[This post contains spoilers about the season-two premiere of The Americans.] The Americans returned for its second season last night with a real bloodbath of an episode: It started off with a few snappy executions, and toward the end, showed us Phillip and Elizabeth’s friends slaughtered, with their daughter, in a hotel room. We knew that The Americans likes a jarring visual — but last night we learned it also likes a provocative sex scene.
In what we’re pretty sure is a basic-cable first, when daughter Paige walked into her parents’ room, we got a brief shot of Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) engaging in mutual simultaneous oral sex. (Perhaps you prefer the colloquial term “69.”)
It’s an act that pretty much never appears on TV, maybe because of prudishness but also because it’s generally not very telegenic. Many sex scenes include close-ups of one participant’s face, which is a tough shot to get when both partners have genitals in or around their mouths. That’s not a good TV image. But The Americans was determined! The show made a smart staging choice to put the characters on their sides, and director Thomas Schlamme doesn’t have a pile of Emmys for nothing: The scene told us a lot about the state of Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage, demonstrating very clearly that they’re on the same team, that there’s a shared trust and vulnerability that wasn’t there in the same way last season. Unfortunately for Paige, the scene also reminded us that even though Elizabeth and Philip are fancy dangerous spies who murder people and crack codes and survive getting shot, they still have to deal with the everyday nightmares of family life. (These people are trained super-spies who are experts in surveillance, but they can’t lock a door?) Regardless: Congratulations, The Americans, on TV’s most emotionally resonant 69 scene ever.