TV Takes Up Soviet Sleeper Cells in the United States: FX's New Series The Americans
So despite creator Weisberg’s claim that “the enemies are the heroes,” the script that the writers produced hardly accomplishes that aim. The FBI agents are dedicated professionals who want to protect America’s security. They know the enemy they face and want it defeated; the KGB agents are malevolent and thuggish, willing to do whatever it takes to bring the United States down and for the Soviet Union to triumph. Thinking of the Soviet Union where nothing works, including the electricity, the husband tells Elizabeth in his most serious moment of doubt that “America’s not so bad"; they never lose electric power (evidently these D.C. residents don’t have the horrendous Pepco company we all have), “the food’s pretty great,” and more than that, the CIA would give them money to live well if they defect. Elizabeth doesn’t buy it, and hopes that rather than become real Americans, “they could be socialists.” Phillip responds, without irony, “this place doesn’t turn out socialists.” Set in 1981, obviously he doesn’t know that by the time his kids get to college, his wife’s dream may indeed turn out to be true!
It was wise for the show’s producers to set it in the Reagan years. Obviously, the idea came to them in 2010, when the FBI busted the sleeper cell of Soviet agents who had been in place for decades, posing as regular Americans who lived a well-off suburban life. Like the TV characters, the ten sleeper agents had been given false American names and identities, and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they remained true communist believers.
These agents believed in Castro, Peru’s Maoist Shining Path, and communism, and saw working for the FSB (the KGB’s successor agency) as a vehicle for keeping alive the communist legacy. And, like the Rosenbergs, they too were willing to sacrifice their own children for the cause they served. One of the caught agents, “Juan Lazaro,” told the prosecutors that “although he loved his son, he would not violate his loyalty to ‘the Service’ even for his son.” Like the TV characters playing the KGB agents in The Americans, loyalty to the KGB defines their lives and gives it meaning.