The Cold War continues in The Americans.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Americans season 2 premiere, “Comrades.”
What’s harder than being the parents of a teenager? Being the parents of a teenager while also working undercover as a spy for the KGB. That’s what Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) learned in the season two premiere of FX’s The Americans last Wednesday.
When we last left the Jennings, Elizabeth was just beginning to recover from a severe gunshot wound and had taken the first step toward repairing her increasingly real marriage to Philip. Meanwhile, their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) had begun to snoop around the laundry room where her parents conduct their secret activities.
Largely focusing on Elizabeth’s return after two months of recovery (although her cover story was that she was helping a very sick aunt), the episode developed slowly before finally culminating in one large game-changing event.
On the other side of the Cold War, the Jennings’ neighbor and FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) wasn’t having quite the same luck in his marriage. Viewers found him still separated, but relatively happy with his mistress/informant Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru).
On the whole, the episode did what most premieres should: gave the viewer a nice little catch-up about what’s going on. That being said, the Jennings family trip to the carnival, which quickly morphed into a dead-drop assignment, really served to push the season in a new direction.
The focus on the Jennings as a family in this episode, as well as the twist at the end, suggest that this season will tackle more of the practical aspects of their life. Elizabeth and Philip began to deal with the idea that their children are just as involved as they themselves are, even if they make serious efforts to keep them out.
Although distinctly more upbeat than previous episodes, the premiere contained that nagging sense of history that pulls you out of the story, even as the writing and acting brings you in. Viewers root for Elizabeth and Philip, even knowing about the cause they serve and the eventual conclusion to the Cold War.
As the Jennings enjoyed a day at the carnival, you might have forgotten the real reason they were there: to complete an assignment. The contrast between the overly joyful aura at a carnival and the brutal murder scene that came at the end served to jerk the viewer out of their feeling of total complacence regarding the job Philip and Elizabeth do. It was a stark reminder for both the audience and the couple that their job is not for the faint of heart.
Hopefully, viewers will get to see more conflict between the two lives Elizabeth and Philip lead, instead of the fairly productive balancing act we saw last season. Paige should be an especially essential character this season, as the writers build on her suspicions and explore her development as a teenager. The groundwork for that storyline is already being laid, and it will be interesting to see where the writers take it.
Now that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have drawn to a close, The Americans has returned to give the American public their fix of Soviet-U. S. conflict. A premiere that alternated between dark and hopeful set the stage for this new season, which promises the same level of complex story lines, disturbingly relatable characters, and phenomenal acting that its freshman run gave us.
There’s even a Carnegie Mellon shout-out — a fellow English-speaking Soviet spy couple whom the Jennings work with has a Carnegie Mellon-bound son. What reason is there not to watch?