A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Home. A simple word with profound meanings, it is the crux of everything characters are looking for throughout this taut, thrilling episode of The Americans. To avoid redundancy, I will avoid commenting on how this series has perfected the art of thrilling slow burns, but that final moment when Martha walked out on Gabriel felt like the first moment I was able to breathe at all throughout the hour. Then I saw the promo for next week and I tensed up one more time. The idea of the rat, mole, whichever animal-related terminology one would like to use, is a mainstay of the espionage genre, no matter how grounded the story may be or how far it can travel into the realms of the ridiculous (I’m looking at you, Spectre). The rat (to stick with the title of the episode) promises inherent suspense, clouding the motivations of each and every single character until it feels like that everyone is guilty. Then the rug is pulled out from underneath the feet of the audience and if done well, it is among the best narrative executions that exists. The circumstances with Martha are a bit different in this regard, considering that the audience is perfectly aware of her duplicity but the people she was working with for ten years have come to know of what she has done only just now. The Americans very much operates with the mindset of long-term payoffs and it is no different here, Stan’s dream of Martha with the copier paying off with the simplest of sentences: “Martha’s bad.” That spoken reality has at last taken away Martha’s second home and that was something she could somehow have found the ability to cope with, but there simply isn’t another home for her to turn towards. When she wakes up in the morning and finds only this strange man named Gabriel in the house, that crushing realization from the night before becomes hardened immediately in her mind. That anger, that fury is something we’ve rarely seen from Martha and certainly not like this, but it is a fury whose roots of isolation had simply grown far too much far too quickly.
I keep on finding myself pivoting towards the conversation between Martha and Agent Aderholdt in the restaurant. It was simple, but a poignant conversation where Martha laid out her reasons for having an affair with a married man to him but also telling the audience why she specifically stayed with Clark after she found out he wasn’t Clark at all – that role, after all, was taken by the chilling Walter Taffet. She grew to know what she had and even knowing that Clark was some sort of spy, him revealing his face to her cemented in her a feeling that regardless of whom Clark might actually be working for, that there was something true in how he felt about her, how he felt about the relationship the two of them shared. That shattered slowly from the moment Clark pulls up in his car and asks her to get in till the moment he utters the dreaded phrase “KGB”. Clark, it has to be reminded, has never told Martha for whom or what exactly he works for and in a sense, it makes perfect logical sense not to do anything of the sort. It’s an unnecessary risk, something that dogs Gabriel and Elizabeth on every level when it comes to everything Phillip had done with Martha, beginning with their absolutely flabbergasted disbelief that he had actually shown her his real face. Phillip’s anger and frustration their is more than a match for their disbelief, because only he understands the depths that he had gone to keep the trust for their most low-key, most vital asset. But when Martha hears from Clark’s mouth that him and his “sister” Jennifer had “worked” together for a long time, that he worked for the KGB, she snaps inside. She could accept that she would never go home, but that was with the caveat that she had a home here, maybe not in Gabriel’s dilapidated place but a home with Clark somewhere. But the Jennifer reveal shook her and the KGB reveal sealed how she felt. Even their sex had no passion to it. It reeked entirely of desperation, a desperation to feel, to belong, to be home.
William notes wryly the power of feelings, those little buggers. It is, as is almost always the case with this series, the emotional component that drove this hour forward towards its thrilling conclusion. Martha’s relationship with Clark is the crux of the episode, forming an Emmy submission episode for both Alison Wright and Matthew Rhys but it is also a mark that impacts everyone else around them. Agent Gaad is devastated in his own quiet way about the deception that he was served by a woman who seemed so inconsequential but one who had earned his trust and gratitude over a decade. Gabriel is thoroughly alarmed by what he perceives as almost fatal recklessness from Phillip, a series of grave errors committed because of his emotional attachment to Martha. But the most consequential reaction away from Martha and Phillip is Elizabeth’s. Their sex scene that closed out the previous chapter was passionate, fueled in part by Elizabeth’s worrying about to what degree Phillip’s feelings towards Martha transcended professionalism to become romantic. When Phillip reveals that he showed Martha his real face, Elizabeth’s disguise of Jennifer falls completely by the wayside and her enlarging eyes betray a true sense of fear and possible betrayal. “Did you want her to see you?” she asks quietly and Phillip doesn’t even have to say anything for her to understand the reaction. It’s a quiet, breaking moment between the two, underscored by the tumultuous history of the two of them going from meeting in a Moscow office under the tutelage of General Zhukov to truly becoming a couple in the real sense of the term. The last time Elizabeth reached this far into Martha and Clark’s relationship was in the seminal third season episode Behind the Red Door, where Phillip became Clark for her. It was an emotional fiasco, to say the least, but there was a raw sexual component in it that didn’t touch Elizabeth in the way this emotional component does. She knows, she understands, but she feels a similar sense of betrayal that Martha does (even if the scale is quite different) and in that moment she loses her understanding of what or even whom Phillip wants. As the biological weapon rat in William’s bottle symbolizes, everyone is trapped in their journey to find the warmth of a home and it may all very quickly go to complete shit.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Nothing has changed. Nothing has happened.”
+The television scene with Martha about three widows leading their lives was surprising in its poignancy
+“You’ve been waiting for twenty-five years.”
+“You’ll return a hero.”
“In a coffin.”
+“Our bosses don’t know what they’re doing.”
+“She trusts me.”
“Yeah, that’s always a problem.”
+“She was falling apart. I had to.” Phillip is speaking as much for himself as he is for Martha here.
+“EPCOT. Don’t kill the dream.”
+“We can run away. We can run far away somewhere. There are places where no one can find us.”
+“We may have to exfiltrate someone.”
+“Clark Westerfeld does not exist”
+I did love how no nonsense Gaad was about the entire affair
+“That’s… that’s crazy.” Great line delivery from Richard Thomas there
+“They sent my wife back.”
+“I don’t believe you.”
Episode Title: The Rat
Written by: Joshua Brand
Directed by: Kari Skogland
Image Courtesy: Vox