Wednesday, January 28, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip & Elizabeth Contemplate Paige's Future as Their Missions Get More Dangerous in 'EST Men'

FX's The Americans - Episode 3.01 "EST Men"

Tensions simmer between Philip and Elizabeth as they disagree over handling orders from the Centre. When Elizabeth loses key intel, Philip enlists Annelise on a mission with an unexpected outcome. Stan tries a new approach to mending his marriage with Sandra amidst learning tough news about Nina.

The second season of The Americans was a brilliant season of television. As shown throughout "EST Men," that momentum doesn't seem to be slowly down creatively at all in the third season. The second season was all about family. Philip and Elizabeth recommitted to the mission and to their love to one another. That came at the precise point in time where the greatest threat to their family unit and way of life was being made. The family was still intact at season's end. The physical threat was neutralized. And then, a new threat was posed in the idea of Paige becoming a second generation covert agent for the KGB. She had been developing away from the family all season long - becoming involved in a church group whose ideologies don't exactly match her parents'. The truth could bring her back into the family but at the risk of upheaval to everything she knows about this world.

As the third season opens, Philip and Elizabeth are no closer to making a decision on Paige's future. The Centre is trusting of their opinions and willing to let them decide. However, Philip and Elizabeth aren't on the same side anymore. They still have immense love for each other. But they are standing on opposite sides of this argument. When Elizabeth is giving a status report to their new/old handler Gabriel, Philip is surprised by how much work she has already put in to making the reveal easier for Paige. How much of that was Elizabeth telling the Centre what they needed to know? How much of it was how she actually felt?

The themes of the first two seasons were marriage and family respectively. The third season has opted to take a stronger look at parenting. Philip and Elizabeth have this big decision to make regarding Paige. And yet, to Paige, she is simply a teenager trying to stand up in the world with something that she is passionate about. She is still at an impressionable age. That's why the Centre wants the Jennings to tell her the truth now - to start molding her mind to their espionage way of life. Elizabeth has always been the more aloof parent. She pushed Paige into the pool years ago to teach her how to swim. And now, she is bonding with Paige by going to church group meetings with her. Part of that is providing the illusion of closeness so that Paige still feels a part of this family. But it also allows her to build a relationship with her daughter that would make the reveal more bearable in the future.

But there's knowing who her parents really are and then there's entering the profession as well. This is a very dangerous way of life. We are reminded of that early in the premiere. Philip and Elizabeth's mission this season is related to the war in Afghanistan and retrieving information about the Americans working on the project. Elizabeth gets that list of names and then immediately loses it when the CIA agent has second thoughts and calls the authorities to attempt to capture Elizabeth. That leads to a physical altercation between Elizabeth and Agent Gaad. It's as exciting as it is brutal. These characters have never really been together before. If Gaad and his fellow agent identify her, that would be it for her mission and her family. She beats them off, but at the cost of the list of names and several major bruises - which don't go unnoticed by Philip and Stan.

And later, Philip uses Annalise in an attempt to get the Afghan group information. The problem is that she has become less objective of her mission and has fallen in love with her target, Yousif, a Pakistan ISI agent. She has lost focus on her mission and that is just as dangerous. Yousif kills Annalise because she starts telling him the truth of what she has been doing. He was willing to set up a secret apartment for her in Zurich. And now, she's dead because she wanted to be honest with him. If Philip and Elizabeth do end up telling Paige the truth, they have to be certain that she'll take it well. Otherwise she could present the biggest threat they've had to deal with yet to their mission. They can often handle the physicality of this lifestyle. Philip is right there to clean up the mess that Yousif has made. But the emotional entanglements of this world are much more complex especially once you factor in their family.

Some more thoughts:
  • "EST Men" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Daniel Sackheim.
  • Philip joins Stan for the first weekend of EST. Stan is trying to figure out what Sandra saw in this program even though he thinks it's completely stupid afterwards. He's searching for meaning outside of work. And yet, he still hasn't worked on any of his problems that doomed his marriage.
  • Elizabeth also gets a recorded message from her mother back home in Russia. She is dying. That is devastating to her. I love that the show frames her listening to the message without providing subtitles. We get to see Elizabeth happy by hearing her mother's voice and then quickly change to sad as she learns the news.
  • Nina is no where to be seen. She has been convicted of her crimes and not even Oleg's family connections can do anything to help her. However, Annet Mahendru is still listed as a series regular. So I doubt that will be the end of her story.
  • Frank Langella debuts as the Jennings' new handler, Gabriel, and he is notably different than the last two because Philip and Elizabeth are friendly towards him. He was their past handler who has come out of retirement to work with them again. It's a quiet performance in this episode but I can't wait to see more of him.
  • Martha is learning how to use her gun. I love that the show is slowly building that plot up. At first, she was thinking about getting a gun but didn't until the second season finale. And now, she's learning how to be a slightly better shot. It's rising tension that's taking its time wonderfully. She's still sleeping with the enemy but completely clueless because she's in the throws of sex.
  • There are new faces at both the FBI and the Rezidentura. We'll have to see more of them to determine whether or not they add more to those tense environments.
  • Elizabeth is also helping train a new operative on how to tail a target without being spotted. Those are the kinds of skills Paige would have to learn if she joined this profession. And now, we're getting more of a sneak peek into all the skills that they have to use.
  • Even though the focus is shifting to parenting, the kids being parented aren't seen a whole lot. Henry pops up for a second and Paige is only seen through Elizabeth's perspective. They are an important part of this story. And yet, it's up to Philip and Elizabeth to determine their futures because the kids don't have the full story.
  • Lev Gorn, Costa Ronin and Richard Thomas have all been promoted to the main title sequence. I still expect them to appear in roughly the same capacity as they usually do - except with a few more beat downs in Gaad's case.