The Americans 4.07: “Travel Agents” Review

A Booking for Moscow

A Television Review by Akash Singh


Alison Wright effortlessly commands the tensest hour yet of The Americans as the search for Martha drives both the FBI and the KGB onto a seemingly innocuous bridge overlooking a tumultuous river. There’s a dichotomy of calm and terror mixed into those fervent waters where Martha had taken a picture with her parents, clashing so hauntingly against her phone call to them in the park. That moment in the park where she makes that phone call is Martha at her most vulnerable, her most lost, her most terrified, and most importantly, her most broken. She has absolutely no idea what might happen to her at that juncture. For all she knows, she might die. She might be sent to Moscow. She might be imprisoned in a Siberian gulag. She might end up in federal prison. Then what does she say? Whom does she become? What remains of whom she used to be? All of these questions and thoughts are displayed acutely on Wright’s expression as she picks up the phone and has what she ostensibly believes will be her last conversation with her parents. There’s a part of her that is terrified of what her parents would think of her if they received any inkling of what she had done, of what happened to her. Then there’s a part of her that is wallowing in grief, grieving over the relationship with her parents that seemingly can never be joined again. She has absolutely no idea that Tatiana and Oleg, who still have yet to capture the same magic of Nina and Oleg at the Rezidentura, are planning a trip for her that takes her from Key West to Cuba to Prague before it finally takes her to Moscow. But she knows enough to see right through all of the options various travel agents have laid before her and see the darkness lurking underneath them.

Honesty continues to be a strong thematic undercurrent throughout this season and at last Martha knows more than she never knew about Clark but I simply don’t know if that truly helps her state of being at that point in any true way. When she woke in the morning and found Gabriel alone in the home, she thought that perhaps Clark had left her forever, a logical conclusion that immediately grounded itself as an acute piece of reality in her mind. The direction in Martha’s next sequence was simply superb and Wright as always acted the hell out of it. Every single movement becomes a possible birthplace for suspicion sprouting from a wallowing pool of overflowing paranoia, a pool where a single glance could mean anything and everything with potentially devastating, fatal consequences. Often in matters of espionage, people think of Bond or something so overtly sly that it becomes a parody of itself but the true mastery of the craft lies in the simplicity of movements, gestures, words. Speaking of words, the words from Clark’s mouth are the sealing deals for Martha. They’re simple, so simple it hurts, but the pain they inflict upon her being is possibly more than she’s ever borne out of this traumatizing arrangement. Clark tells her his real name is Phillip, but she sees right past it, asking for his birth name. “Mikhail,” he breaths quietly. “But they called me Mischa.” Martha nods in understanding but by the end of the hour that understanding leads further and further into despair. She knows Mischa woudn’t return to his homeland with her but after all of this somehow Martha has enough strength to have some semblance of hope. Elizabeth suggests that Phillip tell Martha that he would join her there, that she needed that hope to survive. Phillip instead tells her the truth. Once Martha boarded that plane, they would never hear from each other again.

Elizabeth’s role in this dynamic is fascinating. When she yells at Phillip with an accusatory tone at the beginning of the episode that Martha has seen his face out of his own volition, there’s a logic to it. In doing so, however necessary he may have felt it was in that moment, he put himself, Elizabeth, and their family in danger, not to say anything about the operation itself. But there’s a thinly veiled emotional component to her anger, her immense frustration at what Phillip may have done with Martha, what boundary he may have crossed that compromised the integrity of their own relationship. That has bothered her acutely ever since Clark told Martha that he loved her. Elizabeth, always being the consummate professional, knew that was inherently a part of the job, that Martha was simply too valuable to not take care of properly. But there was a part of her that couldn’t help but feel an emotional pain at that attachment and a part of Elizabeth couldn’t help but wonder if Clark’s relationship with Martha was truly stronger than her own relationship with Phillip. When their call connector tells Elizabeth Martha’s location, there was no hesitation before Elizabeth snapped on the chance to go to Martha herself. When Martha angrily asks if she was sleeping with Clark, Elizabeth says no. The lie is uttered with absolute proficiency but from Elizabeth’s point of view, it was the truth. She was sleeping with her husband and the relationship with Martha was purely professional and nothing else. When Martha is understandably freaking out, Elizabeth lands a punch and it knocks all the wind out of her. There’s more of that mixture of the ruthless efficiency Elizabeth had come to be known for, mixed in with a blunt exercise of her emotional state. It’s a fascinating moment for her. Her fears over Martha seemingly for now rest low and the confirmation of the love between her and Phillip rings just as true as the relationship that ends the episode. It’s a sweet moment clashing perfectly with one enshrined in an absolute tragedy and the episode ending upon the tragedy portends little well for the future our protagonists.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+Gaad’s sad eyes through the window

+“She’ll be… she’ll be okay.”

+“No matter what you hear, I love you.”

+“You’ll just tell me some version of the truth that’s not really true.”

+“Martha, there is nowhere to go.”

+The drinking scene was interesting, mostly because of Paige’s

+“I’m pretty much dead already.”

+“Maybe they fell in love somehow.” Stan reflecting upon his attachment to Nina was a nice moment.

+I do feel for Gaad. Talk about professional death.

-“I got this weird feeling … like something bad had happened…” The subtlety is truly lacking here.



Episode Title: Travel Agents

Written by: Tanya Barfield

Directed by: Dan Attias

Image Courtesy: Vox


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