Early last week I was lucky enough to attend a premiere party for the new season of The Americans. It was a mix of press, radio contest winners, some industry folk, people who had signed up for random screening mailing lists, and open bar aficionados. And then there were the dude bros sitting behind me who felt the need to heckle their way through the entire episode. This is my ode to the dude bros.
Dear Horrible Guys Sitting Behind Me at the Premiere of The Americans,
Hello. I apologize for the impersonal open letter format, but I don’t actually know how else to contact you. I only known you as Those Guys That I Hate and you’ve only ever known me as That Humorless C*nt Who Told Us Everyone Hated Us After the Movie or Whatever This Thing Was. But formalities aside, I’d like to extend my gratitude. Initially, I could not have hated you more for your heckling of The Americans, specifically your laughter and comments whenever a woman talked about sex, had sex, or was killed because of sex. But after thinking it over, I feel I owe you some appreciation. You’ve opened my eyes to something very important, and for that I thank you.
In regard to how it portrays its women, relationships, and sexuality in general, The Americans is one of the most complex shows on television. Sex is the most commonly used weapon on the show, and nearly every character is, at any given time, using sex to get what they want, or being manipulated with sex and/or romance (usually “and”). It’s also apparently good for a giggle. And that’s fine. When you laughed at the season premiere’s Kama Sutra scene, fine. I’m with you. That Clark wig is too ridiculous to not be hilarious, especially when that’s the only thing Matthew Rhys is wearing. When you yelled comments at the screen during a woman’s interrogation over her sexual practices, you’re just a moron. And an asshole. But what took you beyond the point of mere assholedom was when you laughed your way through another female character’s murder. Because yes, this is a fictional woman on a television show. But she represents something larger. Why would we watch shows like this if she didn’t, if she didn’t hold some meaning for us? So yes, her murder matters. And so does your reaction to it.
Because this was not just any random murder. (Spoilers for last week’s premiere from here out.) Just like that great horror movie trope, Annelise is killed because she chooses to have sex. And more than that, because she attached feelings to that sex. But did she choose? Remember, she developed a relationship with Yousaf Rana, the Pakistani ISI agent, because Phillip asked her to. Because Phillip, in developing feelings for Elizabeth, did not want his wife to have sex with Yousaf. So he asked Annelise, someone whose sexuality he found more expendable. If you remember back towards the end of season two, Elizabeth was ready to get information from Yousaf, the same way she always does— the same way Phillip does: by being a sexy-ass motherf*cker. That is her job and she is good at it. But Phillip felt uncomfortable with that situation, now that the two are developing an actual relationship after more than a decade of pretend married life. So he brings in young, innocent Annelise, who is excited to play the sexy spy game, but is way, way out of her depths. Yet Phillip convinces her to keep at it, even when she first loathes it, then develops actual feelings towards Yousaf (or creates feelings to mask her self-disgust, if we wanna get all psychoanalytical). So when Yousaf kills Annelise, it’s especially tragic because Phillip put her there. He decided that her life was not as important as his wife’s fidelity, and it directly led to her death. And by laughing and heckling your way through that scene, you made it clear that you, too, see no value in her life.
Near the top of the season premiere, Elizabeth is talking with a female CIA operative who is so disgusted with the way she’s treated that she’s willing to betray her country because of it. It can be easy to hear this woman’s story of being ignored and passed over for promotion and think “Wow, 1981 was crazy, huh?” But you’ve reminded me (as if I need reminding) that women being derided and undervalued was not limited to the Cold War era. So thank you. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of a show that handles sexuality and womanhood and personhood in all its messy, complicated difficulty. I sometimes find myself having to defend my love of and investment in television. Why do I care about something as silly as a television show? But you’ve shone a light on the best TV can be: a reflection of, and commentary on, the very best and (in your case) worst of our society. For every 100 people who watched the season premiere of The Americans and was horrified by Annelise’s death, there is you, telling us why we need that storyline to begin with. There aren’t many television shows portraying sexual and gender politics in this way, and douche bros like you show us why there should be more.
That Humorless C*nt Sitting In Front of You
Vivian Kane just wanted to talk about Frank Langella’s interior decorating style. Maybe next week.