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Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 3 Episode 1 ‘EST Men’ Switches Targets

Review: 'The Americans' Season 3 Episode 1 'EST Men' Switches Targets

Briefing: 

Not much has changed, family-wise, since the climactic end of Season 2 — what with Paige still devoted to Pastor Todd’s church and Elizabeth still trying to quietly “develop” her for the KGB — but business has shifted dramatically for agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. “EST Men” opens with a telling meet between Elizabeth and a new mark in the CIA. Disgusted with her organization’s refusal to recognize her accomplishments, the asset hands Elizabeth an important list, which she then loses after the government employee changes her mind and calls in reinforcements from the FBI. Poor Agent Gaad didn’t see that right jab coming. 

Philip, meanwhile, is palling around with FBI Agent Beeman, accompanying the separated adulterer to a motivational talk led by the Harvard student from “Good Will Hunting” (Scott William Winters). Later, the couple goes to meet their new, old handler, Gabriel (aka Frank F’n Langella), who politely gets an update on the pair’s activity. This includes Elizabeth “telling him what he needed to hear” regarding Paige’s recruitment to the KGB, a step Philip was unaware of and remains unwilling to consider. “You’re assessing her. You’re developing her,” Philip says. Elizabeth denies it, without saying as much, but it’s still perfectly clear what she’s trying to do. 

Gabriel also gives Elizabeth a tape from her dying mother back in Russia, invoking memories that seem to be leading Elizabeth down the wrong path with her own daughter (throwing Paige into the deep end of the pool, literally or metaphorically, is not Good Parenting 101). Their new target is none other than the CIA itself, an organization heavily involved with the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and Elizabeth’s renewed dedication to the mission is pushing her into more danger than ever (let’s not forget Gaad got a good look at her face). Philip isn’t leaving her stranded either, as his choice to use Annalise as his way to get to a Pakistani intelligence agent proves fatal for his former lover. Now he’s left to clean up the mess, literally, as there’s a dead woman in a hotel room to close out the Season 3 premiere.

Philip’s Loyalty: America

The Americans” is nothing if not ironic — in title, at least. Though we’re a long way from Season 1-esque callouts — remember how pissed Elizabeth got whenever Philip was having a good ol’ time in the U.S. of A? — the loyalty of these two KGB spies is one of the most pressing issues of the series. Even if they’re working for the wrong side and even if you buy the theory there are neither heroes nor villains on this show, each of our leads has swayed back and forth in their support of the Centre. 

Right now, Philip is definitely leaning against his Russian roots. He’s protective of his daughter Paige, and rightly so. Every parent wants a better life for their children than they’ve had, and Philip actually deserves a guarantee of that. The Centre shouldn’t be trying to recruit his youngest daughter. They should be rewarding his impressive efforts by providing for his daughter. Of course, that’s not a communist’s mentality, and that’s exactly why Philip isn’t siding with the Russians. By choosing his family over the cause, he’s also choosing an idealistically American mentality. Elizabeth is as right to be worried as Philip is right to protect his daughter.  

Elizabeth’s Loyalty: The KGB

Ever since Elizabeth gave Philip that know-it-all look to end Season 2, after thinking she provided the proper rebuttal to her husband’s assertion that telling Paige the truth would “destroy her,” I’ve been pretty nervous as to what she’ll do this year. The thing is, Philip is right. Telling Paige her parents are spies for a foreign government hell bent on ending capitalism by murdering countless people would ruin her life. She already doesn’t trust them. Do not give her reasons that not only validate her distrust, but make it insufficient. Elizabeth’s motivation seems to be coming from her own desire to be known by her daughter, but the secretive side of her life is what she signed up for when she chose to join the KGB. Her daughter wouldn’t be able to make the same choice, and a better knowledge of your parents isn’t always what’s best for the child.

So you can imagine my horror when Elizabeth flashed back to throwing her screaming daughter into the deep end of the pool as a coaching technique for swimming. It’s the first scene of the episode, and it doesn’t bode well for Liz’s mindset regarding how best to handle breaking the news to Paige. Neither did learning of Liz’s “development” methods, which include pretending to be the supportive mother at church functions when really she’s hoping to get her ex-communicated entirely. Philip better keep a close eye on his wife if he doesn’t want her to move ahead with Operation Antichrist without him. 

Stan: Savant or Square? 

Stan Beeman at times feels like he’s the smartest guy in the room. In the series premiere, he correctly suspected his new next door neighbors to be Russian spies. He almost nabbed them in an excellent sting operation at the end of Season 1, and he finally got his head straight with Nina last year, refusing to trade state secrets for her safety. He’s a dedicated civil servant with good instincts… but sometimes he’s also a bit of a bonehead. When it comes to his love life or social skills in general, Stan can’t tell his ass from his elbows. He ignored his wife into divorcing him. He alienated his son by never spending any time with him. He ruined his relationship with Nina by assassinating her only friend at work, all over a partner he didn’t really like until he was dead. 

Now, he’s listening to a hippie motivational speaker because he thinks doing so will illustrate his love and commitment to Sandra, who took the course herself. He doesn’t buy it, and he shares as much with her by telling her he thought it was “total bullshit.” Is honesty something to strive for? Yes. Is using more than vindictive foul language to describe something important to your one true love also important? Yes. More so, in fact. Keep trying Stan. Maybe someday you’ll see the whole board.

Best Asset: Annalise

This week’s award is, sadly, one given posthumously. Annalise went above and beyond the call of duty — as well as her own pre-established limitations — and made Yousef her lover, even going so far as to fall for the Pakistani intelligence agent. Philip made a mistake using her, and he’ll certainly be blaming himself for her death. It’s now more obvious than ever he should have let Elizabeth take on the assignment rather than Annalise, as Liz could’ve physically outmatched Yousef, though she wouldn’t have been dumb enough to expose herself in the first place. She messed up and paid the price, even if her placement worked out perfectly for everyone else. Philip catching Yousef with a dead woman in his bed is bound to help him blackmail the agent into gathering intelligence for the Centre, so at least a bad situation will benefit the higher ups, if not poor, innocent Annalise — ironically, a more capitalistic approach.

Wig Count: 3

It was a light wig week on “The Americans,” with the only confirmed new ‘dos arriving when Liz met with her CIA contact (the “Brady Bunch” cut), when Philip had some kinky sex with Martha (though technically it’s a toupee in her eyes), and finally when Liz was training a young agent to tail someone (long and blonde). Philip changed up his hair when he was with Annalise, but it looked more like a slicked-to-the-side combover than a wig.

Cold War Machinery: 

There were many callbacks to the Cold War era in the Season 3 premiere, from Stan renting a “video” from a “video store” (what’s that?) to Paige and Henry taking turns with the television (Remember before we had DVRs? Hell, remember before there were VCRs?), but my favorite had to be when Gabriel asked Elizabeth to be a “good American wife” and do the dishes before playing a game of classic Scrabble with Philip. The subtle poke at America’s lack of domestic progression paired nicely with the introduction of a timeless board game (even if we now prefer Words with Friends on our iPhones). Sure, Philip gave his wife hell for her behavior with Paige over the last few months once they got to the car, but the get together with their old friend was a welcome dose of civility while it lasted. 

Quote of the Night: 

“I get it. I get everything,”
“You’re assessing her. You’re developing—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. She’s my daughter.”

The above exchange between Philip and Elizabeth seems to be the start of something bigger. Philip, after hearing what he wanted to hear inside with Gabriel, went on the offensive with his wife to protect Paige. Elizabeth’s claim that she “gets everything” is both true and untrue. She understands everything she feels she needs to, as her profession so often calls on her to do, but she doesn’t fully grasp her husband’s point of view. After opening herself up to a new way of thinking in Season 2 — brought on by the assassination of the Connors family and illustrated by her distrust of Kate/every representative of the Centre (as well as her acceptance of Philip’s luxury sports car purchase) — Elizabeth has returned to a socialism state of mind, as evidenced by her contradictory statement in the next line. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, after claiming she knows “everything” a second earlier. Clearly she doesn’t, and that lack of knowledge could come back to bite everyone involved. 

Grade: A-

READ MORE: Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 3 Asks How Far Is Too Far For Family

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