“The Americans”: How do you solve a problem like Martha?

FBI assistant Martha has had the word “poor” attached to her name by reviewers ever since her introduction on The Americans.

As in: poor Martha (Alison Wright) is seduced by Soviet operative Philip, who she believes is an internal affairs officer named Clark. She skives off with FBI documents on Clark’s behest. Poor Martha, who winds up getting married to Clark, then when Philip takes off his disguise, realizes there’s more to Clark’s cover story than she thought.

In this episode, poor Martha experiences one unpleasant surprise after another, but her workday at least starts out the usual way. She’s carrying out her duties, not a handcuff in sight.

But FBI agents Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Dennis Aderholt are mulling over the details of Martha’s background, for both of them think she may have leaked sensitive information.

A lowly secretary in their estimation, even her elevation to possible secret-passer doesn’t spare her their stereotypical thinking. An early engagement broken off, an abortion-Beeman disapproves of her committing an illegal act-probably lonely and for certain has a married boyfriend she won’t talk about.

That’s a profile they can believe in: a weak, simple old maid. Aderholt (Brandon Dirden) at least throws her a bone. “She’s kind of sexy,” he observes. Given how many men have done the bidding of those they loved, the agents’ musings reflects the sexist atmosphere in which they worked.

Time to check out the love nest where the agents know Martha met up with Clark. The landlord’s signed lease with Clark gives them a name to go on but the apartment itself is barren of personal effects, even of phone message tapes.

Elsewhere, Philip meets up with military bioweapons researcher William, who we learned last episode is a deep-cover Soviet mole, as in twenty-five years of service. Neither of them are thrilled with the Centre’s continued request for pathogen samples. Being that the last try almost killed Philip’s handler, Gabriel, it’s a sore subject all around.

William (Dylan Baker) doubts he can obtain another sample of glanders, but one of tularemia could be had. He tells Philip, “It’s easily weaponized. Nasty stuff.” The U.S. military conducted tests with weaponized tularemia in 1966-67 in Alaska. Nasty stuff, definitely.

Shop talk over, William asks how it’s going with Philip’s unnamed female asset, for during his recent quarantine experience with Philip, the pair found some common ground despite William’s acerbic personality. Philip admits he wants to exfiltrate the asset but the Centre thinks there’s no danger and wants to keep her in place at the FBI.

“It eats you up, what we do,” William says. “Our bosses don’t know what they’re doing.”

“She trusts me.”

“Yeah, it’s always a problem.” William brusquely leaves. So much for a bonding moment.

Returning to Beeman and Aderholt, their investigation isn’t decisive but it’s more than enough to show to their boss, Gaad. He is dumbfounded by their revelation, yet after some thought, he realizes Martha had been the logical suspect all along. Stunned and embarrassed, he admits, “She had access to everything.”

The logical next step is to pick up Martha for interrogation, which in this pre-9/11 era probably wouldn’t have involved waterboarding. Still, such a grueling experience might impel her to give a dead-on description of Philip.

As for Philip, he’s not content with Gabriel and Elizabeth’s assurances. He takes Martha to the safe house.

Despite his wife, Elizabeth’s, assurance that Martha is okay and probably not under suspicion, Philip goes with his gut instinct and takes Martha to the safe house, where she’s on hand when Gabriel arrives for a scheduled meet-up.

As Martha makes tea, Gabriel takes Philip aside and quietly says, “We can fix this. Have Martha return to work.”

Philip takes off his Clark disguise and admits that Martha has seen the real him. Gabriel is disapproving, and when a disguised Elizabeth arrives later, she’s just as unhappy. For all the times she and her husband have bedded other people in the course of their work, they’ve worn various wigs and identities.

Yet at the end of the assignment, they returned to each other’s arms in (usually) complete honesty. Besides being a security breach, Philip’s mistake with Martha is also a kind of betrayal of Elizabeth.

When a guilt-ridden Philip turns down Elizabeth’s attempt to take a shift at the house, it is clear that although she is still the complete professional, she really would like to give Philip a piece of her mind.

In the privacy of Martha’s bedroom, Philip gently tries to explain to his asset turned quasi-wife she can never return home again. As to her question about Elizabeth, he answers, “We’ve worked together for a long time.”

“For who?”

“The KGB,” he says.

She probably had her suspicions, but cries at their confirmation. Philip assures her she’ll never have to do anything ever again, and everything is going to be okay.

Half in panic, half in desperation, she throws herself on her lover and he obliges for what may well be the last time.

The next morning, with Martha still asleep, Gabriel tells Philip he’s received an emergency signal from William, and Philip is needed to go make a pick-up.

“There’s always some reason,” Philip says distractedly.

Gabriel, who is still fragile from his near-lethal bout with glanders, counters him sharply. “There’s not just some reason. If they target our nuclear capacity and take it out with a first strike, we’ll have nothing to defend ourselves with. I’ve been there, during the war, when we were defenseless.”

The Soviet Union had a long history of being attacked, and not only during the high-casualty German invasion of World War II, but also the 1919-20 invasion by several Western powers, including the United States.

Sometimes, a nation’s particular paranoia is well justified, and so Philip, after he slips Martha’s gun out of her purse for safekeeping, goes off to meet with William near the shipyard.

Of all things, William presents Philip with a dead rat in a jar, explaining that he was the only way he could get a sample, by taking it from the dissection room.

William immediately asks Philip about Martha. When he hears that Philip was the one who decided to bring her in, he says he is impressed, adding, “When Eliza, my wife, was sent back [to the Soviet Union], I didn’t fight back. I wanted to, but I didn’t.”

Back at the house, Martha’s awake, realizes her gun is missing and most importantly, learns her husband, Clark, is mysteriously gone. She immediately gets dressed and has it out with Gabriel. She doesn’t believe Gabriel’s assurance that her husband will soon be back.

Gabriel is in no shape to stop her, and even if he were, she warns in a stage whisper, “Try anything, I’ll scream and everyone will know you’re KGB.”

She walks off down the sidewalk, probably not knowing which way to go or what to do. Running out of options, and quite possibly out of time.

Will Martha survive next week’s episode? Tune in next episode for The Americans.

Photo: “The Americans” Facebook page


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