The Americans: Chloramphenicol
April 7, 2016 4:59 AM - Season 4, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Philip, Elizabeth, William, and Gabriel have thoughts about loyalty. Stan looks at an apartment. Martha goes on a date. Nina is transferred. Oleg makes a deal with his father.
posted by Thorzdad (43 comments total)
 
When I saw the mop and bucket sitting in the corner in the room Nina was being taken to, I just knew nothing good was about to happen. That's a great bit of staging and foreshadowing, putting an innocuous prop there that speaks so loudly. Even then, though, I kept hoping that scene wouldn't end the way it did. Still, I was stunned when it happened.

This was easily one of the best episodes this show has done.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 AM on April 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I was absolutely stunned by Nina's death, even though I've known for a while that her story was probably going to end that way. Are we supposed to interpret the scenes with Oleg that he chose America over Nina's life or that nothing could be done because she was a traitor?

Nina is the first major character (as in, been in more than a couple of episodes, and/or been around since the first season) that's been killed off right?

Philip and Elizabeth's scenes were just so great. Their relationship is such the core of the show. Philip's worried face as Elizabeth was sick really struck me. Keri and Matthew are just so good.

I am a bit disappointed that this supposedly terrible disease was treatable with antibiotic shots and you're almost better overnight? Takes away from the scariness of it a little.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:29 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Could it be that Gabriel was only lightly dosed? Or, it's the sort of virus which, if you get treatment started early enough in the cycle, there's a good chance of recovery? Personally, I was hoping Gabriel was killed by Claudia. Oh well...
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on April 7, 2016


Well if it was a virus those antibiotics wouldn't have worked at all!

Yeah I guess it could be that if you get treatment after immediate exposure then its recoverable.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:19 AM on April 7, 2016


Nina's death was inevitable, but like Oleg and Stan, I'd gotten caught up in the idea she was savable even though she was caught in the Soviet system. Also: Oleg's father is really cold-blooded. (I totally think he not only didn't try to save Nina, but was involved in consigning her to death.)

I feel bad for Martha, up there on her tightrope. She's doing the best she can but is really not prepared for the personal con aspects of the job. I don't think she even saw the look on Adeholt's face when she told him she was dating a married man - and how it was so great. It was such an interesting combination of wish fulfillment, reality, lies, and protective wall instead of a more tactical lie to keep him at a distance.

Stan searching Martha's apartment was interesting. Did she get rid of her photos of Clark? He found her gun (which ... not that surprising), and fingered her stuff, but it didn't feel like his free-floating ball of suspicion got any more defined.
posted by julen at 7:50 AM on April 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I didn't see Nina's death coming, and I felt blindsided by how quickly it happened ("shortly" indeed), especially after her dream about freedom. I'm glad the creators had the courage to follow her story to a truthful end. Nina being saved after twice transgressing wouldn't have been realistic, even if Oleg's father tried to exercise his influence.

Martha has evolved so much from the first season. She used to be treated like such a silly character, a dupe even. Now, she's still an amateur double agent, but her low-level of panic and resignation make her scenes so tense. The delivery of her speech was wonderful, too.

Elizabeth giving her blessing to Philip to become American with the kids after her death felt like a big shift for her character.
posted by gladly at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


If it's the stuff from the Altoids tin, it's not a virus. Wikipedia to the rescue! Glanders disease is caused by Burkholderia mallei, a bacterium. Untreated, it can kill within days. I guess quick diagnosis would be the tricky part (a horse disease eradicated in the forties isn't going to be many urban doctors' first guess), but since they already knew what they were dealing with, they knew all they needed was an aggressive course of antibiotics immediately.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


There's also that I don't believe the tin was kept refrigerated. When we last saw it in the previous episode, it was sitting on the mantel in Gabriel's place. It was stressed earlier that it had to remain refrigerated. So, perhaps the bacteria was degraded?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2016


Oh! Oh! Oh! Didja see who overheard Stan talking to whassisname about suspecting Martha? Mail Robot: Super Spy! (Is it still working for the KGB?)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:58 AM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh! Oh! Oh! Didja see who overheard Stan talking to whassisname about suspecting Martha? Mail Robot: Super Spy!

And, speaking of bugged technology...I can't believe Liz and Phil have the computer up and running and didn't go through the thing, looking for bugs. They know how their government works, after all...
posted by Thorzdad at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2016


Didn't Gabriel give them the computer? For the kids? I could be remembering that incorrectly...
posted by pearlybob at 12:42 PM on April 7, 2016


Yup.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2016


Yep. Which is exactly they should go through the thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:24 PM on April 7, 2016


Brutal last scene. My thoughts during that scene:

"Her appeal is denied, but he said shortly, so Oleg's father can still... "

BLAM!!

"...... "

"Fuck..."
posted by Pendragon at 1:50 PM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ahhhhh... Good point.
posted by pearlybob at 1:50 PM on April 7, 2016


BTW, Walking Dead ? This is how you kill a character.
posted by Pendragon at 2:05 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I didn't really like the Nina storyline -- I was waiting for it to somehow collide with the America story -- but at least it was coherent. I have a feeling Oleg's father ordered her execution and he's going to tell Oleg she was "transferred to a nice comfortable place where they will treat her well, but you can't see her."

I'm surprised Gabriel lived, I thought he'd die for sure.

I'm doubtful about "handling" Pastor Tim and his gossipy wife. But the writers handled Paige's character really well, and I think it ended up making her closer to her parents because she helped them manage a crisis.
posted by mmoncur at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought the Russia storylines were just sort of weirdly out there this season, but seeing the results of both kidnapping the scientist and what happens to a Soviet who betrays the USSR makes for a wider perspective on what Phillip and Elizabeth - and Stan! - do. I like seeing the byzantine way the Soviet Union works - and how it is struggling - as background for Phillip and Elizabeth's struggles and successes - whether it's Oleg's father making deals with his son to keep him close at hand, Arkady realizing the limits of his power/access at the Consulate, or the increasing criticality/emergency of the demands on Phillip and Elizabeth.
posted by julen at 3:28 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


But the writers handled Paige's character really well, and I think it ended up making her closer to her parents because she helped them manage a crisis.

I agree. I really loved that moment at the bowling alley, when Paige and Elizabeth were able to share a private joke about bowling and spy training.
posted by Superplin at 3:54 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I didn't happen to find out that the show was airing on Wednesday rather than Thursday until early this evening. Grrr.

The hit on Tim and Alice was cancelled, and Elizabeth takes a surprise psychological turn. I don't know if I buy this. Alice is a gossip -- there's no telling whether she's already told people or not. The Jennings really ought to run.

William seems like a somewhat decent guy after all, given the thorough and gentle care he took of Gabriel and Elizabeth and the honesty with which he spoke to Philip and Gabriel. The mordant sense of humour is a veneer.

Martha couldn't have come up with a better lie if Philip had been advising her and/or if she knew Stan was going to search her place. Her affair with a married man story makes sense of everything he found at her place and will keep Aderholt from pursuing her romantically. I could see his disappointment in her -- he won't see her as someone he wants to date now. Which is tragic, because, had Philip never entered Martha's life, Aderholt could have been the man she married, and he does seem like a catch.

Stan seemed to pick up on some suspicious vibes from Henry and Paige. He may lose interest in Martha as a suspect now but start eyeing Philip and Elizabeth again.

I so much did not want Nina to die that even after she was lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood I thought perhaps she wasn't really dead, perhaps this was another dream.

I hope Oleg ends up finding out the truth about how his father kept his end of the deal, and goes back to America.

Did anyone else think the height differential between the actor who plays Oleg and the actor who plays his father didn't make for a particularly happy casting choice?
posted by orange swan at 5:33 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nina being saved after twice transgressing wouldn't have been realistic, even if Oleg's father tried to exercise his influence.

This is true. Nina's story is based on a very similar real life account of an American-based KGB staffer who was sending money home to his family and blackmailed into spying for the Americans just as Nina was. The actual KGB agent was caught, shipped back to Russia, tried, and executed. Nina's story differs a little in that she turned herself in and worked as a triple agent, which meant she survived a little longer, but in the end her story could only end the same way, because even a slight subsequent transgression would seal her fate.
posted by orange swan at 5:44 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


William seems like a somewhat decent guy after all, given the thorough and gentle care he took of Gabriel and Elizabeth and the honesty with which he spoke to Philip and Gabriel. The mordant sense of humour is a veneer.

He is so totally dead though, right? I mean, he knows their names. He knows their children's names. He knows their handler's address. They know where he lives, they know he has no dependents, and they know that maybe this biological warfare business isn't worth the hassle. (The Rezidentura would probably disagree on that point, but the "suicide" of a turncoat is explained away easily enough; they're recruited in the first place because they're dissatisfied and have nothing to lose, and it's not a huge leap from there to suicide.) They have every reason to kill him and no especially compelling reason not to.

That said, Dylan Baker is by all outward appearances a regular cast member now. His name's on the front, even. So maybe he just gets sucked in deeper?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:07 PM on April 7, 2016


This was easily one of the best episodes this show has done.

I agree. I mean, it's always excellent, especially in how it lets its women characters be fleshed-out people, but this was a standout in that respect and in general. Martha, you fucking badass! This is a woman who is supposed to be in a partnership but is actually hung out to dry whenever it counts, and she's so isolated and has experienced so much disappointment, but she's also clever and self-sufficient and practical.

Her speech about the benefits of dating a married man was JUST. FANTASTIC. not only by showing us so much about her viewpoints and inner life but as an absolutely logical and reasonable real-life perspective on dating and women's experiences of it that you just never ever hear on TV, in movies, etc. I almost gave it a standing ovation here in my living room.

Nina is sort of the other side of that coin -- she's pretty much an ABC Afterschool Special on how the patriarchy sucks emotional labor out of women until they're husks, and then (usually figuratively) shoots 'em in the head. We knew, and she knew, her days were numbered when the note was found. And she already knew what a precarious state she was in when she got the Cozy Up to Scientist gig but just could not stop herself from being kind and generous and empathetic, which yeah, we could argue is a wonderful noble thing, especially after all she's been through, but it's always about shoring up the guys, isn't it? to the direct detriment of self-preservation.

Which sort of helps to account for Elizabeth's chilly self-contained persona. Is she the warmest, fuzziest person we know? No, but that doesn't mean she lacks emotions as we have seen in snippets here and there and then a lot in this ep. At least she has some workable survival skills, and lord knows it's better to be proactively guarded than a freaking deer in the headlights like poor Nina. I do buy the (fairly gradual and minor) changes in Elizabeth's behavior and attitudes because I think they're earned -- as part of her increasing emotional attachment to Philip since the show started and especially in the development of her relationship with Paige in conjunction with her mother's death. The fact that she's learning to consider other viewpoints and be a little freer with her emotions doesn't mean she's not also still a rigid emotionally stunted true believer; it's interesting to see all those qualities churning around together in her.

Two especially enjoyable bits of this episode were: a) defusing the whole Pastor Tim assassination thing by cancelling it in the first 30 seconds rather than relying on it to generate suspense (Martha's dinner was a much more effective and character-driven one) when there was already plenty of tension inherent to the quarantine and Paige being worried; and b) taking a little time to let us get to know more about William and Gabriel. A lot of shows just don't give enough of a shit about their minor side characters to make them interesting or multi-faceted like that, but a great show does.

(The house configuration establishing shot still bugged me when Henry went to borrow milk from Stan, though.)
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


He is so totally dead though, right? I mean, he knows their names. He knows their children's names. He knows their handler's address. They know where he lives, they know he has no dependents, and they know that maybe this biological warfare business isn't worth the hassle.

Part of me wants William to slip Gabriel a hypo of something not an antibiotic and kill him in off, then run for the hills.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:18 PM on April 7, 2016


I agree. I really loved that moment at the bowling alley, when Paige and Elizabeth were able to share a private joke about bowling and spy training.

Complete with Boris and Natasha accent -- I loved it!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:21 PM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


He is so totally dead though, right? I mean, he knows their names. He knows their children's names. He knows their handler's address.

William's a Russian illegal like Philip and Elizabeth, isn't he?, not an American asset, so it's OK for him to know that stuff. Like it was OK for P&E and Emmett and Leanne to know each other. Or did I misunderstand that? I thought Gabriel referred to William as "one of our people" or something when he gave P&E the job of working with him.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:29 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I definitely got the idea that William is a long-standing KGB operative, whatever his background might be. He might be an illegal -- didn't Gabriel say William had had a partner but that it hadn't worked out? He's way too valuable to be killed off as long as he's still obeying orders which he seems to be, so I don't think we need worry about him.
posted by orange swan at 7:44 PM on April 7, 2016


I think Oleg's father expedited Nina's execution because he saw how much Oleg cared about her and he didn't want his son to be seen as aligned with a traitor. He didn't want to lose his second son.
posted by matildaben at 7:47 PM on April 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Hmmm. Maybe y'all are right about William. I think I might recall something like that. He was definitely an old asset, assigned to Elizabeth and Philip after he'd been around awhile, but I don't remember if he was himself an Illegal or just reported to them.

Aaaand I've deleted that episode off my DVR. Of course. Sigh.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:20 PM on April 7, 2016


Excellent episode all around. I'm interested to find out if they actually did manage to call off the hit on Pastor Tim and Blabmouth - if the call went out too late and he's dead, and P&E spent a weekend mysteriously away....
posted by coriolisdave at 9:10 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh man, if the hit went through. . . shit would get real chez Jennings. Much as I would like Pastor Tim to die, I'd be sort of disappointed because the prospect of P&E, especially Elizabeth, having to make nicey-nice to work this total dick she utterly loathes who could ruin their life, is just full of delicious grim comedy potential.

Also, LENE LOVICH at the bowling alley!
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:30 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq: The line from Glanders where Gabriel introduces William is "One of us has been getting American samples of pathogens for many years." And later in the episode William says "Gabriel and his friends at the Center have been waiting my whole goddamned life for this." So I'm pretty sure he's an Illegal too.
posted by mmoncur at 4:43 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Pastor Tim and his wife die in a car accident, hit by lightning, whatever, and Stan is all over it b/c of the connection between Paige and Pastor Tim.
posted by mlis at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Loved this episode. Particularly struck by Philip and Elizabeth's growing acceptance that they have different goals in their fucked up lives, but they are in it together and compromise for each other. Elizabeth's a true believer in the mission and Philip just wants to his family to be safe and happy. And they both know and accept that about each other.

I was a bit chilled with Elizabeth asking Philip "what does EST think about death?", particularly coming on the heels of William's comments about religion. Is she going to embrace EST? Given her zealotry I could imagine her going all-in on that. (And boy EST is a brilliant choice of a plot device, particularly for the era. Sort of a cult but not really. And a bridge from the New Age 70s to the Reagan era.)

I'm confused at the structure of killing Nina here, in episode 4 of the season. Usually you kill off a character at the end of a season, or very rarely at the beginning of a new one. What was the point of showing more of her and Anton? I guess we've planted more of a story for Oleg, maybe now he has a real reason to hate Mother Russia? I'm sad Nina didn't get to have a bit more agency on her way out.
posted by Nelson at 8:25 AM on April 10, 2016


Orange swan, do you have a cite for this? I would most curious to read this story.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:13 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq: That said, Dylan Baker is by all outward appearances a regular cast member now. His name's on the front, even. So maybe he just gets sucked in deeper?

With the exception of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, all the names in the title credits are in alphabetical order of last name.
posted by techSupp0rt at 12:15 PM on April 11, 2016


No, by "on the front," I mean in the opening titles at all. Shows generally don't do that for characters that are in three or four episodes and then disappear. So if he's up there, it would appear that he's a full-on series regular rather than merely a recurring character.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:36 PM on April 11, 2016


Orange swan, I also would be interested in reading about a real-life Nina, if you happen across the article again.
posted by blueberry at 12:03 AM on April 12, 2016


Orange swan may be referring to a story from the book Farewell written by Sergei Kostin, who is a consultant on the show.
posted by Falconetti at 12:52 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Martha came up with a great story. I love that she's totally turned. And I love that she's married to Philip now rather than Clark.

I thought maybe Oleg's father was helping her from receiving decades of torture in a gulag. From his perspective, perhaps that's helping. I was surprised they killed her in the fourth episode of the season. Seems like her arc should have finished last season.

OTOH, doesn't the FBI still have Oleg on tape admitting treasonous acts? Could this season be about Oleg's downfall? Perhaps Nina's death is to show that his father can't help traitors no matter what.

So many threads from last season haven't been addressed. Kimmey? The woman from AA?
posted by about_time at 6:55 AM on June 21, 2016


I wondered during the dinner scene if Martha might really think Clark is married in addition to being a spy - I mean she does work with several agents and knows they all generally get to go home to their wives most nights.

Nina's death was really shocking and I too wondered at first if it was another dream. I was almost grateful that it was so quick because I was already dreading the execution scene. Why didn't she take the money and run when she was still back in the U.S.?
posted by bunderful at 4:17 PM on May 19, 2018


I didn't care for the dream sequence, it was a bit too much, but other than that I thought this was the best episode of the series.

If it turns out that they didn't stop the assassination of Pastor Tim and wife I'll be pissed, that's Three's Company level plot mechanics.

Elizabeth giving Phillip her blessing to become "real Americans" if she died was touching, to me it signals a fundamental shift in her loyalty from the Motherland to her family. Not that she wants to give up the fight for The Cause, but that she wont'

I love the fact that while he is a terrible person overall, Stan is his best self when he gets to play uncle to Henry, which lets him get back the time he lost with his own son that he lost to his deep cover gig. Of course, just like the job with the FBI cost him his marriage and his relationship with his son, it will probably ultimately cause him to lose Henry as well. Tough break.

Martha on the phone--damn that was a good scene. Then she follows it up with the mind-blowing dinner scene with the genuinely nice agent who could have become her true love if Phillip hadn't gone ahead and ruined her life.

There are sooo many good opportunities for E&P to work the Tim and Alice. They just have to convince them that their work is something with a noble bent that a left-leaning church like theirs would be sympathetic too, like stealing agricultural secrets to help feed poor Russians.
posted by skewed at 11:38 AM on August 4, 2018


Further confirmation that William is an illegal: when E&P first sat down with him on the park bench, some of his first words to them were "Where's Gabriel?" Gabriel is a handler for illegals, so William wouldn't be expecting Gabriel otherwise. And the thread of him starting out with a partner and it not working out gets picked up in this episode with the things he says to Philip about being so lucky to have a partner, someone he can talk to about the work they do.
posted by mabelstreet at 5:02 PM on June 29


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