The Americans “EST Men” Review Season 3 Episode 1

Americans_301_20141016_0063_hires1

On the season premiere of “The Americans,” we hit the ground running with the tongue-in-cheek-titled “The EST Men.” Or should I say a pair of FBI agents hit the ground hurting, courtesy of Liz? Yep, we were barely getting started when, after a inside source got cold feet, Liz (Keri Russell) got bad vibes and bolted, narrowly evading the arrival of FBI agents, only to have them find her anyway, even after changing her clothes and appearance.

However, this is Liz we’re talking about, so, in short order, she broke one of their noses- it later turned out to be none other than Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas)- then tussled with the other, nearly getting choked out in the process, before she vaulted them into the street, and right into the path of an impending motorcyclist, who fell over and promptly collided with said agent, leaving Liz to confront Gaad again, who pulled his gun, only to have it snatched from him and end up pistol-whipped with it! Whew! Moral of the story: this is not a woman you want to mess with.

So, the Liz of season one appears to be back in full force, after having a moment of backsliding over the last season, as things got a little too close for comfort when a fellow agent’s family was wiped out in one fell swoop, causing her to fear for her own. Of course, that turned out to be something else entirely than what she thought early on (spoiler alert: the son, himself an recruited agent, did it), which seems to have enabled her to slip back into old habits, which do indeed die hard.

Now, after initially being onboard with Phillip about the Soviets keeping their distance from recruiting their daughter Paige, Liz is clearly having second thoughts. The episode opened with her in the tub, reminiscing about the time when Paige was a little girl, afraid to learn to swim- so Liz simply pushed her into the pool, nearby people and her screams be damned. Sink or swim: that could easily be Liz’s personal motto. But will she go so far as to push her own daughter into the deep end of the spy pool? I guess we’ll see this season.

Phillip, on the other hand, despite seeing considerable action of his own in this episode of a decidedly more fun kind than Liz’s- love that Kama Sutra scene! – is more on the fence than ever about the Paige thing, telling new handler, Gabriel (Frank Langella, a much kinder presence than the departed Claudia- though every bit as stern in his own way), in no uncertain terms that Paige is not up for discussion as a recruit. Alas, Liz does not have his back anymore. Indeed, she’s been “laying the groundwork,” as she put it, for recruiting by supporting Paige’s protesting extracurricular activities, stuffing anti-nuke fliers in envelopes to spread the good word with her; and even attending church alongside her after her vehement protests against it last season.

Of course, she claims she’s only telling Gabriel- and by extension, the Centre- what they want to hear so they’ll back off, but Phil clearly doesn’t see it that way. Who can blame him? Sorry, but I’m on Phil’s side on this one. Besides, I can almost guarantee that, if Liz does indeed try to recruit Paige, it will almost certainly blow up right in her face. And what do you think will happen then? Paige will go rogue, and Liz will be forced to do something about it, because you know Phil won’t. This means that either Phil will make a run for it with Paige in tow; or Liz will be forced to kill their own daughter- or the Soviets will. None of the above scenarios are great options, but I think we all knew this wasn’t going to end well.

Meanwhile, at least one of Phil’s assets is- well, burned doesn’t quite begin to cover it- more like silenced. Yep, the lovely Annelise (Gillian Alexy) is no more, the victim of choosing the wrong guy to confess to. Rather than Phil, she went with Yousaf (Rahul Khanna), only to have him strangle her to death. This could have been a big lose for Phil, but ever-resourceful, he turned it into a potential win by posing as her husband and telling him he could help make this go away- for a price. Out goes one recruit, in comes another. But I’ll miss you, Annelise.

Not as much as I missed Nina (Annet Mahendru), though, and I’m by no means the only one there. Both Stan and Oleg alike were clearly still reeling from her loss, with Stan resorting to trying to go to an “EST” meeting- hence the title- in a misguided, and halfhearted attempt to win his wife back, while Oleg went so far as to beg his politician father for help in somehow getting her out of her charges for treason and espionage, to no avail. The mere fact that she’s still being listed in the credits give me hope, though- I think she’ll definitely be back, but it’ll be more interesting to see in what context.

Those were the main plot points, though we also know that the Soviets are trying to amp up their support for Afghanistan, and are worried that Reagan might turn it into another Vietnam; there’s a new agent in town for the Russians, Tatiana (Vera Cherny), along with Oleg’s brother; Liz found out her mother was dying; the FBI are being tasked with protecting a visiting official from the US Canada Institute, who was seen passing notes to an Embassy officer in Moscow; and Liz is training a new, young agent. Oh, and they announced on the news that Soviet president Brezhnev is dead, which would put us in November of 1982, time-line wise.

All in all, despite some welcome bursts of sudden action, this was more of a slow-burn episode that served mostly to set up the upcoming season than anything else. Much like Liz and Paige, they are clearly “laying the groundwork” for what’s to come. Some thought that last season was too much of a slow-burn, so we’ll see if they ramp things up this time around. Personally, I really enjoyed it, and as someone who was born around the time this show takes place, I actually appreciate the pacing being a little slow, as I often have to research things I didn’t know about, which is most everything on this show, history-wise.

So, while I don’t mind the pacing, personally, then again, I don’t want another “Rubicon” situation where they move too slow for the show’s own good and end up getting cancelled before the storyline finishes. I’d really like to see this show get to the end of the story at its own natural pace, rather than having to rush it, but maybe that’s just me. We’ll see how the show fares before I pass judgment on any pacing issues.

What did you think of the latest episode of “The Americans”? Did the pacing work for you? Are you looking forward to the new developments? Was there one storyline in particular that you were particularly curious about? (I’m intrigued by the Yousaf recruitment one, personally.) How about Liz’s bad-assery? Or Phil’s acrobatic love-making skills? Were you sad to see Annelise go? How do you think they’ll bring Nina back? Sound off below, and see you next week!