Season 4/Episode 7: “Travel Agents”

By Carole Avalon

Last week, poor Martha, human pawn, decided to make her own move for a change. Under suspicion by FBI agents who think their longtime assistant may be leaking secrets to the Soviets, Martha has been rescued by her husband, Clark.

Except that we know Clark is actually Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), Soviet illegal, who already has a wife, fellow spy Elizabeth (Keri Russell). Martha has indeed been helping Clark/Philip steal information about FBI surveillance of U.S. military researchers, among other things.

When Philip has to go meet up with a researcher working on bioweapons, Martha freaks. Handler Gabriel (Frank Langella), weakened by the aftereffects of his exposure to one of those weapons, is unable to stop Martha from fleeing.

She’s in the wind with no apparent clue as to where to go. When this week’s episode begins, only forty minutes have passed when Philip and a disguised Elizabeth return to the safe house.

Philip drops off the jarred specimen of a rat killed by military-grade tularemia—which Gabriel places in the fridge with distaste—then they quickly work out a plan on how to find Martha. Gabriel points out Philip is the “husband” so he ought to have some ideas on where she might have gone.

Okay fine, he does remember a few places, all the while with Elizabeth, his real wife, standing next to him possibly thinking this is a part of Philip’s life she’d rather not know about, even if she’s a total pro and understands he isn’t, technically speaking, being unfaithful. It’s a job, that’s all, yet Philip feels a powerful sense of guilt and responsibility for recruiting Martha. She’s more than merely an asset, but what does Philip really feel about Martha?

After Philip drops off Elizabeth for her to use another car, he goes to the switchboard operator’s place to hopefully receive a call from Martha and to map out places she might have gone on foot. The operator is an undercover Soviet-in-place, a borscht-making woman who handles equipment that can route calls from hacked phones. This ‘80s-era advanced tech underscores the limits of what Philip and his crew are able to do. He can’t go wandering the streets, cell phone in hand, but this also helps out Martha (Alison Wright), for the FBI, despite its many agents on the street, have the same limitation.

Martha has indeed taken off for a familiar park, but not one Philip immediately remembers. Tortured by self-doubt and fear, she wants to see Clark, but knows now her old life is irretrievably gone.

Out to retrieve her are agents Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Dennis Aderholt (Brandon Dirden), who are leading a systemic ransacking of Martha’s apartment, searching for clues as to her secret life and whereabouts.

The team is thorough: melting ice cubes, taking apart wall sockets and unthreading a package of tampons as they search in vain for anything that might hint to her private life. Supervisor Gaad (Richard Thomas) stares forlornly through the window, as if he’d been jilted by Martha. There’s no hint he and Martha ever had a sexual relationship, yet her job as an assistant [back then called a secretary] made her indispensable to him. Indispensable, reliable, thought of as being hardly more than a sentient sock puppet, and thus the betrayal hits him hard.

Gaad’s professional life is over, and he knows it. No one in FBI counter-intelligence could possibly keep their job with that gaffe on their resume. Even so, he stands up for agent Beeman when he rejects their superior’s order to blackmail Soviet embassy official Oleg.

Oleg, you may recall, had tried to get Beeman to cut a deal for double-traitor Nina to remain in the U.S. Beeman refused, but Oleg had kept a back-channel going with Beeman. Both were gutted to learn of Nina’s execution in Siberia.

Beeman may not be able to figure out his suburban neighbors, Philip and Elizabeth, are spies, but he does know in his gut that Oleg won’t roll over for anyone.

The subject of their conversation, Oleg (Costas Ronin), is informed by his boss, Arkady, of their need to prepare for the evacuation of an asset out of the country. Coworker Tatiana (Vera Cherny), who’s been handling a mysterious—to Oleg—project tracking U.S. bioweapons, works out with Oleg the logistics.

A small plane will fly under radar down to Florida, where the asset will board a boat to Cuba. From there, a flight to Prague, and then to the Soviet Union. Historically, the Soviets took care of their native assets when possible. Execution is the last option, but Gabriel regretfully points out to Philip and Elizabeth that if Martha looks like she’s going rogue, they’ll have to do just that.

Philip, while despondent and unable to eat the switchboard operator’s no doubt excellent borscht, continues to search through his memory and study the map. Where could she be?

She’s at one of her favorite parks, on the payphone to her aged parents. “I’m in trouble, so much trouble,” she tells them. “It’s not working…no matter what you hear…I love you.”

With that, she hangs up, but her conversation has been picked up by the FBI. Once the location is ID’d, off go Beeman and Aderholt.

Atop a tall bridge, Martha stares down at the river rocks below. Suicide? Not today. She moves on. Time to make a call to the number Clark had given her.

Philip with relief answers. He apologizes profusely for leaving the safe house when she needed him. Learning where she’s at, he relays the details to the switchboard operator and off he goes. Moments later, Elizabeth calls in with her scheduled check-in.

Now all the principals know in a general sense where she’s at, but thankfully Beeman and Aderholt are still behind the curve. They check out the bridge and the rocks below. No sign of Martha.

Elizabeth arrives first. Martha is sitting on a park bench close by the phone. Elizabeth approaches Martha carefully. She’s in the disguise of being Clark’s sister, but Martha learned last episode that Clark’s sister is another agent. Elizabeth’s hand is in her pocket, wrapped around a gun.

She bluntly asks, “Are you Clark’s wife?” Elizabeth says no. Martha’s panic is escalating. She’s not about to leave the park with this woman, so Elizabeth punches the breath out of Martha.

The quite lethal weapon known as Elizabeth has decided not to off Martha although that’s probably an option still on the table.

As Elizabeth with visible effort keeps Martha on her feet she says with surprising softness, “There’s nowhere to go, they know who you are. They’ll arrest Clark, his life will be over. Do as I say and you’ll live, you’ll live.”

Martha in tears and pain, accepts the inevitability of what happens next, and walks away with her.

Back at the Soviet embassy’s spy center, Oleg tells Tatiana he can’t get a hold of his pilot, but Tatiana tells him no problem. “I needed one for another operation; figured he’d be backup for this. We’ll use him instead.”

Oleg says okay, basically, but his eyes land on the mysterious folder Tatiana has kept in her possession. He wishes he knew what she was up to. He’s ambitious, curious, and as agent Beeman well knows, a man possessed of a sense of adventure. Oleg may eventually figure out that the Centre is trying to uncover America’s deadly bioweapon secrets. At the moment, however, all that matters is Martha’s getaway plane and pilot are ready to take off.

A relieved Philip arrives at the safe house where Elizabeth tells him she didn’t break any bones in apprehending Martha.

He goes in to check on Martha, who assures him it’s just a bruise. Martha asks, “What’s your name?”

“Philip.” Oh, super spy, such a bad move, giving away your cover identity like that.

“No, the name you were born with,” she counters.

Philip compounds his error by admitting his real name is Mikhail, Mischa to his family. A double fault, enough for him to lose everything if she were to fall into enemy hands.

Does this mean he truly loves Martha? He steps out of the bedroom to fetch some ice for Martha’s bruise.

Elizabeth in a fumbling manner asks, “If our kids were grown…if it were possible, would you go with her?” She’s offering Philip a way out.

Philip, who’s been more about nonverbal expression of commitment to Elizabeth, responds emotionally, “I love you.”

They kiss and hold one another. Their commitment to one another is total. Elizabeth would even let her husband leave if necessary, but his refusal to even consider it means that Martha cannot expect Clark/Philip/Mischa to accompany her into exile. Elizabeth gently tells him to spend the night with Martha, for the real American needs his company.

Martha is devastated to learn that Clark/Philip/Mischa won’t be leaving with her. He promises that her parents will receive a message telling them she’s alright, and as for her reception in the Soviet Union, “They’ll take good care of you, they’ll treat you with respect and honor. They know your sacrifice.”

This part has a historical basis in fact. The occasional nutjob like Lee Harvey Oswald aside, many remained in the Soviet bloc.

Possible future honors aside, Martha knows her past choices have led to an irrevocable conclusion: her life as it exists is over. A new one awaits.

Her team of Philip, Elizabeth, Gabriel, Oleg, Arkady, Tatiana, and the mysterious pilot want to make that new life happen.

The FBI, on the other hand, will use all the means at its disposal to track down and capture Martha. She is an assistant, a secretary, a dupe, an asset, a wife, a woman who has faced up to her actions and in the next episode likely will face the consequences.

Will she escape or will she be captured, will she live or will she die? Find out in the next episode of The Americans.