Title: Travel Agents
Episode M.V.P.: Alison Wright
This is the third week in a row that Alison Wright has been the episode’s standout performer, and it’s because just when I think she can’t get better, she does. And just when I think she can’t break my heart any more than it’s already been broken by Martha’s tragic story, she delivers another line with so much naked vulnerability that it feels like a KGB agent just punched me in the gut.
This week, the line that emotionally destroyed me was Martha’s question after Philip said he wasn’t going to Russia with her: “Not even to visit?”
I was floored by how much vulnerability Wright put into those four lines. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget how deeply, profoundly sad that moment made me feel. In an episode that left most of us shocked that Martha kept managing to stay alive, this was the moment when her spirit died, when the last bit of hope left her body. And the way Wright conveyed that was masterful.
Over the last few episodes, Wright has done such a great job of making us feel Martha’s emotions, putting us in her mental and emotional shoes and making us walk a mile in them. And never has that made me more uncomfortable than in the scene in which Martha was walking down the street, her anxiety causing her to (understandably) suspect every man and every car of being sent to retrieve her. Wright is brilliant at making Martha’s panic feel believable and not overdramatic, and that makes her a character we’ve come to empathize with and not just pity.
And even though we don’t just pity Martha, that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when our hearts break for her. And one of those moments in this episode was her phone call to her parents. Once again, Wright’s ability to make Martha feel so achingly human in a world where people seem to have a superhuman hold on their emotions made her stand out. I barely held it together myself watching her smile through her tears when her father came on the line.
Later, my ability to hold it together was completely destroyed when Philip told Martha what was going to happen to her. The transformation that took place in her during that scene was an awful but impressive thing to behold. Wright took Martha from a place of incredible sadness to total emptiness by the time she told Philip that she’d be alone again—just like she was before she met him. Her cold acceptance of loneliness spoke to a life in which that was far too common for her. Martha might still be alive, but everything inside of her died the moment Philip told her she’d be going to Russia alone because he shattered the one last truth she was clinging to: that he loved her the way she loved him. And the way Wright made that so palpable will continue to haunt me long after this season ends.
Favorite Scene: “I love you.”
This Martha-centric arc has done really great things for Elizabeth’s character, too, forcing her to confront feelings like jealousy, insecurity, and self-doubt in a way she’s never experienced before. Elizabeth’s vulnerability is on the surface now much more than it’s ever been, and that is such a profound change from the character we met in the pilot. And in the sure hands of Keri Russell, we’ve been able to see that the emotions she’s feeling and the need she feels to express them shock Elizabeth as much as this change in her character shocks us.
In this episode, Elizabeth finally voiced what’s been eating away at her for a very long time. She wonders if Philip would rather be with Martha, living a normal life. Is she holding him back? Does he only stay because of the kids? If he had the choice, would he leave her for someone who is much easier to love?
That was one of my biggest takeaways from that scene and how it fits in with what we’ve seen of Elizabeth this season: She is a woman who believes she is hard to love, and she worries that the people she does love don’t believe she loves them because she can’t express it. We saw it with Paige when Elizabeth thought she was going to die; she worried that her daughter didn’t know she loved her. And in this episode, we saw that same insecurity arise with Philip; she thought she couldn’t give him what would make him happy. She thought Martha represents the life he wishes he had—the life she’s holding him back from having.
To see the normally confident Elizabeth so openly vulnerable and unsure broke my heart. This scene could have been played as Elizabeth fishing for reassurance, but Russell instead played it with complete sincerity. We feel that Elizabeth really means it when she says she’d understand if Philip wished he could leave with Martha. And some of that comes from the very pointed moment of Elizabeth removing her “Jennifer” glasses before talking to her husband. That allowed him and us to see her eyes without anything hiding them, and never has the phrase “The eyes are the windows to the soul” felt truer than in that scene. The things Russell did with just her eyes were incredible, shifting from honest acceptance of the fact that she and Martha represent two very different paths her husband could choose (and she thinks she knows which one he wants to walk) to overwhelming love all in the course of a few moments.
In order for this scene to resonate, Elizabeth’s total sincerity had to be met with equal sincerity from Philip, and Matthew Rhys sold Philip’s conviction in this scene with an intensity that left me breathless. I loved the fact that he was almost angry with Elizabeth for suggesting that he would choose Martha. The expressions on his face were so similar to the ones he wore when Elizabeth was giving him permission to raise the kids as Americans if she were to die, and that’s because the same thought was crossing Philip’s mind in both moments: A life without Elizabeth isn’t a life he ever wants to think about, and all he wants is for her to stop talking about it.
Elizabeth wasn’t awake when Philip and William talked in Gabriel’s apartment about how Philip wants a normal life but he wants one with her. But the truth revealed in that moment colors everything about this scene between husband and wife. Because we understand why Philip is so taken aback by Elizabeth’s suggestion that he’d choose Martha, but we also understand why Elizabeth believes that could be a possibility.
But Philip made it clear to Elizabeth that he made his choice long ago with three powerful words: “I love you.” On some shows—especially shows featuring married couples—those words can lose meaning over time. But on The Americans, those words carry so much weight because they are hardly ever said. And Rhys poured everything into his reading of that line. The depth of emotion in his voice was matched by the depth of emotion in Russell’s eyes. Those words resonated deeply with Elizabeth—a woman who has always had trouble understanding the concept of loving and being loved.
And while I loved Rhys’s delivery of that line, it was the nod he gave after saying them that reduced me to tears. It was as if he was silently reassuring Elizabeth that what he just said was the truth, and the emotion welling up in his eyes was so overwhelming that I had to actually “walk off my feelings” after the scene was over. (Yes, that is a thing I do sometimes.) And his nod was met with Elizabeth’s own after she told him to stay with Martha, which I took as her way of silently communicating to him that it’s okay if he stays with Martha because she believes his love for her. The things Russell and Rhys can do without any words never fail to astound me.
As Philip and Elizabeth kissed, I worried the camera was going to cut to Martha overhearing everything. But this moment wasn’t about Martha. It was about Philip, Elizabeth, and their commitment to each other. Elizabeth loves him enough to hypothetically let him go, and he loves her enough to stay. And they’ve reached a place where they can honestly and sincerely talk about those things with each other, which has made their relationship even more compelling this season.
• Does anyone think Martha is going to actually make it to Russia? I’m worried about the fact that Tatiana didn’t mention Martha when making flight plans; she only talked about “the sample” (aka the rat). And she was the one who found the pilot instead of Oleg, which can’t be a coincidence. Is Martha going to become the sample and be infected with the disease? Is she going to be killed before getting on the plane? Or am I just as paranoid as Martha at this point?
• Once again, I loved all the FBI stuff in this episode. It’s been so complicatedly rewarding watching them piece everything together, because I like seeing them get a win, but it’s at the expense of characters I care about. And I can’t help but wonder if Stan’s focus on the necklace “Clark” gave Martha (which Elizabeth used to wear) is going to come back to haunt Philip and Elizabeth.
• Is there any better symbol of the fact that Martha’s life is no longer her own than people unwrapping her tampons? I felt violated for her while watching that happen.
• I love that this show made me believe that Elizabeth might actually shoot Martha from a distance, and then it made me believe that she’d stabbed her when she punched her. But the fact that she didn’t kill Martha even when Martha was getting louder in public spoke to the fact that Elizabeth respects how much Philip cares about her. I also think Elizabeth cares about Martha in her own way, too.
• The irony of Martha asking Elizabeth if she was sleeping with her husband was so delicious that I actually clapped.
• Richard Thomas has been so good as Agent Gaad in this last pair of episodes. His delivery of the line about the KGB seducing and marrying his secretary might have been even better than his delivery of “That’s crazy!” in last week’s episode.
• I loved the tight focus this episode had, which made the brief respite from the tension with Matthew, Paige, and Henry sharing two beers between the three of them feel all the more welcome. It was a good reminder of the way these kids are all left behind to fend for themselves by parents working on both sides of the Cold War. And was it just me or did it seem like Matthew was looking at Paige differently now? That could spell serious trouble for everyone.
• Philip telling Martha that he wasn’t going to go with her to Russia managed to feel like a kind gesture and a fatal blow all in one line. It was important for Philip that he was honest with her, but part of me feels like it would have been kinder for him to tell one last lie (especially because I think Martha’s not going to make it Russia anyway). The truth is such a complicated concept on this show, and this was just another example of the way it doesn’t always set people free.