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Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 4 Episode 1 ‘Glanders’ Introduces a New Weapon to the Cold War

Review: 'The Americans' Season 4 Episode 1 'Glanders' Introduces a New Weapon to the Cold War


In case, you were hoping things somehow got easier for dear ol’ Phillip (Matthew Rhys) over the break, “Glanders” was here to overwhelm our family patriarch even more. Not only is he still struggling with childhood memories — and trying to work through them in public via EST, the seminar he attended back when Stan (Noah Emmerich) still hoped to get back together with his wife, Sandra (Susan Misner). But the Russian spy is also letting his emotions override his instincts, as he missed an exchange opportunity with a new contact (William) because “it didn’t feel right.” Speaking of Sandra, his only source of emotional support right now became another threat to his secret life when Stan’s girlfriend, Tori (Callie Thorne), saw them sharing an “intimate” (“Intimate?!”) dinner. This divulsion lead to the unstable and jealous FBI agent nearly killing Phillip — accidentally — when he threw his former friend up against the wall of the garage, as a biological weapon causing “Glanders” was stuffed just inside his coat pocket. And if that’s not enough, Phillip’s also skating some very thin ice with Martha (Alison Wright), who seemed ready to roll over on her wig-wearing hubby at the beginning of the episode before he skillfully repaired that fracturing relationship. Sadly, he’s still got a ways to go in healing his own actual personal life. 

Meanwhile, in this Phillip-heavy episode, Paige is still in conflict with her parents’ secret profession, meeting again with Pastor Tim to try to decide how to proceed. That slimy son of a bitch is pretending to care about what Paige wants, but clearly just sees her as a confused victim in need of an adult’s guidance — which, if we examine the situation from an unbiased viewpoint, is likely what Paige actually needs — and is trying to manipulate her into finding out more concrete evidence against her folks. By pretending to care about her learning more about her parents, Pastor Tim has exposed himself as both the do-gooder pastor he makes himself out to be, and any fan’s most hated character in this young season. Don’t bust up our Russian spy family, Timbo!

Finally, on the subtitled side of things, Nina has made good progress with her assignment. She didn’t even ask if the good news about her scientist’s breakthroughs would help her. Instead, she just asked if she could get back to work (after one simple “demand”); a decision that speaks to either her wisdom or the feelings she’s developing for her target. Then, at the Rezidentura, Arkady (Lev Gorn) becomes fed up with his lack of authority over Ivana after she refuses to divulge reports to him, but he makes little progress in discovering her mission. Maybe Oleg (Costa Ronin) will have more luck…

LAST REVIEW: Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 3 Finale, Episode 13, ‘March 8, 1983’

Phillip’s Loyalty: USA

Phillip is still suffering from his crisis of confidence. Because of this, he’s using his emotions to measure situations instead of his cold, ruthless training. Now, I’m not making the argument that Americans are the soft, lovey-dovey types and Russians the hard-edged rationalists, but Phillip feels far closer to defecting in order to protect his family — and himself — than he does carrying out more missions where he hangs a man from the ceiling or stuffs someone into a suitcase. Also, his reluctant acceptance of Gabriel (Frank Langella) as their handler speaks to his unease regarding The Center as a whole. 

Elizabeth’s Loyalty: KGB

We didn’t get to dig too deep into Elizabeth’s mindset this week, but her laser-sharp field skills purposefully countered Phillip’s dulled nerves. She’s in the game. She’s ready to rock. She’s not thinking about attending any EST meetings or dismissing their handler. Plus, she’s probably feeling pretty good about her relationship with Paige. Her daughter did ask her directly and privately about what Phillip was doing out of the house, and Elizabeth gave her a very truthful, basic answer. That had to be a relief for a mother who’s been desperately trying to repair her relationship with her daughter; a relationship that may face some challenges whenever Mama Jennings finds out Paige ratted her out to Pastor Tim.

Stan: Savant or Square?

Okay, let’s talk about the biggest fright in the episode. Since Episode 1, the biggest threat to Phillip and Elizabeth’s way of life has been the FBI agent living next door. Stan started off fairly hot on their trail before cooling to the Russian’s scent just as he warmed up to Phillip. Now, with Tori’s unfounded suspicions shared with her man, Phillip will have to work doubly hard to get back on Stan’s good side. There is never a good time for an officer of the law to have reason to follow you, look into your background or find any reason to dig into your affairs; not when you’re an undercover Russian spy. But now is especially bad for Phillip, as he’s already questioning where his responsibilities lie and Martha isn’t exactly the safe haven she once was. It’s too easy to connect the dots between FBI agent, FBI secretary and spy, especially now that the wrong end of that line has the motivation to start moving. 

READ MORE: ‘The Americans’ Creators Reveal Major Season 4 Homages to David Bowie, Copperfield and Ronald Reagan

Best Asset: Martha

Just when you thought Martha was out… Phillip pulls her back in! Phillip, despite his inner turmoil, was able to focus enough to lure Martha back to his side. It was telling when she slid away from him on the bed, especially after that look she gave him when he told her they wouldn’t be meeting at her apartment anymore, but “we’ll see each other just as often at my place.” Phillip had to sense how much distrust was there, but he also relied upon Martha’s inherent good nature to forgive him and forge a path forward as long as he was clear about how much he was trying to protect her. Alison Wright has taken Martha a long way since we first met her as a lonely secretary, desperate for man’s attention. But she’s still got that inner desire to be a good wife and honor her vows. How long that will last in such a stressful, extreme environment like this is hard to tell. But she’s back in it for now.

Wig Count: 2

Two wigs? Just two freaking wigs, Weisberg? Come on, man. We’ve been waiting months for more of “The Americans,” and you only give us two wigs in the season premiere! Okay, okay. I guess you can’t go overboard all at once. And you did give us a pretty outstanding beard to go with Philip’s light blonde side part. I’m sorry I lost my temper. It’s just…there are so few other shows with great wig work. It’s been a long break. Welcome back. (But seriously — more wigs!)

Quote of the Night: 

“This is to meningitis what bubonic plague is to a runny nose.”

The long-delayed meeting between William — Gabriel’s man inside the defense department who’s been stealing pathogens made as biological weapons by the Americans — didn’t disappoint, as Dylan Baker’s performance provided proper gravitas to the few words shared between source and spies. Clearly, this is going to be an ongoing theme of the season, and, frankly, it’s a perfect addition considering it’s just one more Cold War weapon that can’t be seen, but can cause catastrophic damage. Kind of like, I don’t know, foreign spies living in secret or even emotional conflict buried deep within an agent? Metaphorical parallels abound, but what’s also so intriguing about the revelation is the literal threat it poses to the Jennings. Phillip got a taste of that fear when Stan shook him roughly and the tin Altoids can popped open in his pocket. But now that weapon is in their house, with their kids. It has to be dealt with — just like everything else.

Grade: A-

READ MORE: Spoiler-Free Review: The Americans’ Season 4 Brings Grave Consequences, Long Coming

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