Hot damn, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings! Way to get back to business! After an even more stressful period than usual, which featured a number of challenging developments we’re about to discuss, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) found momentary solace from the outside world with some seriously hot sex. Their torrid love-making reminded us just how long it’s been since the couple got down: six long, torturous episodes (according to our sporadically-meticulous notes), and that’s after a 10-plus episode draught in Season 3. While we can understand why Phillip wasn’t feeling too sexy last season, what with being tasked to seduce a minor while simultaneously trying to understand his daughter of a similar age, let’s not let this happen again. These two literally show us how it’s done, and that’s as invaluable a service as TV can provide.
But let’s get back to those challenging developments: “Clark’s Place” opened and closed on Martha, who the Jennings finally learned is being tailed, forcing “Clark” to decide what to do with his possibly spoiled asset. Martha seems burnt out on the whole thing, as her trust in her hubby is waning with every missed phone call. Now it feels like a race to see what happens first: Martha snaps and confesses to her colleagues at the FBI, or Phillip stops her…by any means necessary. On top of that, Phillip and Elizabeth tried to smooth over Pastor Tim and his wife by bringing in a Russian spy/priest (“Do you think that guy’s really a priest?” “I dunno.”), but neither seemed convinced that he was content with their status — and Paige was far from it. Both she and Martha feel betrayed by their secret-keeping family members, making the matching shots of each sleeping with their eyes open all the more telling.
Finally, Phillip managed to kind of patch things up with Stan (Noah Emmerich, who directed this week’s episode), which could be influenced by Oleg’s mourning of Nina. After last week’s devastating death, Oleg (Costa Ronin) passes on the sad news to Arkady (Lev Gorn) — who doesn’t adequately mourn the double agent’s passing — and then to Stan, where Oleg finds some comfort from a man as devastated as he is to learn of Nina’s assassination. Stan, reminded of his few friends, allows Phillip to apologize (even though he didn’t do anything wrong), but then introduces him to the agent Elizabeth beat up in the Season 3 premiere…and the guy who took Martha out to dinner. But hey, at least now the Jennings have a friendly neighbor again. So they got one good bit of news this week…well, two if you count Elizabeth’s quick — and sultry — seduction (which we do).
LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘The Americans’ Season 4 Episode 4 ‘Chloramphenicol’ Proves Everyone’s in Peril
Phillip’s Loyalty: USA
One week after Nina’s abrupt death, the markers of another asset in peril felt ever-present. Though the Jennings are almost entirely disconnected from Nina’s fate, her shocking execution hung over “Clark’s Place” as the reluctant Phillip was backed further and further into a corner he never wanted to find himself in. With evidence stacking up against Martha’s safety as a mole within the FBI, Phillip is going to have to decide how to handle is suddenly reluctant asset. Ironically, the person who could give him the best advice is the one person he can’t ask. Stan, sitting in shock after Oleg told him what happened to Nora, mentioned how he was warned during his training with the agency that he could lose a contact — an agent — “someday.” Certainly Phillip went through similar training, and he undoubtedly knows the protocol. Whether or not he’s willing to execute it is the question.
Elizabeth’s Loyalty: KGB
Elizabeth’s seduction of Phillip could be seen one of three ways:
1. After noticing the pressure piling up on her hubby, she saw a way to relieve some stress via the couple’s favorite activity.
2. Elizabeth saw Phillip wavering a bit, not only in his loyalty to their home country, but to her, as well. So by bedding him in that moment, she reestablished their connection, which in turn brought Phillip a little bit closer to the home country. After all, iIt was made pretty clear in this episode how strong Phillip’s feelings are for Martha, and Elizabeth has proven to be extremely cognizant of her family’s emotions. Sure, she may have misjudged Paige’s readiness to be recruited, but it was a calculated risk this mother was willing to take. Right now she recognizes that Martha may have to “go away,” and she doesn’t want to lose her husband because of it. He loves Elizabeth first and foremost. Maybe he just needed a little reminder of that to get through what’s coming. And maybe Elizabeth needed to know she still came first.
3. Danger turns Elizabeth on, big time.
Honestly, I think there’s truth to all three.
[Side note: Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields deserve an award simply for waiting this long to use “Under Pressure.” I mean, it’s currently mid-1983 in “The Americans” timeline, and Queen’s massive hit first dropped in 1981. How they restrained themselves from using an incredibly popular song about “pressure pressing down on me, pressing down on you” in a show about a couple leading a double life as stressed-out Russian spies is remarkable. As someone who hears the great-but-overused song far too often in TV and film, I think they earned it here — and they have my thanks for waiting this long.]
Stan: Savant or Square?
Yes, Stan, “wuss” would’ve sufficed. While we recognize you’re a classic man from the baby boomer generation, who’s quite reticent to show his emotions unless they’re macho to the nth degree, Phillip didn’t need to apologize for anything. You could have been the bigger man and simply appreciated his willingness to look past the assault charges in the name of friendship (and spycraft). But no, you had to call him an “asshole.” That’s a very square thing to do, Stan, especially when our heart went out to you earlier in the episode when you heard about Nina.
That being said, it was interesting to see how Henry and Stan’s relationship played out when Matthew, his real son, showed up. What looked like a situation that would quickly turn into jealousy instead became something akin to brotherly love. Michael laughed at Henry when he bit into the burning hot pizza like a big brother would laugh at little brother’s odd antics. How this dynamic will affect the bigger picture remains to be seen, but maybe Stan finally learned how to be a decent dad once his real kid went away.
Best Asset: Martha
Martha is not excited to see Clark come home. Martha is upset when Clark is not home. Martha is taking valium — prescription valium. Martha is waiting, unmoving and without so much as a book for entertainment, to get a phone call from her husband in a laundromat. Martha, in short, is not pleased.
Yet she’s going through the motions anyway. Be it for fear of her FBI bosses finding out and firing her (to start with) or because she believes in her marriage vows of “to death do us part,” Martha is still doing exactly what “Clark” tells her. She even told Agent Aderholt on their non-date last week what Clark had instructed her to say — a fact we either didn’t know or forgot when it was happening. There’s no masking how much this new life is hurting her (again, the valium), but how Martha reacts over the next episode or two will be fascinating to behold.
The most obvious course of action would be for her to go to the FBI and confess to her bosses the whole damn scheme, but that would jeopardize a career Martha has worked hard to obtain, and she also has to realize now the danger such a decision would put her in — even if she somehow still believes the man she calls Clark is incapable of pulling the trigger himself. Will she remain a loyal asset, even if it costs her everything? Or will she be the Jennings’ ultimate downfall?
Who knew, in the end, it could all come down to Martha?
Wig Count: 2
We didn’t get any new wigs this week — just return appearances from “Clark” and Elizabeth’s blonde locks — but hey! The drought is over! After last week’s hour without wigs, we’re just happy the counter is back in action. And speaking of action, maybe next week we can get some Phillip and Elizabeth role playing. Too much to wish for? Maybe?
Quote of the Night
You guys, Martha is going to snap. After weeks of buildup, it seems like the secretary who just wanted a simple life with her hubby has been pushed past her breaking point. Simple goals, however, don’t make for a simple person. Our heart goes out to Martha, especially when she makes the above well-founded point to Clark; a point that spoke to her general unhappiness with her perfect life, now spoiled. But even when she’s dishing out sick burns to her absent husband, there’s no way of knowing what way Martha will go when she truly can’t take it anymore.
And that, in a nutshell, speaks to the cunning brilliance of “The Americans.” At various times in Martha’s relationship with Clark, we could have predicted exactly how she would have reacted to the truth about her mysterious affair-turned-marriage. Now, though, she’s in so deep and the timing is so very bad for her to come clean at the FBI that knowing what will come next is impossible. Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields’ planning as always been awe-inspiring, but it wasn’t until an entirely separate scene in the episode that my appreciation for this kind of storytelling doubled.
In the post-opening credits scene this week, Paige walked into Elizabeth’s bedroom and demanded answers. She reemphasized just how frightened and confused she was when her parents abandoned their plans and then abandoned their children at home for days on end. Her fury was as justified as Elizabeth’s decision not to divulge more information was pertinent. (What Elizabeth didn’t exactly say, but clearly understands, is that the more Paige knows about her dangerous double life, the more distance is created between mother and daughter.) While the scene itself was as well-written and tension-filled as any, what struck me was how direct Paige was with her mother. So much TV relies on characters harboring secrets or holding grudges for long periods of time, usually because the writers need to buy time and set up the most dramatic divulsion for said sentiments. Yet Paige, rather than bottle up her emotions, went immediately to Elizabeth with her issue. It happened just as one would imagine it would have gone down were these two people real.
So much of “The Americans” follows the same pattern. The series creates momentum by relentlessly pushing characters forward via the daily rhythms of life itself — even in these extreme circumstances. Just look at Nina’s fate last week, which easily could’ve been dragged out over the course of multiple episodes — death sentence given, Oleg and Stan try to stop it, we wait and wait until it finally happens. Instead, “it will be carried out shortly” translates to a bullet in the head, seconds after the sentence was given. Be it the moral struggles of Paige or Martha, uncertainty and urgency aren’t created by holding anything back, but by putting it all out there in the moment.
Now, someone please tell me what happens next.