The Americans Review: “Chloramphenicol”

(Episode 4.04)

TV Reviews The Americans
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<i>The Americans</i> Review: &#8220;Chloramphenicol&#8221;

Well, this might be the cruelest bait and switch in the history of television.

I’m worried about most of the characters on The Americans, most of the time. And certainly since this season began I’ve been most worried about Pastor Tim and Martha, who both seemed to have gotten themselves into untenable positions.

Even though Nina’s death has seemed inevitable since the end of Season Two—even though she was basically handed a death sentence last week—I still thought she would survive this season. First of all, she’s Nina! She’s been able to get herself out of multiple situations with her wily ways. Secondly, Oleg’s dad promised his son he would help her. And lastly, as you know, I still thought Nina was up to something. Like her entire effort to get a message to Anton’s son was all part of a grander scheme to get him to trust her completely. I know she said she had changed, but I still had my doubts.

Instead, in an episode largely about other characters, she is taken from her bed in the middle of the night, and told that her appeal has been denied and that her death sentence will be carried out shortly. Naively I still thought Nina had time—that in the next episode we would see Oleg coming to her rescue. Instead within seconds, before we even have time to process what is happening, she is shot dead in the back of her head. The final shot of Nina shows her lifeless body being wrapped up in burlap. A vicious, cruel but also mundane end to an extraordinary character. Only in her dreams, was Nina successful in reuniting Anton with his son. Let’s pause now to just reflect on how amazing Annet Mahendru has been as Nina. It was just a fantastic, nuanced portrayal. She will be missed.

As promised, Dennis asks Martha out to dinner and she has no choice but to accept. After briefly freaking out in messages to Clark, Martha comes up with a near genius plan. In a great speech, she tells Dennis she is seeing a married man. That, of course, would explain why nobody has met her boyfriend and why she’s spending some nights away from home. “It’s probably the most honest relationship I’ve ever had,” she tells Dennis. The sad thing is, you know Martha believes this. Even with all she knows, she still has no idea who Clark truly is. While Dennis is trying to wine and dine Martha, Stan goes through her apartment only to find a book on the Kama Sutra—Martha may have a secret life, just not the one Stan thought she had. Although, something tells me this still isn’t going to stop Stan. Maybe he’s going to want to get a look at Martha’s married boyfriend? He also found Martha’s gun which should raise his suspicions. This entire sequence of Stan’s search juxtaposed against Martha’s speech was brilliant—maybe one of the best the series has ever done.
Elizabeth has a horrible reaction to the antibiotics and believes that perhaps she has Glanders and is going to die. It’s truly the first time I think we’ve seen Elizabeth put her children before her duty to her country. “If something happens, you blame me for Pastor Tim and Alice,” she tells her husband. She also tells him that if she dies, he should defect. “Henry doesn’t even have to know. It’s what you’ve wanted. It’s what you’ve always wanted,” she says. Elizabeth realizes how wrong it was to tell Paige the truth, how much horror and danger she’s exposed her daughter too. Meanwhile Paige is so not cut out to be a spy. She is worried that she has gotten her parents into trouble by telling Pastor Tim the truth and says way too much on the phone. Although, she does do a fairly decent job of lying to Stan when he wonders why their trip to Epcot got cancelled.

After Elizabeth recovers, she agrees with Philip—they can’t kill Pastor Tim. They are going to work him and to at least grow closer to him, so he will not want to betray them. Gabriel hates this plan. “You would be living in a burning house,” Gabriel tells them. “What’s new?” Philip responds. Gabriel reluctantly agrees to the plan and says he will tell the Centre that sparing Pastor Tim will make it easier to recruit Paige. “I have to offer them something,” he says.

By the end of the episode, the Jennings family is bowling. A typical American family activity. Except that nothing about the Jennings is typical, and their happiness is guaranteed to be fleeting.

Stray observations:

The week’s episode title comes from the antibiotic Elizabeth and Philip were treated with. Here’s the definition from Wikipedia.

It was such a small moment, but I loved Elizabeth and Paige laughing about how Elizabeth learned to bowl.

“We’re discrete, but I’m not wearing wigs and sneaking into motel rooms.”

I’ve heard from some of you who are still suspicious of Pastor Tim and think he might be a KGB agent sent to recruit Paige. I love this theory, since I’ve been suspicious of Pastor Tim since day one. My suspicion of him has waned this season, but thanks for bringing it back!

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.