Hello comrades, and welcome back for the fourth season of The Americans!
By now we all know this is one of the best shows on television. The drama deftly explores marriage, parenting, loyalty and family against the backdrop of tense espionage and some amazing wigs. The show has never shied away from the gruesome (tooth extraction!) or the shocking (they told Paige!).
But kicking off the fourth season moments after where the third season ended gave the show an unprecedented sense of urgency. Philip has just killed Gene to frame him for the bug that was found in Gaad’s office, and Paige has just told Pastor Tim the truth about her parents.
But what’s great about this series is that it continues to zig when audiences expect it to zag. We’ve been waiting for a showdown between Philip and Stan. But who would have thought it would come because Stan suspected Philip of having an affair with his ex-wife? All last season Philip wrestled with guilt. Unlike Elizabeth, he’s never been able to emotionally distance himself from the horrors of the job. Flashbacks show him beating a kid to death with a rock when he was a boy, and there’s no EST meeting in the world that is going to assuage him of that guilt.
It appears that the big spy plot this season will revolve around bio-weapons. Gabriel informs Philip and Elizabeth that they are being put on a bio-weapons assignment. “I tried to keep you out of it,” he tells them, not so convincingly. Dylan Baker (already so deliciously evil on The Good Wife) is the scientist turning over bio-weapons to the KGB. He gives Philip and Elizabeth a vial of something called “glanders,” a virus so dreadful it makes meningitis look like the common cold, so… good times! Philip and Elizabeth have faced all sorts of horrors, but even they look a little terrified that they have to have vaccines for their current assignment.
Paige has realized that perhaps she shouldn’t have told Pastor Tim the truth about her parents (Really? Ya think so, Paige?) “We can’t tell anybody else ever,” she tells him. Pastor Tim thinks Paige and her parents should come in so they can all talk. Um, talking is so not going to help this one, Pastor Tim. Meanwhile Elizabeth and Philip still have no idea that their daughter has let their secret out. And poor Paige is struggling. She stays out of her classroom for the pledge of allegiance and is asking Elizabeth more questions about what her parents actually do.
And Martha’s alive! She’s alive! I have to admit I was worried when she was missing in action from the third season finale. (Although, the fact that Allison Wright was listed as a series regular eased those fears). Now Martha has gone all in on her relationship with Clark. She’s horrified that he killed Gene to protect her, but not so horrified that she’ll turn herself in or, you know, stop spying for Clark. Allison Wright delivered an excellent performance in the scene where Martha finds out about Gene. “I didn’t agree to this. I don’t want this,” she sobs. I still wonder what exactly Martha thinks is going on here, because somehow it hasn’t occurred to her that her Clark might be deceiving her in countless other ways. She’s still there supporting her “husband.” “We have to decide things together,” she tells him before copying FBI detail assignments. But I have to say, I never expected Martha to live to see season four. Philip keeps her alive because she is still useful and her death might expose him. But I also think he has developed true feelings for her. Maybe not romantic ones, but he cares for her. (I think… or has Clark duped me too?) The nuances Rhys brings to those scenes is just great.
Back in Russia, Nina is still being Nina, trying to befriend Anton Baklanov. But unlike her other marks, the scientist doesn’t want more than friendship from Nina. Still, Nina is as coldly calculating as ever.
The episode ends with Stan pushing Philip against a wall as he attacks him for having an affair with Sandy. The scene is tense because the vial of glanders is in Philip’s coat pocket, and also because Philip does not need the already-suspicious Stan as an enemy. If Stan is angry at Philip, perhaps he will begin to see him from a different light. And what of Philip’s guilty conscience? I’ve long pegged him as the one who will defect. He has never been as loyal to the motherland as Elizabeth, and unlike Elizabeth he truly wants to put his family, not Russia, first. Could this be the season that Philip defects to save his children?
Do you think we’ll ever see Henry again, or will it just be stories about his bad cologne and Elizabeth’s furtive glances when she’s talking to Paige?
I’m waiting for the show to return to the Kimberly and Lisa story lines. They were both big story arcs last season that have been left dangling. I need closure.
I know Nina mentioned a husband last season, but somehow I didn’t believe she actually had one.
Do you think Stan has given up on trying to get Nina out of Russia?
Glanders is a real disease, but according to the CDC, primarily affects horses.
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.