I adore The Americans. No other series has pulled me in quicker, and so far this year, no show has given me more to think about and flat-out enjoy.
All that makes last night’s missteps all the more frustrating. Why did Stan Beeman, an upstanding FBI agent whose life was completely upended by an undercover assignment with an Aryan gang, break bad so quickly?
Ten minutes into the episode, when Agent Gaad broke the news that he was planning an optional, off-books attack on the acting KGB rezident in retaliation for the three FBI agents killed last week, Stan wanted no part in it. He wasn’t embarrassed to decline the extrajudicial operation, and he didn’t worry that turning it down might affect his standing with his boss or among his fellow agents. None of that mattered: He had too much respect for the rule of law to compromise himself.
And then his partner went missing, and Stan’s principles crumpled as quickly as a cheap Russian jogging suit. All it took was a visit to Amador’s bachelor pad, where Stan saw a photograph of his partner in his Marine uniform and heard messages from two of his female conquests—along with one from his sweet, heavily accented mom—and suddenly he was ready to overrule orders and grab an unidentified Russian from a public park? Then, once Amador’s body had been found, Stan was prepared to shoot a man in the back of the head, even though he knew he was a worthless nobody? If his values are so easily cast aside, they can’t have been very deeply held in the first place.
I didn’t even buy the deep connection between Stan and Amador. If the show’s creators thought they’d convinced us that the two of them were so tight, they wouldn’t have felt the need to drop in a pair of clunky flashbacks to establish that closeness. And if Amador was the pussy hound that the flashbacks and phone messages would have us to believe, why did he spend so much screen time mooning over Martha, who has always been presented as a pathetic loser in love?
Television today has more than its share of flawed and compromised heroes, not to mention full-on monsters by the score. Couldn’t one man’s moral compass have kept pointing to true north for more than eight episodes?
Disclosure: The Americans was created by Joe Weisberg, brother of the Slate Group's editor-in-chief, Jacob Weisberg.