The Americans: Travel Agents
April 27, 2016 9:04 PM - Season 4, Episode 7 - Subscribe

The FBI and the KGB search for Martha while she takes a walk in the park. Oleg and Tatiana plan a circuitous shipping route. Philip has some cold borscht, Paige, Henry, and Matthew enjoy a cold beverage at the Beeman residence, and William's rat chills out.
posted by orange swan (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Holy cow..... I adore Martha so much.... Allison Wright just plays her to perfection... The emotions that were portrayed.... her struggle.... Ahhh!! I was in tears!!
posted by pearlybob at 3:31 AM on April 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

If anyone's interested in reading some good reviews of The Americans, I always find The AV Club's and Vox's posts very worthwhile.

That poor switchboard operator seemed so terribly isolated. I wonder if she has any personal life at all.

I was thinking as Philip ate his borscht that Philip and Elizabeth would have had to give up even the familiar and probably comforting Russian foods they loved when they came to the U.S. Remember their excitement over the caviar Stan gave them? I could never spy for Canada if it meant giving up bacon.

Does anyone want to start an "Does Agent Gaad still have a job?" pool? It looks so bad for him, and they haven't even found the Mail Robot bug yet.

It's almost a relief to see that Henry can be attracted to a female who is relatively age appropriate for him.

I cringed for Martha when her co-workers were fine combing her apartment, right down to her tampons. And there was nothing there, but now her entire former workplace knows she was into the Kama Sutra. Leave it to Stan to zero in on the one relevant piece of data they found: the picture of Martha and her parents at the Taft bridge. Killer instincts there, Beeman.

If Alison Wright doesn't get an Emmy for this season, I am going to be very cross. Her panic, her grief, her mistrust, her devastation... it was all so palpable. And now she knows that her marriage wasn't real, that she's going to be totally alone in a strange country with a terrible repressive government where she doesn't even speak the language... at best. It's still questionable whether the Soviets actually intend to take care of her. Arkady and Oleg seem to believe that's what they're doing, but Tatiana seemed to be operating on a higher level. I want Martha to get safely to Russia and have a relatively decent life there teaching English, to hook up with some rugged Slavic type with a heart of gold who loves her so much that the broken pieces of her heart grow together again, and to have a couple of cute, dimply babies with him. I want a Martha in Moscow spinoff. But I'm afraid she won't survive, or if she does, that she is too crushed to carry on and will simply sink into depression and addiction. Even the collapse of the USSR won't help her, because she can never return to the U.S.

Incidentally, Tatiana and Oleg's travel arrangement busywork felt like some kind of esoteric KGB-style foreplay.

Some people, both in these FanFare discussions and in the other online discussions I've read, claim that Philip loves Martha. I have never thought that he did. He certainly cares about her, but that's largely because he feels terrible about what he's done to her. He wants her to be safe and to have a good life and he's willing to do whatever it takes to protect her. He also refuses to lie to her for the sake of his work any longer. But despite the fact that he did have moments of genuine emotional connection with her, I never saw any sign that he took any real pleasure or satisfaction out of his relationship with her. Just think about the scenes showing Philip interacting with Elizabeth and the kids, where he seems so alive and engaged and happy and has fun, as compared to those with Martha, where he seems to be dutifully going through the tedious motions. He never seemed to enjoy having sex with her, and do you remember that heavy sigh he gave when he told Elizabeth he was going to go to Martha's that night -- and Elizabeth's little satisfied smile? Philip loves Elizabeth and his real life is and will always be lived with her. I don't think he'll even miss Martha, though he will always want her to be safe and hope that she is happy, or at least coping. And that isn't love -- that's guilt.
posted by orange swan at 7:52 AM on April 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I agree Philip doesn't feel romantic love towards Martha. He clearly has an emotional connection, and (justifiably) feels terrible guilt at what's happening to her, but I don't believe he was ever dreaming of a life with her.

It definitely looks really bad for Gaad. If/when it comes out that the Russian agents responsible for almost everything are Stan's neighbors and friends, it's not going to look so good for him either...
posted by Pryde at 10:15 AM on April 28, 2016

Sepinwall's review is also worth checking out.
posted by General Malaise at 12:02 PM on April 28, 2016

The repetition of image of the "dead rat" and Tatiana's coded message about how they had a sample to ship out left me thinking: The rat? or Martha? I mean, I know it was code for Martha, but she's basically a dead rat I'd bet.
posted by CMcG at 6:31 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

And we didnt think PoorMartha could get any PoorMartha-ier...

The sketch that didnt look like Martha? I think the point of that bit was that Clark sketch didnt look like the guy Stan knows. Doesnt even look like the Clark disguise.

I feel sorry for almost everyone on this show. Everyone is the star of their own tragedy. I mean, Matthew, give a beer to that poor lady, Switchboard Sarah, who lives alone and worries about her predecessor's fate.

Also, for the hellofit, The Americans credits as an 80s sitcom.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:36 PM on April 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I loved the terrible symmetry when Martha asked Elizabeth "Are you sleeping with my husband?".

This is another great season of one of the best shows on TV.
posted by monotreme at 9:15 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

This season, and especially the last few weeks, these episodes flow into each other so much this is like watching a movie over several weeks. I wish they could just release them all Netflix style!

I loved the part where Gabriel looks at the rat and goes "Welp. Better put this in the freezer."

Despite how much his face bothers me for uncanny-valley reasons, and I want to dislike him, Stan has been right on about Martha. I thought it was cute though when they found out she was married to Clark and he was like "But..ok..maybe...there is something romantic about this? Anything?" Like Stan you have been suspicious of Martha from the get-go, don't start walking it back now.

I also thought it was funny when Matthew was like "He's an FBI agent..we start drinking all his beers, that he'll notice..." Ominous!
posted by bleep at 11:23 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Despite my toddler asleep upstairs, I yelled in frustration when the end credits came up and nothing was resolved with Martha for this episode. We're still in the "will she kill herself, will they kill her, or will the FBI get her?" limbo that we were in at the end of the last episode.
I'm not saying the episode wasn't important or valuable or excellent, because of course it was all of those things. And of course the decision to leave us hanging again was a specific choice they made, and I respect that. I still yelled.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:28 AM on April 29, 2016

AV Club refers to the bridge in the show as the Taft Bridge in DC, but that doesn't seem right to me at all. Unfortunately the captions weren't working when we watched it on Amazon, so I missed most of the place names. Can anyone confirm this?
posted by aabbbiee at 7:42 AM on April 29, 2016

Oh, it was shot at Croton Gorge Park in New York. No wonder I couldn't place it.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:49 AM on April 29, 2016

Really? They must have done a lot of CGI work to it. Didn't look like Croton at all.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:58 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sepinwall mentioned it in his review, linked above.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:33 AM on April 29, 2016

When the Attorney General was trying to get Stan to "use the tape" against Oleg, what tape was he talking about? I just assumed that he meant that Stan had been taping all his meetings with Oleg and they wanted to threaten to discredit Oleg with the Rezidentura by revealing that he had been meeting with the FBI all along, but I couldn't remember if there was a more specific tape they were referring to.
posted by matildaben at 3:40 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's the tape of Oleg telling Stan that he just got confirmation the woman defector Zinaida was really a spy, after Oleg was in the meeting where he heard the Centre's announcement that all threats of assassination now had to be approved locally. In other words, it's Oleg admitting that he and Stan worked together to flush out Zinaida in hopes of trading her for Nina.
posted by mediareport at 8:11 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

The two moments that really got to me this episode:

- Philip's face when Martha notes she'll be alone again, just as she was before.

- Martha's father on the other end of the line...god, I was weeping.

Allison Wright is a genius.

(That shot of all three kids on the couch was the epitome of "I am an awkward teenager." Is Paige going to fall for Stan's son? I'm kind of digging his attitude.)
posted by sallybrown at 11:45 AM on April 30, 2016

I too thought there was something subtly flirtatious foreplay-esque about Tatiana and Oleg's interactions, too. There was a hint of danger in the beginning when he looked at the folder she closed before him (Will he sneak a peak? He is curious), the honesty he couldn't get a pilot, her rescuing him with her backup pilot from another mystery operation, he gives her credit before Arkady, the putative power at the Embassy (although I suspect Tatiana has as much, if not more), and then when she is reporting back to the Centre (I thought she meant the rat with the sample, because the USSR cares FAR more about testing the rat's organs/tissue than they do about putting up Martha for the rest of her life) there's a long pause when she could be reporting that Oleg did not complete a task or that his enthusiasm is dulled but does not.

Oh, Gad. Oh, Martha. Gosh, Allison Wright is SO SO good, but I don't see Martha lasting a month. Even if the USSR takes her all the way to Moscow, she'd commit suicide. But it'd be easier for the KGB to kill her en route. Cuba'd be useful place for it.

Didn't Paige have a crush on Stan's son in S1? I wouldn't be surprised if the show revisited that just to torture Paige a bit more. Her parents are certainly being stretched in every way possible.

I don't think Phillip is in love with Martha, but I think he likes her - in a way he doesn't like most of his targets and cons. That's partially because of the intimacy demanded by the situation and Martha, and I think he really connected with how her isolation pre-Clark made her lonely and a bit empty. In some ways, he feels like he's in her footprints, and he'd want honesty, so he's going to give it to her. I think he's very aware of how much he's ruined her life.

I thought Stan's interest in WHY Martha married Clark was thinking at a deeper level than most of the rest of the FBI. He wanted to know HOW the KGB tapped into Martha. Knowing how they worked allows him to better understand his prey. Gad doesn't care about that as much as fixing what has gone wrong on his watch. So Stan wondering first if it was a romantic connection versus a strategic long-term plan to infiltrate the FBI says to me that he's making progress on understanding who the hidden agents are + how they operate.

I think Gad has a job as long as they are making progress toward finding Martha/the agents. I think he'll be fired as soon as the search falters and fails or until they are successful. As soon as the threat is resolved - that the Soviet agents are caught or dead - the FBI will fire/retire/reassign him to Idaho SO FAST.
posted by julen at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2016

...there's a long pause when she could be reporting that Oleg did not complete a task or that his enthusiasm is dulled but does not.

I read that as a long pause where Tatiana could be reporting that there will be a passenger on the plane along with the dead rat, but does not. The steno guy sending the message even asks her if there's more (I figured he knew about Martha) and when she declines to add anything about Martha to the message I took it as the first clear signal that Phillip's bosses have no intention of shipping Martha to Moscow.
posted by mediareport at 3:28 PM on April 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree that Philip doesn't love Martha, but he does like her, similar to the way he liked Analise. He ended up getting her killed, and doesn't want that to happen again. Philip doesn't have the best track record with his assets.
posted by twoporedomain at 8:09 PM on April 30, 2016

I think that EST had an effect on Philip. It got him to confront some of the human costs of not being authentic and stirred up needs and drives toward authenticity that he's never been aware of and can't completely control, and that's why he keeps breaking out into honesty with Martha. I see this as another resonance with the infidelity theme, in line with Esther Perel's idea that infidelity is often driven by the need to express other aspects of one's self, that can't be lived in the marriage,

I took Stan's hypothesizing about Clark and Martha maybe just falling in love to be the wishful thinking he had about Nina.
posted by Sublimity at 4:20 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Philip's relationship with Martha was almost entirely a lie, and the moment he began to be honest with her marked the end of their marriage. But you might be right about the EST. Philip could have been dishonest with Martha a little longer, as Elizabeth urged him to do, for the sake of the mission, but he refused to be. Philip has been quietly going to pieces for some time now and has begun to set limits on what he's willing to do for the KGB in an effort to save something of his integrity and his life. The KGB won't allow that, so I think the next threat Philip and Elizabeth will face will be Philip himself.
posted by orange swan at 9:20 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I appreciated when Paige walked in on the boys' drinking and you think she's going to be the grown up again, but instead decides "fuck it, I need a goddman beer." Glad she got to be a teenager again for a change.
posted by dry white toast at 12:17 PM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Henry's disgruntlement with the beer drinking incident was pretty funny. There he was, trying to have a moment of being so grown up, drinking beer and hanging out with a much older cool guy, but he only gets a taste of beer. Then his big sister shows up and not only makes the situation less cool and independent but upstages him by getting a whole beer.
posted by orange swan at 3:00 PM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh my goodness, last week I tweeted that Oleg and Tatiana's shared travel arrangement task felt like some sort of KGB-style foreplay, and Costa Ronin, who plays Oleg, liked it.
posted by orange swan at 3:10 PM on May 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

So did the Soviets actually ever smuggle the dupes/assets of illegals to Moscow and like let them live and put them in May Day parades and shit like Philip suggests they'll do for Martha? Or is that just a version of the dead dog story that the Center tells and P&E pretend to believe? I.e., saying "Martha isn't here with us anymore, but the Center is taking her to live on a lovely farm where she can run and bark and play fetch, and she'll be so happy there!" just so nobody has to be sad about the reality that she'll get the pink shot.

I mean, I realize actual non-Russians who knowingly spied for the USSR, like Maclean and Burgess, did go live there, and obviously it behooves the Center to get Martha out of the US to protect P&E, but it just seems like a lot of effort and expense to set up any random KGB patsy with an apartment, Russian language instruction, etc., especially one who does not want to be there.

Also, not just Allison Wright's but Keri Russell's performance in this episode was spectacular. Elizabeth actually trying to avoid having to kill Martha in the park, not just because of the messiness of that but because she doesn't want to hurt Philip -- and I think also because she's sympathetic to Martha's situation despite feeling insecure and somewhat jealous. And the way she knew that telling Martha the unpalatable facts in a pretty calm tone after the attention-getting punch was how to get her out of panic mode. The vulnerability and kindness she showed at the end in letting Philip know that, even though it was not a realistic option, she understood if he did care for Martha and wished he could go with her and stop doing the job. So much of that was just quiet subtle bits of body language and facial expression.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:02 PM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

A bit of a tangent, perhaps, but related... So, I don't know much about the actual history of US-USSR spying, but, watching this show has gotten me wondering about something...

While it may have never happened (again, I don't know the actual history), but at least the idea of extensively training a Russian spy (born in the 50s, or whenever Philip & Elizabeth were born) to live undercover in the US (in the early 80s) seems at least plausible -- that you could train someone well enough to pass in US culture. But the reverse seems pretty much unthinkable to me: take an American and drop them in 1981 Soviet Union? No way. It just seems like there'd be no way to do enough training to get someone to pass as a native-born Soviet citizen for any length of time. I'm not even entirely sure why I think that, but it just seems like there'd be so many more opportunities for slip-ups. Anyway, what do other people think?
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:36 PM on May 1, 2016

The Soviets totally trained people to live undercover as Americans - they replicated whole towns/suburban places/city neighborhoods down to American brands/TV/english only conversations for the final training. People'd live there for months with people whose job was to try and prepare them for an American lifestyle. The last known batch were that group of 10-11 people who were caught a few years ago (the most famous of whom was Anna Chapman, who got a lot of coverage for being pretty and a bit sloppy) who had been trained to pass as American and embed themselves around New York and DC in financial, governmental, think tank jobs/communities.

Conversely, it seems like the US relied more on recruiting people who were fed up with the System. My imprssion is that most American agents dropped in were short-timers with a distinct mission who got in/got out (hopefully).
posted by julen at 2:56 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

American spies had a different focus in their missions than the USSR spies did. The USSR wanted to steal American technology and intelligence, while the Americans just wanted USSR intelligence because Russian technology was generally so inferior to what the Americans had. This perhaps made it less necessary for the Americans to have the kind of long-term, deep cover spies that the USSR had.
posted by orange swan at 7:24 PM on May 2, 2016

Interesting. Yes, the different aims of the intelligence agencies -- which come off fairly clearly in the series -- necessitate different strategies/training. Could the US have created believable Russian plant verions of P&E?
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:11 PM on May 2, 2016

That is also a show I would watch. I would love a Better Call Saul style companion series!
Also makes me think about this post about the time Alan Funt brought Candid Camera to the USSR. But it also makes me feel like American culture has always been an open book and probably pretty easy to fake. I don't know.
posted by bleep at 8:59 PM on May 2, 2016

Great episode! Also I'm so angry at Philip. What a shitty two-faced coward he is. I think it's interesting the show keeps us sympathetic to him; when he looks pained at what Martha is suffering I think we're meant to feel sympathy for him, poor Philip, the troubles he bears. Fuck that! He's a monster. He put Martha in that situation. He extends it. He's not even true to his KGB mission! He doesn't believe in the cause. He doesn't even pretend to believe enough to do the only thing that makes sense for Martha, to suffocate her in her sleep right there in the bed. The situation they're spinning right now is entirely untenable.

The most compromised person is Philip himself, the agent. He's broken opsec numerous times, and defied his handlers. He let Martha see his real face and even told her his actual name! There's no way the KGB could ever trust him again.

Something snapped in me this episode and put me over the edge. I feel terrible for Martha. But Philip is a scoundrel of the first order. He can't even decide if he really loves Martha or not.
posted by Nelson at 8:49 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

It has literally never occurred to me to think about Philip that way. I have always seen him as the most sympathetic character on the show.

Not saying this in a "You're wrong!" way I just think it's interesting how two people can interpret the same thing so differently.
posted by bleep at 9:02 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

It does seem like Philip revealing himself to Martha put her in real danger. If she can't identify Philip, maybe the KGB lets her go to the FBI and spill everything. She doesn't know much. But now that she can identify a prized Directorate S agent, they have to keep her silent.
posted by chrchr at 9:31 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

when he looks pained at what Martha is suffering I think we're meant to feel sympathy for him, poor Philip, the troubles he bears.

I dunno, I think we were meant to see Phillip falling apart and making terrible choices, which will probably have terrible ramifications for Martha down the line.

Fuck that! He's a monster.

Who you think should strangle the most tragic character on the show. :)

Both of the main characters are monsters. Both have broken opsec numerous times, and both have defied their handlers. I totally get why you're furious at Phillip over his treatment of Martha, but the contrast between him falling apart and Elizabeth able to keep soldiering on isn't quite the same as the writers wanting us to feel "poor baby Phillip" at the expense of a more complex set of feelings about what he's become.
posted by mediareport at 4:31 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Glad my response generated some controversy. I'm not sure I totally hate Philip either. This episode just put me over the edge, at least in the moment. As mediareport says, both Philip and Elizabeth are monsters. But they're also the sympathetic characters of the show, the protagonists. The fact that they are also normal American parents makes them particularly relatable. (Although even that's monstrous, with Paige's corruption and Chekov's 15 year old girl in the background for Philip to keep romancing.)

Philip completely wrecking Martha's life seems to have pushed this over the edge for me. Because Martha herself has been so humanized, so I feel as much sympathy for her as I do the Conflicted Spies. Only she's entirely a victim. She's largely blameless other than being vulnerable.

Circling back to me calling Philip a coward. Why is he still doing the spy job? Why is he there? Elizabeth even puts it to him this episode; do you want to just go back to Russia? He should have said yes! Or make a decisive no and defect to America. Or double down on his allegiance to the job, his patriotism, and be a proper spy. Instead he just keeps whining his way week through week through increasingly awful things while not acting decisively. And fucking everything up. At this point I'm almost hoping he's the one who kills Martha. I mean someone's going to kill her, wouldn't it be most appropriate for Philip? Perhaps in some hideously intimate way like choking the life out of her while making love to her. God that'd be awful, but totally in keeping with Philip's character development.

The flipside of my contempt for Philip is my admiration for Elizabeth. She is at least committed to being a spy, a true believer. And she's the one holding the family together, and keeping Philip at least a little together. Her actions are monstrous too of course, but at least they are for good reasons, decisions she is making on purpose. Down to gut-punching Martha where necessary.
posted by Nelson at 8:08 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think Philip is still in it because he loves his kids. In that episode where they were quarantined and Elizabeth said something about her not particularly feeling it anymore and he immediately and very quickly was like "Do you want to run?" If she was up for it and the kids were coming with them I think he'd be gone in a second. But as things stand for him now there is no way for him to get everything he wants. He doesn't want to bring the kids back to Russia and he doesn't want to abandon them and he doesn't want to be without Elizabeth; if he stops doing the job then one of those occurrences will take place.
posted by bleep at 1:14 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think one of them would have killed Martha if not for the reassurances they keep giving Paige that nobody gets hurt. It's become hard for them to lie to her, and it affects how they see the job.
posted by rikschell at 5:27 AM on July 4, 2016

Re exfiltration: why not Cuba?
posted by mabelstreet at 8:45 PM on June 29, 2019

« Older Underground: Grave...   |  Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments