The best dramas surprise viewers while keeping them in a constant state of suspense.
The third episode of The Americans achieved both these goals with aplomb. In “Gregory,” we learn that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) has been having a 15-year affair with Gregory (guest star Derek Luke), a man she recruited to work for the KGB.
We already knew that Elizabeth and Philip (Matthew Rhys) cheated on each other and that their arranged marriage, by definition, was one of necessity. But their infidelity was for their job. Sex is a means to an end—“honey trapping” people into revealing government secrets or into gathering intel. Elizabeth, though, has real feelings for Gregory. Sleeping with him wasn’t necessary for the job. When Elizabeth tells Gregory their relationship is over, Gregory tells Philip the truth. What are the rules to an arranged marriage exactly? Clearly Elizabeth and Philip are operating under different sets of guidelines. Their marriage may be built on a lie, but Philip has never lied to Elizabeth. She has been lying to him all along.
Also, even though Gregory understands he’s working for the KGB, he doesn’t seem to fully grasp exactly what that means. He talks of Elizabeth leaving her husband and having a piece of something that’s real. The reality is the KGB would never let Elizabeth leave Philip.
The conversation between Elizabeth and Philip at the end of the episode was incredibly moving and provided more insight into their relationship. Philip fell in love with Elizabeth long ago but she is just beginning to reciprocate those feelings. “I feel like it’s happening now,” she tells him.
The other big surprise of the night was that Robert, the operative who was killed in the opening moments of the series, has a secret wife, Joyce, and a baby in Philadelphia. Joyce didn’t know what her husband was involved with, and the worst thing she suspected was drugs.
Throughout the entire episode I vacillated between thinking Philip and Elizabeth were going to save Joyce or kill her. In the episode’s final moments, we learn that Robert’s baby has been taken to Russia to live with his paternal grandparents and Joyce has been murdered via a staged overdose. Is this what Robert thought would happen when he told his wife to contact Elizabeth and Philip if something ever happened to him? Is that what Robert and Elizabeth knew would happen when they handed Joyce over, or did they truly believe she was being relocated to Cuba? What I love about The Americans is I don’t know. The show leaves a delightfully healthy amount of room for viewer speculation.
The episode also introduced Margo Martindale (Justified) as their new KGB handler Claudia. Philip nicknames her “Granny,” and Martindale has perfected that sweet/sinister combination. She can make a line like “You have a lovely daughter” sound vaguely threatening. Obviously, Martindale is a fantastic addition to the cast.
And while we are talking about actors who are great at saying one thing while clearly meaning another, I have got to talk about how much I adore Noah Emmerich’s Stan Beeman. His most benign conversations have a menacing undercurrent. He sounds like he’s discussing a game of racquetball, but he’s really discussing something else. I’m already looking forward to a true showdown between Philip and Stan.
Next week, in keeping with the show’s penchant to weave in actual historical events, President Reagan will be shot. How will The Americans handle that? I have no idea, and I love not knowing.