We say goodbye to Martha without saying anything at all.
In a mesmerizing silent opening, this episode of The Americans walks us through the departure (for now) of a character who has become the beating heart of this show: Martha Hanson, the FBI secretary who became an unwitting pawn in the cat-and-mouse, counter-espionage game between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Now, her role is clear — both to herself and her supervisors at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is time to run.
A clock ticks. Faces are washed. She reads the peanut butter jar label with interest during a quiet, furtive breakfast. Then she and her “husband” Clark/Philip/Mischa drive to a woodland airstrip before dawn, and she is flown off to…somewhere. Nowhere.
Martha is gone. But — Martha lives.
“Don’t be alone, Clark,” she tells the man who got her into all this, pretty generously, if you ask me.
“You, too,” he says.
“Oh sure, I’ll just learn Russian and…” She trails off. “Okay. Me, too.”
They kiss. A cloud shifts. The plane lifts. And she moves on.
The title of this episode, “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears,” takes its name from the illusionist’s fifth CBS television special. (At first glance, I read that “V” as “versus.” Thanks, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice!) Naturally, the installment is about making another big character vanish.
Henry Jennings gripes that his dad won’t be around to watch because he’s always away on “business.” But with Martha gone, he has one less double life to live. So Philip will be there, watching Lady Liberty disappear with the rest of the nation.
Elizabeth asks Philip about her departure. “She made it as good as she could,” he answers without answering. He’s reading, and his wife asks what he has there. It’s an EST manual. (He shows her without answering.)
She tries to talk to him about it, but Philip is aloof.
Elizabeth checks in with Young Hee, her mark-turned-actual-friend, and they catch a matinee of Tender Mercies before sneaking into another movie – The Outsiders – for a double feature.
Ironically, Young feels bad about the pyramid scheme that brought them together, a makeup selling business, in which sellers make more money by recruiting more members to sell for them. Of course, little does she know that Elizabeth is manipulating her as a source to get closer to her husband.
Elsewhere, Philip is grappling with his own guilt. He visits the graveyard where Eugene H. Craft is buried, the FBI computer tech he murdered to shift the blame for the bug Martha planted in her boss’ office.
Later, Philip has a beer with Stan, who confirms, in an oblique way, that they really were about to arrest their double-crossing secretary. (He also says his girlfriend broke up with him.)
When Philip tells Elizabeth he was right and they didn’t just pull Martha for nothing, his wife reassures him and sort of eulogizes his other wife. “She was a nice woman. She was straight-ahead. Uncomplicated. Simple.”
The more Elizabeth talks, the more irritated Philip becomes. “She wasn’t simple.”
“I don’t mean simple. I mean…easy…to talk to.”
“She was actually very complicated,” Philip says, hanging onto his beer and stooping over — the pain of Martha’s absence clearly twisting him up. “People underestimated her.”
“Apparently,” Elizabeth says. Ouch.
In a meeting with Gabriel, Philip learns that his son is back from his tour in Afghanistan and survived. Good news. Philip says he wants to tell Martha’s parents she is okay. Gabriel says that will take about six months and to wait until the heat is down.
“They’ll think she’s dead…” Philip says.
Gabriel says he’ll try to make it happen sooner, and Philip pushes. He wants them to be reunited with her.
“That’s not possible,” Gabriel says. “You can’t do this one on your own, and I don’t see the Center agreeing. I’m sorry.”
At the Rezidentura, Oleg and Tatiana run through the success of their Martha airlift. She got to Cuba and is awaiting a flight to Prague. Tatiana isn’t very ebullient. “My brother. He was called up,” she says. Oleg understands, having just lost his own brother in Afghanistan.
He grips her hand. A connection between these two is strengthening.
Elizabeth decides to figure out just what Philip is into, so she attends an EST meeting. It’s all about how people think they want change but won’t be able to handle it if they actually get what they’re striving toward. It appears to hit home, but when she hits home, she tells Philip she wasn’t impressed.
“They just try so hard to get you to sign up for more,” she says. “They manipulate you to get at your wallet.”
“You think I’m being manipulated?” he says.
She sighs. She is pushing his buttons, and he has no idea. “I just think…it’s very American, the whole thing,” she says.
He shakes his head. “You don’t get it.”
“That’s what they say when you don’t go along with it,” she says. Push. Push. “So you sign up for more seminars, you spend more money, and then suddenly you get it!”
“I get a lot out of it.”
“Are you? Getting a lot? You’re not sleeping; you’re not eating.”
“There’s a reason for that.”
“Because you put Martha on a plane? Is that it?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“It happens, Philip. We lose agents.”
“Yes, Philip. That’s what she was.”
“She was a human being.”
“At least she’s alive. You didn’t have to send her out into the street to get mowed down.” Elizabeth is referencing Gregory, her own lover and agent, a civil rights militant who sacrificed himself to save them back in season 1.
“You still think about him?”
“Of course I still think about him.”
“Well, I’m sorry the man you loved died and now you’re stuck with me.” (The button-pushing apparently entered the nuclear codes.)
“I am stuck with you because I took you back after you slept with the woman who had your son and you lied to my face about it!”
The phone rings, stopping the fallout.
Gabriel calls them to a meeting: He has an update on Martha (she’s fine) and wants updates from them. Elizabeth says she got a signal from Lisa, her agent/friend who worked in the plant that manufactures stealth aircraft. She’s not sure what Lisa wants.
Gabriel detects tension, and the argument from before flares up again. Gabriel thinks they’re acting like children. Later, he vents with Claudia, his fellow handler. He recalls having to drag away his friend, a decorated officer, and have him removed for execution in front of his wife and children. “We did what we had to do,” he says. “That’s the way it was — or we got killed ourselves!” He says he’s losing his influence with Elizabeth and Philip.
“Oh, your officers aren’t listening to you,” Claudia says. “Boo hoo. You don’t have the answer; I don’t either. Do you think there’s someone waiting in the wings who does.”
It’s clear: The strain has been too much on all of them.
Back home the next day, Paige comes home early, skipping her Bible study session with Pastor Tim. Elizabeth is alarmed. “You need to maintain a consistent presence in his life,” she says.
Paige says she wasn’t in the mood and that would be obvious to the pastor.
“Well, then you get yourself in the mood,” Elizabeth says. Paige tries to walk away, and her mother summons her back. “If you think for a minute you can be precious about your moods when it comes to Pastor Tim and his wife… You are going to go to Bible study every week.” Not only that, she is going to service every week, and she will be volunteering for other nonsense at the church so that she sees the pastor nearly every day.
“Then you are going to come home every night, and you are going to tell me and your father what was said,” Elizabeth says. “Because thanks to what you did, that is all that stands between us and this family being destroyed!”
Another bomb just dropped. Direct hit on Paige.
At the FBI, Agent Gaad is being summoned to the director’s office to have his head removed and handed to him over the Martha debacle.
Elizabeth has her meeting with Lisa, who is drunk. She has fallen off the wagon, and her husband has run off with the money Elizabeth has been funneling her way. She wants to make things right by coming forward and confessing that she has been trading information for money.
“We can’t do that,” Elizabeth says.
“We have to,” Lisa says. “Because I started slipping the moment I took that money.”
Elizabeth tries to reason with her, but Lisa gets angry and unstable. She begs Elizabeth to help her, to confess with her. If not, she’s doing it on her own. She means it. Elizabeth can’t stop her.
Elizabeth crashes a vodka bottle across the back of the woman’s head. She holds the broken neck of the bottle and kneels.
Later, she turns up at Gabriel’s house with bloodstains on her neck and blouse. “Lisa’s done, too,” she says.
Gabriel decides it’s too much. “Things have to change.” The Jennings family needs a break, or else they’ll be broken. “It’s too much, too much for anyone. No new operations,” he says.
When they get to the car, Philip says, “I guess we’re going to be travel agents now.”
“You know what we should do,” Elizabeth says in a broken voice.
“Take the kids to EPCOT.”
At home, the whole Jennings family watches Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty vanish. “Sometimes we don’t realize how important something is until it’s gone,” Copperfield says, by way of showing how his illusion was actually a symbolic way of underlining the value and fragility of freedom.
Flash forward seven months. Another shot of the Statue of Liberty — this one at a mini-golf course, where Paige is playing with Pastor Tim and Alice. (This episode was directed by Matthew Rhys, who after four years playing Philip has a nice touch with the show and its characters.)
Stan goes to visit Agent Gaad, now just Flannel-Wearing Gaad, who is trying to enjoy his forced retirement. He urges Stan to keep working Oleg Burov however he sees fit. But he tells him not to let his conscience bother him. “You can’t lose sight of who these people are.”
At home, Philip is taking up street hockey with Henry and Elizabeth. Paige gets a ride home from Pastor Tim. Philip and Elizabeth follow her inside, where she briefs them on the meeting, as we presume she does every day.
They may have a break. But Paige is on assignment.