The Americans: Martha, My Dear (S4 E5 Recap)

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Say one thing for The Americans, it’s a show that’s not afraid to make its viewers squirm. Whether we’re talking about the crunch a body makes when you stuff it in a suitcase, or Philip’s seduction of a teenager – which kept getting thwarted by her parents unexpected arrival and/or other nick of time circumstances, or Stan looking through Martha’s dirty dresser drawer and finding her copy of the Kama Sutra (with pages marked) – there’s often an ick factor. It’s not simply that what the Jennings do is criminal, or even evil. It’s slimy. This may not be a realistic look at secret-agenting, but at least it’s not – despite the disguises – a glamorous one. The ethos could have been taken directly from Richard Burton’s “spies are scum” speech from The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Elizabeth has mastered the art of surviving such a life by turning off all emotion and eliminating doubt before it even surfaces, but being that emotionally shut down comes at a price, and even she’s beginning to crack. As for Philip, the spy who cares too much, anyone in any helping profession knows, caring too much leads directly to burn out. Philip is toast.

It took a while for Elizabeth to come around to the idea of not killing Pastor Tim and Alice. When she agreed with Philip that they would try working them, the decision was not based on not wanting the blood of two more innocents on her hands. It was calculated. Paige isn’t stupid. Paige would never forgive her. Paige would never work for the motherland. Having done the math, Elizabeth is ready to move on. That’s how she approaches a problem. Philip on the hand has all those messy feelings suffocating him like the pillow he probably used to stop someone from breathing a time to two. He’d like all the pressure (YSWIDH) to stop.

In some ways they are the Spock and Kirk of Spy World She’s the logical half. He’s the emotional one. As in many episodes of Star Trek, intuition and “feelings” trump “logic.”Some things can’t be understood by science or Vegas odds alone. Hans can’t be certain that Martha was being followed based on what he observed, but Philip knows in his gut that they’re on to Martha.

The action starts off at Clark’s place, the generic lonely-guy apartment that now has to serve as Clark and Martha’s safehouse. Phlark comes “home” after William lifts the quarantine. Martha has been drinking, pill popping and waiting. He can’t tell her much about his absence beyond having had an emergency. She tells him about an emergency of her own. Gaad’s noticing the discrepancy with the copy meter and Aderholt’s taking her to dinner might be a coincidence, but Phlark knows it’s not. Maybe his listening to her, his telling her he doesn’t want to put her in more danger is part of “making it real,” but maybe he’s made it so real he believes it himself. Maybe he’s more haunted by the things he’s done, the things he’s allowed to happen – like Annalise’s death, than we can imagine.

Can this faux-marriage be saved?

Can this faux-marriage be saved?

Last week we might have believed that Martha was handling everything well, relying on hidden resources, but now it’s clear she’s falling apart. She went to the hospital with a panic attack. She’s being sustained by wine and Valium. That brilliant improvisation about her affair with the married man? That’s the cover story Clark had given her, and the part about her not being ashamed, wasn’t a revelation. It was a lie.

Does Philip start working to get her out of any of this? Nope. He gives her the number for the Center – so that she’ll be able to reach him. He brings her in even deeper.

Meantime, at casa Jennings, Paige startles a sleeping Elizabeth, still wanting to know where her parents were and what is going on. Elizabeth firmly tells her that maybe it would have been better if they’d never told her “the truth” and she’s had enough information for now.

"Paige, never startle Mommy like that again. I could've killed you. I mean I could have KILLED you. So, okay?"

“Paige, never startle Mommy like that again. I could’ve killed you. I mean I could have KILLED you. So, okay?”

Speaking of parents leveling with their children, back in the USSR, Oleg’s father tells him of Nina’s fate. Daddy tried to help but he was powerless, just like he was powerless to keep his other son from dying in a war that can’t even be talked about. It’s all gone to shit and this isn’t what he fought the Nazis for.

At the insurance office, Philip tells Elizabeth what Martha told him. Her advice: Kiss and make up with Stan.

Aderholt and Stan trade notes. Both agree that the married man story might be true, but it’s too neat by half.

"Did you just say Kama Sutra? Want me to ask her out again?"

“Did you just say Kama Sutra? Want me to ask her out again?”

Patty is hanging with her Asian best friend, Yung He, drinking wine and learning to cook Gangnam style. We still don’t know what Elizabeth is after, but she comes home a slightly sloshed, even laughing at a red-cheeked Reagan making a speech. Later that evening, she and Philip go to chat with Tim and Alice, introducing them to Padre Rivas, a Jesuit priest – or that at least is his cover story. The Padre tells Tim all about how “these people” warned him of a planned government massacre and kept him safe. Elizabeth fills in the blanks of the story, explaining that they worked covertly with a sympathetic American who supplied them with the information.

"I'm Padre Rivas, a priest. That's right isn't it? I'm supposed to be a priest?"

“I’m Padre Rivas, a priest. That’s right isn’t it? I’m supposed to be a priest?”

Ever since Philip stumbled across the CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) flier when he was going through Tim’s desk, it’s just been a matter of time before The Americans would let the US off the hook and imply that the whole solidarity and sanction movement was all a commie infiltrated plot. And here it is. Sure, Rivas mentions Oscar Romero, the archbishop killed by the right-wing death squad, and Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit assassinated years earlier, but clearly the Jesuits had it coming if they were colluding with the Russkies! Or are they? After Elizabeth and Philip drop Rivas off at some semi-seedy hotel, Philip wonders aloud if the guy, who they clearly had never before, was even a priest. Elizabeth shrugs it off. For her it’s not something worth thinking about.  Whomever he was, he was a means to an end. At least The Americans didn’t imply that CISPES itself was a hotbed of Russian influence.(On account of CISPES is still around and might have loved a chance to get into Fox’s deep pockets with a law suit, maybe.) Rivas’ message to Tim was they’re good, but these guys are better. They’re the ones who can really protect us. Does Tim buy it? Has the threat been neutralized? Time will tell.

When they get home they look in on Paige. She’s still awake. They tell her that the chat went okay, but she has to make nice with Pastor Tim and let him know she still trusts him. She gives them a stretched out, “Riiiiight,” that expresses a growing skepticism.

And she’s not the only spawn of the Soviet system turning from belief to cynicism. Oleg is back in the US of A, at the Rezidentura. He tells Arkady about Nina, and does not get the reception he would have hoped for. Sure, Arkady is shocked, but more at the fact that Nina blew every chance she had. His country doesn’t execute people for no reason.

Martha gets off a bus. Hans thinks she’s being tailed and runs to a phone booth to call Philip who’s already at Clark’s waiting for her. As she unlocks the lobby door and waits for the elevator, he packs up his voice machine cassettes, and the one wedding photo they have, and skedaddles down the stairs and out a backdoor.

Paige tells Pastor Tim that her parents told her she’s supposed to forgive him. So she’s admitting they’re manipulating him through her but is she admitting that to manipulate him? She tells him her parents “told her the truth” when she asked, but do either of them believe they know the whole truth?

Martha goes to a laundromat to call the Center. Would she also have been advised to sneak out through the back should she ever arrive and find Clark cleared out her stuff? Did Aderholt see her leave? The Center lady tells her to wait an hour for a call back. Nothing suspicious at all about waiting around a laundromat for a phone call!

Meantime, after Philip talks to Hans, he and Elizabeth meet Gabe to tell him Martha’s cover has maybe been blown. Gabe still needs to know about surveillance on William since he’s now the one who holds the key to changing the balance of power and stopping a nuclear catastrophe by stealing some extremely deadly viral weapons and releasing the zombie apocalypse.

Gabe, walking with a cane and having aged considerably since last week, suggests that if photocopying is no longer an option, maybe she could sneak in a camera, or just memorize the dates. Philip does not think this is a good idea. Gabe like Elizabeth is not one hundred percent convinced that Martha is blown. They’ll have to wait and see.

Philip calls Martha from a pay booth while Elizabeth sits in the car. He doesn’t explain or demand much. They plan to meet again in a few more days which doesn’t make a lot of sense if in fact the FBI knows where she’s going, but whatevs. He tells her, “I love you.” Elizabeth watches him mouth the words, and oh my god she is SOOO going to kill Martha. It’s not jealousy that they share a faux-husband, or that Martha was going through the entire Kama Sutra with him. Elizabeth is simply threatened by anyone within her family having a real bond with anyone outside of it. She realizes that Philip actually cares about Martha, and that alone makes Martha a threat.

Elizabeth is NOT to be messed with.

Elizabeth is NOT to be messed with.

Oleg meets Stan in Stan’s car and tells him about Nina. He’s the only one who can share Oleg’s pain. Stan’s pain and guilt are real, but we know he’ll use this to further turn and manipulate poor Oleg.

When they get home they check in on a Paige. She tells them that Pastor Tim was nice and that he really does care about her. Is she now manipulating them?

We now seem to be on to another day, or maybe the weekend. Henry is hanging out with his only friend, Mr. Beeman. Matthew arrives for a visit and seems slightly weirded out to discover that Henry is now the little brother he never wanted.

"Dad, if there's anything you want to tell me, please don't."

“Dad, if there’s anything you want to tell me, please don’t.”

They all have pizza and hang out like a family. Philip stops by to make nice with Stan. Will Stan realize that Philip is a commie spy when he continues to get every Trivial Pursuit answer wrong? Then Stan has to go out and work even though this all happening on the same night and what is it, three am by now? Do the writers do a time line for this?

What’s Stan doing? Some more Martha surveillance probably because his new black best friend, Aderholt has arrived. See, Philip that’s what happens when you stop speaking to someone! They find another bestie! We watch Philip shake Aderholt’s hand. Elizabeth is watching too from behind her living room curtain. She knows Aderholt from that time she beat him and John-boy Gaad up. This could be awkward! Philip comes in and tells Elizabeth that Aderholt was the one that took Martha out for dinner. Elizabeth assures Philip that they’ll do everything they can for her, which somehow sounds more like a threat than a promise.

Then we get the too on the nose song, Under Pressure as a soundtrack to some very hot and realistic looking sexytimes between Philip and Elizabeth, which given the way things are going on this show may be the last time they’ll get to “come together” (forgive me Lord I know not what I pun) for a while.

So are we now on the official Martha death-watch? Or could the show pull out a completely unexpected fate for her? Your thoughts, theories, and speculation are welcome in the comments below.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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  • tejaswoman

    Curious whether you had this depth of knowledge of the Salvadoran conflict prior to the Americans (some of us did) or simply did your homework. 🙂