Throughout its stellar first two seasons, FX’s Cold War spy drama “The Americans” has been incredibly adept at creating tension. Whether using spy-craft action set-pieces or more human conflicts among characters, “The Americans” is often an edge-of-your-seat series. With that said, the early episodes of Season 3 ratchet the tension up another level.
Early in the season premiere, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is in the middle of an undercover operation that she senses has gone awry. Her instincts are correct and she’s quickly pushed into dire circumstances. It’s a fitting opening for the season; as a harbinger of future tragedies during the first four episodes … with more surely coming as the season progresses.
While Season 3 has a couple moments of devastating violence — the disposal of a body immediately comes to mind — and gripping action, the central tension still revolves around Elizabeth and Phillip’s (Matthew Rhys) marriage.
Even though they’ve built a loving relationship, the union of Elizabeth and Phillip — two Russian spies forced into marriage and parenthood as cover — has never been easy for either party. Elizabeth’s devout loyalty to Mother Russia and “The Cause” is only matched by Phillip’s commitment to protecting his family, even if it goes against their directives.
Now that the KGB wants the Jennings’ oldest daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) to begin spy work, the two are more at odds than ever. Phillip refuses to let Paige become a part of a war filled with casualties — many of which he’s witnessed firsthand — while Elizabeth sees serving your country as an honor and obligation.
There are some other interesting storylines developing on the periphery — notably Frank Langella as the Jennings’ latest handler and a new Soviet defector — but “The Americans” is most powerful when focused on Elizabeth and Phillip. And Russell and Rhys are still giving two of the best performances on television, which has the potential to make their inevitable confrontation over whether family or country come first the most intense moment of “The Americans” yet.