Mr. & Mrs. Smith Episode 1 Review: “First Date” Kicks Off with a (Quiet) Bang

Mr. & Mrs. Smith First Date

The first episode of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Amazon’s high-profile remake of the 2005 film, begins not with the beginning its title suggests, but with an ending – to be specific, the death of another John and Jane, their seemingly idyllic country life cut down by a Range Rover full of faceless assassins (and a much more effective sniper). It’s an interesting choice for a pilot episode, one where its pre-destined protagonists haven’t been introduced to each other yet, much less the audience – but it is certainly an effective tone-setter, establishing an unsettling undertone much of the shadows and lengthy corridors follow in the understated, intriguing “First Date”.

Like any streaming pilot trying to give an air of prestige, Mr. & Mrs. Smith‘s first episode is mostly preamble, very deliberately introducing us to John (Donald Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine), two strangers who sign up for a shady, dangerous job that requires them to throw their entire lives away. Thankfully, this is about the only part of the original film Amazon’s new series brings into this adaptation; like the original, the dynamic between its two main characters is shrouded in mystery, exploring ideas of presentation (the strange cat that appears when the two meet in their new home) and reality (Jane later reveals she brought the cat with her), and how those differences are perceived, both with others and self.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith First Date

It’s not a new idea, of course – we’re only a few years from the end of The Americans, one of the best shows of the past decade – but how Mr. & Mrs. Smith embody this idea is quite different. Instead, “First Date” (brilliantly directed by Hiro Murai) places the audience in the shoes of both characters as they try to assess the strange person that’s suddenly become the center of their universe, a dance between John’s active approach to learning about her (he even goes so far as to try and Google reverse image search her face) and Jane’s more noticeably passive skills of perception.

Through a mix of wonderfully shot (if poorly lit) scenes and flashbacks to John and Jane’s “interviews”, “First Date” starts to ground itself in the shared exploration of each character. In particular, the diner scene where the two engage in their first stakeout, is a standout, isolating John and Jane in each shot as they ask questions and poke around each other’s personalities and histories. It’s a strange proposition, to take on a high-risk job with a complete (and equally reckless) stranger – “First Date” leans into that, and outside of some slightly heavy-handed bits of dialogue, does a fantastic job in building out some visible, active dichotomies between characters for the season to explore (though hopefully they discover their shared love for Korean barbeque sooner rather than later).

“First Date” also smartly doesn’t lean to heavily into its spy leanings early on; there’s a mystery corporation (that begins every message with “Hihi”), a certain sense of scope and danger (the opening scene kills off John and Jane is rather cold, surprising fashion), and a first mission that involving cake, one that happens to explode thirty seconds after our John and Jane exit the house it is delivered to. There are no massive teases, no allusions to what may or may not be – those are left entirely to John and Jane themselves, as they slowly reveal truths (or are they?) to each other, and try to convince themselves they’ve suddenly become new people.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith First Date

Does “First Date” need to be 58 minutes long? Probably not; but there’s nothing wrong with the meticulous character work built into co-creators Francesca Sloane and Glover’s script – which at times, is a little naked in its methodical delivery, though that approach does make its few truly surprising moments stand out. The reveal of Max the cat’s ownership, in the episode’s final minute, is easily the most affecting of them (the other is a bomb, which is certainly an effective way to raise the stakes). Jane revealing to John that Max is her cat, and that she won’t be changing his name, is such a textually rich moment, putting the talents and shortcomings of both characters on display, and really setting the table for a show about people struggling to figure out who they are when they’re next to someone else – every couple has their secrets, of course, though this version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith‘s first episode uses this to give dimension to its characters (where previously, it was a very superficial “marriage is keeping secrets and avoiding easy traps!” element).

Though one may not get a strong blueprint for what Mr. & Mrs. Smith is going to be through its first season with “First Date”, the confidence in the cohesion of its many understated elements comes through in the episode’s writing and direction, which inspires a bit of confidence the series is treating this as a starting place, rather than a fully-formed template (the episode’s few scattered punchlines also hint towards a series that might be slightly lighter in tone as it builds rapport between its leads). And though I think some might be coming to the series expecting something a little louder and brasher, “First Date” displays plenty of potential for an action-espionage series that’s both exacting and tense in its examination of relationships and identity, and exciting and propulsive as a story of spies and global intrigue.

Grade: B

Other thoughts/observations:

  • I love how when asked whether she was kicked out of the FBI or CIA, Jane’s answer was “something like that”, when it was revealed earlier she just didn’t quite make ‘the cut’. Vulnerability; not her strong suit.
  • John remembers killing 13 people on purpose and 1 accidentally. Willing to bet we hear about the latter this season, no?
  • the original John and Jane are playing by Alexander Skaarsgard and Eiza Gonzalez. Here’s hoping Paul Dano’s guest appearance is a bit longer – though Skaarsgard does a lot with the very little time he has, when he realizes his Jane’s run out of energy to ‘keep running’.
  • Any TV show whose first drop is a Patsy Cline song is going to get my attention. “You Belong to Me” is the choice here.
  • The only Buddy Love I ever heard of was the ‘evil’ part of Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor, who was an entirely separate person in the sequel? Am I remembering this correctly?
  • I already love David Fleming’s score! Great percussion in the second and third act, when there’s finally some movement going on.
  • Welcome to Mr. & Mrs. Smith reviews! Reviews of each episode will publish daily over the next week.

Want to share your thoughts? Join the conversation below!