THE AMERICANS: “I Am Abassin Zadran”

With just one week before the finale, the endgame begins to shift into heartbreaking focus. Poor, poor Martha.

You asked for the truth, and with that comes responsibility.

-Elizabeth, to Paige

I find myself empathizing with Paige Jennings, mostly because I think all of her questions for her parents are perfectly legitimate. If you suddenly learned that your mother and father were not the people that they’d always claimed to be, then you would have a lot of questions too. So it isn’t exactly surprising to see Paige acting out. She goes out without Elizabeth and Philip’s permission on a school night. She brings a photo album into their room demanding to know which, if any, of the people in it are actually her relatives. She screams questions at them while Henry is still in the house. So what if Philip and Elizabeth don’t like it — what exactly are they going to do about it?

Paige’s knowledge has upset the balance of power between her and her parents. She now knows a secret that could get her parents locked away forever – if not executed. What do Philip and Elizabeth really have to threaten her with when she’s acting up? They’ll take away her phone privileges? They’ll ground her? How much water do those threats really hold when they’re always cognizant that she could walk across the street and turn them over to the FBI agent next door in a moment of anger?

Thankfully, Paige hasn’t entirely figured out that she has her parents completely over a barrel – yet. But she’s getting there. She’s testing boundaries and seeing how Elizabeth and Philip react. How long will it be before she at least threatens to play the biggest trump card in her deck? Perhaps Paige is the most dangerous when she knows the secret but has nothing (except the loss of her parents, obviously) at risk for herself. Maybe that’s why it would make sense to bring her into the spy game as well. She’d be an equal partner in the risk as well as the secret.

In Gabriel’s only scene this week he and Claudia have tea together in a diner and discuss the Paige operation. Despite Gabriel’s recent hard-nosed attitude towards Philip and his reluctance to turn Paige, Gabriel himself admits to having reservations. He tells Claudia that he isn’t sure if it’s the right move for the Jennings family, and it seems to be tearing Philip and Elizabeth apart. When Claudia reveals that the Center was distraught to learn that Jared had killed his parents and considered canceling the entire second generation program as a result, Gabriel is dismayed. “And with all of that they still want to try again?” he asks incredulously. “They think you’re the man who can do it,” Claudia replies warmly.

It’s a whole new look behind the scenes. It seems Gabriel was brought to Washington DC explicitly for dealing with Philip, Elizabeth, and the Paige situation. The Center seems to have hoped that his warm, established relationship with the Jennings family would yield results when it came time to turn Paige. But maybe Gabriel isn’t the mastermind we’ve wondered if he is after all. Is he just another puppet being maneuvered by Claudia? Hopefully time will tell.

Meanwhile, both of our protagonist spies have other problems to worry about. Anton Baklanov has been mostly twiddling his thumbs in the Soviet Union, unable to work on his stealth bomber project until he can get photographs of the plane that the Americans are actually building. Unfortunately the KGB hasn’t had anyone inside the Northrup plant since Frank was killed gathering reflective paint samples in the Season 2 finale. Elizabeth, however, has been working on a solution all season, and now she’s ready to put it into effect. Her Alcoholics Anonymous contact Lisa now works at the same plant, and Elizabeth convinces her to take photos of the place with a camera covertly hidden in a purse. The plan works perfectly except for Lisa’s husband Maurice, who continues to wedge himself into Lisa and Elizabeth’s work. He, much like Paige, knows that this is covert work and constantly tries to use that knowledge to his advantage. He hasn’t explicitly blackmailed Elizabeth with that knowledge yet, but I can’t help feeling that Maurice is actually the most dangerous problem facing Elizabeth and Philip right now.

Secondly, Philip and Elizabeth are working to disrupt the meetings between the CIA and the Mujahedeen leadership recently arrived in Washington. They succeed by driving a wedge between one Mujahedeen leader, the Abassin Zadran of the episode’s title, and the two other men representing the Mujahedeen. Elizabeth and Philip meet with Zadran in disguise as CIA operatives and tell him that the other two leaders plan to backhandedly sabotage the meetings in order to keep the fighting out of their respective villages. The pious Zadran is enraged that the other two men even consider such a thing. He only wants to butcher every Communist in Afghanistan and values the opportunity to become a martyr for his faith. Elizabeth and Philip convince Zadran that his best option is to kill the other two Mujahedeen leaders and keep them from sabotaging the meetings, which he does as soon as he gets back to the hotel — ironically, wrecking the same meetings that he was attempting to save. The CIA aren’t likely to work with a man who just butchered two of his fellow Mujahedeen leaders. Mission accomplished for Elizabeth and Philip.

But perhaps the biggest problem facing the Jenningses this week is still Martha. Poor Martha is unraveling inside, struggling to deal with the constant stress of Walter Taffet’s investigation. Philip nearly walks into a disaster at Martha’s apartment, but Hans warns him off at the last second. Had “Clark” entered Martha’s apartment he would have found none other than Stan Beeman sitting at her kitchen table having tea. Stan is literally the worst person that Philip could run into, as the “Clark” disguise wouldn’t fool his neighbor and friend for a second. Anyone connected with the FBI would have been a danger in Martha’s apartment, but Stan would b an absolute disaster. Philip’s entire mission in America would have unraveled in a since glance from Agent Beeman.

Stan seems to exhibit some genuine concern for Martha, and he visits to let her know that she can always talk to him when she’s too stressed out by work. It’s a nice sentiment, but Martha (and Philip) can’t help but worry that there’s another reason behind his visit. Philip has Hans pick up Martha the next morning, and the two meet in an abandoned corner of town. The stress is about to break Martha, who is convinced that everyone in the FBI can see through her lies. Philip assures her that it isn’t so, but Martha seems to sense that the end is near for her, calling her parents and breaking down.

When Clark visits the next day he finds her bags packed and Martha sitting on the bed, waiting for him. She tells him that she can’t deal with the stress, and that she is planning to leave to spend time with her parents. When Philip can’t convince her that it’s exactly the wrong move if she’s trying to avoid suspicion, he plays the only card left in his deck. As Martha watches, Clark removes his glasses, hair pins, and wig, revealing the much younger Philip Jennings underneath. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, and it’s one that’s almost reminiscent of a horror movie reveal as Martha watches in silent terror, tears streaming down her face, as Philip pulls off the last physical vestiges of the lie. The one thing that kept Martha going throughout the Taffet investigation was the belief that, despite Clark’s lies about his work, they still loved each other. Finally, Martha sees that Clark isn’t even a real person – in any sense of the word – as the man she loved physically changes before her eyes. Poor, poor Martha. How much better her life would have been if she’d just never gotten involved with Philip at all. I’m not exactly sure what Philip’s endgame is here, but the truth between he and Martha has never been clearer.

In the episode’s final minutes, several family strands from the season begin to intertwine. Elizabeth’s mother is still dying in Moscow, and Philip has been adamant that Elizabeth get to see her one last time. It seems that Elizabeth is finally determined to follow his advice and return to the Soviet Union. And in a bid for Paige to interact with her real relatives, she offers Paige the option to go with her. Will they actually go? The episode ends without giving us an answer, but I tend to think that they actually will. The real question is just how they’ll pull it off.

The Americans is obviously diving headfirst into its finale next week, and there’s so many questions still to answer. What will happen with Martha? Will Elizabeth and Paige go to Russia? What happens to Lisa and Maurice? Will Nina make it back to the US? What about Kimmie? Is Zinaida still spying for the Soviet Union?

Next week’s finale is titled “March 8, 1983,” which coincides with the date of President Reagan’s famous “Evil Empire” speech. With such an important Cold War date anchoring the episode, hopefully our answers are just a week away.

The Dead Drop

  • There was another subplot with Arkady wanting to abandon Project Zephyr, the mail robot wire-tap. Oleg and Tatiana talk him out of abandoning the project so quickly, fearing that it will damage his career.
  • It’s a great week for wigs and disguises! Multiples of each for both Philip and Elizabeth.
  • I love the way Stan tells off Super-Agent Aderholt for trying to interrogate Stan about his relationship with Nina. How has Aderholt not gotten punched in the face yet?
  • Describing The King of Comedy as a “Jerry Lewis movie” is technically accurate, but horribly misleading, Tatiana.
  • Poor Henry is still sitting on the Jennings family couch, waiting for someone in the writers’ room to give him a reason to exist. Did his hidden bikini pictures of Sandra Beeman ever have a point? For such a well written show, he continues to be a huge flaw.
  • Martha still has to pull that pistol on somebody before this season is over, right?
  • Margo Martindale steals every scene she’s in, no matter how small. Now that The Millers is cancelled can’t the show bring her on full time? PLEASE!?!?! [Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the very busy Martindale has ALREADY signed onto a new pilot. But I’m hoping we haven’t seen the last of her!]

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