In the Season 2 finale of FX's The Americans, undercover KGB spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) were informed by handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) that their superiors plan to recruit their teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) as a potential agent. Philip objected, deeply, and paid a visit to Rezidentura director Arkady (Lev Gorn) to threaten that he and Elizabeth would quit if Paige is approached without their consent.
Elizabeth, as always more loyal to her homeland than Philip and concerned about Paige's budding religious pursuits, wondered if learning about her parents' sacrifices — and being presented with the opportunity to make them herself — wasn't the "cause" 14-year-old Paige needs.
And so, as we pick up with the Jennings for Season 3, their recently forged closeness is on fragile footing while they butt heads over their daughter's future. "Last season, they really were in probably the best place they'd ever been in their marriage," The Americans co-showrunner Joe Weisberg tells Yahoo TV. "And I think that's really one of the questions this season asks: What do you do when your relationship's in a good place, and then you start to really struggle over how to raise one of your kids? What happens to a relationship put under that kind of pressure? Can you truly love each other and yet be in conflict over the most important thing in your world?"
What else to expect in Season 3:
Elizabeth and Philip
Not only do they disagree about the possibility of allowing Paige to be recruited by the KGB, but Philip accuses Elizabeth of spending time with Paige and her church activities for the purpose of "assessing" and "developing" her as an agent. Philip wants Paige to have a choice in the direction of her life, and also points out to his wife that he doesn't want Paige to have to do some of the things they have to do in the course of their job. But when Elizabeth gets some crushing news about her family, we get new insight into why she's so adamant about serving her country.
Individually, the couple and spy team also works on projects that not only provide examples of the kinds of things Philip doesn't want Paige to have to do, but which also might add further stress to their relationship. Elizabeth has a new trainee — Hans, played by Peter Mark Kendall — who seems to be crushing on her, while Philip has to work with the young daughter of a CIA target, which gives him all kinds of pause about his work and what it requires of him.
Gabriel (Frank Langella)
Another stress on the Jennings's marriage and work life: the reappearance of Gabriel, their old handler. "They're happy to have him back, and they love him, and they trust him," co-showrunner Joel Fields says. "But he's back with the hardest assignment he's ever had, which is to help guide them through the recruitment of their daughter."
And if you're wondering if Gabriel resuming his duties means we're unlikely to see Claudia (Emmy winner Martindale) return, not so fast. Fields and Weisberg confirm they have high hopes to see Martindale back on the set if scheduling permits.
Stan (Noah Emmerich)
Stan, Stan, Stan. He's still reeling from the dissolution of his marriage and the decision he made about Nina (Annet Mahendru) in the Season 2 finale. He's channeling all that into an effort to woo estranged wife Sandra (Susan Misner) back, and he engages in some self-help, with assistance from Philip, along the way. At work, Noah has a new project, and a new co-worker — Agent Dennis Aderholt, played by Brandon Dirden — to contend with.
"It was a tough journey for Stan last season," Fields says. "This season, he's going to be dealing with the consequences of those decisions for better and for worse. Actually, maybe for worse and for better, [because] he didn't commit treason, and he's discovering things about himself, and what are the consequences of the choices he made in his marriage, what's that going to mean for his son, and what does that mean for him at work as a patriot and an intelligence agent.
"There's a temptation after such a hard time to have Stan just bounce back, just pull himself back together and be the guy he was before things sort of went to s--t, but the truth is, that's not what happens with people," Field continues. "When people hit that kind of bottom that Stan did, it's a long, hard road back up, and we're sort of starting him on that road."
Emmerich, in addition to a rich season ahead for his character, makes his directorial debut with the seventh episode of the season, "Walter Taffet."
Nina (Annet Mahendru)
We'll avoid specifics about Nina's current situation. Suffice it to say that she is very much a part of the new season, and that she is a clever and resourceful woman who should not be underestimated.
Arkady and Oleg (Costa Ronin), the science and technology officer who was Nina's lover, are both sad that Nina is gone, but they've got new projects — and a new female co-worker, Agent Tatiana Evgenyevna (Vera Cherny). And as with Nina, they're not sure how much they should trust her.
Martha (Alison Wright)
Martha and "Clark" have some randy fun early in the season, but she's also still trying to convince him to add kids to their (fake, unbeknownst to her) marriage. And, you know the Chekov rule about not showing the gun if you're not going to use it? It's literal in this instance; Clark found out in the Season 2 finale that Martha had purchased a gun. In Season 3, she has co-worker Stan help her out with her marksmanship skills, which sparks an ominous vibe that Martha might be using that gun — on Clark? — in the not-so-distant future.
As Season 2 improved upon Season 1, the four episodes FX provided for review suggest Season 3 of The Americans will also top its predecessor. The tension, the personal and work dramas, the little moments in the Jennings's marriage and family that resonate, and the humor — petite Elizabeth humbles a pair of FBI agents in the premiere — are all there, along with some harrowing moments that rival anything you've seen, or heard, on The Walking Dead. One involves a bit of amateur dentistry, and the other, in "Baggage," the second episode of the season, involves Elizabeth and Philip, the covering up of a crime, and an accompanying sound effect that will haunt you.
They Love the '80s
One of the major real-life events acknowledged in Season 3 is the 1982 death of Soviet Union leader Leonid Brezhnev. The show, however, also continues to sprinkle fun pop culture shout-outs throughout the action, including: Love's Baby Soft, The Jeffersons, Erhard Seminars Training (EST), Air Supply, a Hershey's Kiss commercial featuring a future Seinfeld star, and — one that will have a lot of people running to iTunes — a big nod to Yaz and the classic Upstairs at Eric's album.
Season 3 of The Americans premieres Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 10 p.m. on FX.