TV Review: The Americans’ Third Season Has Intense Debut

The opening ten minutes of the third season premiere of The Americans is a reminder just why the show is one of the best things of television.

Not only does the sequence check in with Philip and Elizabeth Jennings doing what they do best, but we get the bonus of watching Elizabeth (Keri Russell) kick some ass, including our old pal Agent Gaad. For fans of The Americans, it’s a satisfying opening salvo into the world we already know and love. It’s the perfect jumping on point for newcomers or latecomers to the show, giving us everything we need to know in a thrilling chunk.

Titled EST Men, the premiere deals with questions of identity, something The Americans is constantly wrestling with since the beginning. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are KGB officers posing as a married couple while working to subvert the American government by way of undercover operations. In its heart, though, The Americans has been a show about marriage. Thrown together for the sake of their cause, Philip and Elizabeth are raising children and struggling with their feelings toward each other, ultimately turning to a kind of love. Now The Americans examines these two in their role as parents.

Last season, the Centre dropped the bombshell that they are ready to recruit Paige, the Jennings’ oldest daughter, into the cause, much to the strong opposition of Philip, and to a lesser degree, Elizabeth. Philip wants to shield his daughter from this reality, wanting her instead to have a “normal” life, while Elizabeth seems to relish the idea of bringing her daughter into the folds of their true values. Here we see the dynamics the Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship rise again, with Philip’s more impulsiveness battling Elizabeth’s cold pragmatism. While meeting with Gabriel, their handler played with a calculated tenderness by Frank Langella, Elizabeth blindsides her husband by giving Gabriel what amounts to a status report of Paige. She reassures Philip later that she was merely giving the Centre what they wanted to hear, but Philip remains unconvinced.

There’s far more Philip in EST Men, as we check in with his friendship with Stan (Noah Emmerich). In the wake of terrible news regarding Nina, Stan is attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife, Sandra, going so far as to attend the personal growth seminar that started Sandra on her independence. Elsewhere, as Elizabeth lost a key piece of intelligence, Philip must contact Annelise, who we last saw get cozy with a member of the Pakistani ISI with connections to the CIA. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s another chilling reminder at the lengths Philip is willing to sacrifice to get the job done and keep his family safe.

EST Men is a compact, dense premiere without ever becoming overwhelming. The richness of The Americans has always rewarded attention while never burying the audience in information. Both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are again at the top of their game, delivering nuanced performances of rich characters, often communicating more with a glance than through dialogue. Written by series creator and show runners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, EST Men feels like the perfect continuation of the larger narrative of the show, which has always been about the relationship of the central characters.

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