Balancing wants and needs is always a struggle. I want The Americans to be on every day of the week, but I need the time between episodes to let each instalment settle on the palette. I wanted the third episode of the season, “Open House,” to maintain the incredible focus the show demonstrated through its first two hours, but the season needs to expand its horizons for the good of the whole. I want to eat that Danish staring at me from across the room right now, but I need to finish this recap without worrying about being able to fit into my stonewashed jeans come spring.
“Open House” isn’t a total comedown from the one-two punch of “EST Men” and “Baggage,” but it does feel like necessary feet planting for the rest of Season 3. The often-lyrical overlap of those first two episodes was marvellous, but expecting a full 13 hours of perfectly contiguous television is an impossible feat for any show. “Open House,” therefore, appears looser and shaggier in comparison to what preceded it, with much of the hour spent moving the Afghan Group story forward, but in an incremental amount that, ironically (given the hours-long car chase), played like a bit of a runaround.
Not that it wasn’t exciting to get back into some proper cloak and dagger business for a bit. Last week’s tutorial on luggage space maximization was the sort of post-op spycraft that’s often glossed over in the day-to-day business of counterintelligence. Most of the memorable setpieces in the history of The Americans have focused on familiar spy fiction maneuvers, and how the show’s period setting makes now simple surveillance tasks a serious endeavour. Philip still has to maintain an entire fake marriage just to keep tabs on the F.B.I., so it’s no surprise that losing a tail from both the C.I.A. and the feds makes for one of the most surprising and dangerous situations the Jennings have yet gotten themselves into.
The Americans has always been coy about character backstory, but it’s also been slow to reveal just how connected the K.G.B. community in D.C. really is. It’s made Philip and Elizabeth’s effectiveness all the more impressive, considering how often it seems like it’s just two Directorate S agents up against the best of America’s intelligence community. Season 3 has been making a lot of moves to present the past successes of the Jennings as a byproduct of taking the initiative. Now that the F.B.I. and C.I.A. know the Afghan Group is compromised, it was only a matter of time before they could corner Elizabeth and Philip the way they do tonight.