The Americans: Bad Love (S4 E6 Recap)

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More than one critic, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, have suggested that The Americans is a crazy metaphor for marriage. Your humble recapper (who is a married person) never bought it. Maybe it’s a metaphor for a certain kind of marriage, but personally your HRC doesn’t know too many immigrant couples, thrown together in an arranged mixed marriage – one being devout the other not so much, who jointly run a front-business, have completely different ideas about child rearing, sex up others on a regular basis as a part of their job, and sometimes kill people.


However, the whole Martha and Phlark story, that’s some kind of familiar train wreck. Martha falls hard for Clark, the first man she’s met who doesn’t seem to be a complete asshole, who listens to her, who completely gets her, who tells her she’s beautiful and makes her believe it. It’s not that he’s perfect. He doesn’t want kids and he has some other quirks, but the sex is great, and you can’t do it like that unless you’re in love, right? Or a complete sociopath, which he obviously is NOT! And it’s not like he doesn’t have a steady respectable job either! He works for the Justice Department, Office of Professional Responsibility, which does mean he’s kind of spying on the people she works for, but they’re jerks who don’t respect her – she listened to his tapes – and she can help him with that!

So reader she marries him.

The happiest day of Martha's life!

The happiest day of Martha’s life!

But then there are more signs that this isn’t paradise. He keeps his apartment. They almost never go out together. And he tells her she must NEVER tell anyone. Really, she might almost think he had another family or something. And then it gets worse. She finds out the getting her to bug the office and the stuff he told her about working for OPR– all lies – but his love for her is real, isn’t it? He’s still Clark, her husband, the man she’s working her way through the Kama Sutra with. And like the torch song says when he takes her in her arms the world’s bright, all right. So what’s the difference if she says she’ll go away? Because whatever her man is, she’s his for-evah…. moooor.

Except that the whatever he is part begins to eat at her because who the hell is she married to? And they’re closing in at work, and that wig she never asked him about because she figured the baldness was a sensitive topic – turns out he’s not even bald. But even if it’s all bullshit including his love for her, even if Clark doesn’t really exist – which is almost unfathomable – if the man she sleeps with once in a while is someone else entirely most of the time, she’s in too deep, plus they’re in it together. She’d have to betray him to even try to get herself out of the mess he put her in, which would involve confessing her foolishness to the very people who think she’s ugly. (He played her the tape!) She’d have to actually convince them she was even dumber and more desperate than they already think she is. They’d laugh at her. He’s the only one who never laughs at her.

And besides all that, he killed some poor schmuck to protect her and in addition to feeling like she’d just die if anyone knew about all this, she’d totally go to prison for a very long time.


Worst…. relationship… ever! Now that’s a metaphor I can get behind! Who hasn’t woken up next to someone and asked yourself, “Who is this person?” Who hasn’t ignored warning signs even when they were written in the sky in letters that soared a thousand feet high? Who hasn’t tried to fix the unfixable? Who amongst us hasn’t fallen in love and then realized that the person they fell in love with never existed?

We are all Martha.  And we will be very sad when she finally gets run over by Hans, or shot in the head by Elizabeth, or maybe smothered by Phlark himself because he feels she’s his responsibility and he needs to be the one to put her out of her misery.

The only possible hope for poor Martha, is in Nina’s death. Surely, they aren’t going to kill off two featured players the same season. But why wouldn’t they? This is (cold) war!

Could Nina have fulfilled the season death quota?

Could Nina have fulfilled the season death quota?

Here is some stuff that happened this week on The Americans:

Philip still acting on instinct thanks to his new EST-enhanced “feelings,” picks up Martha who’s on her way to work and takes her to a depressingly run down safe house where Gabriel is not happy to see her.

Over at the FBI, Stan and his new black best friend Aderholt have been discussing Martha for days. Stan asks Aderholt if he thinks Martha is attractive. Aderholt admits that there’s something sexy about her, and we can only feel terrible because she might have found a good man like Aderholt or Amador for that matter – the guy Philip killed because he knew about Clark.

"Yeah, I'd totally hit that if it was like last call at the bar and...."

“Yeah, I’d totally hit that if it was like last call at the bar and….”

They gossip about Martha’s lonely life – the abortion she had way back in 1964 when it was dangerous and illegal. Granted the FBI knows everything, but if that was in her file, would she even be working there? The day she calls in sick they go into action. First they check out her apartment. She’s not home, but it doesn’t look like she packed for a trip. They go over to Clark’s place and notice the missing voice machine cassettes. Is Clark Westerfelt a fake name or could he be Martha’s married lover? They’ll look into it. Meantime, they tell John-boy Gaad who thinks that’s some crazy shit – and also the most obvious explanation. Then he stares into the abbyss, watching his entire career stare back waving bye-bye.

John-boy Gaad wonders whether he should have ever left the family farm.

John-boy Gaad wonders whether he should have ever left the family farm.

Yeah, but at least he won’t be alone on the unemployment line. Stan is also going to be screwed when everyone finds out his bestie – and the FBI’s go-to travel agent – is a Soviet spy.

Over at the safe house, Gabriel suggests that Philip stop acting on his feelings, and tell Martha to go back to work. They’ll pretend none of this happened. In other words, Gabriel won’t tell the center that Martha has seen him. But then Philip tells him that Martha has seen the real Philip, which freaks Gabriel out because she’ll be able to describe him. So do they really think Philip is unrecognizable with his Clark wig and glasses? Who do they think he is, Clark Kent? Seriously, do they think Martha was so dumb she didn’t know he was wearing a toupee? Do they not understand that people don’t generally sleep or practice positions from the Kama Sutra with their eye glasses on?


Then Jennifer, Clark’s sister shows up, and strangely Martha is not too thrilled at the family reunion. Elizabeth is trying to make this seem totally normal and talking about what a great cook Gabriel is. When she goes into the kitchen and sees a wigless Philip she’s shocked and thrown off balance, especially when she realizes Philip purposely showed Martha his naked face. She thought only the real fake wife got to see that! She immediately pours herself a big tall glass of wine and gulps it down. Then she suggests that Philip should go home. She’ll take the next shift. He tells her it would better if he did. Gabriel offers to take the food to Martha because he’s desperate to get out of the kitchen. He can’t stand the drama.

At home Elizabeth puts on her game face and makes Korean food from the recipe her new Korean best friend gave her. Has she ever done this before? Mentioned her mark to her children? Referred to one of the innocents she’s actively screwing over as a “friend from work”? Like Philip her job is beginning to seep into her life.

"Mom, when you say friend, is that like someone you kill, or someone who kills with you?"

“Mom, when you say friend, is that like someone you kill, or someone who kills with you?”

Paige frets about where her father is. Henry still hopes that one day he’ll get to see Moscow Epcot. Chekov’s Three Sisters have nothing on him.

Philip is trying to make Martha feel safe. She asks him what the deal is with Jennifer who is clearly not his sister, and whether or not they are “involved.” He admits they’ve worked together – for a long time. She asks him for whom. He tells her – the KGB.

"Can't you just make up something else that isn't quite as bad as the KGB?"

“Can’t you just make up something else that isn’t quite as bad as the KGB?”

Surely, this can’t be too much of a surprise. He tells her she doesn’t have to do anything ever again and it’s all going to be okay. She tells him it will be “as long as we’re together.” He doesn’t deny her this one last illusion, and gives in to her demands for some sexytimes. Gabriel listens as he tries to get some shut eye on a chair in the living room. Later, she also wonders if this was all a mistake – not the relationship – but the panic. He’d told her that the man watching her couldn’t be sure she was blown. Couldn’t she just go back to work? He doesn’t tell her that Gabriel is wondering the same thing.

Philip is in the kitchen getting coffee when Gabriel totters in. There’s an emergency signal from William. Philip doesn’t want to leave Martha alone, but Gabriel talks him into going – after all the fate of the world is, as always, at stake. So he goes back to the bedroom to tell Martha he’ll be out for a while, but she’s out cold. He looks in her purse and sees the Valium, also her gun, which he takes. Maybe he should have left her a note – something signed with a smiley face to reassure her. I guess he couldn’t find a pen.


Meantime at the Rezidentura they’re planning Martha’s extraction and it really looks like there’s no vast conspiracy to kill her. She’ll live – if you consider some lonely apartment in Moscow with a view of the Kremlin (in Soviet Union you don’t look at the view the view looks at you) a life.

Philip goes to pick up some even worse than glanders bio-hazard that William has snuck out of the lab. It’s inside a bottle inside of a dead rat – which is both the title of the episode and of course a metaphor. Philip tells William that he’s getting Martha out. William admires his moxie, and they both agree that their handlers don’t have a clue.

Martha wakes from her self-induced coma and realizes her gun and Clark are both gone. She goes downstairs and demands to know where her fake husband is. She doesn’t believe that he would leave her alone with Gabriel. She walks out the door. Gabriel, still recovering from that awful virus, can’t exactly run after her. She says loudly that if he keeps following her she’ll scream and tell everybody he’s KGB.

This is how you leave him.

This is how she leaves him.

That’s where we end, and based on the promo for next week it doesn’t look like she turns to road kill within the next couple of minutes, but the smart money says she won’t make it to the end of the season. Also don’t her parents still have a photo of the wedding? Or did he make sure she never sent them one? Or did the KGB arrange for them to have an accident? Thoughts? Comments? Speculation? Speak out below, comrades!

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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