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TV Review: The Americans 3.1 “EST Men”
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The Americans
Season 3, Episode 1 – “EST Men”
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
Written by Joe Fields and Joe Weisberg
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, Gillian Alexy, and Frank Langella
FX
Air date: January 28, 2015, 10pm

Spoilers for The Americans season premiere. You’ve been warned.

The Americans doesn’t waste any time in telling you what its third season is going to be about. In the opening seconds of the season premiere, “EST Men,” we see quick shots of Henry (Keidrich Sellati), Paige (Holly Taylor), and Phillip (Matthew Rhys). The shot is framed and lingers in such a way that it’s hard to notice Elizabeth (Keri Russell) in the tub off to the right of the screen until she slides into focus.

She takes a breath and then plunges underwater. It’s a quick calm before the storm. Our opening proves that more than ever, a dark tone of desperation and dread hangs over the show.

Welcome back to the fascinating world of The Americans.

It’s the women — Elizabeth, Martha (Alison Wright), Paige, and Annelise (Gillian Alexy) — that take center stage throughout “EST Men,” with surprising results.

Elizabeth has been keeping busy in-between seasons, now taking more of an (seemingly) active role in her daughter’s activities at church, as well keeping plenty busy in the spy world. But yet that spy world is quite different than the one we left behind at the end of Season 2. The Russians’ conflict in Afghanistan has the Center scrambling to try and turn the situation around, trying to avoid having the Americans turn it into “our Vietnam.” Yet, even without seeing her within the walls of the Center, the ghost of Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru) lingers. Even the long-awaited introduction of Gabriel (a most welcome Frank Langella) comes across as matriarchal as he cooks for and dotes on Phillip and Elizabeth (swatting away the former for trying to take a bite too soon) and taking an overall softer approach to the way he conducts his operations (especially when compared to Margo Martindale’s Claudia).

Yet, the most striking thread throughout the episode is the ongoing relationship between Paige and Elizabeth. It shouldn’t be so shocking to see television focus strongly on the relationship between mothers and daughters and yet it’s refreshing in so many ways. But it’s also a natural progression in the show’s overall plot and individual character development between these two people. I have a feeling that much of this show’s third season is going to be over the battle of what to do with Paige, as the Center has very specific plans for her.

“EST Men” is a fantastic premiere episode for a show that already balances strong character work with great and intense plot building.

Quick Thoughts:

– Martha’s got a gun. That will end well for everyone, I’m sure.

– Speaking of Martha, if you thought the 69 sequence from last season was something, that sex scene with Clark and Martha was something else entirely. Kudos to the show for pushing the boundaries when it comes to basic cable sex scenes.

– Also, sex on The Americans is typically used for more than titillation – it seems Clark and Martha are finally working together as one after being a bit at odds with one another towards the end of Season 2.

– I didn’t touch on too much, but I really love the entire opening sequence. It sort of plays as a mirror to Phillip’s botched operation from the start of Season 2, but on a much larger scale.

– Stan (Noah Emmerich) looks more downtrodden than we’ve seen him before, as his wife has officially left the nest. He joins the rest of the cast in being trapped in a place that’s nowhere close to being the home it once was.

– Poor Annelise. Phillip is about to have one very, very bad night.

– While the center and Elizabeth have ideas about Paige and her future, the young woman couldn’t be any less interested in the current climate of Russian political affairs, blowing right by Tom Brokaw’s newscast.

– “Why don’t you be a good American wife and do the dishes?”

– I’m a huge fan of this FX series and I hope that these reviews might convince you to check out the show – I really do think The Americans is one of TV’s best shows and it’s not a highly rated program. Let me know in the comments if you’re planning on watching or are already watching the show. Previous seasons are available on Amazon Prime Streaming if you’re interested.

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