The leap that “The Americans” took in its second season was nothing short of extraordinary. While it had a decent first season, the show elevated itself to become one of the best dramas on television — benefiting a story that was densely plotted and sequences which had gut-wrenching levels of tension. Because of that leap, the series’ third season has a lot to prove, namely showing that last year wasn’t a fluke. After seeing the first four episodes of the new season, it’s clear that last year wasn’t a blip in the radar.
Season 3 Premiere
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
“The Americans” follows Philip (Matthew Rhys, “Brothers and Sisters”) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell, “Felicity”), KGB agents posing as a normal American family during the Cold War. This season picks off where last year left off, with Philip and Elizabeth weighing whether to enter their daughter Paige (newcomer Holly Taylor) into a KGB program for second-generation agents. They’re also running operations to try to gather intelligence on the CIA’s team in Afghanistan.
The best aspect of the show is how it deftly develops its central relationship, the arranged marriage and partnership between Philip and Elizabeth. Even though it’s clear that the two characters love one another, their marriage is fraught with friction. The two have different opinions about whether to tell Paige about who they really are, which strains their relationship. However, despite the arguments, the characters demonstrate that, deep down, they truly want to help one another. There’s a scene in the third episode where Philip helps Elizabeth through a medical problem. The two have no dialogue, but are able to communicate a wide range of emotions. It’s a painful scene because of their acting.
The show works as well as it does because of the way it’s able to build tension, mostly in the scenes that feature Philip and Elizabeth’s spying. These episodes are peppered with scenes that feature the two of them trying to complete certain objectives. With many of them, the series chooses a slow build, creating a fantastic amount of suspense. Whether they’re trying to evade capture or perform horrible acts of violence in the name of their country, the scenes play out in a slow, but fascinating manner.
Aside from the two leads, Taylor’s character shines, refusing to let Paige fall into the typical “annoying teenager” role. The show has done well by her, allowing her to grow by giving her an arc where she becomes more involved in the church. There’s also the ticking time bomb — the secret of who her parents really are — waiting to go off. When it does, Paige will dovetail into the main storyline, which can only make it better.
“The Americans” ’s cast is among the finest out there because of its depth and quality supporting acting. Noah Emmerich is brilliant as the couple’s FBI agent neighbor. The show has given him an engrossing story to play with his marital struggles. In addition, Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) is a welcome addition as the couple’s new handler. He doesn’t appear a lot in the episodes, but he makes an impression when he does.
It’s amazing how all of the many pieces that make up “The Americans” coalesce into a show that’s this special. Each of its parts, from the marriage at its center to the lowest supporting character, adds something to its atmosphere or thematic resonance. There’s nothing else on television like “The Americans” and, with this stretch of episodes, it cements itself as one of the best shows on TV right now.