FX’s The Americans is everything Homeland wishes it could be. That’s right, I said it. Since “Tusk” started playing in the opening scene of The Americans pilot episode, I have been unhealthily obsessed with this Cold War era spy thriller. In fact, there is no question in my mind that The Americans is easily the best show on TV. If you aren’t already watching this show (I’ll try not to judge you for reading this recap), stop what you’re doing, binge-watch the first season on Amazon Prime, and get ready to enjoy season 2.
Thankfully for a fangirl like me, Season 2 begins on just as strong a note as the last season. If there is a way to add even more layers to already multi-layered, extremely interesting characters and story lines, co-creators and writers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg do so in spades.
Season 1 Aftermath
In order to recover from the gunshot she sustained during a botched FBI setup at the end of last season, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) has been staying with a “comrade” in a cabin in the woods (no, not THAT Cabin in the Woods). Besides her husband (and co-spy) Phillip (Matthew Rhys), everyone back home, including her children, believes she has been out of town for weeks in order to take care of an injured aunt. Now it is finally time for Elizabeth to get back to her family, life, and mission in DC. However, we are quick to see that although Elizabeth may be healed physically, she’s not in the best place emotionally. On her drive back to DC, the normally stoic, fearless Elizabeth is shaken after she almost hits a deer. Will this new anxiety start affecting her performance on missions?
While Elizabeth was recuperating away from home, Phillip was charged with looking after the kids. Along with typical parenting responsibilities, he also continued to go on dangerous missions for the KGB. Like Elizabeth, it becomes apparent that the FBI shootout also had a dramatic effect on Phillip. Last season, Phillip seemed to be coming around to the American way of life, at times even contemplating defecting to the United States. However, that attitude quickly changed after Elizabeth told him to “come home”; come home to the family and to the cause. On one particular mission, Phillip poses as an American official to gather intel on how the Americans are selling weapons to the Afghans to fight the Soviet Union. When the discussion ends, Phillip kills both Afghans, but not before delivering this harsh message, “America can’t protect you. Allah can’t protect you. The KGB is everywhere.” Sheesh, Phillip… angry much?! Phillip also shoots an innocent cook who saw him without his disguise; the young man happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. By the end of the mission, it seems even Phillip was surprised (and upset) by how far he escalated the situation. It looks like the events from last season will have a serious impact on the characters throughout season 2.
Romance In The Air
Of course, the espionage angle of The Americans is extremely entertaining. However, let’s be real, the real heart and soul of the series lies in the relationship between Elizabeth and Phillip. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’ chemistry is the best on TV and when they are fighting, I can feel the stress. Did I also mention I get way too emotionally invested in TV shows?
As a dedicated “shipper” of Elizabeth and Phillip (Philizabeth?), I am happy to report that in this episode, there is lots of kissing, reassuring each other, and FINALLY talking about feelings. Basically, their relationship is the strongest it’s ever been. Just ask the incredibly nosy Paige. Can we put a bell on her or something? She is making me extremely nervous with her snooping around. Hopefully now, after seeing her parents having sex and getting an awkward talk about privacy and respect over breakfast, Paige will get a handle on her curiosity.
Phillip and Elizabeth Have…
In this episode we are also introduced to a new couple, Emmet and Leigh Anne, who are Phillip and Elizabeth’s actual “comrades” and fellow KGB sleeper cell agents. The couples join forces to elicit information from Ray, an employee of Lockheed Martin who supports the Department of Defense at Skunk Works. Posing as Air Force security, Phillip and Emmet “catch” Ray in a compromising position with Elizabeth and Leigh Anne. The “security officers” act like they are debriefing Ray in order for him to keep his security clearance and not incur any penalties. For security purposes, they ask that he secure his briefcase (containing classified information) using their “new, highly-secured” codes, making Ray an unknowing informant.
Following the mission, the couples gather around to discuss their lives and families; Elizabeth and Phillip are finally given the opportunity to let their guard down and speak freely among friends. They agree to “meet” at a local amusement park so they can catch a glimpse of each other’s kids (by meet I mean see from a distance). Little do Phillip and Elizabeth know, however, their friends are also conducting a mission at the theme park. Phillip is roped into helping with a brush pass, and is supposed to bring the intel (a diagram of a propeller and street address hidden in an Aspirin bottle) back to his friends’ hotel room. When he gets there, however, the entire family has been murdered, except for one son who was at the pool.
Phillip and Elizabeth are now incredibly nervous that someone, maybe even the FBI, has discovered the identities of Russian sleeper cell agents in the United States and are killing them off one by one. When Phillip leaves to signal the KGB about what happened, Elizabeth is shown checking and re-checking every lock in the house. It appears we have met the threat this season.
Stan Stan The Double-Crossed Man
When we last saw FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), he was reeling from the death of his partner and hot on the heels of capturing a dangerous KGB couple; little did he know his targets were actually his next door neighbors Elizabeth and Phillip. Stan was also busy cheating on his wife with Russian mole, Nina (Annet Mahendru). Unbeknownst to Stan, Nina turned double-agent and is now working against him and the United States. Her mission is to make Stan fall in love with her and feed the FBI (through Stan) “empty calories”, or useless intel, and misinformation about the X Line (science and technology intelligence).
So far in season 2, nothing has really changed with Stan. He is still on the hunt for embedded KGB agents, still sleeping with Nina, and still paying little to no attention to his family. In an effort to impress Nina, Stan takes a bootleg copy of The French Lieutenants Woman (Meryl Streep, anyone?!), which was seized by the FBI, over to the safe house for a date night. When Nina acts unimpressed and disgusted at the depiction of females in the film, Stan starts to think differently about it. After he takes his wife to see the same movie (this time in a theater), he begins to see the movie in a new way, Nina’s way.
When he isn’t spending time with Nina, Stan is also busy questioning DoD traitor, and KGB informant, Sanford Price. At the end of last season, Price promised to give the FBI information on the KGB in exchange for immunity and $500,000. He told the the Feds about his contact with the KGB (a goth-dressed Elizabeth) and about the U.S. Colonel that informed the Russians that the anti-ballistic missile shield is a giant PSYOPs project, meant to distract them from real issues. However, none of Price’s information is deemed credible, so the FBI renege on their deal and send him packing. An erratic Price shows up at the Colonel’s door and the Colonel is “forced” to shoot him. Stan thinks there may be a little more to this murder, however, because the Colonel shot Price more than once directly in the head. Did the Colonel purposely destroy the only evidence that proved he was also involved with the KGB?
Of course, an episode of The Americans can’t end without us feeling incredibly sorry for Martha (Allison Wright), one of the most depressing characters on TV. Phillip (“Clark” to her), ends the episode in her bed, though it’s easy to tell he would rather be with Elizabeth. Oh the price he pays for “the cause”.