Warning: Spoiler Alert
Allegiance is a show that NJATVS circled on the calendar almost seven months ago. Then all we knew was that it sounded a lot like The Americans on NBC. A family of spies. NBC was rather tight-lipped in the early going. Then we discovered that there was a wrinkle. A family of Russian spies living in the United States, had a son. That son grew up to be a very real CIA agent. How long could the family keep their true identity a secret from their own son. On a personal note, I am not blown away with the cast on paper. That said, I will go into this with a clear and open mind, keeping expectations low. With shows of this nature, the natural tendency is to want to compare it The Blacklist, 24, Homeland, or even Legend. A tall order for a show no one has seen to this point. All indications are that Allegiance looks like a significant player in the network drama landscape. So, on to the recap.
The pilot episode starts exactly the way a show like this should. Drops you right in the middle of the action without any explanation. Our lead character (unknowing son) is escorted to the 7th floor of the Russian division after only 4 months in. The head of the department wants an analyst in the room. An analyst that the mark in question would not recognize (based on his whopping 4 months of service). A Russian SVR operative approached a CIA station chief hoping to defect. Putting Alex (O’Connor) in the room with her may create an advantage.
Alex arrives back home (Brooklyn, NY) unexpectedly due to his new role. His mother (Hope Davis) is predictably excited. There seems to be a slight disconnect between mother and son. While Alex looks for a tie to poach from his father, he stops abruptly before tying it. His mother says, “ok, just work your steps”. There is something as of yet not revealed about Alex.
Elsewhere, Dad is out getting groceries. By the time he returns, he’s spotted two different vehicles that are familiar. One even had the engine running with no one in it. With the Russian embassy listening in, Mark (Dad) mentions something about being picky about groceries and hands her the receipt which reads, “house under surveillance”. They continue small talk as to not throw off who is listening. The doorbell rings. Katya (Mom) goes to see who it is. A Russian man greets her in Russian. Fear overwhelms her and she closes the door in his face.
There is clearly no love lost between this Victor and the O’Connors. Victor brings them their first ‘task’ in six years. It is clear that Mark did something significant in order to prevent these types of meetings, which doesn’t seem to matter to the new management. The task is recruiting Alex to spy for the SVR and betray the CIA and United States at large. The case that Alex has been flown to NY to assist with could be the beginning of the end for the SVR. There are also files in the wind. Files that could I.D. every SVR operative in the US. Including the O’Connors. None of which seem to matter as Katya believes Alex’s moral compass is so steadfast that he would turn them in upon discovery of their SVR affiliation.
Alex introduces himself as “Bill Adams”. One of many details they are leaking out one piece at a time. He meets with the Station Chief who is not thrilled that this is Alex/Bill’s first operation. The Station Chief begins to tell him the report is on a computer, then Alex/Bill interrupts him to say he’s already read it. All 406 pages. There is something about Alex. A genius mind or a meticulous method that speaks to something more than just being smart.
The O’Connors take their SUV in to get it washed. Victor and others are listening in. What they hear is a discussion between spouses about how to break the news to Alex. What they are really listening to is a recording of those two having said discussion. Katya isn’t even in the vehicle. Katya instead is accessing a storage unit. Under a couple of couch cushions is a lot of cash, passports, and guns. Mark pays for the car wash and four burner phones, then sends a bogus text that has to be a code.
The text was sent to a woman of Alex’s age. They have mentioned an older sister who is in the loop and an operative herself. She excuses herself from her ‘date’ (or whatever it was supposed to be).
Alex and Luttrell (Station Chief) make their way through the streets, into a train station and down the tracks. The defector follows a similar path starting from a train car. Underground behind subway lines is a formidable and stable setup. Luttrell and agent Julie Marcus greet this asset in a dark room. She begins to tell the story of what prompted her to want to defect, while Alex views her mannerisms from across the glass.
Natalie, Alex’s sister was the recipient of the text. She and her mother talk about the plan. The plan is to run. Natalie is not so eager. She has a life there. Then it turns into a blame game about how her mother turned her into a spy when she was young. To which Mom replies with a similar tale of woe. Katya then attempts to get some prescriptions filled at a local pharmacy.
The interview (not to be confused with an interrogation) was pretty straight forward. Luttrell doesn’t believe she’s telling the truth or that any of her information was even intel they didn’t already have. Then Alex speaks up. If he can talk directly to her, he can find out definitively whether this is legit or a ‘dangle’. He goes in and asks a series of multiple choice questions to more clearly identify where she was even though she thought she could not identify it. Alex was able to discern enough info from those answers to at least narrow the search to something more manageable.
Victor walks up on Katya in the pharmacy talking about the time of year and how nice it would be to escape to somewhere tropical. The SVR has cancelled their plane tickets and knew exactly what they were trying to do. Katya meets Mark on a rooftop patio. The SVR thinks they won’t fight back because they have nothing to lose. Then Katya proclaims, “They can’t have another one of our children” and storms off. Mark catches up to her.
Mark: What are you doing?
Katya: The only way I have left to protect my home is to burn theirs down. I’m going to the FBI.
Alex goes through the video and finds something hidden in the story. Using his familiarity with native Russian as opposed to translated Russian finds a line of thinking that utilizes the term Easter Egg but outside the context of religion. In terms of internet lingo, an Easter Egg is a piece of information leaked that suggests something big. The Comic Book genre of movies does this all the time. Alex believes there is something massive on the horizon.
Mark chases after Katya. He tries to call her but she won’t answer. He quickly calls Natalie and tells her that her mother is about to turn herself in, so call her. That doesn’t work either. Miles later she still isn’t even considering changing her mind. Mark pulls up next to her and asks her to pull over. When she doesn’t he races ahead and slides into her lane forcing her to ‘t-bone’ into him. Literally on the steps of the FBI building, Mark talks her off the ledge. They spy on Alex. This way they can make anything that points to them disappear before it gets to him.
Mark’s plan is not completely rejected by Victor. For now.
Alex arrives at the house. Let the fun begin. Katya takes his coat then walks into another room to replace his phone battery with another, I assume to ‘ghost’ the phone. Track it at minimum. Mark approaches Alex’s car and puts a tracker in the wheel well. Back inside, they have your typical family small talk. But the tension between Katya, Mark and Natalie is noticeable.
Victor arrives in an old warehouse and is met by what must be a superior. A superior who is not pleased that Katya almost walked into the FBI and they weren’t contacted immediately. Victor sheds some light on Alex and why recruiting him could be a volatile situation. He didn’t speak until he was 8. And when he did it was in complete sentences with perfect pronunciation. By age 9 he couldn’t read. And then just like that he could. Point being, Alex’s response to anything they throw at him would be completely and utterly unpredictable. Then Victor lays out the other plan.
NEW WRINKLE! Natalie and Victor are an ‘item’. To what extent is still as of yet not clear. She does slap him pretty hard a couple of times for at the very least going around her to get to Alex.
They have found a steam plant that fits the description Alex was able to formulate. In the plant, FBI agents are relaying the information they have. Alex interjects and completely goes all Sherlock on the FBI agents poking holes in their conclusions, deducing from a number of small details a different conclusion. That new conclusion gives them a clue to check. A piece of stainless steel which they later find out was part of a knee surgery.
They take Alex down into a ‘cube’ or big metal box that will prevent any electronic signals from penetrating. If you’ve been watching The Blacklist, this idea should be familiar. This cuts off Mark and Katya’s ability to hear what is being said. Inside, they have a match using the surgical metal. The image is not only familiar to me, but painfully familiar to Alex. The man who was burned alive for stealing Russian secrets is the same man we saw earlier in a picture at the O’Connor’s home.
Alex arrives at his parent’s home. He is determined and devoid of emotion. He walks over to the piano and pulls a framed photo off the piano. Mentions how they once mistakenly referred to their family friend as Mikael instead of Nikolai. He drops the framed photo and CIA documents on the table in front of them.
Alex: I’ll give you two choices. You tell me everything. From the beginning. Or, I can turn you in.
Reaction: As open minded as a person can be, it is difficult to view a show like this without some sort of expectation. The problem is that shows like this one inherently have unrealistic expectations. This pilot episode and overall concept completely destroyed the expectation. Is it The Blacklist? Probably not, but the jury’s still out on that. As pilot episodes go this was almost exceptional. The pace was passively relentless. They gave us only as much information as was necessary to keep moving forward. They hinted to a great many things that should serve as ‘easter eggs’ for future developments. If you missed this episode, I recommend you find it through NBC.com or the NBC app and set your DVR. This one feels every inch the show it was billed to be.