The long running themes of FX’s The Americans have been parenthood and loyalty to country. Since episode one of the show, the two themes have been a source of conflict for the series’ main characters, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), KGB operatives working in America during the Reagan 80s. Posing as a typical suburban couple who run a travel agency, Phillip and Elizabeth have gradually found a way to love each other after their marriage was arranged and they were shipped to the U.S. as young adults. However, there has never been a question about the love they feel for their two children, 14-year-old Paige (Holly Taylor, who gets better each season) and 12-year-old Henry (Keidrich Sellati). Mom and Dad have to this point agreed that the kids should have the right to choose what life they want when the time comes. At the end of season two, though, we learned that Mother Russia has other plans for the Jennings kids.
In the finale of season two, Phillip and Elizabeth learned that the Soviets want to induct Paige into the KGB, part of a new initiative to train the offspring of their operatives. The Jennings are adamant that this won’t be happening. As season three of this superb spy drama opens, it’s clear that what they want may not matter as far as their government is concerned.
The return of an old friend, their original handler (a wonderful Frank Langella), complicates the situation. With a soft touch, he tries to persuade Phillip and Elizabeth into fulfilling their duty to the Motherland and start training Paige. Making matters worse, Elizabeth learns that her mother, still living in the Soviet Union, is dying of cancer. As she grieves for a woman she hasn’t seen in over 20 years, Elizabeth begins to question her own motherhood and would it be so wrong if her daughter grew up to be like her. Phillip, on the other hand, struggles with a new assignment: seducing a 17-year-old high school girl to get access to her father’s records. Pursuing this girl only forces him to double down on not letting Paige near their line of work.
Still, keeping Paige from their secret lives is getting difficult, her suspicions about her parents are deepening. If only Paige was all Phillip and Elizabeth had to worry about. The FBI is getting close, and now the CIA is in the mix. The Americans has always found a way to be on the most intriguing thrillers on TV, but also one very insightful family drama. But it’s not just the Jennings. Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the FBI agent who lives across the street (and who just may be Phillips’ best friend) is going through his own family issues. His estranged wife now lives with another man and he has no relationship with his son. Stan is lost and lonely. That his Russian mistress, Nina (Annet Mahendru) has been shipped off to a Russian gulag only makes his heart heavier.
Unlike many binge worthy dramas, The Americans is dense with plot and an attention to detail that requires pinpoint attention and sometimes repeated viewings. While some may see this as a drawback (which may suggest why this show struggles in the ratings), I have always found the show to be one of the most rewarding on television. Never afraid to use silence to drive home a point or ratchet up the tension, The Americans has never been rat-a-tat-tat in dialogue and action. That’s what makes it so unusual and enjoyable. And after three seasons, the show keeps getting better.
The Americans Season 3 DVD is available now. Special features include deleted scenes and a featurette on the war for Paige’s soul.