The Americans, Season 3, premiered last night. It will carry us through to April, when Game of Thrones arrives. I have not written about a television show, and we have not written about this show, on this site. Why not? It’s one of the best on television. Drawn in by the spy drama and 80’s culture, “The Americans” is one of the few I watch, religiously, since its debut.
“Sex is one of the few things we have, almost getting killed is another, that can jolt us into feeling fully alive. If you want to actually experience life, then you’ve got to stop being so reasonable all the time, stop hoping that things are just going to get better, and accept what you’ve got.” — the EST guy
Sex. Almost getting killed. Say what you want, but Elizabeth and Philip are often jolted into feeling fully alive. A common trait of many of the great, critically acclaimed dramas of the last decade is a sort of anti-hero or groups of characters that become alternatively likable and hatable within seasons and episodes. We see this with the transformation of Jaime Lannister in “Game of Thrones,” with the descent of Walter White in “Breaking Bad.”
And we have Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, where you have to remind yourself that you are rooting for freaking Soviet spies. Soviet spies who deal with family conflict, pressures from work, and the like, but in the end, Soviet spies. And just when you might forget that conflict, they jolt you back. This episode features Philip in the “who will be disguised and having sex” role, bouncing from the Swedish spy dealing with Annalise, to an awkward and amusing attempt at Kama Sutra between Clark and Martha.
And then we get jolted, and reminded that everyone is just an asset. Philip listens as Annelise is choked to death by Yousef. It advances the agenda. He walks in just in time to catch him, potentially turn him into the next link in the spy chain, but after Annelise had her last fully alive moment.
One of the big themes this season is the conflict between the Jennings’ and the Rezidentura over Paige, and whether she should be recruited as an asset and made aware of her family’s true nature. We are introduced to Gabriel for the first time, and thank goodness it is Frank Langella, one of the best character actors out there. In Gabriel’s conversation, we transition from a grandfatherly feel (food, sports, boyfriends) to Paige’s future.
When Elizabeth explains to Gabriel how Paige is “open to the right ideas,” we really have a pull in many directions. Is Elizabeth really, as she tells Philip, simply telling Gabriel what he needed to hear? On the other hand, consider her explanation through the lens of her own views. Earlier in the series, while still playing the American housewife role, Elizabeth was very vocal in her disgust and outrage of the church activities. Now she is at least, on the surface, supportive and attending events, watching a boy exchange glances. Is she, while still carrying out her objectives, “closer than she has ever been” to American culture? Always in the middle, we see her as both the participating mother for her American daughter, and the emotional daughter after listening to the tape recorded message from her dying Russian mother.
Some other highlights:
Agent Gaad’s Face
Don’t mess with Elizabeth in a wig.
The Jason Alexander commercial
Yes, this episode didn’t necessarily feature songs from the era, but we were graced with a random appearance by a young Jason Alexander in a Hershey’s Kisses commercial, just before the news of Leonid Brezhnev flashed on the news. (Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, as an anchor of where we are in time). The commercial dates to 1981, but we’ll allow it.
Martha and Stan Beeman at Shooting Range as Metaphor
Sometimes, you have to look at what’s right in front of you, line that up, and not be so focused on the bigger picture. Martha ignores evidence directly in front of her that might lead her to the truth about Clark. Same for Stan Beeman. He’s even sitting in Gaad’s office when he is describing the woman who attacked him. He has a pensive look on his face. He just saw Elizabeth nursing yet another suspicious injury. Is he connecting the dots? Oh, who are we kidding. He’s thinking of a non-beer.
[All images and GIFs prepared by true American Michael Shamburger]