Quiet drama, locked doors and bad wigs! It looks like we are back with another season of The Americans. It may be underappreciated, but this series is picking up where things left off and doing little to change up what has worked for it so well thus far. ‘Glanders’ may not pack the visceral punch you may find in other dramas that play ball with the audience frequently enough to jolt you with expected thrills, but it is a solid season opener worthy of what the fans expect.
We start out with a look at Philip’s past, which is violent, yet unsurprising. The image of him as a young teenager beating up bullies with a rock is the most intense thing featured in this episode and it is fitting for the most emotional of the Jennings clan. Part of what makes this show intriguing has always been the way it has made Elizabeth the more commanding presence in the couple, when it comes to her allegiance to the Soviet Union, while Philip has been more willing to question his superiors. Beginning in the way this season has, it is a fine reminder that will likely tap into more that’s at stake.
Last season was largely about what to do about Paige, the Jennings’ daughter who is quickly growing up and not one who will continually be fooled by her parents. With the KGB’s instructions to the Jennings to start breaking the news and involving her in their operation, it was only a matter of time for the truth to come out and it has. Of course, last season also ended with Paige revealing this information to Pastor Tim. This season premiere follows that up by letting us know the two are trying to figure out what to do, but I have feelings Pastor Tim will not be going to the police anytime soon.
Getting back to Philip though, we revisit his flashback during another EST meeting, as he describes a version of this event in front of a crowd. It is neat to see EST continuing to play a role in this series, but it also means Susan Misner’s Sandra Beeman continues to be a part of the show. That’s not cool with Stan though. Despite taking hold of the miserable year he had last season and trying to work on his new relationship and with a clearer head, hearing that Philip was out talking with Sandra sends him into the kind of rage that could make him suspicious of his neighbor in future episodes.
Okay, so this episode does a lot to set up the season, which keeps taking me away from Philip. Again, with the flashback in mind, you have to wonder what he will be thinking of Paige’s potential involvement in missions. He already hates some of the dirtier aspects of his jobs, such as the murder he committed at the end of last season to create a cover for Martha. In ‘Glanders’ we get to watch Philip tell Martha what happened and she does not like this news one bit. It’s great to see Alison Wright play up the guilt and terror she finds in knowing more than she ever wanted, but watching what Matthew Rhys does as Philip is important too.
When this series first started, much of the attention revolved around the marriage between Elizabeth and Philip, with them coming to terms with the fact that they actually do love each other. Things have gotten more complicated since, as the cast has grown and the marriage is hardly a big part of the drama. That may be something to be happy about, as the relationship is not about to end at this point, so the focus can move towards other complications. Paige is a big one, so is continuing to build stories for Martha and then you have the actual missions.
Dylan Baker gets to be the latest character actor added to the roster of guest stars and he works just as well as you’d think. Following a debriefing by the stern but gentle Gabriel (Frank Langella), the Jennings work their way to making contact with William, the informant. Baker’s deadpan sense of humor balances well with the Jennings, as the interactions begin. It has to do with bio-weapons and pathogens being obtained. One can only imagine all the thematic implications to be taken away from this, but I’m fine waiting to see more development on this front for now.
There’s no real action to speak of and the mission does not build up much tension either. Instead, The Americans is happy taking a ‘business as usual’ approach, which is completely fine for me. We catch up with the characters in this premiere, as the show’s strength has largely revolved around defining who these people are and letting the action naturally take place, shocking or not. The groundwork for this season has now been set, but it is not as if it wasn’t interesting watch.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Welcome back! The Americans is a show I really enjoy and will be happy to keep supporting and covering it. Additionally I have access to more episodes, but I am choosing to move week by week at a fitting pace. That said, I have heard very good things from others about some major developments and set pieces in store for audiences this year.
- I didn’t say much about Keri Russell’s Elizabeth, as she honestly was not as much of a focus compared to Philip, but I’m sure that will change.
- Henry watch: Unless he made a brief appearance in the kitchen that I missed while taking notes, Henry was a no show this week, but he is not forgotten. Elizabeth and Philip both hate their son’s cologne.
- Nina is still working Anton for intel and keeping him calm. She also negotiates for a few things that could maybe start building a bridge for her back to America.
- Arkady and Oleg were not featured much this week, but we are still seeing them as cogs in the machine, some with more power than others.
- The fake beards and wigs used almost felt like the show winking at us this week.
- This aside, The Americans is still an incredibly well-produced series in terms of building a chilly atmosphere in its 80s period setting.