Wednesday, April 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - The FBI and the KGB are on the Hunt for Martha as She Spirals in 'Travel Agents'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.07 "Travel Agents"

The KGB and the FBI both race to track down a vital agent. Everything is at stake.

Martha has always been an interesting, important and complex character on The Americans. She served as the entry point into the FBI for Philip and Elizabeth. That's a relationship that has ebbed and flowed over the course of the series. Sometimes it takes so much focus and attention because Martha needs to believe Clark is still committed to this relationship. Other times, Philip and Elizabeth have been allowed to worry about other things. And yet, the two of them haven't been able to sit still this season. They've been handling threats coming from so many different places. Right now, the most pressing concern comes from Martha as she has an epic breakdown and needs to be pulled out of the FBI. Her work for them is done. They need to transition her to the next stage of her life in Russia. But that's such a daunting task that is dramatized phenomenally throughout "Travel Agents." This is a high intensity episode where anything can happen to Martha. It's thrilling and exhilarating with its uncertainty. But it too follows through on the inevitability of the situation largely going unchanged while the personal dynamics have changed so much.

It's a testament to Alison Wright's work over these past four seasons that Martha is such a great and multi-dimensional character. Martha could easily be seen as the victim of her circumstances. A woman being manipulated by a man for information. And yet, the show has truly delved into the nuances of this situation. She is a woman desperate for human connection. That desire was manipulated by the KGB due to her proximity to power. Clark entered her world promising so much love and affection. It was truly the happiest she has ever been in her life. She had control in their relationship as well. She has never really been a character to just sit back and accept what Clark has asked of her. She has questioned his motives. She has felt the immense guilt over the consequences of her actions. But she still enjoyed this time together with Clark because he made her feel special in a way that no one else has ever done before.

That's why it was so devastating to her when she awoke in the safe house and Clark wasn't there. She was in an uncertain environment with a stranger. Clark felt like a stranger as well. This season he has been aloof. He's been that way in order to protect her. But his actions have damaged what was once a really happy and healthy relationship. She pushed for him to be more open and honest with her and he has slowly delivered on those promises. He has revealed himself to her in a really genuine way. Most of the time that was to control her and keep the relationship operational. He was truthful with her just so she wouldn't spiral and expose his cover to the FBI. But now, that openness is coming back to hurt him. She flees the safe house to make sense of what her world has become just as both the FBI and the KGB are desperately looking for her. She could cause so much damage to Philip and Elizabeth if Stan and Aderholt get their hands on her first. She knows so much about them - even though she doesn't know the full extent of their operation. She's the person who can connect all of the pieces of this puzzle together. So, it's a terrifying idea that she is out in the world doing absolutely anything.

Philip has to wrestle with the fact that he's the reason why Martha chose to leave in the first place. He decided to meet with William and collect his experimental rat. That forced Martha into action. And now, he just has to sit back and wait for others to bring her back in. Sitting next to the phone actually works though. Martha is spiraling out in the city. She's not sure what she wants to do. It's a truly gripping and moving performance throughout the hour. It feels like she is saying goodbye to her parents when she calls them. And then, she truly questions whether or not she still wants to live in this world. That's dark material the show doesn't shy away from. The FBI is closing in on her location. However, Martha survives because she reaches out to Clark one last time. It's only because he answers the phone and comforts her that she is willing to come back in. Once again, it's the promise of the truth on Philip's part that gets Martha to do whatever he wants her to do.

Of course, the situation intensifies once more when Elizabeth is the agent who has to pick Martha up at the park. She just happens to be closer to the area than Philip. Philip had promised Martha that he would be the one to rescue her from this horrifying situation. So, Martha isn't sure what to think when Elizabeth shows up instead. It's a complication of emotions due to unforeseen circumstances. Elizabeth is much more brutal with her handling of Martha than Philip. She is willing to kill her before the FBI can get their hands on her. She literally has to drag and threaten her to get her to return to the safe house. And yet, it works. It's a harsh method but it's still effective. Philip and Martha are allowed to have that truly honest chat with each other for the first time. Elizabeth just has to stand aside and watch as the man she loves the most in this world gives a part of himself to another woman. It's hard for her to handle. All she has to do is return home and act like a family with Paige and Henry. Meanwhile, Philip has to deal with the burden of getting Martha out of the country.

This entire time Martha has believed that she and Clark would be leaving the United States together. No matter what happened, they would be together to face it. And yet, that has never been the plan at all. Everyone has just been planning to exfiltrate one person out of the country. Philip being brutally honest with her in that regard is what ultimately convinces her not to run again. It's a powerful scene between the two of them. Their dynamic has changed in such a short period of time. Philip is still struggling with how he truly feels about Martha. Sure, it's a little weird that Elizabeth wonders if he would be willing to return to Russia with Martha and leave the family behind. She knows that Philip loves the United States more than she does. But it also makes sense because of his deep connection to Martha. He reveals his true name to her. That's a level of genuine connection that took Philip and Elizabeth a decade to establish. And yet, Philip is staying committed to the cause and his family. He's going to put Martha on that plane and say goodbye to her forever. It's a harsh reality for Martha to accept. It's not how she pictured any of this happening. But Philip's honesty convinces her that it will all be okay eventually. It's still a heavily fraught situation. Martha isn't out of the country just yet. The plan is in place for her to leave shortly. But the FBI still have plenty of opportunities to find a lead and intervene before it's too late. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Travel Agents" was written by Tanya Barfield and directed by Dan Attias.
  • Stan and Gaad need to find Martha in order to prove to their superiors that they are still capable of being in charge of this office. The evidence is starting to pile up against them - considering the number of moles that have been found and the level of infiltration they've had. 
  • Gaad hits his rock bottom when he discovers that Martha and Clark got married a few years ago. It shows just how deep and committed the KGB are to this mission and how massively he screwed up as a result.
  • Stan is so close to capturing Martha too. That park was just a little too big for him to scan all of it before Elizabeth was able to get to Martha. He had the right idea in thinking that she may have committed suicide. But it still wasn't enough to get her back into his custody.
  • The FBI have a tap on the phone at Martha's parents' house. With the revelation that Martha was married, perhaps the next lead they should pursue is asking her parents if they ever met Clark and could provide them with another description or anything they can remember about him?
  • The scene between Paige, Henry and Matthew just randomly pops up in the middle of the episode. It does stop the wonderful tension of the hour a little bit. It really wasn't necessary to see all of them bonding as they share some of Stan's beers. Though it's not surprising given the lack of parental supervision they all have.
  • Tatiana is still being mysterious and cryptic about the missions she is also running out of the Rezidentura. She is connected to the Directorate S program - making notes of William's vile needing to get out of the country safely. But it still doesn't quite feel like a story building to anything.
  • The show doesn't have the strongest track record at the Emmy Awards. But nothing would make me happier than seeing Alison Wright get nominated this year. She has been terrific.