Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pop Culture Fun: Elizabeth Jennings and Nina Sergeevna Krilova of The Americans

I love a good spy show/film, strangely enough I'm not actually a big fan of spy novels but do enjoy non-fiction spy tales from time to time. I've come to realize part of it is the visuals that spies on on the small and big screen bring that I love so much. The constant change of costume and character for one person to constantly fluctuate between fascinates me to no end. Like so many I am completely enamored with The Americans, yes, the first episode is a bit clunky, and features a terrible music choice but trust me the show quickly finds its feet and offers some amazing material and themes to discuss.

I want to say this now before I got hooked on The Americans, Keri Russell the actress left me pretty cold, but as Elizabeth Jennings I love her. I think part of it was she was doing roles that really did not play on her strength and I remembered her too much from the Felicity days. It turns out that Russell is exquisite at doing nuanced, cold, calculating, and brutal. One of the things I love the most about The Americans is they have a gender flip in the relationship of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, the two Russian spies at the center of The Americans, Philip is the more sensitive and empathetic character who constantly questions their actions, where as Elizabeth is the one who remains constant to the cause and is consistently shown as being less doubtful to the cause they serve.

Like Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire, The Americans is a show that expertly remains true to the details of the era, you can tell that set design and costuming are used to the full extent of enhancing and defining characters and creating the reality of the moment. When this sort of attention to detail is applied to characters it is pretty easy for me to connect a fragrance to a character.

At times I think Elizabeth Jennings probably does not wear any perfume, which would be in step with her ideals, and yet while this may be her ideal she has trained herself to fit in with the culture around her and the 1980s was a time of booming fragrance. Does she do it to assimilate the culture around her? Yes. Does she do it thinking it goes against her communist ideals? Very likely. Does she obtain pleasure from it? Yes, but she will never ever admit that. The scent chosen by her I think would be Yves Saint Laurent's Opium, a tiny f-u to restrictive cookie cutter American society for it is a scent that by name alone suggests dark subjects which Elizabeth knows all about.

The spicy balsamic smoky scent of Opium works perfectly with the earth tones Elizabeth wears when she is working at the travel agency and interacting with her family, it is probably the closest we get to know the real Elizabeth outside of her as a spy. Also, fitting is that Elizabeth keeps her gorgeous mane of hair down and natural during these periods, in era when women frequently wore their highly coiffed or teased intensely Elizabeth wears her's long and natural a rejection of cultural American norms and a way to show when she is not a spy, for when she is spying her hair is always up and covered. Opium is a magnetic and intense scent, yet all those spices can be very comforting. I imagine her children probably associate their mother intensely with the scent.

If Elizabeth Jennings represents the stalwart, loyal, expert, and true believer spy then poor Nina Sergeevna Krilova is the opposite. Nina is the young, inexperienced, and ideals seduced spy, who is also the generation of spy after Elizabeth and Philip. She is smart enough to try and play the field but inherently finds she cannot constantly be going against her own nature. Her choices time and time again show a character who cannot compartmentalize herself in her work. Her desire for a more luxurious life when sending luxury goods back to Russia lands her in the role of being an FBI informant. Yet, she cannot do that, she cannot live with loyalty divided, eventually the strain of doing so gets to be too much for her and she must tell her Russian director. She is then asked again to be mole for Russia and now inform on the FBI, this also she cannot do, and eventually she confides in her lover Oleg her circumstances. She cannot not follow her desire.

I suppose I should choose a tragic scent for Nina, for she does understand the tragedy of her circumstances, but I think she deserves better. She is one of the few characters who cannot fully compartmentalize her desires on the show, she is probably the most true to herself. One thing I noticed that the costuming department and makeup department consistently cloth her in shades of pink, pink can be both passionate and innocent. She frequently wears pink lipstick, never red. Her outfits always have shades of pink somewhere, her femininity is always suggested, used against her or used by her to try and attain some form of power. The scent I chose for her is Guerlain's Nahema, a scent so pink, vibrant, passionate, and alluring all facets that Nina was or had to use in her survival. I think she would have chosen this for herself, a true luxury she would bought for herself when she arrived in America. It would have probably been a congratulations to herself for obtaining the position but in the end it would have been small tiny part of beauty in her days of walking so many fine and tragic lines.

First image from
Second image from
Third image from
Fourth image from
Fifth image from

No comments: