Stellar Performances Carry a Devastating Episode of The Americans

(Episode 4.07, "Travel Agents")

TV Reviews The Americans
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Stellar Performances Carry a Devastating Episode of <i>The Americans</i>

Before I get to the review of “Travel Agents,” I want to talk a little about Richard Thomas. When he first appeared as Agent Gaad on the series, I, like probably everyone over the age of 35, thought, “Oh look John-Boy is on The Americans!

Thomas is responsible for creating one of TV’s most memorable characters, and even if you never laid eyes on The Waltons, you’ve probably jokingly used the phrase “Goodnight John-Boy” at some point in your life. So when he first came on the drama, I had a hard time seeing past John-Boy. But Thomas has been excellent, and by the end of the first season, I had completely forgotten about his iconic alter ego.

His finest moment in the series comes in “Travel Agents” when he discovers that Martha and “Clark” are married. “I’m in charge of FBI counter intelligence and my secretary married a KGB officer,” he tells Stan, with just the right amount of shock, sadness, disgust and horror. Gaad knows his career is over. There will be no recovering from this. I hope we see Thomas again, but if we don’t, I just want to applaud his stellar performance.

Okay, on to the rest of the episode. Once again, picking up almost immediately after last week’s episode, Martha is in deep trouble. The FBI is looking for her and so is the KGB. Gabriel implies what we knew to be true all along—they might have to kill Martha if she starts screaming about the KGB again.

Again I found myself rooting for the FBI to find her, or for Martha to turn herself in. But it’s Elizabeth who finds her first, punching Martha into submission and telling her that she and Clark will both die if Martha doesn’t cooperate and go with Elizabeth quietly. I have to admit that I was sure Elizabeth had stabbed Martha, and Elizabeth probably only spared her because she knew how upset Philip would be if Martha died.

Martha has had a lot of sad episodes, but this was her most heartbreaking. She asks Clark all sorts of questions. What’s his real name? Who played his mother at their wedding ceremony? But she never asks him the most important questions—was their marriage a sham? Does he really love her? Maybe it’s because she doesn’t want to know the answers. Maybe it’s because in her heart of hearts she already does.
Elizabeth implores Philip to lie to Martha and tell her that he will join her in Russia. But he can’t. He tells her the truth—they will never see each other again. “I’ll be alone,” she says. “Just the way it was before I met you.” Philip tells Martha that in Russia, she will be treated with respect and honor. “They know your sacrifice Martha,” he says. I spent most of this scene screaming, “Martha! Run!” I so wanted her to flee the safe house and turn herself in to the FBI.

Elizabeth tells Philip she would understand if he wanted to join Martha in Russia. But, as Philip tells her, Elizabeth has it all wrong. While he cares for Martha and is concerned about her safety, he loves Elizabeth.

The episode ends with Martha and Philip in bed awaiting her flight the next morning, where she will be transported to the motherland along with, it seems, a rat filled with biochemical weapons. This may be the saddest episode The Americans has ever done. Poor Martha is leaving her parents and her “husband” behind, to start a life in Russia. What kind of life will that be? I’m still holding out hope that somehow she doesn’t get on that plane.

Stray observations:

So Paige is rebelling like your average teenager, drinking a beer when her parents aren’t home. Is this a sign of future problems? Will Paige actually turn to drinking and drugs?

Can you just imagine how much easier things would have been if they only had cell phones?

Matthew, Henry and Paige are all left alone because their parents are all dealing with the Martha situation.

How long until Stan gives that sketch of Clark a closer look and decides he seems a little familiar?

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal ®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.