By Carole Avalon
Martha started out as a patsy, an unwitting tool for Soviet operative “Clark” aka Philip Jennings to gain intelligence on the Washington bureau of the FBI.
Over the seasons, Martha (Alison Wright) transformed into a willing asset and now wife of Clark/Philip (Matthew Rhys), but that doesn’t mean she knows where he goes home most nights.
She could have used Clark/Philip’s help dealing with the sudden interest displayed by FBI agents Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Dennis Aderholt in her private life. Although she’s admitted to being involved with a married man, this hasn’t stopped their off-the-book operation to see if she’s a mole.
Last episode, though, Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) were stuck in a safe house with their handler, Gabriel and a dissident scientist taking massive doses of antibiotics to fend off potential exposure to an American-made bioweapon.
Safe to say, Martha’s occasional husband was kind of busy, and when he does meet with Martha, he can only apologize, not explain for his absence. He gives her a safe contact number to use, then afterward, she returns to her apartment and doses herself with valium and wine. So much for romance in Martha’s version of the early 1980s.
Back in Philip mode, he sets up Hans, a collegiate asset, to check on whether Martha is being followed. Later, when Hans sees evidence of a car tailing Martha’s movements, he alerts Philip, who has to hightail it out of the apartment where he and Martha’s meetups occur. A close call.
Back at the Jennings house, it’s a restless night for Paige, who knows her father is off doing…something spy-related, but who knows what. She wakes up Elizabeth, who luckily converts near-instantly from trained killer to concerned mom.
“Too much has been thrown at you,” she tells Paige. “It hasn’t worked out well.” Maybe “this,” meaning Paige’s current level of knowledge about her parents, is enough for the teen.
The next day, having decided to nonviolently handle the problematic Pastor Tim and his wife, Philip and Elizabeth visit the pastoral couple with an El Salvadoran priest in tow. At least, the man is supposedly a priest.
Philip and Elizabeth describe themselves as being peace activists, which is buttressed by the priest’s claim that the couple has worked to save the lives of himself and his church flock. Pastor Tim and his wife appear to be moved, but afterward when Philip and Elizabeth drop the man off, it’s clear they don’t know who the man really is. No matter. Job done, they feel.
As it so happens, while the priest may have been a fake, the death squads were, unfortunately, quite real. Archbishop Oscar Romero, perhaps the most high profile victim, tried to document the many killings and disappearances ordered by the El Salvadoran oligarchy, and for his courage was assassinated in 1980.
That same year, three American nuns and a lay worker were raped and murdered by a military unit. Given that the U.S. funded, trained and advised El Salvador’s military, and that foreign peace activists did try to help El Salvadorans during this time, the story recounted is accurate.
When Paige, upon her parents’ gentle urging, later visits Pastor Tim, she admits she finds her situation to be confusing. “I know they believe in something, and they love me. They told me the truth when I asked, which maybe was a mistake,” she says.
Another child, this time an adult, has a harder conversation with an authority figure, for Oleg hears from his father about Nina’s execution.
Oleg, who works at the Soviet embassy, had thought his well-connected father would find a way to help Nina, a two-time traitor. Oleg lashes out, “I don’t know why I expected anything. You didn’t help Yevgeny either. The one official who couldn’t get his son out of Afghanistan.”
His father points out that Oleg’s brother wanted to serve, but later at the graveside service, the father’s emotions, too, boil over and he fires his weapon in the air. It’s his version of a twenty-gun salute in honor of a beloved son who died in his country’s unpopular war.
When Oleg returns to work in the Soviet Embassy, his chief, Arkady, is surprised to learn of Nina’s death and the reason why. Arkady had placed his career in some risk by trying to help the feckless Nina, but although he’s saddened, he tells Oleg, “They don’t execute people for nothing. She had chance after chance.”
No one is offering the solace Oleg seeks, so he meets secretly with Beeman, who could have tried to save Nina when she was still on U.S. soil. Beeman is stunned when he hears what happened to Nina. “When I joined counter-intelligence, they said this could happen, losing someone,” he shares in stumbling fashion.
The two are far from friends, more like enemies who have agreed for the moment not to kill one another, but in this moment they share their grief.
In a lighter moment, Elizabeth is continuing her assignment of making friends with Young-Hee, a gregarious woman played by Ruthie Ann Miles. They share tales with one another as she teaches Elizabeth how to cook Korean food. Who’s the ultimate target here? Probably a relative of Young-Hee, but in the meantime, Elizabeth’s receiving a fun introduction to a new cuisine.
Elsewhere in the episode, we receive a quick check-in with Gabriel (Frank Langella), the Jenningses’ elderly handler, who still looks unwell from his inadvertent self-dosing with the American pathogen. Through wheezes, he assures them that the ruling Centre will do everything to protect Martha but they need the intel she’s providing.
Philip thinks providing Martha with a spy camera is a bad idea. His concern deepens, for after he and neighbor Beeman have reconciled following a misunderstanding, he sees Beeman head off to a stakeout. His ride: Aderholt (Brandon Dirden), who Philip had earlier seen keeping an eye on Clark’s love nest.
“You’ll never guess who I just met: Aderholt,” Philip tells his wife. “He’s the one who took Martha out to dinner.” Not only that, Elizabeth from a distance has identified the agent as the man she roughed up last season after escaping an FBI trap.
Philip is worried about the woman he’s drawn into the spy trade, while Martha for her part self-medicates, alone in bed.
Miles away in a Washington suburb, Elizabeth and Philip escape into each other arms, with the pulsing soundtrack provided by Queen and David Bowie’s immortal “Under Pressure.”
As the lyrics say, why can’t we give love one more chance.
Tune in next week for another episode of The Americans.
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