The Americans Review: The Rat

I’m never going home, am I? – Martha

While there were undoubtedly important Glanders-related things happening in tonight’s episode, I was almost entirely unable to focus on them in any real fashion. It was a tremendous dramatic build, leaving my entire body tense as Martha walked away from Gabriel after threatening to out him as a KGB operative within the United States.

Alison Wright has never been better than these last two weeks, where all the twists and turns of her life have led her to the moment she may have suspected all along. Clark Westerfeld isn’t even Clark Westerfeld, and he’s not involved in an internal affairs investigation inside the FBI. She knows he works for the Soviet Union, but still may not fully realize that “Clark” doesn’t even exist. Her reaction to finding out the truth — namely riding her husband passionately until they passed out — wasn’t exactly the most rational move.

Hell, maybe it was. Sex can make you forget about anything DURING the act, though I’ve never tried it after finding out my girlfriend was in the KGB.

But this is a woman on Valium. This is a woman who, if she isn’t already unhinged, is certainly on the precipice of a complete break with reality. She still believes she can have this man and that the two of them can tear off into the Bermuda Triangle together and make love every night and be with one another forever. She senses real feeling from Clark, and she’s not wrong. Watching Matthew Rhys increasingly show more and more love for her as a person, even if it isn’t sexual in nature, is yet another major example of why he remains one of, if not the best actor on television.

Martha, I promise everything is going to be all right. – Clark

Philip has worked his asset for over two years, and we’ve known her for all four seasons. She’s a lonely woman, perfect for any predator, and while he’s used her as often as possible to fulfill Centre objectives, he’s also grown to respect her, to trust her, and most importantly he’s increasingly fond of her. He knows how most asset relationships end, and when he discovers the gun in her purse, he sees that inevitable conclusion careening full speed in his direction.

Martha isn’t going to make it. We’ve known it for years. She picked the wrong guy. Well, she may have actually picked the right guy (under different circumstances), but his associations still doom her to a most unpleasant fate. In that final scene, which was perfectly performed by both Wright and Langella, we see the beginning of her end. Next week may well be her final appearance, or, like Pastor Tim, she might still have a few more episodes left to go. I see no possible way she escapes, unless she LITERALLY escapes from everything and everyone she knows.

And if that happens, we’ll also be getting a Martha Hanson fugitive spinoff. I wouldn’t be opposed to watching her negotiate her way through South American countries in the 1980s. Her track record would have her falling for a dictator though, so it still might not end well.

Stop handling me Gabriel, because Martha is done! – Philip

“The Rat” placed the spotlight on Martha both from the Soviet perspective as well as her actual employer’s viewpoint. Stan and Dennis’ suspicions never wavered and now they’ve read Gaad into their theory. As stunned as he was, you could see the wheels turning in his head and eventually he comes to believe his colleagues are indeed correct. None of the three appear happy with what seems obvious, but their training tells them they are on the right track. Clark Westerfeld isn’t likely the 85 year old man, and though he could be the mid-30’s businessman from Atlanta, their government spook sense is tingling, and telling them that, as Stan puts it to Gaad, “Martha’s bad.”

What the dual interest in Martha creates is a question as to which group gets to her first, or whether she’s able to somehow evade both of them for any real length of time. We haven’t seen her in all that many difficult situations, or at least not in ones where she has to think quickly on her feet or run from people who know she has leverage that could destroy them or their plans. While she really doesn’t have anything incriminating on the FBI, if they believe she could provide Intel that could make them vulnerable to the Soviets, she might as well possess the proverbial smoking gun on them. We already know what she has on Clark and his crew.

Are you involved with her? – Martha

We’ve worked together for a long time. – Clark

For who? – Martha

For the KGB. – Clark

Again, other than the Martha storyline, I wasn’t particularly interested in the side stories. Glanders and William’s work is a big deal and may be the big climax moment of the season finale, but that arc felt entirely secondary this week. And, although I like watching Elizabeth and Paige attempt to understand rubbery tofu, it was merely a mild diversion between heavier Martha scenes. Nothing wrong with any of it, and there’s definite logic in giving us something else on occasion, but we’re supposed to care for Martha right now, and we do. We couldn’t spend 44 consecutive minutes on one story, so we got just a few visions of other things, though all they did for me was give me a moment to breathe before Alison Wright hit the screen again.

How awkward was the “Jennifer” scene? She brings a change of clothes for Martha and ends up leaving fairly abruptly, but she’s there long enough for Martha to figure out that she isn’t merely Clark’s sister. At that second, I almost felt as bad for her romantically as I did with the whole, “I now know the Russian spy secret and it likely means I’m dead soon” thing. And, I was a little disappointed Jennifer didn’t bring her Korean dish to see whether Martha could stomach it. Just watching it as Elizabeth stirred it, I can tell you I wouldn’t have considered eating it, but Martha, even sans antidepressants, is likely far stronger than me.

I’ll scream, and everybody will know that you’re KGB. – Martha

As serious a show as The Americans has always been, Season 4 has amped everything up to about a 70 on a scale of one to ten. Nina’s gone, Pastor Tim and Alice are still living on borrowed time, and Martha is either going to prison for treason or is on a full sprint towards a speeding bullet. Or, she’s about to engage in a wild escape attempt. Meanwhile, Paige still knows too much, Sandra is still hanging out at EST, and the FBI is beginning to recognize just how precarious its security measures are in the full throes of the Cold War.

Oh, and of course there’s the new biological component that accompanied Dylan Baker to the show, which may set the stage for the fifth season. Incidentally, “The Rat” was a clever name for the episode, because of the multiple meanings, including the actual rat in William’s jar. That was…very Dylan Bakerish, in terms of the characters he usually portrays. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather have the vial in the tin and take my chances at exposure.

Right now though, we’re all watching Martha Hanson, riveted by her potentially limited future, and attempting to enjoy the trip, even if, as usual with The Americans, it ends at a figurative River Styx.

I’m @GuyNamedJason. Unlike Philip, both my nipples are the same size.

Written by Jason Martin