So what happened?…
Fans of the The Americans will know that gathering intelligence from a source doesn’t always go to plan, and in the Season 3 opener that was doubly true. Sensing her CIA asset has had a fit of conscience, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) swiftly exits the bar they met in, taking with her the list of Near East and Special Activities operatives working against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Just as she thinks she’s gotten away, she’s stopped by Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas) and another FBI colleague, forcing her to fight her way out of their grasp and ingeniously evading arrest with the help of an unsuspecting motorcyclist. She may have fought her way out of being apprehended, but the spy knows that the resulting bruises are the least of her worries and that the list of names she lost during the fight is a big issue as Russian soldiers continue to be executed in the Afghan war zone. What she might not be aware of is just how much of a good look Gaad got of her face. Good enough for him to have sketches drawn. Oh dear! And all of this while filling envelopes and baking for Paige’s Church as she continues to ‘bond’ with her daughter, as well as helping to train another budding, Russian spy with his super car-following skills. The woman continues to be a crazy good multi-tasker!
Things aren’t exactly going swimmingly for her husband, Philip, (Matthew Rhys) either. Aside from keeping his Kama Sutra-loving, gun-toting ‘other wife’, Martha, sweet so she can feed him information, he’s also utilising another asset to garner intelligence from an ISI agent. The trouble is Annelise has committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with Yousef, and in a predictably tragic scene with her handler listening in in the next room, she tells him that although she’s been pumping him for information, she loves him. Of course her declaration falls on deaf ears and fearing for his job and his life, the ISI agent strangles her to death, leaving Philip to walk in on the scene and turn the situation to his own advantage by offering to help Yousef out. In relation to his wife and kids there’s also calamity on the horizon. Much to his annoyance Elizabeth seems to have gone back on their pact to keep Paige out of the ‘family business’ and tells their new/old handler, Gabriel, (Frank Langella) that she’s using their bonding sessions at the Church to prepare her for what’s to come. He angrily confronts her about it, telling her that they owe their daughter a normal life, but her pacifying retort is less than convincing, setting up the major tension between them for this season.
Elsewhere certain members of the FBI and the KGB are still reeling from the events at the end of last season with Nina being taken back to Russia to be tried for treason and espionage. Now convicted, her lover and colleague, Oleg (Costa Ronin) has tried and failed to petition his father for help and now he’s turning to his boss, Arkady (Lev Gorn), in order to save her. Stan (Noah Emmerich) is also clearly not entirely over the triple agent, in spite of taking an EST seminar in a half-hearted attempt to win his wife back. It remains to be seen if these two men can put aside their huge ideological differences to hatch a plan to keep Nina alive, but with Annet Mahendru still in the opening credits it seems likely that they will.
Aside from Elizabeth going all Wonder Woman in the opening few minutes and kicking some FBI arse, it’s safe to say that ‘EST Men’ was all about nuance, rather than edge of the seat drama. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not at all. Often what works so well in The Americans are the quieter moments, and in the Season 3 opener the scene between Gabriel, Philip and Elizabeth was a masterclass in subtle storytelling adding layers to what we already know about the characters. Simple things such as the older man stroking her wrist affectionately and cooking them a Russian meal demonstrate that their handler has had and continues to have an almost parental influence in their lives, in stark contrast to the tough love espoused by Claudia in previous seasons, and that seems vitally important as the show looks set to explore parental responsibility in its third outing.
In relation to Elizabeth, especially, a woman whose love for the cause seems to be less conflicted than her husband, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that her familial loyalty lies with the Centre, as demonstrated by her willingness to throw Paige, sometimes literally, in at the deep end. Even her interaction with the young spy seemed more genuine and nurturing than her underhanded bonding with her daughter at the Church. Whether or not her subterfuge will coax their child to mirror her parents’ occupation remains to be seen, but judging by the teenager’s complete disinterest in Russian politics it’s apparent that’s going to be steep hill to climb, even aside from Philip’s insistence that she should have the option to live a normal life. Looking into my crystal ball, it almost seems inevitable that the Jennings household is heading for some seriously troubled times and I’m keen to keep watching to see when the other shoe will drop.