Title: I Am Abassin Zadran
Episode M.V.P.: Alison Wright
This season of The Americans has allowed Martha to become the centerpiece of more than one episode, and the show is better off because of that. Martha is one of the easiest characters to feel for on this show (with Paige being the other), and the beauty of Alison Wright’s performance this season—and in this episode specifically—has been the way she’s turned Martha from a character we simply pitied to a character we genuinely care for.
Martha is a normal person caught up in a tornado of lies and treason—all because she wanted to find love. And Wright never stops reminding you that Martha isn’t trained for this; she’s not Philip or Elizabeth, and she doesn’t have it in her genetic makeup like Paige does. For every moment of successful secrecy (like lying to Stan), Wright allows you to see the toll it’s all taking on Martha. I loved the way Wright played the moment after Stan left. Throughout his whole visit, you could feel Martha’s fear, which made it easy to appreciate the impressive way she was keeping it all just below the surface. And it broke my heart to see Martha’s emotional and physical exhaustion take over as soon as she closed the door. It was an example of the kind of deeply human vulnerability that’s made Martha a character the audience loves with a kind of fierce protectiveness.
But for as great as Wright was during and after Martha’s run-in with Stan (and she was great), she was even better in the scene in which Martha calls her parents. That scene may have been one of the most relatable and genuinely moving scenes this show has aired in three seasons, and it was all because of Wright. There was something so relatable about the fact that Martha needed her parents when she felt like everything in her life was falling apart. And there was also something so relatable about her trying so hard to keep her emotions from overwhelming her but being unable to do so. There’s something about talking to mom and dad that often unleashes emotions you’re trying to bury. Watching Martha ask her parents if they could talk about something besides her marriage moved me to tears because it felt like such a believable, honest moment. The best actors are able to make moments of fighting back tears feel more emotionally resonant than full breakdowns, and Wright has been doing that all season.
Martha’s storyline is once again at a crossroads, and once again I’m left hoping this character lives to see another day and get far away from the hell she’s found herself in. Every time Wright was onscreen in this episode, I had tears in my eyes. I felt Martha’s fear, I felt her exhaustion, I felt her desperation, and I felt her horror. Every emotion came from such an honest place, and my tears throughout the hour were a testament to the power of Wright’s performance.
Favorite Scene: Philip sharing the truth (with both Paige and Martha)
The Americans has always been a show about secrets and honesty, lies and truths . Who are we honest with? Why are we honest with them? Does the truth always set you free? Both Paige and Martha know varying levels of the truth now, but the truth has imprisoned them. (The garage door closing behind Paige and her parents reminded me of a cage or prison door closing.) And the truth hasn’t set Elizabeth and Philip free, either. Instead, it’s only given them more things to worry about.
But sometimes the truth needs to be told. And Philip had to do some serious truth-telling in this episode. With both Paige and Martha, he addressed their very real and understandable concerns about his relationship with them by sharing the truth. The difference, though, came in what that truth revealed. For Paige, it was the admission that not everything she experienced was the lie she thinks it all is. For Martha, it was the admission that everything is even more of a lie than she thought.
For as brilliant as the episode’s final scene was, I think my single favorite moment of the episode was Philip coming into Paige’s room with the pictures of their family. Throughout the episode, my heart was already aching for Paige and her belief that even the small amount of family she thought she had was a lie. Family means something to Paige, and I thought it was the right decision to have Philip share the pictures with her because family has always meant so much to him, too. We’ve always known Philip would choose his family over anything; that’s his truth. Despite the lies and secrets surrounding that family, the love in it has always been real for Philip (and it’s real in every way now for Elizabeth, too), and he needed Paige to know that. There might be a lot of lies she’s going to have to continue to deal with, but this was a moment of a father telling his daughter that the love her parents feel for her and her brother isn’t one of those lies. They are a family; that’s always been real. That’s been one of the defining thematic elements of The Americans since the show’s pilot: the reality of genuine love in the middle of a world of fake identities and lies. And the gentle, understated warmth Matthew Rhys projected in that scene blew me away.
The contrast between the beautiful truth Philip shared with Paige and the harsh, soul-shattering truth he shared with Martha was brilliantly done. The final beats of the episode—with Philip slowly, methodically removing his “Clark” disguise—were simply stunning. There was so much going on in that moment, and Rhys and Wright conveyed it all so well in the loaded silences that make The Americans unlike any other show on television.
The range of emotions Wright displayed with just her eyes cannot be understated. The way her expression went from softness as he took off his glasses to her confusion as he began to take off his wig to her absolute horror when Philip stood before her was incredible. In that moment, Wright allowed us to see Martha’s entire world fall apart. In her mind now, every moment—every happy memory—between her a Clark has been a lie. And even if Philip doesn’t kill her (or have someone else kill her), a part of Martha died in this moment. And watching that happen was almost worse than any other death we’ve seen on this show.
Do I think Philip is going to kill Martha or have her killed by someone else (like Hans)? I honestly have no idea. The beauty of Rhys’s work in that final scene was that it was impossible to read. Part of me is worried because Betty’s death earlier this season might have been foreshadowing of what happens when the Jennings reveal their identities to a third party. But another part of me feels like Philip cares too much about Martha to directly harm her. While their life and their love might be a lie, Philip genuinely does care about her. And if nothing else, showing his true self to her felt like an extension of that caring—at least in his mind. If she has to die, at least she died knowing the truth and seeing Philip’s real face. But I’m still sitting here praying to the TV gods that she’ll somehow find a way out of this alive.
• Philip and Elizabeth’s meeting with Abassin Zadran was chilling (almost as chilling as the murder of his fellow Afghan leaders). I was completely captivated by how much emotion Rhys was showing just under the surface as Zadran talked about killing Soviet soldiers. It was such a great way to connect Philip’s paternal emotions to another one of the episode’s storylines.
• I have a feeling everything with Lisa and her husband is going to become a very big concern very soon, but I found it hard to focus on that part of the episode when so much was going on with Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, and Martha.
• It was cool to see Stan’s instincts pay off—both with Martha and with the idea that all of the separate people they’re hunting might be one pair of illegals. I like when he gets to be a good agent, but then I’m conflicted because that puts Philip and Elizabeth in even more danger. Why must this show make me feel for everyone? (Because it’s amazing, that’s why.)
• Was anyone else momentarily terrified by Elizabeth moving to physically silence Paige? It was such a horrifying moment of desperation for all involved, and I thought Keri Russell portrayed the rising tension in Elizabeth that made her feel like that move was necessary perfectly.
• The scene between Claudia and Gabriel was everything I could have hoped for. Frank Langella and Margo Martindale are such incredible actors on their own, and they are even better together. That scene was full of such important revelations: Gabriel is more uncertain about recruiting Paige than he lets on to Philip and Elizabeth; the Center almost shut down Directorate S after what happened in the Season Two finale; and yet they still want to turn Paige into an asset. But what could have been just an expository scene was instead a moment of unexpected warmth and easy intimacy between two people with so much history together. Langella and Martindale conveyed that history and familiarity with characteristic brilliance, and I hope that’s not the last scene we see between them.