Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes
The Americans, a show about undercover Soviet agents posing as Americans in the DC area during the Cold War, teaches writers solid lessons in both what it gets wrong, and what it gets right.
Since I write espionage nonfiction and fiction and partner with a senior member of the Intelligence Community, let’s look at this from the espionage angle first.
Philip (Mischa) and Elizabeth (Nadezhda) Jennings, played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, are the one-stop shop for all Soviet espionage needs. They run multiple operations at a time and work as everything from honeypots to assassins to grave robbers, all the while receiving frequent phone calls from “The Center” at home, where they live with their two children. Their legends have legends, and they slip in and out of various roles and disguises as if there’s no chance of ever running into their kids’ teachers at the grocery store. Philip pops in and out of a wig and facial hair so adeptly that the poor woman he dupes into a fake marriage doesn’t notice it’s not real—either the facial hair or the marriage. The Jennings even pull their daughter into the “family business.”
It’s a fun and fascinating show. It has virtually no basis in reality.
Oh, the Soviets had honeypots, assassins, thieves, surveillance teams, sleeper agents, etc. The Russians still do. But even the Russians don’t expect their spies to be jacks-of-all-trades.
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