The new FX show, The Americans, looks like it might be the best show about the spy world on air today. Set in Reagan days, it follows the “sleeper” agents who are from the Soviet Union living in the United States as Americans. (Sleeper agents are ones who are born in their home country but are schooled in becoming completely local. They have identities that are completely fabricated but very hard to discern as fake. They seem to be normal Americans usually from the upper-middle class. They are considered sleepers because they do nothing for many years until they are contacted and fulfill their mission as assigned.) Unlike Covert Affairs and Homeland that have the CIA working in the U.S. and against Americans which is not the CIA’s job (the FBI will remind you that is their territory), The Americans is based in D.C. where the KGB agents live in the suburbs and blend into the normalcy of suburban American life.
As someone who follows the intelligence world, I look for reality (Tinker, Tailor) or sheer fun (Bond). The tradecraft that is used in the TV show is accurate for the time. A dead drop made under a park bench was definitely one of the preferred methods of communications during this period. The training that they received in the Soviet Union seems very accurate. When the Soviet Union existed, there was indeed a spy school in the countryside where Soviets were trained in various languages, killing techniques, recruitment, and all sorts of other studies. I am fairly certain that Russia has a similar school even today.
Even the struggles they have in their daily lives over getting too attached to the American way of life is very realistic. Both have to live a truly double life and not seem at all suspicious to their neighbors, jobs, schools, and even their children. The writers have done a very good job in portraying the stress and the actors are playing their roles very well.
One particular aspect I really enjoyed is the coincidence of an FBI agent moving into the sleepers’ neighborhood. As anyone who has ever been in the spy business knows, many times the breaks one gets are totally out of the blue. Also the FBI character has a sixth sense that something is not quite right. As the NCIS character, Gibbs, is always saying “trust your gut.” This is very true in the intelligence world as well as the detecting world.
What will be particularly interesting to me is the progression of the series. Shall we meet a number of sleepers? What will happen when the Soviet Union falls? Will these agents disappear into America or go back to Russia or just switch allegiance to the new government? Are they more Russian or communist?
If you haven’t seen the first two shows, you can go to The Americans FX and watch on your computer. It is worth it!