As we cross the halfway marker in this season of The Americans, the show puts a few of its storylines on hold to spend some time with a few plot threads it has left largely unattended thus far: namely, Martha, and the student that trainee Hans has been suspicious of. But mostly Martha.
The man who this week’s episode of The Americans is named after is barely in it. In fact, if you’re not listening closely (The Americans is not kind about this—it demands that you always listen closely) you might even miss his name entirely. But Walter Taffet’s presence tugs at the thread named Martha, and it could potentially put the Jennings one step closer to being caught.
The trouble starts with Agent Dennis Aderholt. Stan doesn’t like him—over beer and pizza with Phillip, Stan says it might be that he asks too many questions, like he’s trying to show off or something. So when he spots Aderholt in Gaad’s office the next day, he comes up with a bullshit excuse (grabbing a random paper that he says needs Gaad’s signature) to get inside and see what they’re talking about. However, the pen that Gaad uses is out of ink, and after a good shake the cap falls off—with a much heavier thud than a pen cap should have.
Aderholt examines the cap closely and finds that it’s bugged—the same bug that Phillip, as “Clark” convinced Martha to plant under the guise of his highly-classified audit of the bureau. Despite their efforts to play it cool, Martha knows that they’ve found her bug, and panics. She runs to the ladies room, and dismantles the receiver hidden in her purse, tearing it apart and running water over it before wrapping it in paper towels. Bug sweepers are brought in, and Gaad introduces Martha to Walter Taffet, an agent from the Office of Professional Responsibility who will be investigating the bug to find where it came from. It’s going to be her job to get him whatever records he needs.
Back at her home, Martha, sick from the ordeal she just made it through, starts going through Clark’s stuff. She finds his revolver, and the Kama Sutra book, but not much else. Later that night, Phillip comes by as Clark. He notices pretty quickly that something’s wrong, but she tries to play it off as nothing. He notices that her purse isn’t around—she lies and says she left it at work. She asks if she’s ever going to see his apartment. He tells her to pick a night. She picks now.
Throughout all of this, Alison Wright’s performance is fantastic. She’s distressed but capable enough to keep some cards close to her chest—while you certainly can argue that she’s just lying out of shame, that she doesn’t want to upset Clark over what she’s been led to believe is legitimate government work, I think things are starting to connect in Martha’s mind, that this scare has jarred her into seeing Clark’s noncommittal nature as very suspect, and that she’s going to start doing some investigating of her own.
Maybe I’m wrong. But there is one other scene that Walter Taffet is involved in, and its an ominous shot of him entering a crowded elevator with Martha, and it looks like Taffet is here to stay. That, ultimately, isn’t good for Phillip, and it might give Martha the push she needs to really start digging into her husband’s history.
The second major story this week has Phillip and Elizabeth moving in on the student operative Hans brought to their attention in recent weeks. This one has a lot of moving parts that are easy to lose track of—things move much faster here than this show’s usual pace—but essentially, they’ve found that this student is out to work with South African agents to incite an attack and blame it on student protesters demonstrating against apartheid. What the Jennings want is to nab this guy and his South African government contact in one fell swoop, and so slowly over the entire episode, they plan.
Those plans all come to a head in the final five minutes of the episode, a mic drop of a scene that echoes the show’s first five minutes, as the Jennings’ careful plan very nearly falls apart while Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” plays and their targets get thrown into the trunk of a vehicle. It’s a brilliant sequence, one that I can’t wait to watch again, side by side with the comparable scene from the pilot.
It’s funny, how quickly The Americans can just flip a switch and cause all these things it has had lying around to converge in a veritable storm front of pressure.
Next week ought to be fun.
HENRY WATCH: Henry gets his requisite two scenes in this episode, dropping in when he overhears his Dad knew someone who got killed by the cops, and again at the breakfast table toward the end of the episode, being catty toward his big sister. “You’re not a part of this discourse, Paige” he says, trying some snob on for size. “Discourse?” says Paige, because Henry won’t have to study for the SATs for like, at least another three years. “That’s a good word!” says Phillip, because his son is barely in this show and needs some kind of attention.
The Very Sad Stan Show: Stan is a pretty great character, but sometimes it’s like he mopes around in his own, depressing show that’s kind of similar but also very different from the show that we’re watching. This week Stan learns that Sandra wants to officially divorce him. Poor Stan. (On a related note, Noah Emmerich, the man behind Stan Beeman, is also the man behind the camera, directing a pretty great episode of television! Let’s hear it for Stan!)
Girlfriends: In a bit of a tangent, Phillip wears a really terrible wig to become “Jack,” the AA sponsor Lisa thinks is Elizabeth’s new beau. She doesn’t seem sold on him, but we don’t get a verdict.
Fleetwood Mac returns: One of the most-praised aspects of The Americans’ pilot episode was its use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” during an incredibly well-executed opening sequence. Over three years later, we finally get another dose of Fleetwood Mac, as “The Chain” plays over the final scene while the Jennings scramble to keep their plan together.
Confession: One of this episode’s best scenes comes after Phillip gets into bed with Elizabeth after a nervous Martha asks to be alone. Elizabeth apologizes for not telling him about the conversation she had with Paige last week. Then Phillip tells her about his son. She turns toward him and puts her hand on his shoulder—it’s a wonderful moment where the two of them connect in a manner beyond anything they say.
Fake outs: So last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t really all that cliffhanger-y as it was made out to be, huh? It makes sense—you can’t just say “hey honey, your dad and I are Soviet spies, surprise!” and expect that to go well. “Civil Rights activists” sounds much nicer.