but also their struggles with their relationship, their family and their belief in a cause that no longer directly applies to their lifestyle” (theguardian.com). The show also offers an interesting perspective, as you find yourself rooting for the main characters, but then you remember they’re actually the bad guys. It is an interesting point of view, especially for such a crucial point in US history.
The show also gives a good perspective as to what was going on during the Cold War for spies. The Cold War was not a conventional war fought by the military, it was a secretive and strategic battle fought by the intelligence agencies of the US and the Soviet Union. And the show really sheds light on the difficulties posed for both sides, especially for the US on the home-front. We were heavily penetrated by the Soviets during the Cold War, and the show really exposes the audience to that. Obviously no show or movie is without some Hollywood influence, but the premise of the show and the events carried out during the show certainly offer some evidence as to what the War was like for intelligence agencies involved.
If you haven’t seen the show, take a look at the trailer for the first season!