Sex has fueled spycraft since Delilah seduced Samson into spilling the source of his superstrength. But throw love into the mix and, well, things get murky. In Season 2 of FX’s smart and sexy Reagan-era thriller The Americans, married undercover KGB agents Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings find out just how dangerous such liaisons can be.
“There’s a deep change in their marriage,” explains show creator Joe Weisberg of the couple, who have posed as Virginia suburbanites since they landed stateside in their early twenties. “Elizabeth finally loves Philip as much as he does her. They started out with a fake marriage, and it’s starting to turn real. They’re like newlyweds who have two kids and more than 15 years together.”
Just don’t expect the pair to waltz off on a honeymoon anytime soon. When the show picks up after the events of last May’s finale, Elizabeth is recovering from the gunshot wound she received while on a retrieval mission. (Thin silver lining: The shooter, FBI agent Stan Beeman [Noah Emmerich] — who is also the Jennings’ neighbor — remains blissfully unaware of his target’s true identity.) And Philip’s current assignment yields its own major obstacle. He’s now “married” to another woman — FBI secretary Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) — who believes her new hubby is a federal Internal Affairs snoop named Clark. Not that Elizabeth has any room to grow resentful. This, after all, is a woman who spent much of the first season luring men into bed so she could blackmail them into turning over secrets. But “real feelings have crept in between Elizabeth and Philip,” Rhys admits, “so for the first time, they do have to negotiate jealousy.”
“This really happened historically,” explains Weisberg, who, as a former CIA officer, would know. “The KGB had their illegals [deep-cover agents] marry secretaries and proceed to gather intel. That’s about as sick and twisted a thing as I’ve heard in the world of intelligence, and Philip beginning another fake marriage with Martha fits beautifully into our story.”
Indeed, while the first season emphasized the cracks in the Jennings’ relationship, “this year,” says Rhys, “they’re a united front against external forces.” In addition to unsuspecting Hanson, that includes Beeman, whose own professional responsibilities may be derailed by an illicit relationship. The married fed is falling deeper into a passionate affair with Nina (Annet Mahendru), a gorgeous KGB operative he believes he’s turned. (She reports his every reveal to her Soviet overseer.)
But the most serious threat for the Jennings remains the Cold War itself, and as the conflict intensifies all over the globe, the couple’s missions become all the more treacherous. In the premiere, Philip poses as a Texas oilman eager to sell weapons to an Afghan rebel group bent on killing Soviet invaders. While that encounter doesn’t go particularly smoothly, a truly horrific event that follows shakes the family to the core. “What happens is a brutal reminder that they’re not immortal,” Rhys says. “And for the first time they realize their kids aren’t either. Philip hopes that Elizabeth will slowly change her mind about their job, because the more she invests in family, the more she’ll pull away from that other responsibility. And that’s Philip’s long game.”
The Americans returns Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 10/9c on FX.