If Allegiance was on Showtime or HBO, no one would be questioning whether it might “evolve” into truly compelling television. Provided a few adjustments were made, including more complicated characterization for Alex and background characters like his comely FBI partner (Floriana Lima), it would be a given that the series was heading somewhere exciting. But with countless duds like Kings and Awake – heavily serialized dramas that stalled too obviously for viewers to keep watching – in NBC’s past, there’s no guarantee that Allegiance will be allowed to progress naturally. Already, the show is demonstrating an exasperating propensity for weekly cliffhangers. It needs to bend and twist, to reach further and showcase larger ambitions, like any serialized program about something as volatile and treacherous as international spycraft should. And so, it must be said that Allegiance will only succeed if it prolongs Katya and Mark’s deceptive operations in believable, engaging ways, without dragging its feet in the coming weeks.
The series also must play to its biggest strengths, first and foremost among which is Davis. She’s absolutely terrific in a refreshingly complex female lead role. Particularly on cable, female spies often fall under the femme fatale umbrella, so to watch Katya, a devoted mother and wife, elude and outfox her FBI pursuers armed with little more than her intellect and cold efficiency (and while ensuring that her oblivious, youngest daughter pulls up her grades) is an undeniable thrill. To be sure, certain tropes creep into later episodes, as she spends a significant amount of time fretting over Alex’s clothes and eating habits, but in spite of that, Davis keeps the emotional stakes high. Her relationships with Mark, strained early on, and eldest daughter Natalie (Margarita Levieva, put in the uncomfortable position of providing the show’s requisite skin), who was turned to the KGB cause years earlier and still resents Katya for it, appear particularly promising.
Stenhouse, too, makes for a nerdily charismatic lead, and though it’s a little taxing that each and every brainiac character on television must register somewhere on the Asperger’s scale of social gracelessness, Allegiance executes the cliché deftly, his character’s charming awkwardness pairing well with his detail-oriented brand of genius.
Watching Katya and Mark evade Alex and try to keep him in the dark week after week could grow tiresome, but Allegiance powers through its first three installments without faltering or devolving into something truly ridiculous. In its current state, the series is a serviceable thriller, boosted by its sturdy performances and interesting inversion of the female spy. If Allegiance to have any hope of keeping viewers around, though, it needs to prove its own allegiance to serialized storytelling – by naturally allowing the lit fuses on its powder-keg premise to burn down and trigger the inescapable BOOM every audience member is already eager to see.
Though it lacks the ambition and depth of The Americans and Homeland, both shows to which it owes much, Allegiance is a solidly acted and slickly executed game of cat-and-mouse, showcasing one trait that should make it invaluable to NBC: real potential.