[This is a review of The Americans season 3, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
Ever since her Emmy-winning turn as the villainous Mags Bennett on Justified, Margo Martindale has been an FX favorite, and her addition to The Americans as the sometimes-underhanded Claudia has made for some unforgettable moments in the series. And although she’s been scarce as of late, her scene with Gabriel at the diner, commenting on the American paradox of having too many choices, and coaxing him to continue pushing Philip to ensure his daughter follows in her parents’ footsteps, is significant in that it establishes how, in every situation, someone is always pulling the strings.
‘I Am Abassin Zadran’ is made up of a handful of small but important moments like the one between Claudia and Gabriel that establish the story’s scope as the season turns toward next week’s finale. But even more interesting than Claudia’s disinterest in choosing a tea, or the titular Abassin Zadran’s murder of his “friends” after being played by everyone’s favorite Soviet couple, it also keys in on the awesome emotional impact Philip and Elizabeth’s dual lives have on the people with whom they have formed a bond. Sometimes that bond is deep and paternal, as it is with Paige, while other times it takes the shape of an unconventional love, like the one Martha thought she had with Clark. And at other times, it’s just business, as when Elizabeth uses her AA connection with Lisa (and her problematic husband Maurice) to secure some photos inside a Northrop facility.
Each interaction is a betrayal of trust; one that cuts deeper depending on how important idea of trust was to the foundation of the relationship. When it comes to Lisa and Maurice, the wound doesn’t cut too deep – especially when there’s a purse full of cash on the other end. When it come to Martha, though, the implications of her life with Clark being a lie are devastating, as she’s put in the unenviable position of having to hold the man she loves responsible for the unmanageable fear that she’s going to be charged with treason.
One of those aforementioned small but important scenes that add up to another great episode involves Stan stopping by Martha’s apartment to have a chat. The talk itself isn’t threatening, but the fact that it happened at all is an immense threat to Martha’s sense of security and belief that her secret life with Clark is something she can continue to manage. Stan knows something’s not right, and he’s there as a courtesy, to help Martha get out in ahead of what is an increasingly untenable situation. The fact that Clark only missed Stan by virtue of Hans’ surveillance of the Georgetown Arms raises the stakes of the situation considerably.
Raising the stakes for the series, however, is Alison Wright, who’s been doing tremendous work as the lovelorn secretary to Agent Gaad for nearly three seasons now, conveying a deep sense of the character’s inner strength and resolve in just a handful of appearances from season to season. Wright has been so consistently good that to see Martha sitting on her bed, talking to her parents, while fighting off tears is more than just heartbreaking; it’s like watching a professional athlete realize he’s suffered a career-ending injury. In other words, Martha knows nothing is ever going to be the same.
In a way, you could say that ‘I Am Abassin Zadran’ is filled with a series of turning points; this being the season’s penultimate episode it makes sense. Abassin Zadran literally kills part of the CIA’s plan to be involved in the Soviet Union’s war with Afghanistan, while Oleg and Tatiana convince Arkady to let the bug in the FBI’s mail robot continue broadcasting idle chit chat just a while longer – if for nothing else the chance to spend time in one another’s company.
But as has been the case all season long, the episode also spends some time dealing with the fallout of Paige being told the truth about her parents. There is an interesting conversation about identity that ties in very nicely with Clark’s reveal to Martha in the episode’s final moments. Again, in a series of small but weighty scenes, The Americans successfully conveys the notion that Paige no longer knows who she is. Her parents are Russian spies. Her aunts and cousins are all lies. She has no idea of who her family really is, and, by extension, she’s lost a sense of her own identity. So Paige clings to the identity she has cultivated for herself; namely, the one built around her religion, her activism, and, somewhat worryingly for Philip and Elizabeth, Pastor Tim and his wife.
What was supposed to bring Paige closer to her mother, and to an understanding of who she really is, has backfired, left the teenager adrift in a family she can no longer trust, while also being asked to shoulder the burden of this immense secret. So what’s Philip and Elizabeth’s solution? Send Paige to Russia with her mother to meet her dying grandmother. These are the solutions that Directorate S operatives come up with when dealing with familial strife, apparently.
While the sit-down Philip has with Paige is a terrific moment that underlines the bond he is still able to foster with his daughter, there is no more significant moment than Clark revealing himself to Martha with a painstakingly slow removal of his wig. The process is both slow and at one point appears almost painful, symbolizing just how deeply rooted the cover of these spies can be, and how exposing themselves and owning up to their betrayals is more than pulling off a wig; it’s like peeling off a piece of themselves.
The Americans will air the season 3 finale ‘March 8, 1983’ next Wednesday @10pm on FX.
Photos: Patrick Harbon/FX