I would be re-miss if I didn’t mention that prior to reviewing the season premiere of The Americans entitled “Comrades” I had almost forgot it was coming back. In its first season The Americans took its time in establishing itself as something that you can keep tuning into each week. The story of two Russian spies posing as husband wife and raising two kids in 1980s America had a lot going for it but a lack of initial chemistry between our two leads combined with a wishy washy narrative kept the show from being water cooler talk. With “Comrades” the show proved that it has the potential to stay strong and very compelling as long as there is threat and complexity to the lives of these spies.
What works best here and what I hope continues through the rest of this season is establishing the risk of being a spy. The first season of The Americans focused greatly on whether an arranged marriage for the sake of a job could be strong and real. Thankfully, we are past that with the Jennings as evident by both the balance of compassion and business that is conducted here. Hell, they are even caught in the middle of a sex act by their daughter page that most unhappy couples probably don’t do. Point is there is balance again that separates love from work allowing for a less tense dynamic between Philip and Elizabeth. They clearly trust each other and don’t let emotions get in the way or one would assume.
Both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell continue to dazzle together but this time with a little tenderness to their relationship that didn’t feel real before. The assumption one must make is that both of them understand that part of their job involves being in situations that are far from usual. Part of this episode deals greatly with their relationship with another spy couple that they take part in a couple missions with. Considering that part of one of the missions involves both wives participating in a threesome one would assume that the husbands have suppressed any awkward feelings towards acts like this especially when you consider how often Elizabeth engaged in sexual conduct in the first season.
They both also learn the risk of a bystander getting in the way of the operation. The start of the episode sees Philip amidst a mission involving two Afghans that goes wrong resulting in the death of an innocent young cook who might be accomplice. The risk management of these situations comes full circle at the very end of the episode when a mission involving both couples and even their kids goes awry.
Elizabeth and Philip find the couple and their daughter murdered in their hotel room in a scene that even I found chilling and completely shocking. To make matters worse their son wasn’t present and Philip sees him in a passing moment heading towards the crime scene as he and Elizabeth both exit the area. It goes to show that even with a new found appreciation for being a real family the threat is always there and the possibility of losing someone close to them is always in the deck of cards.
The weakest parts of the episode ultimately land on Stan as we continue to watch his crumbling personal life mix with the politics of his job and his scandalous source. Noah Emmerich is never the problem here but he does seem to get saddled with the limp storyline far too often. Here we learn early on that Elizabeth’s contact, Sanford (Tim Hopper), who was captured at the end of the last season, had no information he could give Stan and ultimately winds up dead. It’s almost as if with the amount of weight in the A plot the writers simply just couldn’t find space for Stan here but felt obligated to, I mean, I would if I was writing for Noah Emmerich.
“Comrades” was despite this one hell of a season opener and one that left the viewers stunned by the shocking turn of events. The high risk nature of the Jennings’ work is now what makes the show thrilling and if they continue with showstoppers like this episode The Americans will have a much more stable life critically and commercially than it did during its inaugural year.