The undercover Russian spies of The Americans returns to FX on Wednesday for its sophomore season, and this time around, the whole family is in for a wild — and potentially deadly — ride.
At the season two premiere of The Americans at New York City’s Paris Theater on Monday night, Keri Russell told reporters that the critically-acclaimed Cold War spy drama’s new season zooms in on the various suburban family dynamics within the Jennings unit, rather than solely between the married Soviet KGB agents. “I think the main thing is it’s less oppositional between us, and more of the family against the world, protecting the family,” she told The Hollywood Reporter, noting that her character becomes much more vulnerable as a mother. “The opposition is from the scary guys who are out there trying to kill us, basically.”
Added Matthew Rhys, “With the unification of the two, other elements of their mandates and jobs puts a greater stress on their new relationship — the honey trapping, the information, my other marriage with Martha. As things become very real, they’re no longer two separate entities within a marriage. On a human level, it’s like an extreme version of envy and jealousy that other relationships have to deal with.”
“That was something we really wanted, and it seems to have worked out really well,” executive producer Joel Fields told THR of the shift in focus, while creator Joe Weisberg joked, “Score for us on that one!” And when asked whether season two would include more scenes with Margo Martindale (her character Claudia, nicknamed “Granny,” isn’t present for much of the earlier episodes, notes reviewers), they shouted in unison, “Yes! For sure!”
While both lead actors agreed that Russell’s matriarchal character is seen as much more villainous within the family in comparison to Rhys’, she praised Elizabeth Jennings’ stubborn loyalty. “I love how flawed, messy and unapologetic she can be,” said Russell. “She’s definitely strong, Elizabeth. I’m certainly not so black and white — I give in way easier in my life — but people who believe that much that something should be a certain way, they’re admirable. She has real values of right and wrong — it doesn’t mean she’s right all the time, but these people are admirable because they go for what they believe.” As for how she checks out of her characters web of lies, Russell responded, “Straight up, a beer and sleep.”
Also on hand at the premiere were onscreen Jennings siblings Holly Taylor and Keirich Sellati, as well as Richard Thomas, John Carroll Lynch, and costume designer Jenny Gering. Aimee Carrero also introduced herself as playing a naive but ambitious Nicaraguan revolutionary sent by the Sandinista to work as a spy — an Elizabeth Jennings recruit, kicking off a four-episode arc in episode two.
Rhys revealed that he much prefers playing Phillip Jennings’ internal affairs alter ego, Clark, who was actually a happy accident. “I’ll let you into a secret though that I probably shouldn’t be saying — when we fixed Clark for the pilot, he was a one-off character, one-off moment, one-off scene, one-off everything. So I didn’t really think much about Clark. Then they came back and said, ‘Do that accent for Clark again,’ and I said, ‘What accent?’ They said, ‘That accent, and that funny walk!’ So Clark’s has definitely evolved,” Rhys told THR. “Phillip playing Clark has those moments where he’s hit with so many revelations with Martha that he’s in a constant state of trying not to show the shock that’s going on inside, all the ‘Ahh!’ [screams] that’s happening in your head. That’s fun to play, to show a bit to the audience without showing Martha.”
Still, Clark’s new relationship status with Martha will be a key plot point throughout season two. “It’s focused on their marriage — out of all the ‘marriages’ we try to talk about on the show, the real one is Martha and Clark: legally, and they have the day-to-day humdrum, the normalcy,” said Alison Wright of her character, an FBI secretary. “They’re the people who have the real, nitty-gritty marriage on the show. Martha wants domesticity — that’s how it starts out, of course, but it can’t last that long.”
Across the street, the Beeman household will also get a closer look in season two. “I think they’ve captured a difficulty marriage beautifully — not skimming over it, but seriously taking their time with it. It’s painful and difficult, but Sandra has some redeeming moments of power in a way that she didn’t get to express last year. It takes a little bit of a left turn, it’s really interesting,” said Susan Misner on being married to an unfaithful FBI agent, after years of separation because he was on assignment. “It just reminds you to go home and connect. Talk to your partner, because really, as soon as you stop talking — even if you’re watching TV together everyday — you’re moving slightly and slowly away from that relationship. I really take that with me.”
Noah Emmerich added that of Stan’s many sins, his greatest downfall is “the betrayal of his vows with his wife. There’s a bit more of that, I wish it were less painful — it’s not a happy home, and things don’t necessarily get much better.” Season two will also continue to touch on real-life events, he said, such as “some of the military-industrial developments that happened in the ’80s — things like stealth technology are a big plot point in the series this year.”
Emmerich reminded THR that The Americans isn’t looking to necessarily offer social commentary directly to today’s international political activity. “I was a history major in college, and the lessons of history are always relevant to the present. So many of the major dynamics of international relations and outlooks on the world are consistent. You can change the players and the names: in the ’80s, it was the Soviets, now it’s the terrorists. But how we look at people that we consider our enemies, how we are prejudice toward certain people, how we justify our own rights and freedoms and the degrees to which we’ll go to protect them are all issues that were all relevant then, and are clearly relevant now. That’s one of the great things about the show. History gives us a little more comfort and distance, so maybe it’s easier to look at ourselves. We’re not putting the spotlight on anyone particularly contemporary, but the lessons and dynamics that we explore in the ’80s are all equally relevant today.”
The Americans returns to FX on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 10 p.m.