The Americans: Season Four, Episode 7

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THE AMERICANS — “Clark’s Place” Episode 405 (Airs, Wednesday, April 13, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings, Alison Wright as Martha Hanson. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

“I’ll be alone, just the way it was before I met you.” – Martha Hanson

Sometimes friends, colleagues, or readers ask me what some of my favorite television episodes are in addition to the shows that top my all-time list. Incidentally, if you're interested in the second question, I wrote extensive pieces on top tens in both drama and comedy here at Outkick. I'd love for you to check those out and weigh in with me @GuyNamedJason on Twitter.

But, I immediately respond with “The Suitcase” from Mad Men or “Ab Aeterno” from Lost or a multitude of classic episodes from Breaking Bad and The Wire, just to name a few. But, I now have a new entry, “Travel Agents” was so fantastic there’s simply no way not to put it near the top of any list. As much as I love The Americans, which with all due respect to shows like Game of Thrones, is the best show airing on television right now, tonigh’s episode was outrageously good. I was so emotionally spent as the credits rolled that I immediately went tomy MacBook and started typing this review.

This, my friends, may be the best hour of television in 2016.

“If you find her, bring her back. If it’s in public and she stars screaming again…well you may have no choice.” – Gabriel

Alison Wright has always been in the television drama version of “the zone” with the Martha Hanson character, which is something you and I have discussed in our virtual conversations over the past several weeks. But, this is her Emmy submission, should be the reason for her Emmy nomination, and it’s an example of an actress who holds her role in the palm of her hand.

It doesn’tt control her. She somehow takes Martha and adds such a layer of realistic despair to the performance that not for a split second does it feel contrived or overdramatized. Tonight, and in many cases, Martha is a quiet character and one that spends much of her life alone, or in observation of her coworkers or those that inhabit her world. Do you know how difficult it can be to stand atop a bridge contemplating life and death or to whimper with a phone receiver barely touching her shoulder, hiding her misery from her confused father? She hit every note as if she were first chair in the finest orchestra in the world. We knew long ago that this woman’s fate would not be pleasant, and although she might survive, her life, as she knew it, is over.

“Tomorrow morning, early, you will leave for Russia…to begin a new life.” – Philip Jennings

The relationship between Clark and his "wife," Philip and his asset, was complicated but increasingly tender. There was a moment tonight where he had to tell her she was not only headed to Russia, but that he wouldn’t even be able to visit. As she breaks down, his eyes show a good man trapped inside the life of a not-so- good man. The constant dichotomy between Philip Jennings the KGB operative and Philip Jennings the father, the empathetic human being, has long been one of the show’s best psychological pulls. Martha’s life is ruined, and it’s his fault, and his country’s fault.

And, we still don’t fully know whether she’s going to actually survive this or not. The Rezidentura has secured the pilot to get her out of the country, but it could certainly prove to be more complicated before that plane touches down in Moscow, or before it leaves Washington D.C.

The FBI knows how vital she is, what’s happened to her, and they’re still looking for her, even if she’s for all intents and purposes off the grid. Next week is likely to be extraordinarily tense.

“He doesn’t really notice.” – Son

While everything is spinning out of control as part of Marthamania, there remain casualties on a large scale, and some on a more individual scale. While it was a brief portion of “Travel Agents” the beer scene with Matthew, Paige, and Henry is an instance where three people have been forgotten as their parents are entirely consumed with what they deem to be an emergency situation of the highest order. But, Henry sought out a father figure and spent time with Agent Beeman, and that’s translated to spending time with Matthew, who as he got older never had that strong a relationship with his father either.

It becomes much more of an issue when Paige catches the two of them drinking, and simply asks for one of her own and sits down to watch television with them. Watching these three toss back a brewski is jarring, but especially so with Pastor Tim’s troubled student. The religion was always born from more of an activist place, but this girl is imbibing and we’ve seen almost no real scenes with parents spending time with their kids. The result could be catastrophic, or it could lead to disconnection and rebelliousness that often comes from either the sheltered lifestyle or its polar opposite.

It’s nonetheless sad to watch these characters often have to fend for themselves, while the grown folks do grown folk things. But, we know they have to, because these “grown folks things” are all associated with Cold War espionage when both countries were worried about the Doomsday Clock. Truthfully, Paige could probably use a little booze, because we know the mental turmoil that now clouds every step she takes.

“I’m in charge of FBI counterintelligence and my secretary married a KGB officer.” – Frank Gad

I’m fully aware I shouldn’t laugh at the man’s plight, but this was a hilarious sequence that was shot beautifully. The rack focus from Gad’s face to Beeman entering his office stood out, but then came the words. On his watch, this guy has lost Gene, he’s had a bug planted in his office, and his secretary was working (whether she knew it or not) for the biggest national security threat to the United States. He feels like his days are numbered, because they probably are, and it shows just how easy it can be to lose sight of all the various branches from the tree in this world.

Seriously, there’ ALWAYS a crisis on the horizon. It happens on both sides, with razor thin escapes or last second saving graces keeping everyone afloat. It’s an imperfect place, but unfortunately for our heroes and villains, it’s one that requires precision at every turn. And Gad’s likely right, especially after Stan refused the Oleg order from the Deputy Attorney General and ole Frank decided not to “fall down and play dead.”

One final thing I wanted to touch on, and that’s Elizabeth’s anxiety over Philip’s true feelings for Martha, even asking him if he would go with her if that option were open to him. She feels somewhat threatened, which makes the fact that she socked Martha in the breadbasket all the more believable. I was waiting for Liz to deck her when she beat Philip to Rock Creek Park, because when Martha got loud and gave her the opening, Sugar Ray Jennings was right there to break a rib or two.

I know it sounds like I’m making light of that moment, but I’m really not. It was jarring, though less jarring than Martha’s insides when she took that shot. It’s just that the action made complete sense within the context of those two characters and how both feel about the other. As much as Elizabeth attempted to separate herself from Philip, there’s a piece of Martha that doesn’t buy it. And, as much as Philip tried to reassure Elizabeth that she’s still the one, Mrs. Jennings might get it close to the checkout lane, but she didn’t end up purchasing it either.

Does Martha’s life in America (or otherwise) come to an end next week? We haven’t seen Tim in a while, and that may still be in the offing for the back half of the season as well. If Gad goes, does Stan take his place? And of course, there’s the glass jar currently in the freezer. So many places the show could place its largest focus, but I believe the Martha Hanson arc we’ve seen this season is the finest story The Americans has told thus far.

And, like you, I can’t wait to see how it concludes. When it does, rest assured, we’ll talk about it.

Come find me @GuyNamedJason on Twitter. It’s not safe for us here. We need to go.

Written by Jason Martin