It’s always very interesting and incredibly exciting to watch one of your favorite series go from being a good show to a great one. Fortunately, that’s exactly what I was able to do when watching Season 2 of FX’s The Americans, as the show announced with its second season premiere that it was upping the stakes and digging deeper into its characters. During Season 2, The Americans not only became one of the best shows on FX but one of the best shows on TV period, as it provided stellar writing and fantastic performances from its cast week in and week out, and I’m eagerly awaiting its return in January for what should be a third season that is just as excellent. Until then, though, let’s take a look back at the some of the best moments from the first two seasons of the series and The Americans episodes that transformed the show from very good into something truly remarkable.
Although many critics will say the beginning of The Americans‘ push towards greatness started with the show’s Season 2 premiere, I’d argue that the first season finale, entitled “The Colonel,” was just as important to elevating The Americans to new heights. While there is certainly action and suspense (I mean, Elizabeth even gets shot!) that can be found throughout the hour, what makes “The Colonel” one of The Americans episodes that deserves to be on this list is the conversation near the end of the finale between Elizabeth and Philip. After there was so much marital drama between the couple during Season 1, Elizabeth, weak and bleeding, seeks comfort in the man that she may not have chosen to love but has grown to love. “Come home,” she whispers to Philip, not in English but in Russian, breaking one of the cardinal rules of being a Soviet spy. Those two words wipe away all of the issues that have plagued Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship throughout the first season and set up Season 2 to be about something bigger than just their marriage: their family.
If there was any doubt that The Americans was a serious show with real stakes, the series’ writers extinguished those with the Season 2 premiere, “Comrades.” The episode not only features Philip killing an innocent in its opening sequence but also the bloody, gruesome deaths of two of Philip and Elizabeth’s associates and fellow KGB spies, Emmet and Leanne, along with their teenage daughter. While the mystery of who killed Emmet and Leanne would be a major storyline throughout Season 2, its rippling impact on the series’ characters was so much more important than an answer to a “Whodunit?” “Comrades” serves as a wake-up call to Philip and Elizabeth that not only are they at risk but their family is as well. That ever-present sense of fear and dread that begins in”Comrades” makes it one of The Americans episodes that helped solidify the show’s second season (and the series) as one of the best on TV.
“Behind the Red Door”
So much of The Americans call for its characters to become performers, to play these invented parts that they create, covers that will allow them to gain insight or knowledge for the KGB. For much of the first season of The Americans, the covers they had while on missions weren’t the only parts that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings were playing; they were also acting out their roles as loving husband and wife. However, in Season 2 of the show, the two of them came to realize that they no longer were just pretending to be a happy married couple anymore–they had actually become one. The love that the two of them had faked for so long was now real, and in some ways, that was even more dangerous than trying to keep their covers a secret. Now, feelings like jealousy and resentment could compromise their operational objectives, or, as it happens in “Behind the Red Door,” cause some major emotional damage.
The reason why “Behind the Red Door” is one of The Americans episodes that helped the show reach that upper echelon of greatness really rests in one scene, the one in which, after much prompting from Elizabeth, Philip dons his wig and Clark persona, which he only uses when he’s alone with Martha. After talking with Martha and hearing intimate stories about her and Clark, Elizabeth wants to see this other side of Philip, this wild, unknown personality that she has imagined for him. But when Elizabeth doesn’t get what she hopes for from Philip in bed, the entire situation falls apart in a heartbreaking scene, as Philip angrily and almost abusively tries to regain control and brings back horrifying memories that Elizabeth has tried to repress of the times that she was raped. With “Behind the Red Door,” The Americans showed that the constant dangers of being a KGB spy are both external and internal, and that a ruined moment with the person you love can be just as harmful as a bullet fired from an enemy.
“Echo” ended Season 2 of The Americans on an incredible high note, but what it did an even better job of doing was establishing what will most likely be the central conflict of Season 3. After discovering that Emmet and Leanne’s killer was the couple’s own son, Philip and Elizabeth soon find out that the KGB is now attempting to recruit children of spies to work for the agency. Even worse news: they want their daughter, Paige. This reveal not only reaffirms that The Americans is now a series about family and the threats that can destroy it but also re-introduces one of the show’s central conflicts (safety and security in the U.S. versus loyalty and dedication to the Motherland) and frames in an entirely new way. In a just a few moments, The Americans reinvents itself yet again. Let’s just hope that one thing it will never change is its quality.
Photos via FX