It's November 1982 and the Soviet Union is in turmoil as “The Americans” period drama begins its third season on FX with Episode 301 (“EST Men”).
Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev has just died. The Cold War with the West is escalating, and young soldiers are returning in caskets as the Soviets battle relentless mujahedin fighters on their home turf in Afghanistan.
It’s also a tumultuous time for KGB spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). While posing as ordinary American citizens dwelling in suburban Washington, they risk life imprisonment or worse as they struggle to infiltrate the CIA.
Then there’s the issue of their increasingly social-justice-minded daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), who’s being targeted by the KGB as a second-generation spy.
Dad fiercely opposes this recruitment, arguing that his 14-year-old daughter isn’t old enough to enter a perilous life of espionage. But Mom isn’t so sure: Maybe it’s time for Paige to step up and join the real family business -- which isn’t a travel agency, by the way.
The episode opens with Elizabeth wearing one of her many disguises as she secures a list of CIA contacts from Charlotte (Jordan Baker), a boozy and bitter employee of the intelligence agency.
Charlotte soon has second thoughts, however. She calls the authorities and reports her crime, confessing that “I’m doing something terrible!”
Rushing to the scene, FBI Special Agent Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas) and his partner attempt to handcuff Elizabeth after slamming her head onto a car. But fighting back like a Siberian tigress, Elizabeth breaks Frank’s nose and escapes into the night.
And that invaluable list of CIA names? It’s lost in the melee.
While Elizabeth treats her bruised and bloodied body, Philip cozies up to their lonely FBI neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), by accompanying him to a New Age event extolling the virtue of honesty.
This is part of Stan’s desperate bid to reunite with his estranged wife, Sandra (Susan Misner), who’s moved in with her lover Arthur (Remy Auberjonois).
Sandra, however, later accuses Stan of avoiding conflict and concealing his true feelings when he generously describes the Erhard Seminars Training as “interesting.”
“You want the truth?” Stan testily asks. “I thought it was stupid!”
Meanwhile, at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, KGB officer Oleg Igorevich Burov (Costa Ronin) learns that his paramour -- double-agent Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru) -- faces execution after being convicted in Moscow of espionage and treason.
“It’s not fair,” Oleg protests to Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn), director of the KGB Rezidentura. Oleg even begs his powerful father to intervene on Nina’s behalf. But his dad “doesn’t think political connections should ever be used for personal gain,” Oleg laments.
Finally, Philip tasks his naive recruit Annelise (Gillian Alexy) -- who thinks she’s helping Swedish intelligence -- with gleaning information about CIA operations in Afghanistan.
She bravely tries to do this by intensifying her seduction of Yousaf Rana (Rahul Khanna), a Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agent who frequently confers with his American counterparts.
While Philip secretly listens from an adjoining hotel room, Annelise makes the fatal mistake of admitting her undercover role to Yousaf.
“I love you, but you have to know I’ve been doing some very important work,” Annelise reveals.
“What have you done?” Yousaf replies in a panic before impulsively strangling Annelise on the bed. Then Philip bursts into the room and confronts Yousaf with his murderous act.
“You think you can just disappear on the streets of America?” Philip pointedly asks. “Do you have the skills for that?”
But not too worry, Philip assures his devastated soon-to-be informant. “I can make this go away.”