Much like Elizabeth, The Americans returns for a second season stronger than when viewers last left it. Elizabeth (Keri Russell) has recovered from her wounds, and the show has hit that creative stride that should make it the darling of the award show circuit.
One of the most interesting things about The Americans is the juxtaposition between the high-stakes espionage Elizabeth and Philip (Matthew Rhys) engage in and the utter ordinariness of their suburban life. The Jennings children are growing up. Philip worries about the violent videogame Henry wants to play, and Elizabeth wonders if she’ll ever know what’s going on inside her teenage daughter’s head. What parent can’t relate to that?
Last season ended with Paige (Holly Taylor) heading down to the basement to investigate whether or not her mother was really doing laundry. The inquisitive Paige is once again in the laundry room checking up on her mother. She takes her investigative skills one step further when she opens her parents’ closed door in the middle of the night, fearing that they had not come home. Her parents were, in fact, home and in the throes of a sexual encounter no teenage daughter should see. (By the way, producers told critics in January that Taylor filmed her scene separately from Russell and Rhys. So, at least in real life, Taylor wasn’t traumatized).
That puts Philip and Elizabeth on the defensive in their own home. “Do we even know if this is the first time that she’s checked in on us?” Philip wonders. But the dangers to their children become far more serious when fellow KGB agents and their daughter are executed in their hotel room. Now Paige and Henry could be targets. Elizabeth rushes back to the amusement park to find Paige and Henry—her frantic search is relatable to any parent, not just one who is a covert operative.
While the Jennings’ marriage is stronger than ever, Agent Stan Beeman’s (Noah Emmerich) continues to crumble as he pursues his romance with Nina. The ever-savvy Nina tells her boss that she shouldn’t be the one to tell Stan she loves him first. This is a woman well-practiced in using her sexuality to advance her cause.
On the FBI front, the Department of Defense employee who gave Stan intel comes looking for his $500,000. But Stan tells him that all his tips lead nowhere. “Don’t come back her unless it’s to thank me for keeping your ass out of lockup.” The next time we see him, he’s dead. The Colonel claims it was self-defense, but he has two bullets in his head. As Stan points out, one would have done the job.
And Stan’s not giving up on finding the KGB agents he was chasing after in the first season finale, even though Nina has told him that one died and one has been exfiltrated. Nina is working on giving Stan information that is legitimate but not too useful. The wonderful thing about Emmerich’s performance is that the audience never quite knows what Stan’s thinking. But clearly he remains suspicious.
The second season premiere advanced all the action in both dramatic and subtle ways as the Jennings fight to protect their family. The show’s sophomore season is off to a fantastic start.
Other thoughts on “Comrades:”
• LOVE that Philip’s wig came off before the opening credits. Clearly the creators heard our chatter about the show’s advanced wig technology.
• “Claudia sends her regards.” I cannot wait for Margo Martindale’s return.
• Some great ‘80s nostalgia in this episode, including The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which Stan had to watch twice), WKRP in Cincinnati and Leo Buscaglia.
• The new KGB employee Oleg is going to be fun.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.