Everything, as the saying goes, is relative. And that axiom is especially true when it comes to TV. A mediocre episode of The Good Wife is still better than the absolute best episode of NCIS: LA.
And that’s why, even though the third season premiere of The Americans was very good, it still fell short of the show’s outstanding second season premiere, and superb second season overall. (I’m not sure anything could top the jarring triple murder that opened the second season.)
When we left Philip and Elizabeth, they were informed that the KGB wants their teenage daughter, Paige, to follow in her parents’ footsteps. There’s no better spy, it seems, than a homegrown one. Philip and Elizabeth remain at odds over this. To Philip, they are so close to Paige being able to have her own life completely independent of her parents. To Elizabeth, nothing would make her prouder than her daughter carrying on her important work. Now Elizabeth is volunteering with Paige’s anti-war movement church group. Elizabeth is not doing it to get closer to Paige, she is, as Philip astutely observes, grooming their daughter just like she would groom any other mark. There’s a cold calculation to Elizabeth’s mothering. We see in a flashback how she threw Paige into the swimming pool to teach her how to swim.
The best news is that Annet Mahendru is still in the opening credits, which means even though Nina has been convicted of espionage and treason, we should be seeing her again. The show could have gone either way on this—it would have made total sense if we never saw Nina again—but I’m so glad she is still on the show. Mahendru brings so much to the role of the enigmatic Nina.
Oleg confesses that he’s already begged his father to ask that Nina be spared, only to have his father reject his request. Later we see Oleg watching Stan, perhaps wondering if he should engage Stan in saving Nina.
Stan is trying to save his marriage, and even attends an EST conference with Philip. He tries to tell Sandra he found the whole thing interesting, but he can’t pull it off. “I thought it was stupid. Total bullshit,” he tells her. Does Stan want Sandra back because he wants her back, or because he’s desperately trying to forget about Nina and the memory that he risked his marriage and his career for a Russian spy?
We meet Philip and Elizabeth’s previous handler Gabriel (guest star Frank Langella) and we get to see what the couple is like when they like their handler. It’s all lasagna and good times. Gabriel brings Elizabeth a recording from her mother and Elizabeth learns her mother is dying.
Annelise, the wife of the Undersecretary of Defense who thinks she’s doing important work for the Swedish government, has fallen in love with Yousaf. The last time we saw Annelise, she had just slept with Yousaf, and was screaming at Philip that he had turned her out. During one of their trysts (with Philip listening in from the next room), she begins to tell Yousaf what she’s been up to. He doesn’t even hesitate to strangle her with his bare hands. What’s fascinating is how quickly Philip, upon realizing Annelise is dead, moves into solution mode. “I can make this go away,” he tells Yousaf. But Philip clearly cared about Annelise and burst in the hotel room intending to save her—something I don’t think Elizabeth would have done.
Elizabeth also has a close call and is nearly caught, but escapes by beating up Agent Gaad. How long before it’s Stan that she comes face to face with? Or Stan recognizes Elizabeth as the same woman in the sketches? FX has said this series will go five seasons. I kind of think this is the season they could be caught, which would make for a very different but very interesting show.
If Season One was about marriage and Season Two was about parenting, Season Three is shaping up to be a battle for Paige’s soul.
Other thoughts on “EST Men:”
• Sandra’s totally ‘80s jeans were kind of amazing. It’s the first time on the show I can remember 80s fashion standing out.
• Now that The Millers has been canceled, can Margo Martindale’s Claudia please return to the show?
• Martha is taking target lessons with Stan. Interesting.
• For no particular reason, I remain suspect of Pastor Tim.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.