The upcoming third season of The Americans will explore an area that's not new to the series, but one that, following the shocking conclusion of season 2, looms ever larger in the lives of our two heroes: parenting. That's one of the few tidbits that the cast and creators of the show, the thrilling spy drama that's one of the finest shows on television, were willing to reveal during a panel at New York Comic Con 2014.
[Editor's note: This article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of The Americans. Obviously.]
The two protagonists of The Americans, for the uninitiated, are Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), a pair of KGB agents living in deep cover in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., as a normal American couple during the height of the Cold War. They have a teenage daughter, Paige, and a younger son, Henry, both of whom are unaware of their parents' true past and clandestine activities.
Andy Greenwald, television critic for Grantland, moderated the panel, which featured creator Joe Weisberg and his co-showrunner Joel Fields, along with four of the series' lead actors: Russell, Rhys, Noah Emmerich (FBI agent Stan Beeman) and Annet Mahendru (Nina Sergeevna, the Soviet triple agent). The panelists came out wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Commie Con" in, of course, red, to the delight of the packed room.
"there's going to be a lot about parenting this season"
Early on, Greenwald asked the panel why The Americans is so thrilling, and how the creative team is able to keep it that way. The allure of a series like this one, and indeed, any story whose characters lead double lives, is that it heightens the tension of even the most mundane elements of everyday life.
"The show is working best when Philip and Elizabeth and the other characters are all struggling with things that everybody struggles with in their family and relationships," said Weisberg, himself a former CIA officer. These elements — marriage, friendships, work, high school — feel "like life and death" for normal people, and "for [Philip and Elizabeth] it really is."
The evolution of Philip and Elizabeth's relationship has been one of the most fascinating elements of The Americans so far, with their work as spies — and how it imperils their children — bringing them closer together as a couple. The second season began with the violent murder of another family of KGB Americans, an event that left Elizabeth and Philip wondering about the degree of their own loyalty to the cause. It turned out in the season 2 finale that the surviving member of that other family, Jared, was the one who killed his parents and sister, because they forbade him from joining the KGB. And in the finale's second shocking revelation, the Jennings' handler informed them that the organization decided Paige would be next.
"As much as the past seasons were about marriage, there's going to be a lot about parenting this season," said Fields.
Philip warned the KGB against attempting to recruit Paige, and threatened that he and his wife would drop out of the Americans program if that ever happened. But he returned home to find Elizabeth considering the idea of revealing the truth to Paige and trying to turn her into a second-generation American for the KGB. This is where the couple differs: As protective as they both are of their American children, it seems that, gun to his head, Philip would choose his family over the Soviet cause, while Elizabeth might not.
Another relationship that will get more screen time next season is the friendship between neighbors Philip and Stan, the FBI agent tasked with stopping the Soviets. While the creators loved that relationship, "the story never drove them together," said Weisberg, but "it's finally really going to happen" in season 3. As for Stan's affair with Mahendru's character, Nina, and the way he ended it at in the season 2 finale, it seems we haven't seen the last of her.
"The only thing I'm allowed to say," said Mahendru, is that Nina is "still alive."
And with that, we have the ingredients for another tense, riveting season of The Americans. Filming began last week, and season 3 will premiere in January on FX.