Tube Talk: More than a Cold War spy thriller

By Paula Hendrickson
Television Columnist

FX’s critically-lauded series, The Americans, might seem to be an espionage thriller centered on Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, respectively), a team Soviet sleeper agents who appear to be ordinary suburban American parents running a small travel agency, but at its core The Americans is really a family drama. A fact brought home last season when their teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor) learned her parents were KGB agents.

From the pilot episode, it was clear that Elizabeth was more staunchly devoted to the cause and the Motherland than Philip, who enjoyed the perks of American lifestyle—shopping at the mall, cars, indulging in ice cream with the kids. It caused tension, but the couple managed to work out an espionage-family balance.  Even when Paige found God, the non-believers knew if they forced the issue they could lose their daughter, so they agreed to let her participate in church events and even get baptized.

When The Center expressed an interest in having Paige follow in her parents’ footsteps, Philip made it clear he didn’t want their daughter dragged into the family business, or even knowing about it, but Elizabeth slowly began preparing to tell Paige the truth.

Any teenager would have trouble processing the fact that her parents had lied to her since the day she was born. Add in the fact that they’re also KGB operatives at the height of the Cold War, and what’s a girl to do? Last season ended with Paige confessing everything to her pastor, unknowingly putting him in danger and setting the Jennings family up for a bumpy fourth season.

Now that their secret is out, how do Elizabeth and Philip eliminate the risk of a disastrous fallout without further jeopardizing their relationship with Paige? What happens if and when their son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) learns his parents are Soviet spies? And why is Henry spending so much time hanging out with their FBI agent and neighbor, Stan (Noah Emmerich)?

While the Cold War espionage is exciting and ups the stakes of every episode of The Americans, it’s the Jennings’ complicated relationship—they were paired up by The Center, yet at some point developed real feelings for one another—and family dynamic that make those stakes seem so much higher.

Programming Note

The Season 4 premiere of The Americans is Wednesday, March 16 at 9 p.m. on FX.

Follow Paula on Twitter: @P_Hendrickson.

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