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He Said, She Said Review Site

The Americans: Season 3

What She said:

She

The year is 1980-something when we revisit our favorite (or maybe not favorite) Soviet spies living in the D.C.-area, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. Life has not been so easy for them. I mean, even more difficult than it usually is.

As we ease into Season 3, it becomes clear that the stakes are higher than ever for Mr. and Mrs. Jennings. It seems like every job they complete is exponentially more dangerous than they have been in the past. Elizabeth and Philip are getting the snot beat out of them on a daily basis, and it seems like they’re being kept more and more in the dark about what they’re doing and what their real end-goal is.

The Americans: Season 3

We know that tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets are at an all-time high, and relations with the Afghanis have also become volatile. There’s also issues with the South African Apartheid that are running concurrently. Basically, Season 3 revolves heavily around current events of the early 1980s, and if you, like me, were either not born yet or just a baby, you’ll want to give yourself a little history lesson before trying to take in everything from The Americans.

Anyway, back to some plot highlights. Elizabeth struggles with her relationship with her daughter Paige, who becomes more and more involved with religion. Philip, who has always had the stronger bond with Paige, is doing better with her, but is secretly battling his own demons. He cannot stand to see what his work is doing to her and to his family, and the heightened dangers have him worrying.

Stan’s relationship with his wife is pretty much severed, but in a last-ditch effort to better understand her, he decides to attend a seminar for EST, some sort of hippy-dippy life-philosophy group. He drags Philip along, and it turns out it’s actually Philip who gets more value out of it. A major theme of Season 3 is fractured family, and we see that in Henry, the Jennings’ son forming a stronger relationship with Stan and Paige turning to Pastor Tim and his wife, rather than her own parents.  It’s heartbreaking and extremely hazardous for Elizabeth and Philip.

In the meantime, Philip has been struggling with his work. He’s forced to seduce Kimmie, a girl who is not much older than his own daughter, for a mission, and things are falling apart with Martha. When a bug is found in Gaad’s office, all the staff are under investigation, including Martha, who placed the bug for Clark aka Philip, and even Stan. Martha ends up confronting Clark who gives her the runaround to the point where she no longer trusts him.

Speaking of no longer having trust, things come to a head between Elizabeth, Philip, and Paige late in the season when she asks them to be honest with her. She knows that they’re not who they seem. The decision has to be made whether or not Paige is capable of keeping their secret and Elizabeth and Philip’s decision may come as a shock to some.

Nina spends most of the season in a Moscow prison cell, having been arrested and charged with treason. She is tasked with performing multiple duties in exchange for better treatment and the prospect of maybe even being released. Nina, extremely good at what she does, reluctantly takes on the challenges, which include coaxing information out of a cellmate and encouraging the efforts of physicist Anton Baklonov. Unaware of her negotiations, Stan and Oleg team up in an effort to get Nina out of prison.

The Americans: Season 3

I think I could go on and on about the plot of Season 3. There is a whole lot happening this season. Some of it is carryover from last season, and some is completely new. Some of the continuance of older stuff can be a little bit confusing to follow if you have trouble remembering characters, their associations, and their relevance to the overall plot of the show. I found myself needing to research some of the episodes and characters after I saw them. It’s all very complicated, but it’s also quite rewarding.

Aside from the actions happening on screen, the overall theme of Season 3 is really family, and the Jennings’ increasingly broken home. Their family system is completely falling apart. Paige is now old enough that she knows something is up and is actively questioning her parents, their motivations, and their authority. Henry is still living behind a veil of lies, but he’s drifting further from his parents, both of whom are simply not around enough to even notice. Oddly enough, he starts hanging out with next door neighbor Stan, with the two bonding over video and board games. Stan’s own family situation has left him vulnerable and searching for the normalcy of a father/son relationship. However, I think this may have implications for future disaster, and so Elizabeth and Philip better be careful.

While much of the plot gets overly complicated during Season 3, I think what made this season very powerful for me was all the family stuff. It’s something that so many of us can relate to, and just feels very human. I dare you not to like Philip at the end of this season. As he begins to crack emotionally, he shows that he really is a person who is capable of having a conscious. More than anything, he’s a dad who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of his family. Elizabeth shows a little bit of a softer side this season, but don’t underestimate her—the chick is still an assassin and not nearly as compassionate as her spouse.

I think the greatest strength of Season 3 really is its wonderful acting. Every character is very well developed and portrayed on screen. In particular, Paige begins to emerge as a central figure in the Jennings family, and a key to future plot developments. Kudos to Holly Taylor, herself just 17 years old, for doing so much with her character this season. Of course, she is complimented by solid performances by Matthew Rhys as Philip, Keri Russell as Elizabeth, Noah Emmerich as Stan, Annet Mahendru as Nina, and Frank Langella as Gabriel.

You have to pay very close attention when watching The Americans because every character and every action is carefully scripted as part of a larger storyline. If you zone out for even a minute, you may miss something important. The show can be a bit of a challenge for that reason. But if you’re willing to mute your phone and stay away from your tablet for an hour’s time, you’ll be rewarded with an enthralling and engaging thriller. Plus, there are moments that tug on the heart strings a little.

Thumbs up.

The Americans: Season 3

What He said:

He

This season of The Americans is all about relationships. I’ve always known this, but it really became apparent this season that Philip and Elizabeth’s missions are truly secondary to the plot. They are sort of just there in the background, while the characters and their relationships with one another are what’s at the forefront of this compelling drama.

The Americans: Season 3

It would sound weird to say Philip Elizabeth’s lives get complicated this season, because after all, they are Russian spies posing as American citizens, but that really is the best way to describe their situation this season. They lead very dangerous and stressful lives – things are always complicated for – and between – them. But when their commanders back in Russia begin to pressure them about recruiting their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) into the KGB, their lives are about to get stressful in ways they cannot imagine. Philip (Matthew Rhys) is completely against it. He has always had more of a conscious than Elizabeth (Kerri Russell), but that is more apparent than ever when Gabriel (their former handler who has returned) informs them that is what the Centre wishes to do. He butts heads with Gabriel (Frank Langella) over it quite a bit. Elizabeth thinks it is a great idea. Besides being very loyal to the cause – Philips loyalty to Mother Russia seems to wane at times – she also believes this will bring them closer to their daughter; whom they have had problems with for a while now.

The Americans: Season 3

Paige is not only the center or some of their issues, she is the cause of them too. If you remember from the past, Paige has explored religion, much to Philip and Elizabeth’s chagrin. They are not religious in the slightest and actually cannot stand their daughter’s involvement with her church. However, since they are trying to improve their relationship with her, the reluctantly allow her to participate. That’s their first source of tension with their daughter.

The other is when Paige confronts her parents on their bizarre schedule. She’s a little older and wiser than her brother Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and their disappearing act has not gone unnoticed. She has picked up on the fact that they come and go at random and does not believe that it’s all work related; it technically is, it’s just that they tell everyone they are travel agents. Paige doesn’t buy it, so when she confronts them about it, they have to figure out how to handle it. It’s another layer of stress they do not need.

FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) is also not without a certain level of stress. His marriage has fallen apart, though he appears to have not gotten the memo. They have never had a loving marriage – and they have both cheated on each other over the course of this show – but for some reason Stan refuses to let go. In an effort to win her back, he starts going to EST seminars. Sandra (his wife) was going to them while they were still together in an attempt to better herself and their marriage. The seminars are part therapy, part philosophy, part new age…not religion, but a belief system. Stan thinks they are bullshit, but he thinks going will show Sandra (Susan Misner) that he still cares about her.

Stan is also having trouble connecting with his son Matthew (Daniel Flaherty) and a side effect of that is his newfound relationship with Henry, Philip and Elizabeth’s son. Philip and Elizabeth are never around, so when Stan drops off some bootleg movies the FBI has confiscated it sparks something and the two form a surrogate father/son relationship. Henry often goes over there to watch movies and play board games with Stan.

Stan has lots going on this year actually. He is dealing with the fallout from the Nina (Annet Mahendru), who is now in a Soviet prison. If you remember, he forced her into spying against her own country. The two formed a relationship, but you never knew if it was real or not, since she ended up telling her superiors and serving as a spy for Russia. They eventually turned their back on her and she is now in a Soviet prison. I’m not sure if it’s because he still loves her  or not – I think he suspects she was using him – but Stan is not coping with her imprisonment too well. He feels a tremendous amount of guilt over her imprisonment and is doing everything he can in order to secure her freedom; including working with KGB Officer Oleg Igorevich (Costa Ronin). The two of them are working without knowledge of their superiors to create a plan that will (hopefully) lead to the exchange of Nina for a Russian agent in the U.S.

Nina also has her own problems; which should seem obviously since she’s in a Soviet prison. She finds herself once again though, being forced into forming bonds with people to extract information, which she is eerily good at. She is offered a deal for better if she can get her cellmate to confess to a crime she is suspected of. She is also tasked with seducing a scientists that Philip and Elizabeth capture last year and sent to Russia; where he is now being forced to work for them. When Nina was arrested and shipped out of the country last year, I didn’t realize she’d be back. I’m glad she is, because it’s an interesting story. I still find myself wondering just how much of it she is faking. Does she care about some of the people she is forming bonds to or is she just that good (and ruthless) at doing it?

The standout performances of this season are Matthews Rhys and Holly Taylor. I think it might have been early as the first episodes of the series that it was hinted that Philip would be perfectly content at securing new identities and simply disappearing somewhere in the U.S. I’m not sure he has ever liked his job and he likes it even less now. At one point, somebody asks him how he feels about the work he’s doing and his reply is, “I feel like shit every day.” The viewer already knows this, because the show never hid it, but to see him begin to fall apart this season, and hear him admit that is really powerful. It’s a legitimate powerhouse performance by Rhys.  I’ve always liked Philip more than Elizabeth, because of his compassion. A part of me wants to see a happy ending for him. I kind of want to see him turn himself in and give intelligence to the FBI or simply disappear and stop working for the KGB. However, I never want to see him succeed… because he’s a KGB agent, he kills civilians, and does other generally terrible things. I’m not blindly loyal to anything – including my own country – but when it’s U.S. vs Russia, it’s not even a debate. He’s on the wrong side, but I’ll be damned if you don’t sympathize for him. He hates his life and doesn’t even seem to dislike the U.S. much at all. I think in the first episode or two, when trying to convince Elizabeth to ditch their mission he says something along the lines of, “It’s really not all that bad here you know.”  For a murderer, he’s pretty likeable, because even he knows what he’s doing is pretty awful and doesn't want to do it anymore.

The Americans: Season 3

*Minor Spoiler alert* I’ve seen some fans (online) rip Page, because they find her “annoying” for not being more accepting of her parents  true nature (yes, they tell her). I’m sorry, but if you think a 15 year is “annoying” or “whiny” because she isn’t supportive or even accepting of the fact that her parents are Russian spies, you are an ASSHOLE. I’m 35 years old and couldn’t handle it if one of my parents told me they were Soviet spies. Best cast scenario I don’t tell anyone and become a reclusive alcoholic, because I can’t live with the guilt. The more likely one, I turn their asses into the FBI, CIA, and whoever else would listen to me. Paige is being put into a situation no normal person – let alone a kid – would be able to handle. She has every right to be angry, scared, and suspicious of her parents.  Holly Taylor is fantastic in this increased role, in which Paige is put into a situation no one should have to deal with.

Oh yeah, I have to point out one subplot. It’s really the one that is the beginning of the end as far as Philip is concerned. He is tasked with getting close to a teenaged girl, whose father is works the CIA. He tells Kimberly (Julie Garner) that he is a lobbyist. She finds that intriguing, being a rebellious teenager and all. The two hang out and Philip is expected to get close to her by any means possible in order to gain intelligence about her father. Watching Philip try to do this while he secretly hates it is both fascinating and heartbreaking. He thinks  it’s completely unethical, but is getting pressured by his superiors to stay the course. This mission really makes him hate his life.

I haven’t even mentioned his relationship with Martha (Alison Wright). I won’t say too much other than it is another source of stress and another reminder that he hates what he is doing to people. This is really the season of Philip now that I think about it. I didn’t realize that while watching it, but have come to the realization since this season ended. His struggles are what make this season.

The only complaint – and I literally mean the only complaint I have about this show – is all of the missions and characters in this show. The float in and out and there are so many of them, that it’s often quite hard to keep track of them. The show is great, but you often find yourself saying, “Who is that? What is their mission again? Where did that person come from?” This is a fantastic show, but it can be difficult to follow at times. Aside from that, it’s absolutely fantastic. Dare I say, this show is very underrated. I don’t hear too many people talking about it and that’s a shame, because it’s legit.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on May 4, 2015.