Saturday, January 7, 2017

"The Americans," Year 3

Spoilers for everything up to the end of this season below.

Well, I'm in for the long haul now. The third season of "The Americans" did a great job of moving all of its storylines forward and getting Philip and Elizabeth more fully entangled in an ever-more complicated web of espionage. So much happened this year that it takes some effort to think back to where we were at the beginning of the season, and start to evaluate what went on. So let's take this storyline by storyline, and character by character.

The biggest development, of course, is that Paige knows a version of the truth about her parents, one that she wasn't ready to hear. Holly Taylor had a big increase in screen time this year, and handled it wonderfully. The last episode in particular, where she fails to connect to Elizabeth despite their shared experience, and then goes to Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), was the best shock of "The Americans" to date. I love how her whole arc has been handled. I'd originally pegged Pastor Tim as shady, but it turns out he's a threat for entirely different reasons. I'm really looking forward to watching how this plays out next season.

Meanwhile, it was touching to discover that after multiple tense episodes with Paige's fate driving a wedge between Philip and Elizabeth, the moment she demands answers, they're on the same side completely. Family was the big theme of the year, with Elizabeth's mother and Philip's son adding more to worry over. And with everything going on with Paige, the show is also quietly setting up an arc with Henry and Stan, punctuated by a few pointed shots of the poor kid being ignored yet again. Elizabeth had a few good episodes, though her best material was a bit scattered. Philip, however, had his best year being in the middle of so many good arcs, and Matthew Rhys is now firmly up there with Keri Russell as an MVP of "The Americans."

Martha was the other person who was let in on the big secret this year. She started out as a borderline comic presence, but now it's impossible not to empathize with her tragic situation. The whole investigation at the FBI has been wonderfully intense and revealing, and has added new dimensions to Martha's relationship with Clark/Philip. Philip is becoming more emotionally involved by the episode, and it's fascinating. I don't know how much longer they're going to be able to sustain this storyline, with everything falling apart so fast. Whatever happens, I hope we get more Martha and more of the FBI mail robot. We also need to talk about Kimmy (Julia Garner), the teenager that Philip has to woo in order to access her CIA agent father. I wanted to see more of this storyline, as it sort of peters out at the end. Philip struggling to avoid sleeping with her is dramatic enough, but I really appreciate all the ways that the show manages to thematically connect it to other parts of the show - parenting Paige and staying loyal to Elizabeth.

Keri Russell didn't really get much with the same emotional heft. Elizabeth's training of Hans (Peter Mark Kendall) may yield some more interesting material next year, but so far the whole business with the South Africans has been pretty pedestrian stuff. Ditto the subplot with Lisa (Karen Pittman). Elizabeth did get her good moments in singular scenes that were more difficult to categorize - the terrible death of Betty (Lois Smith), the teeth-pulling scene in the third episode, and her conversations with Gabriel (Frank Langella), the Jennings' newest KGB handler. And Langella is such a great addition to the cast, a gentler, more fatherly personification of the KGB who offers home cooking and news from home. I've warmed to all the KGB regulars finally, including Burov, newly assigned Tatiana (Verna Cherny), and even Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn), who spends most of this season trying to sidestep the evermore dangerous quagmire of Soviet politics.

Over on the FBI side, I'm not too sure of what to make of Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) yet, who has more or less been playing straight man. Richard Thomas has gotten progressively more antagonistic as Agent Gaad. Then there's Stan, who spends the year trying to ground himself after losing Nina and his family, but isn't remotely as compelling. There's a comedic quality to his interactions with the defector Zinaida (Svetlana Efremova), that kept me from buying into his suspicions of her. Frankly, the stakes were never high enough to hold my interest. Even his tete-a-tetes with Burov to help Nina were lukewarm. And why is Susan Misner listed in the credits this year? Sandra barely had anything to do.

Fortunately, Annet Mahendru got much more interesting material with Nina. I'm glad that the show is enforcing consequences on her after last year, but I fully expect Nina to make her way back stateside eventually. This year's material has essentially been filler as a result. Still the execution is decent enough and we're not spending all that much time with her, so nothing feels dragged out.

Whew. Good season. Want more. Will be reporting back sooner rather than later.

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