The sophomore season of FX's Cold War spy thriller The Americans saw KGB agents-in-disguise Philip and Elizabeth Jennings dealing with the fallout of the organization's disastrous decision to recruit the young son of another deep-cover family like theirs. (Basically, the boy went nuts and slaughtered his whole family, to make a long story very short.) So naturally, the next logical step for the show's third season was to have the KGB ask Philip and Elizabeth to recruit their own child, teenage daughter Paige. What could possibly go wrong, right?? Before you dive into the Season 4 premiere this Wednesday night, let's recap The Americans Season 3 and remind ourselves what exactly went down in the Jennings household… and with all the deceitful, double-crossing characters surrounding them as well.
Of course, in the midst of all the aforementioned deceit and double-crossing, the Jennings still had a job to do. The overarching mission in Season 3 involved the super-spy-couple keeping a bunch of deadly Stinger missiles out of the hands of Afghanistan's military, which the United States government was going to loan to them so they could fight the Soviets. The Jennings managed to sabotage the deal by turning one of the Afghan agents against his fellow soldiers; when he slaughtered them in their hotel room before the meet, the missile exchange was promptly cancelled.
Now here's what was going on in the complicated personal lives of The Americans' central cast:
Of the Jennings spouses, Philip was decidedly the more hesitant of the two when it came to the idea of telling their daughter the truth and inducting her into the ways of spycraft. This reluctance was only exacerbated when he was tasked with getting close to Kimmy, a teenage girl about Paige's age, so he can plant a listening device to spy on her father, the head of the CIA's Afghan group. Although rebellious Kimmy tried her best to seduce the older man, thankfully nothing too untoward transpired between them.
Of course, he and Elizabeth did eventually tell Paige the truth when she wouldn't stop pressing them for answers. Now he has to deal with not only a traumatized and unstable daughter, but also an increasingly frantic Martha. (More on that in a bit.)
Ice-cold Elizabeth was much more gung ho than Philip about the idea of their daughter joining the fight for their beloved Motherland. After they came clean to Paige, Elizabeth decided the next step in her induction should be to take her on a little vacation to Germany to meet her grandmother — which was also an excuse for Elizabeth to visit her mother, whom she had recently learned was dying.
Earlier in the season, Elizabeth had one of her most heartbreaking storylines yet when she was forced to murder a sweet old lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. When she and Philip went to plant a bug in the FBI's mail robot, they were surprised to find Betty there doing some late night bookkeeping. After a long conversation in which Elizabeth revealed the true nature of their identity and mission, she looked on as Betty OD'ed on her own heart medication.
For most of Season 3, Stan was concerned with getting Nina out of the Soviet prison in which she'd been locked after her betrayal had been uncovered. He teamed up with KGB agent Oleg Burov to hatch a plot that involved proving that defector Zinaida was really a double-agent still working for Russia so they could trade Zinaida for Nina.
Although Stan was successful in obtaining proof of Zinaida's subterfuge, Special Agent Gaad was less than enthused to learn that Stan had been running his own off-the-books operation in collaboration with a KGB agent in the name of his traitorous Soviet lover. To Stan's dismay, the FBI decides to trade Zinaida for a CIA asset the Russians had captured instead of Nina. But even though Gaad recommended that Stan be fired, the Deputy Attorney General decides to keep the agent on with the bureau thanks to his close ties to the KGB.
Speaking of Nina, she wasn't simply waiting around in prison for Stan to come to her rescue on a white horse; she was busy plotting her own rescue by befriending her cellmate, Evi, until she could get the young woman to divulge information of her boyfriend's treason. Nina was able to use this information to secure her release from the confines of her dingy cell, if not from prison itself.
For a full pardon, the KGB demanded that Nina first get close to imprisoned physicist Anton Baklonov and ensure that he complete his work on reverse engineering the Americans' stealth technology. If she's successful, she will be granted a reduced sentence — and perhaps even a full pardon — if only she can live with herself. "I can't keep doing this," she confessed to Anton. "Buying back my life. I don't know if it's worth it."
Martha's world came crashing down around her when the listening device that she planted in Agent Gaad's office way back in Season 1 was suddenly discovered. This was followed swiftly by an FBI mole hunt, as every agent in the office was interrogated about their possible involvement by investigator Walter Taffet. This at long last exposed Philip's deception — if her husband "Clark" really was who he said he was, shouldn't he have been the one called in to investigate? Philip doesn't deny it, nor does he offer any explanation; he simply tells Martha he loves her and asks if that's enough.
Sadly, for poor lonely Martha, that is enough and she doesn't ask any more questions about his real identity or mission. But when the pressure of Taffet's interrogations gets to her and she plans to skip town, Philip gets one step closer to the truth, stripping off his fake glasses and fake wig and showing his fake wife the real him for the first time. And that was the last time we saw Martha in Season 3.
As Paige's parents grappled with whether or not to tell her the truth, she drew herself deeper and deeper into her relationships to both God and Pastor Tim in her quest for meaning, going so far as asking Philip and Elizabeth if she could get baptized as a birthday present. When her parents finally came clean to her, the teenager found herself overwhelmed. The trip to visit Elizabeth's mother was counterproductive; rather than increase Paige's understanding of her past, it simply made her more anxious about her present. Seeing the lengths her own mother had to go to to keep their trip a secret couldn't have been the best advertising for the lifestyle of a spy.
The Season 3 finale ended on a doozy of a cliffhanger as a devastated Paige phone Pastor Tim and and dropped this bombshell about her parents: "They’re not who they say they are. They’re not Americans… I’m not supposed to say it. You can’t tell anyone. They’re… Russians."
So what happens now? Will Pastor Tim alert the authorities? Will Philip and Elizabeth be able to silence him before he does? What's next for poor Martha? Will Nina ever get out of prison and reunited with Stan — or Oleg? And, most importantly, will this finally be the season that the Jennings are caught? Tune in to the Season 4 premiere, "Glanders," this Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
Images: Eric Liebowitz, James Minchin (6)/FX