By Paula Hendrickson
I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for the third season of FX’s The Americans. It’s been more than eight months since we were left wondering what KGB sleeper spies Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) will do if The Center proceeds with plans to indoctrinate their 14-year-old daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor).
Yes, season two ended with Phillip warning higher ups to leave their daughter alone, but does anyone think Phillip and Elizabeth are naive enough to really think anyone at The Center cares about their feelings on the matter?
Creating suspense is just one of many things The Americans gets right. Another is showing how good and bad can coexist within individuals. As Soviet spies, Phillip and Elizabeth are supposed to be “the enemy,” but it’s clear they’re duty-bound pawns in an international Reagan-era chess game. They were impressionable and idealistic youngsters — as their daughter is now — who bought into the party line and willingly gave their lives to a cause they believed in.
Since the pilot episode, we’ve seen how Phillip has grown to appreciate some aspects of the American lifestyle. He’s even questioned some of the things they’ve been ordered to do. But Elizabeth’s trust in The Center only really began to falter upon learning the disturbing truth behind the gruesome slaughter of a family much like theirs — and that The Center wants Paige.
As events brought the Jennings (whose relationship began as a cover story) closer together, their neighbors’ marriage crumbled. FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) started an affair with KGB double agent — is that triple agent? — Nina (Annet Mahendru) around the same time his wife (Susan Misner) embarked on an affair of her own. As season two drew to a close, the all-American Beeman seemed to contemplate committing treason to save Nina from being sent home to face near certain death as a traitor.
Also in season two, Paige began questioning the random comings and goings of her parents, and confessed to a pastor that sometimes she thinks one or both may be having an affair. Her guess isn’t that far off, considering Phillip — as supposed bureaucrat “Clark” — is also married to Martha, who happens to be the secretary of Beeman’s boss, Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas). If you think Paige would be shocked if she learned about her dad’s other life, imagine how she’d react if she realized her mom knew all about Martha, and even attended the wedding as Clark’s sister.
Clearly, The Americans has a lot of subplots moving all at once. If you haven’t watched the show before, don’t be scared off. There’s not much time to catch up on the first two seasons, but each episode generally starts with a “Previously on The Americans” recap that covers everything you need to know to follow that episode.
The story is smart and involving, and the action sequences will have you on the edge of your seat, but what sets The Americans apart from other TV shows are it’s stars. Russell and Rhys are outstanding as Elizabeth and Phillip — no matter which wigs and costumes they happen to be wearing. When you watch the show, bear in mind Rhys is a Welshman playing a Russian who’s passing for American. That alone makes his performance a remarkable feat. And you’ll never think of Russell as Felicity again.
Season 3 of The Americans premiered 9 p.m. Central, Wednesday, Jan. 28 at on FX.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Jan. 29, 2015