Wiggin’ Out: Philip & Elizabeth’s Story Told Through Disguises, For Better or for Worse
The Americans, the terrific Cold War era drama on FX, presents a wildly original interrogation of the early 80’s spy game. The two leads, Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (so many British period TV movies) are Russian spies living as “the illegals” for years in the U.S., raising a family, running a little travel agency, and carrying out a full schedule of spy work from planting wires to the occasional murder. The Americans, currently airing its third season and really hitting its stride, can also be enjoyed as a voyeuristic look at the battleground and cold war that can occur in lengthy marriages from time to time: there is a darkly comic slant to the portrayal of Philip & Elizabeth Jennings’ marriage that is reminiscent of that moment when American Beauty’s dark look at domestic life was the best thing we’d seen in black comedy on that subject in a long while. The two are agents, partners, and rather alone in the world with their secrets and their mission. Here, they function extremely well as a team. In their 15 year marriage, however, tensions run high as they essentially live for their work, losing much of their humanity through the necessary conditioning of the skills that makes them excellent spies; including the con game, hours of surveillance, and coming home to two kids at the annoying ages of 11 and 14. Brave and bold in the D.C. streets, they tend to hide in their bedroom from their children as often as possible when they aren’t in the garage.
The disguises are one of the delights of the show, whether they get it pitch perfect or dial it in with some hipster glasses (Elizabeth) and these glasses and props like crossword books, cigarettes and beers are always entertaining. Elizabeth, perhaps the more terrifying agent of the two, particularly loves to break bad as often as possible from her good ol’ American mom sweaters and adds new vices as easily as Philip lies to Martha, his other wife. The disguise element itself takes us back to those great days of 80’s TV when every rogue P.I. (and there were many) seemed to have some spirit gum in his glove box and every female lead was usually cast in Hooker drag at least once a season, something we kids took perverse joy in.
Watchers of The Americans will know that Philip has a second wife as part of a long term operation to infiltrate the FBI involving a hard working Executive Secretary. It’s so damn wrong, but it’s so comical every time “Clark” comes home to Martha (which is only occasionally.) His portrayal in character as Clark is a dopey nerd, but with an edge with Philip’s own seething irritation & boredom with his sweet, dumb new bride always lingering behind the grin of the “perfect” husband. These scenes are always so enjoyable, and give the show some lightness, even as Philip ruins this poor woman’s 30’s (and there’s always the fear he could end her life if need be). On the topic of wigs, Martha caught onto the “toupee” some time ago and tolerates it as a quirk of Clark’s! He keeps rocking the blond Clark Kent look, though even his wig seems to have become sweaty, annoyed and undone over the passing time frame of the story. Where once Clark (and his wig) were smooth, elegant and buttoned up, he’s now coming a little frayed. Martha, you see, has a bit of the baby fever.
Elizabeth’s clear cut winner for the wig race for season 3 is the centerpiece of this collage, where a fierce shaggy blow out of her natural hair was paired with the hottest glasses the 80’s ever turned out. And yes, people really did wear those. I knew one wearer who was our local version of a celebrity because she wore those with long fake nails, smoked just like that and went to Vegas once a month long before it was acceptable for non-Mobsters. (R.I.P. Rita).
This is just a fleeting screencap from a “previously on” but I think you’ll agree the poor quality is worth it for the alarmed stare and the sweet moustache that by all rights, Philip should be rocking much more regularly. VERY Magnum P.I.
Before you think they lazed out in the pic above, or were in too much of a rush to pop by the Ru Paul’s Drag Race workshop, please note that we have BOTH wigs and hats in play here. Including a mullet, and a Winona Ryder.
This is Philip’s real look (we think) as he meets with his handler, Gabriel. Yet, even his everyday look seems wiggy and his turtleneck cries “I AM A RUSSIAN SPY, WHERE IS MY TRENCHCOAT!”. Probably the actor wears a bit of extensions to give that fluffy early 80’s vibe.
Now here’s where things get wiggy. Bizarrely, in this scene from season three, Elizabeth goes out do a quick semi-public murdering in her every day look with no disguise on. Unless you consider a really elegant wool coat with the collar flipped up and sleek hair to be a disguise, and I’m rethinking that yes, maybe I do. I sometimes wonder if she considers a coat of mascara a whole new face.
Even curiouser: Elizabeth takes her daughter out to the rough part of town to tell her about mom and dad’s right on work in civil rights (as part of grooming her for the cause) while going out the most dressed up I’ve ever seen her look in her “real life”. Of course, everything is a cover, and they lie to their kids every day. So maybe this Diane Keaton in Baby Boom/Sigourney Weaver power suit when a brooch was a tie for women look is her Russian spy recruiting special picture day look. Dress to impress!
In the most delightful wig moment of season 3, Philip comes at us in a full on Joey Ramone which is positively stunning, if a little too “AR man for Avril Lavigne Emo”. It’s another rare time for Philip and Elizabeth to go couple/matchy, however as great looking as the asymetrical blonde look is, it’s a little too modern looking for me. But maybe it fails just because Keri Russell cannot look punky-trashy no matter what she does: she’s distractingly/perfectly all-American looking with fine, delicate features. She tends to look too pretty and on point fashion wise! (See the purple glasses again.)
Saving the best for last, here is a collage/montage of Philip in his breathtaking Joey Ramone/”cool music festival-going with his kids sometime-musician-dad” look. Bonus points for the location people for not only a diner but a great mural wall, USA! USA! USA! And by the way, the last shot is not what you see when he breaks into song. It’s the look of your DEMISE.
While this article was already underway, research found this gem: during season 2, Vulture posted a slide show of ALL THE WIGS WORN TO DATE ON THE SHOW. Yes, someone spent some time.
By Step On Magazine Editors