The season three premiere of The Americans suggests that FX’s drama may be the best show on television. It has the nail-biting action of Breaking Bad, but it also touches on broader themes of family dysfunction and self-deception.
“EST Men,” directed by Daniel Sackheim, opens with a family portrait representing the domestic cohesiveness that’s about to unravel. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are now seriously reflecting on the future of their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), who is searching for meaning in her life while trying to figure out her parents’ odd behavior. The Motherland wants Paige to become a future agent, but somehow she might be able to have a normal life and attend college. Such a theme serves as the dramatic foundation for season three of The Americans, because we all know that Paige can’t have a normal life. My guess is that she’ll figure out the truth before Mom and Pops have a chance to sit her down for an awkward conversation.
The Americans highlights themes of male bonding and sexism, which hints at the potential rise of female characters in season three. An old buddy named Gabriel smirks at Elizabeth during a visit and says, “Why don’t you be a good American wife and do the dishes,” while Philip and the impressionable CIA agent Stan Beemon (Noah Emmerich) learn that women don’t need to have orgasms for men to be happy. Be present! Stan doesn’t have to worry about such things, because he learns that his Russian love/mole Nina (Annet Mahendru) has been convicted back home and probably won’t be coming back for late-night pillow talk. Incidentally, Philip shows little comprehension when Elizabeth tries to explain that she’s not “assessing” her daughter bur rather trying to spend time with her. Phil simply stares in silence because the idea of emotional attachment means little to him. After all, he’s been working the Kama Sutra with his faux-wife Martha (Alison Wright) and getting car BJs from Annelise, a fellow spy.
Speaking of Annelise, the final scene of “EST Men” reminds viewers just how slick Philip can be. During the car BJ, he learns that Annelise is falling for her target, Yousaf, and ultimately reveals her secret to him during some hotel sex. Of course, Phil tracks the action next door but isn’t quick enough to save Annelise from being strangled to death. Like the true pro that he is, Philip aka Mischa calmly approaches Yousaf and flips the script: “We” can fix this.
Perhaps the most sobering moment of “EST Men” came when an elderly CIA woman broke down her one and only mission for Elizabeth. She gained more information from an asset in one night than her male counterpart did in six months. Guess who got the promotion?
The woman hands over a list of CIA names to Elizabeth (“screw the CIA) only to confess her sins a few minutes later. However, when Elizabeth is approached by Agent Robert Gaad (Richard Thomas) on a dark sidewalk, she has enough intelligence to get away but not enough conviction to pull the trigger. Would Philip have finished the job?
It’s the human element that keeps The Americans grounded.