The article below contains spoilers for "Comrades," the February 26th, 2014 season two premiere of "The Americans."
Enjoying "The Americans" requires less a suspension of disbelief than an ability to balance the grounded dramas of suburbia with the outsized ones of spying. The wigs, the seductions, the tense action sequences like the one in last night's season premiere in which Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) met with two men attempting to buy weapons to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and ended up killing them -- those are all the stuff of movies and TV, familiar territory, if presented in a no-punches-pulled fashion. It's the normalcy to which Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell), who's recovered from her gunshot wound, try to return and maintain that makes the show so good. There's no mystery to how the Cold War shakes out, but whether the Jennings will be able to continue navigating their precarious existence undercover in the U.S. is an open question.
The series relishes in that shock between the espionage and the domesticity while giving both equal weight -- perhaps never more so than in this episode's introduction of Leanne (Natalie Gold) and Emmett (Jeremy Davidson), fellow deep cover Directorate S agents who go back years with the Jennings, and who have children of their own. We first see Leanne engaging in a threesome with Elizabeth and a Lockheed employee, kissing the scar on her abdomen when the party's busted up by Philip and Emmett, posing as federal agents and terrifying the guy into giving up security details.
And we go from there to the women drinking beers and talking about their offspring and their marriages, about Leanne's boy-crazy cheerleader daughter, about the excuse Elizabeth used for her long absence. You know, just the usual post-threeway catching up with old friends! Friends they arrange to see at the amusement park the next day, not so they can spend more time together but so they can catch a glimpse of each other's kids in passing.
The heightened nature of the whole scenario doesn't make the sequence any less poignant, the two mothers looking fondly at each other across the midway while keeping up the public pretense of being strangers. These are the only people to which Elizabeth and Philip can fully relate in both the demands of the job and the secrecy and the more mundane fears about the very American teenagers their children are or are becoming.
Leanne and Emmett are the alterna-Jennings -- and they end up brutally, mysteriously murdered in their Alexandria hotel room, with only their college-bound son surviving, stumbling onto the traumatic scene, Philip in no place to stop him. Suddenly, the commonalities between the two couples are terrible. Philip and Elizabeth are engaged in work that's just as dangerous as their friends, and the killings highlight that whatever line they're drawn to separate their children from their spy life exists only for them, not their enemies.
"We don't use our kids," Philip told Emmett when getting recruited to fill in on a last minute brush pass with one of the latter's moles. But that won't stop other people from using or hurting them, should it become necessary. The season premiere suggests the ways in which the complicated romance between Elizabeth and Philip has settled into something more solid, but the pair finding solace in each other doesn't make them any less vulnerable when it comes to their children, and it's clear they haven't given real, frightening thought to the ways in which their family might have to pay for their illicit activities. There have been many annoying teenagers populating TV dramas recently, but Paige (Holly Taylor) isn't one of them -- she's finely drawn, and her inquisitiveness toward her parents comes both naturally from being older and from the fact that she senses the secrets they're keeping.
For all that the stakes are high on "The Americans," the show maintains a sense of humor. And so Paige, guessing correctly that her parents had been out and up to something the night they shook down the Lockheed engineer, went to check on them -- and got an eyeful of them engaging in some mutual oral sex. Horrors! While Paige's sense that her folks are hiding something from her and her investigations into what that might be will doubtless continue through this season, in the premiere, at least, she learned to be careful what she wished for -- and if she only knew the half of what her mom and dad got up to in various bedrooms for the sake of Mother Russia.