What Would the Jenningses Think

The FX spy drama The Americans’ final season has a Reagan-Gorbachev summit as a backdrop. The one where the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed in 1987. According to the series plot, there were two factions within the Soviet high powers: Gorbachev and his aides were ready to free the world from nuclear weapons even at a cost of some concessions, while the old KGB core was preparing a coup against Gorbachev so that the nukes would continue to protect the communist values. The main characters, a couple of Russian illegals living and acting in the D.C. area, are split – Elizabeth although without knowing is on a killing spree on the KGB side, while Philip is forced to go back to his past vocation, from which he has retired, in order to stop his wife and the conspiracy.

They manage everything — apparently stop the plot from its fruition, leave almost unscathed, and stay together. After all, they have been fighting for the supposedly better cause of stopping the real Americans from destroying their Motherland (as we know, in reality, Motherlands are usually happy to destroy themselves). They believed in it almost to the end, though with a varying degree of conviction, even though they had to kill people, some innocent, along the way. Elizabeth is hardcore and cold-blooded, but even she realizes that it is not always worth it, that no Motherland is worthy of killing everyone in their way. Sometimes, as they learn, you might have to kill your own people. Philip is sort of disillusioned almost from the beginning but stays loyal both to his country and his family, keeping it together and ultimately saving it from the unhappy ending.

The American television series about the Soviet undercover spies is surprisingly good at picturing both sides almost equally human. The Americans are not always innocent and righteous, the Russians are not simply the bad ones. Despite the fact that the vast majority of deaths are on Soviet hands, you do feel how the creators are sympathizing with them, explaining the rational reasons. There are greater causes behind both sides and that nearly justifies the cruelty, or at least that is how it is all shown. After all, it was the FBI agent who let the Jenningses go in the end.

Image from Watch The Americans

Back to the INF Treaty. It is rather dreadful that just a few months after the series ended and a few days before I finished watching it, our two countries mutually withdrew from the treaty. What those spies were fighting for on some level, what our country sacrificed back in the 1980s, what all those lives were lost for even if just in an action-driven television series — all those things were for nothing, or so it seems from 2019. Thirty-one years have passed and we are practically back to square one or even worse.

So, I wonder, what would the Jennigses think of us hypothetically? They put everything, their lives and happiness, their marriage and trust at stake on the great cause of peace. They left their kids behind and barely escaped. Now it turns out that all that risk was for nothing. Yes, they stayed alive. No, the great cause of peace is cast away. Then the two leaders came to the understanding that mutual disagreements should be set aside for the peaceful future that modern leaders see no more. Would Elizabeth be happy to see the quasi-return of the Soviet Union and the old guard? Would Philip be disgusted with it?

We will never know what the Jenningses would think of us. But although they are fictional characters we should still be asking ourselves these questions. If we don’t, we might just pave the way to the times from which even the real-life Jenningses would not be able to pull us out.

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