Warning: The follow review contains spoilers.
Looking back, the second season premiere of “The Americans” did a remarkable job of setting up the season’s themes. From the very first scene with Elizabeth and the deer, we knew that the Jennings would be dealing with keeping their children out of danger. The whole season built on this theme perfectly, culminating with Claudia pulling the rug out from underneath them, telling them that Moscow wants Paige to become a second generation illegal. At that point their whole question is reframed. What if the threat wasn’t from the FBI or the CIA or the Americans, but the Russians?
So what did we learn from the opening scene of season three? The sequence with Elizabeth throwing a younger Paige into the pool was well done, signifying that she’s going to be much more inclined to agree with Moscow’s plan for her daughter than Philip is. But we already knew that. The more interesting scene to me was Elizabeth’s meeting with the CIA and subsequent fight with Gaad. Despite Elizabeth and Philip’s best efforts, and despite how damn good they are at their jobs most of the time, they aren’t invincible, and all it can take is one poor decision to blow an entire mission up. Just ask Annalise.
The other part of the opening scene had Philip and Stan attending the same EST meeting that Stan’s wife did prior to splitting with him. If there’s a part of this premiere that doesn’t entirely work, it’s probably Sandra Beeman and her not-too-interesting split with Stan. Despite that, I like how the opening scene shows how Philip and Stan’s friendship has grown deeper over time. I can’t fully explain why, but I think Stan finds out about Phil and Elizabeth this season. Maybe the theme of lies breaking down and trust being broken that the premiere hammered home is all building to that. Of course, the same principles could also apply to Paige’s arc just as easily.
Not that there’s a shortage of evidence, but “EST Men” is another great example of how criminal it is that “The Americans” has been ignored by the Emmy’s these past two years. Both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have fantastic scene where they manage to say a ton without uttering a word. For Russell, it’s when she hears a tape of her mother telling her she has cancer, and the brilliant decision to not have subtitles for the Russian ensures that we focus on her face as it goes from joy to subtle shock to being crushed.
For Rhys, it’s a scene where Phil and Elizabeth meet with their new handler, who tells them Moscow still wants Paige for their second generation program. Elizabeth tells their handler that she’s “working” on her, and as they talk Rhys’s expression in the background is downright frightening. It’s not big, showy acting, so it’s no surprise that they’re being ignored (It’s the same reason Mads Mikkelsen will never be nominated for “Hannibal” despite giving the best performance on TV), but that doesn’t make it any less criminal.
It’s great to have “The Americans” back. If season three is as good as season two, the show will have a legitimate claim to be put in the same category as the best shows of the past ten years.