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The Americans “EST Men” Review (3×01)

29 Jan

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What makes this show so special is its ability to tackle larger thematic ideas through very intimate character dynamics. It regards the human capacity for emotion with the same care and nuance afforded to its explorations of institutions, and the sociopolitical and political aspects of the show never outweigh the importance of personal relationships. It walks a fine balance between the individual and the state, and it’s a very complex show as a result; I’m extremely glad that it’s back.

The way that this season seems to be exploring those aforementioned ideas is through the conflict over Paige, who’s currently being sought after by the Centre. The opening scene of the episode–a flashback to Elizabeth throwing her daughter into the deep end of a pool–is very telling, and it emphasizes the manner in which she believes she should parent: making sure that her kids can cope with the harsh world and not shy away from it. Philip, on the other hand, takes a different approach toward protection and parenting: shielding his kids from the harsh world and making sure that they can live their own, free lives. It’s a conflict that will be very important as we move further into season three, and it’s very well handled so far by the actors and the writers.

There are two specific moments I’d like to point out regarding the acting by Rhys and Russell. The first is during the reunion with Frank Langella’s Gabriel, and that’s an intriguing scene in and of itself considering he seems like more than just a handler to Philip and Elizabeth; he seems like family. Of course, it’s clear that his bond with Elizabeth is stronger than his bond with Philip, and Rhys is fantastic when the other two begin talking about Paige and about being ready for the nation and whatnot. The camera zeroes in on the Gabriel-Elizabeth conversation, but it also highlights a very disapproving Philip Jennings in the background. One simple look from him can be terrifying, and we can see the anger and frustration building up in him as he listens to the conversation; later, the knife is driven in a bit more when he confronts his wife and is met with “I don’t know what you’re talking about. She’s my daughter.” Is it ‘my’ daughter or is it ‘our’ daughter? How much will this issue divide the two?

On Elizabeth’s side, there are quite a few things that propel her toward her more nationalist, hardened views. One major factor is her own history and upbringing, and here’s where my favorite Keri Russell scene of the episode comes in: her listening to her mother’s Russian recordings. We don’t even need subtitles here because Elizabeth’s facial expressions convey all that needs to be conveyed, and we move from recognition and joy upon hearing the voice to genuine uncertainty as her smile fades. Learning that her mother is dying is undoubtedly going to propel her toward sticking with her country and developing her daughter, but it’s going to be a tough ride when Philip is standing in the way.

What’s interesting about this episode and show in general, however, is the fact that both sides ultimately lead toward a common dilemma: the uncertainty surrounding Paige’s future with regards to her relationships with Philip and Elizabeth. The whole episode is about assets from Hans all the way to Annelise, and although they serve to set up storylines and propel the plot forward, they also serve as symbolic markers for the story that will be told. After all, Paige could one day find herself in a similar situation as an asset, and as we learn with Annalise’s demise, it’s very difficult to be an asset.

Speaking of Annelise’s demise at the hands of Yousaf, it’s interesting how during that scene, Philip seems to be satisfied because a pawn is being satisfied. Once this happens, though, the boundaries between individual and state become increasingly blurred, and any misgivings he has about his daughter’s involvement with the KGB stands in stark contrast to his mentality in the final scene. It’s a world filled with hardship and contradictions and moral dilemmas, and it’s fascinating to watch unfold. From the exciting action sequence to open the episode to that final scene, “EST Men” excites, probes, and questions, and it’s looking like it’ll be a wonderful third season.

GRADE: B+

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-Stan is teaching Martha how to shoot a gun. Want to bet the gun will be used later on in the season?

-Clark and Martha. Kama Sutra. All that needs to be said.

-Noah Emmerich’s doing a great job with coming across as this sad sack individual who has been left by various women. Stan’s scene with Sandra is a really nice one, and the theme of honesty there also ties into, say, Annelise’s honesty (which actually leads to death). I’ll be interested to see how his preoccupations with Nina’s fate tear him apart or strengthen him in the coming weeks.

-Not enough music!

-They changed the opening credits a bit. They’re now longer, but just as great as ever.

-Expect regular coverage for this. Looking forward to writing about season three!

Photo credit: FX, The Americans

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9 Responses to “The Americans “EST Men” Review (3×01)”

  1. bobby927 January 29, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    I must be suffering a brain blackout. Can someone bring me up to speed on this Annalise character, as I have no recollection of her?

    • polarbears16 January 31, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

      Annelise is married to Douglas, a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense.

      She is Philip’s informant and she believes she is helping Scott Berman, an officer in Swedish Intelligence.

      In The Clock she took covert pictures of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger ‘s office, to allow the KGB to place a bug in the office.

      In Yousaf Philip decides to use her to seduce Yousaf, a Pakistani ISI officer. She is excited about working as a spy, but later gets upset at Philip when realizes that she had to sell her body for it.

      Source: theamericans.wikia.com

  2. JustMeMike January 29, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    I missed this series when tt was in its first season. But based upon your reviews and others, I got into it by binge-watching Season One prior to the launch of Season Two. But somewhere in two – I lost my way again, and bailed on the series.

    I watched this Season Three opener and I’ll tell you why. Back in the spring of 2012, I was attending opening night at the Sarasota Film Festival. Sitting one seat over and in the row right behind me was Frank Langella. I got to hear plenty of his voice, both in person, and as his film, Robot & Frank was the festival’s opening film.

    Then yesterday afternoon, the TV was on, and I heard his voice in what turned out to be the 2015 Season Three trailer. So that’s how I came to watch last night.

    But I realized that I was woefully out of touch, didn’t know who some characters were, or when they became a part of the series – hence I can’t blog about The Americans unless I get caught up.

    Then again, I can read your commentaries on the series.

  3. Candace Williams January 30, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    What a great review! There were some very interesting things going on in this episode. Gabriel asked Elizabeth if Paige had a boyfriend and Elizabeth said no (but Elizabeth knew there was a boy Paige was interested in at the church.) Later we see Elizabeth mentoring a young man in the spy biz. Did Gabriel send him to her, to train for the Cause, and perhaps to attract Paige? Can’t wait to see where this is going!

    • polarbears16 February 1, 2015 at 12:54 am #

      Ah, that’s a nice thought! I think you may be onto something there; we’ll see in the next few weeks. Thanks!

  4. #peggyatthemovies January 31, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    I’ve always been a bit meh on this show. For me, they have a really good eps. followed by 1 or 2 really bad ones. I remember I almost stopped after the beginning of S1 where they had the guy captive in the trunk of their car..in the garage..at their home..and yet the kids didn’t know.. I mean COME ON!! Any kid there age would be able to figure something was up. There where some of this show falls apart for me. They always act like they can away with some of the stuff that they do so ridiculously I want to scream. I do like some of the characters, Stan, Frank his boss, Oleg on the Russian side are my favs. I did watch the opening eps. here & I will stick with it for a bit for sure. good review of it all also!!

  5. royjeffords February 2, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    Every week, they make me pull for the damn Russians at some point. How do they do that?

    • polarbears16 February 2, 2015 at 9:04 am #

      Haha, yup, same with me. Most of the time it’s Rhys and Russell for me.

  6. Anonymous February 7, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    I was hoping for a bigger opener. something to draw in new eyeballs. but this is still my favorite show. Paige being trained definitely would change the dynamics. already curious what a S4 would look like

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