Philip is having some not so pleasant dreams: It’s about a young boy (apparently him) beating another kid to death with a rock. Oh, the hazy crazy days of youth.
He wakes with a start and Elizabeth asks if he’s all right. “You were right about Martha,” he says, passing it off as regular workplace restlessness. “I need to tell her about Gene before she finds out at work.”
So begins season 4 of The Americans. Gene, of course, is the FBI computer technician Philip murdered at the end of last season so he could plant the recorder at his apartment that would absolve his other wife, Martha, of spying on the same office.
From there, we see Philip (Matthew Rhys) head to his other home, his other bed, that of Martha (Alison Wright), the well-meaning but somewhat gullible secretary who thought he was her husband “Clark.” And he is. Sort of. At the very least, it becomes clear in this season premiere that he cares about her as more than just a KGB source.
“In the next day or two you’re going to get disturbing news at work,” he says. “Gene Craft is dead. He’ll be found in his apartment. It’ll look like he killed himself.”
“I don’t understand,” she tells him.
“The recorder will be found in his apartment.”
This is too much for her. “My recorder?”
“It was the only way to protect you.”
Martha begins melting down the way any fundamentally decent person would when informed they’re responsible for the death of another person. “I didn’t agree to this. I don’t want this …” She weeps, she pushes back, she tells him to stay away.
“Clark” informs her that he can’t visit her home, their home, anymore. But he has one of his own she can visit.
While he’s away, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is at their home with teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) , who is still getting used to life with parents who are secret Russian agents. She wants to know where her father is.
“He’s with what we call a source. He might get some information,” Elizabeth says.
Paige doesn’t understand. Is he lying to this other person, tricking them?
“It’s more about getting people to trust you,” Elizabeth says. “To help them understand that you want the same thing they want, which is to make the world a safer place.
Paige is still grappling with this, and at school we see her hiding outside class for American pledge of allegiance. This is a girl who takes her pledges very seriously – except, perhaps, when it comes to the secrecy she promised her mom and dad.
We see her later confessing the truth about her family to Pastor Tim, who is either another KGB plant, a CIA agent, or cruising for a serious bruising by the Jennings, who have killed people for interfering with far less.
Their handler, Gabriel (Frank Langella) is furious that Elizabeth took Paige to East Germany for a visit with her ailing mother.
“You lied to me,” he says. “When I say no, the next step is not to do it behind my back.”
He has a new mission for them: the Cold War is shifting from the nuclear option to a biological one. He wants them to make contact with an American scientist (Dylan Baker) who has access to deadly chemicals and viruses.
While waiting for a public meeting with Baker’s character, Philip calls off the encounter because he suspects the man is being watched.
Again, we return to the dream: Two boys who would steal from Philip when he was young. He is running, apparently afraid, although we hear Philip say he was “angry.”
He’s recounting the experience in front of his EST self-help group. Except, he’s not telling the whole story. The beating, the murders. Those aren’t part of the discussion, although we see the memories clearly.
Philip concludes by telling the room that the boy who beat him up eventually stopped. “He moved away.”
There is one person he trusts with this story – at least a little bit of it.
“They know,” Martha tells Clark as she visits his bachelor pad (and doesn’t look too impressed.) Gene’s body has been found. She’s full of questions about the death she inadvertently caused.
“Did he know it was gonna happen?”
“No,” Philip says. “I did everything I could to make it easier for him.”
“Easier? Was he Pain?”
“No, it was fast. Very fast.” Then he adds: “His apartment it was filled with toys. Like a kid. Robot action figures.”
“I’m glad that you told me. I have to know everything,” she told him.
So Philip volunteers a little more.
“I keep having these memories of when I was a kid. Dumb stuff, but you know how some of it makes you think, I wonder if this is why I acted that way. Or why I’m so angry about that.”
He’s talking about the boy he murdered as a child. This is something he hasn’t even shared with Elizabeth. It seems that his relationship with Martha really does has depth, even if Philip’s life is split into different identities.
“I did what I did to take you out of danger. I won’t put you back in,” he says. But Martha is willing to keep helping him.
“They want reports and assignments for a particular surveillance team,” he says – the one trailing his bio-weapons expert.
Martha finds the documents easily enough and she’s making copies at the FBI office when Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) confronts her. The whole office is abuzz about Gene the Spy, but she’s the only one seemingly going about her business as usual.
“Martha, I know you liked Gene a lot,” Stan says – offering sympathy, or maybe just probing. “I didn’t know him that well, but I liked him, too.”
“I guess you never really know a person, do you?” she says.
Back in Russia, Nina (Annet Mahendru) is talking with the kidnapped scientist Anton Baklanov (Michael Aronov), who says he has discovered that the Soviet Union has completed a working aircraft wing based on his stealth design.
This is not cause for celebration, however. “If it fails, they’re done with me. I’lll disappear into a camp,” he says. Even if it works, he knows he will be discarded. “After they finish, I picture myself as dust. No one ever knowing.”
Nina doesn’t respond. Later, we see her talking with her handler, Vasili (Peter Von Berg) who tells her himself about the wing.
“He’ll be happy to hear that,” she says of Anton.
“Will he?” Vasili says. “The two of you, you’re what? Best friends?”
She says there’s nothing romantic. And she says she has a request.
“We’re not taking requests.”
“Then it’s a demand,” she counters. She says she wants to see her husband.
In the Rezidentura, diplomat and Russian spy regional manager Arkady Zotov (Lev Gorn) is suspicious of Tatiana’s activities. He knows something about her. She’s “Department Twelve.” That means chemical and biological weapons. He wants to know what she’s bringing into his operation.
Clearly, whatever Elizabeth and Philip are collecting from Dylan Baker’s researcher has everyone on edge.
It turns out, based on Martha’s documents, that yes, they were right about him being watched by the Americans. But the pair spot a hole in the schedule and arrange a meeting with him.
“Did you know you were under surveillance?” they ask as he sits on a park bench.
“No, I just thought random people couldn’t stop staring at me because I was so handsome,” he says.
There’s been a new order from his laboratory by the Department of Defense. A biological agent that causes the disease “Glanders,” which gives this episode its unusual name.
Glanders is a contagious disease that causes swelling of the neck and jaw and profound mucous discharge. Charming.
This freaks out Elizabeth and Philip, who were only inoculated against meningitis. “This is to meningitis what bubonic plague is to a runny nose,” Baker’s character huffs.
He gives them a small package and says to tell Gabriel “I send it with love.”
Elizabeth and Philip pull into their garage when they are confronted by Stan, whose girlfriend spotted Philip out with Stan’s ex-wife at the EST meeting. “Are you screwing my wife,” he says, slamming Philip against the wall.
Philip denies it. And for once, he’s telling Stan the truth.
“You’re lying, don’t lie to me,” Stan says, clenching Philip’s jacket and hitting him against the wall. Careful, Stan, you’re playing with Glanders there, man!
Eventually, Philip talks him down and Stan stalks off. Philip opens the tin in his pocket and withdraws the vial of yellow fluid, which is tucked into bubble wrap. He holds it up against the light of the garage.
The light snaps off.