‘The Americans’ Steamy Episode 5 Is The Best of the Season So Far

It's Martha-heavy, and explores the weird power relationships in Philip and Elizabeth's pseudo-romance.

Eric Liebowitz/FX

Finally, Season 4 of The Americans delivers an episode — directed expertly by Noah Emmerich aka Stan — which addresses all the elements of the plot we want it to, and in unexpected ways. “Clark’s Place” spends relatively little time on the aftershock of Nina’s death, but makes the most of it, giving us some small insight into Oleg’s (Costa Ronin) troubled family, inspiring to go back to America, and give the news to both an unexpectedly distraught Arkady (did he love her?) and Stan.

The episode’s biggest virtue is that it’s Martha-heavy. That focus is only becoming more of a plus as the show continues. The Martha-stares-at-the-wall-or-phone-with-wine-glass-in-hand scene is now a regular fixture of The Americans, and it’s a welcome one, despite our constant worry she is going to be arrested or knocked off by the Center. Actress Alison Wright is just that great.

Her face is incredibly expressive instrument. Here, she admits to Clark/Philip (Matthew Rhys) that she’s been prescribed Valium because she is running scared every day of her life, without any reliable support system.

Over the course of the episode, it’s clear that Martha’s grief is really gnawing at Philip — as well it should. When he pauses and confidently says, “I love you” to her at the pay phone later in the episode, we believe — on some level — that he means it. We aren’t sure, ever, if the actual romantic side is present, but there has to be some reason why that Kama Sutra book is so heavily dog-eared, as Stan draws perverse attention to again in this episode. It’s only one of many moments in the episode which draw us further away from sympathizing with him than we have in the past; it’s clear than he’s getting closer to finding out about the Center’s doings, and causing real trouble for the Jennings.

Elizabeth (Keri Russell) watches Philip looking distraught while talking to Martha from the car, and clearly senses his distress of Martha’s behalf when he acts distracted at home, and advocates vehemently for Martha to Gabriel (Frank Langella). This seems to be the impetus behind the final scene of the episode, which is probably the steamiest in the history of the show — one of those which pushes to the increasingly liberal limits of the cable censors. Elizabeth surprises Clark by sitting on his lap, and pushing him into bed, and a not-insubstantial sex scene follows — all this, part of a montage to “Under Pressure.”

It’s another prestige-TV Bowie tribute — unintentional or not, we don’t know — and by a huge margin, the best. Musically and lyrically, the Queen collaboration is a perfect fit, since the action of the show is at a perfectly precarious moment. Something is about to give. Someone’s cover is about to be blown, or some innocent person will make a grave mistake. It’s a stalemate, perhaps, but a delicate one.

Langella, Russell, Rhys, deliberating as usual

Eric Liebowitz/FX

So again, the central question of this season rears its head: Who will die first, Pastor Tim or Martha? Elizabeth and Philip make a sleazy power play with Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) and his wife, but it’s unclear if it’s a bandaid on wound or a permanent fix. It will depend on Paige’s (Holly Taylor) ability to withstand her parents’ manipulation, even though she can already see through it.

Or could Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden), be the next to go: a well-meaning man is, at Stan’s behest, flying a bit too close to the sun? The episode ends with Philip and Elizabeth confirming that Aderholt is on Martha’s tail, and how they will correct the problem is anyone’s guess. In a show where it’s hard not to feel attached to almost any of the characters, the sense of impending loss is certainly in the air. But The Americans has never taken killing off major characters lightly, and we’ve only just suffered a big one with Nina (Annet Mahendru). Will Joe Weisberg and his writing-room agents dare to be so cruel? Until next Wednesday.

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