Back to IndieWire

Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 4 Episode 8 ‘The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears’ Marvels

The old guard clashed with the new in a surprising episode of "The Americans" — directed by Matthew Rhys.

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘The Americans’ Season 4 Episode 7 ‘Travel Agents’ Choose a Side


Opening with a haunting sequence told in silence, Phillip (Matthew Rhys) took Martha (Alison Wright) to her drop-off location before saying goodbye for the final time. Her selfless final words to her fake husband — “Don’t be alone, Clark” — haunted the man more than it comforted him, as Phillip’s resentment over ruining Martha’s life extended to the woman always there to listen. He didn’t want to talk, though, and when he did, it was far too late for Elizabeth, who was holding onto her own bitterness toward Phillip for his (many) emotional betrayals. The culminating fight was an explosion of self-righteous anger as each exposed deeply buried, deceitful feelings.

Worse yet, the couple’s fight — which quickly extinguished when given proper perspective and time to heal (courtesy of Gabriel) — left a permanent mark on their daughter, as Elizabeth’s pent-up rage came out again when Paige tried to back away from her unwanted espionage duties: “Because of what you did, that’s all that stands between us and this family being destroyed.” The pressure put on such a young woman obviously took its toll, as seven months later — time jump! — Paige is still doing her duty, but without any sense of joy or fulfillment in the church she once loved.

Meanwhile, Stan dealt with receiving his divorce papers and “a disaster at work” by drinking all of Phillip’s beer (and spilling the beans to Phillip that the FBI was onto Martha, after all). His boss, Agent Gaad, finally got his official walking papers, but he had some meaningful words of advice for Stan before he took his wife on vacation: “Whatever comes up […] you can’t lose sight of who these people are.” Cross-cut with Paige’s unhappy briefing to her parents, the words carried quite the weight for both parties.

Oh, and Tatiana (Vera Cherny) is totally manipulating Oleg (Costa Ronin). Her brother getting sent into battle is a little too convenient a connection after Oleg’s brother just died doing his duty. But why?

Phillip’s Loyalty: America

Matthew Rhys working with Margo Martindale on "The Americans"“It’s just so very American, the whole thing,” Elizabeth said, right before she and Phillip had it out. Of course, she’s right. EST is very much a scam, constructed in a similar fashion to Mary Kay, but without the physical, definable rewards of purchasing makeup. Elizabeth certainly doesn’t approve of the pyramid structuring within her fake profession, either. She doesn’t have to; she’s only pretending to like it for a greater purpose. But it’s the way she phrased and delivered her dismissal of EST in that superior tone — looking down on Phillip and his human needs as if they were embarrassing flaws — that set him off, and thus exposed so many repressed feelings between the couple.

Phillip’s refusal to see Martha as merely an agent is what defines the old guard from the new guard. What Gabriel went through was no more taxing than what Phillip did, it’s just that the world is changing. Perspectives and priorities shift from generation to generation, and adapting to those changes can be too much for some. The fact that Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields were so willing to take on such a big idea — and one that obviously comes into play within families, as we saw with Paige and Elizabeth’s vicious fight in the kitchen, more than anywhere else — is pretty extraordinary. The physical representations of loyalty have always been a major factor in a show where trust is so key, but broadening that metaphor out to include an idea so difficult for individuals to grasp is an ambition you have to applaud.

Elizabeth’s Loyalty: Russia

"The Americans" Season 4 Episode 8 Keri RussellAs easy as it would be to point the finger at Elizabeth and say, “Look at what you did to Paige,” it’s not that simple — for her or us. While even Elizabeth probably knows she went overboard with her daughter, her perspective may have changed had she had that conversation after dealing with Lisa. “I cracked, and you will too, if you don’t come clean,” the converted double agent drunkenly yelled at Elizabeth (before getting a bottle to the head). Little did she know that Elizabeth may have already cracked, relying on her strict upbringing and training to deliver some tough love to a girl who wasn’t ready for it (or in need of it). Paige is Phillip’s daughter in that her emotions and spirituality are connected, and Elizabeth has struggled to understand both of them because of this.

Yet she doesn’t need excuses. Elizabeth has always been clear where her priorities lie, and that’s not going to change. In her dream scenario, Paige would eagerly be reporting on the Pastor’s behavior, Phillip wouldn’t form emotional connections with anyone outside of her and they would all eventually relocate to Russia (if they ever had to give up the spy game). Wanting that isn’t wrong, no matter what our American perspective believes. It only approaches falsehood when she refuses to understand the other side…even when those on that side do the same to her. She’s a member of the old guard living with — and loving — a group of the new.

Stan: Savant or Square?

Honestly, I thought Stan was going to get Agent Gaad’s job. He deserved it, but apparently they wanted a company man instead…or Stan didn’t have the heart to tell his former boss that he got his old job. It’s believable. Stan isn’t necessarily someone who seeks confrontation when it can be avoided, and, logistically, he seems like the next man down the list. More importantly, whether he goes rogue or has a staff of people to work on his not-so-hairbrained theories, Stan is set up to do some damage. Martha changed him — as shown when he and Agent Aderholt reflected on what it would take for a person to do what she did — which may lead to him be even more suspicious of those he previously gave a pass. Could that include his next door neighbors? Perhaps, but only if he’s given reason to even consider it.

Best Asset: Young-Hee

"The Americans" Season 4 Episode 8 Keri Russell & Ruthie Ann MilesWith Martha out of the running (Phillip refused to consider her merely an asset, after all) and Lisa so determined to betray her handlers that she had to be taken out, only Young-Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles) remains. Though Elizabeth may not want to admit it, the two are getting close. While Young-Hee’s misplaced guilt over recruiting Elizabeth (oh, the irony) could help the real agent exploit her, that moment didn’t feel like a professional exchange. It felt personal, as did Elizabeth’s original phone call to Young-Hee when she just needed a break. How close they’ve become over the seven-month time jump remains to be seen, but as one of the few active operations Elizabeth is running, I expect the two only grew more connected — be it for professional or personal reasons.

Wig Count: 3

"The Americans" Season 4 Episode 8 Matthew RhysElizabeth carried the heavy load this week, busting out two killer (and classic) wigs: the blonde cut seen above when hanging with Young-Hee and the shaggy red-haired mop used to play a recovering addict alongside Lisa. Yet it was Phillip’s silver fox that stole the show. Phillip visited the grave next to the grave of an FBI agent he killed while donning a side-parted gray wig and some killer facial hair to match. Apparently guilt looks good on Phillip.

Quote of the Week

Kelly AuCoin, Suzy Jane Hunt & Holly Taylor in "The Americans" Season 4 Episode 8

“I can’t control how I feel.”
“You can control what you do!”
– Paige & Elizabeth
The roller coaster ride that is literally every “Americans” episode was on a particularly severe course this week, as an episode that began with the drama focused on Martha quickly shifted to a couple’s dispute between Phillip and Elizabeth before ending on a poignant moment with Paige. Clearly, Paige is doing exactly as her mother asked without betraying her own stance on the issue: She’s getting and giving information on Pastor Tim, but she’s totally lost all sense of purpose in their outings. The cross hanging from her neck during Elizabeth’s tirade was almost as painful to see as Paige’s tear-filled eyes — perhaps more so with words like “goddamn church” thrown out there.

With five episodes remaining in Season 4, it’s apt the attention has shifted back to Paige. Martha was a worthy distraction, but this is the season danger, and nothing is more dangerous — as Elizabeth pointed out — than a teenager with a secret. More than the practicality of that worry, though, is the larger concern that the Jennings family is already “destroyed.” Paige may have been pushed past her breaking point this time, especially if Elizabeth remains unwilling to change. Their dynamic is about to expand — right at the time when parents and children need each other the most.

Grade: A

Stay on top of everything Emmys with IndieWire’s Awards newsletter!

"The Americans" Season 4 Episode 8 Frank Langella & Margo MartindaleSee more of Frank Langella in the upcoming HBO film, “All the Way”: 

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox