“I’m sorry to drop by unannounced. It’s so hard to talk around the office these days.”
Good Lord, what a terrifying reveal! After several expository installments, this penultimate episode of season 3 of The Americans was a live-wire of action as some of the slow-build machinations of The Center came to fruition and a few loose-cannon actions threatened to upend everything.
The sentence above is spoken by Noah Emmerich’s Agent Stan Beeman, lately an avuncular presence on the show as he bonds with the Jennings’ outcast son Henry, but as he utters that line he is the Sword of Damocles, dangling over that family’s head.
Matthew Rhys’ Philip is heading over to Martha’s house for the night, and he’s still so nervous about how she’s absorbing the news that her husband has been manipulating her for information that they send Hans the KGB intern to scout her place in advance. As Philip, disguised as “Clark,” approaches her home, Hans drives by and gives him a signal.
Then we cut to Martha, the indispensable Alison Wright, musing about changes to her apartment. “I keep thinking I want to paint, blue or something bolder. Then you have to live with it. And the smell, it lingers you know. Much longer than they say.”
The camera pans to reveal who is sitting at her kitchen table, and it isn’t “Clark.”
“Hmm. It’s a nice place,” Beeman says.
Since it wasn’t clear to me right away what kind of signal Hans gave Philip (I assumed it was “all-clear”) the tension was unbearable as I waited for Stan’s good-buddy Philip Jennings to walk through that front door in his “Clark” disguise. How could he possibly explain that? The solution could only be a bloodbath.
Soon it becomes clear that Beeman is on his own rogue operation to flush out the person who planted the listening device in FBI headquarters. He’s not so much accusing poor Martha, but he wants her to know she can count on him if there’s anything she needs to get off her chest. You know, away from the office, where it’s not so safe to talk anymore.
He’s scanning her apartment, seeing the book she’s reading, looking for something. My God, is he going to spot a wedding picture of her and “Clark”?
You’ve got to hand it to Martha. She may have been bamboozled for a long time, but she is now quick on her feet. “I hear the gossip at work about your marriage. And you should talk to somebody, but I’m not the right person,” she says. Way to turn it around on him and hit the bull’s-eye of his insecurity.
Stan takes his leave, and Martha goes to a drawer where she removes that wedding picture. Quick, Martha. Very quick.
I’m losing faith in the idea that she may be working with Gaad to bring down “Clark” and his operation.
When Philip arrives home, he breaks the news to Keri Russell’s Elizabeth. Hans waved him off. “Hans did good,” he says.
Things aren’t nearly so good between Philip and Elizabeth.
NEXT: Strain in the family …
After breaking into the hotel where the CIA plans to send Mujahideen leaders to discuss providing them with Stinger missiles to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, they hook up a phone intercept to one of the rooms. The fellow staying there gives this episode its title, “I Am Abassin Zadran.” We’ll get to know him soon enough, but he’s the one Philip was warned about in the previous episode—the guy who likes to torture and decapitate his enemies.
Despite a fluid, albeit tense, mission into the hotel to set up the intercept, the husband and wife operatives are at odds. When they get home, they find son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) vegging out in front of the TV and a note from Paige (Holly Taylor) informing them that she is staying the night with Pastor Tim.
This sets off alarms. Philip and Elizabeth know Paige is still freaking out after discovering her parents’ true history and occupation, and they’re terrified she may confess this to Pastor Tim, whom she seems to trust more than anyone else in the world. They race to the good pastor’s place and stake-out his empty home. This is when the sparks really fly.
“Where the hell are they?” Elizabeth asks.
“I don’t know. How long does a church lecture go?” Philip says.
“You’re asking me?” Elizabeth snorts. “It probably turned into some pot-luck, poster-making sing-a-long.”
Suddenly, a car pulls up and Paige gets out with Pastor Tim and his wife.
“Don’t jump all over her,” Philip says. “You know what I mean.”
“No, maybe I don’t,” Elizabeth snaps. “You want to teach me how to handle my own daughter?”
The pastor is slightly defensive, but agrees that she needs to obey her mom and dad and go home. The pastor thanks Philip for the information about those mission tickets to Kenya.
Back home, the family pulls into their garage, which has become the equivalent of the FBI’s safe room.
“You asked for the truth, and with that comes responsibility. Do you understand that,” Elizabeth says.
Philip tells his daughter she can still see pastor Tim, “But you need to act as if everything is perfectly normal.”
“But it’s not!” Paige cries.
As if she doesn’t have enough going on, Elizabeth has to deal with her friend from the Northrop Gruman plant, Lisa (Karen Pittman), who’s going to get her photographs of one of the new stealth planes. She shows Lisa how to walk with a purse loaded with a camera, and Lisa’s surly, drunkard of a husband, crazy old Maurice (Thaddeus Daniels), second-guesses everything. He’s more jumpy than Lisa.
Later, instead of Lisa delivering the film, it’s Maurice, and Elizabeth is not thrilled to be doing business with this abusive lout. “This wasn’t the arrangement.”
“I’m dealing with this side of things now,” he says. “You got a problem with this?”
“Suit yourself,” he says, and begins to walk away.
Elizabeth folds. She gives him the money, and takes the camera. “Tell Lisa I said I’ll talk to her soon. In person.”
“Whatever,” Maurice says.
Oh Maurice, you’re going to die, my friend. Watch yourself.
Elsewhere, Hans catches Martha on the street and whisks her away to a safe meeting with Clark, who is trying to figure out whether she is giving him up to the FBI or merely a victim of their suspicions herself. He believes her when she says it’s the latter.
“What am I going to do, Clark?” she asks. Remember when Gabriel asked Philip in the last episode if he was falling apart. That’s what’s happening to Martha now. Maybe.
“I don’t know quite how to say this. But we might have to go away. Some place new,” Philip, er, “Clark” tells her.
He tries to calm her down by saying that if the FBI really suspected her, they wouldn’t send Stan Beeman by at night to ask her mildly invasive questions, they’d be bugging her phones and storming that apartment. Beeman dropping by, he thinks, is evidence they still have no idea and are on fishing expeditions now.
“I will figure this out,” “Clark” says. “I promise.”
At the FBI office, Beeman is finding himself to be the object of suspicion. Agent Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) sternly tells him, “I have a few more questions about Nina.”
“What is with you?” Beeman responds.
“I don’t know, Stan. There was something going on with you and Nina. That much is clear to me.”
“What are you accusing me of?”
“Did you plant the bug?”
“No. And you are not as smart as you look,” Beeman says, before tearing him a new one. “You read all those files. Let’s say the woman I shot didn’t actually die. Maybe she’s the one who beat the shit out of you and Gaad. Maybe she even killed my partner, Chris Amador. Our office is a target of The Illegals. The best, most dangerous officers the KGB has. Now they got to somebody inside, and it wasn’t me. Work on that.”
We don’t see it, but we hear a machine roll by at that point with a familiar “Beep! Beep! Beep!” The mail robot is listening …
This conversation could be a potentially vital piece of information, but back at the Rezidentura, Arkady Zotov (Lev Gorn) is thinking of giving up on the mail robot initiative. It picks up nothing but small talk.
Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) and Tatiana Ruslanova (Vera Cherny) petition him to keep the program going a little longer, arguing that it will give them insight into the personal lives of the FBI employees and could yield info that may help turn or pressure one of them.
For now, the mail robot lives.
NEXT: Not everybody in this episode lives…[pagebreak]
The push and pull between loyalty to family versus country is at the core of every episode of The Americans, but here it stops being subtext and is a concept that rises right to the surface.
Paige throws a fit over their cousin “Roger,” their old “Aunt Helen,” all people she suspects are just other agents working with her parents. She’s right, and this leaves her spiraling into despair. Paige craves stability—perhaps because her parents have always had other, secret priorities—and the fact that her family has no actual roots leaves her feeling hopeless.
At one point in her tantrum, her mother even tries to cover her mouth to stifle her, which makes her feel threatened for the first time. “Don’t touch me,” she hisses as her mother withdraws.
Family is also on Martha’s mind as we see her alone in her apartment, having a one-way conversation with her parents as she barely holds back tears. Everything they discuss is mundane, vacation time, what their plans are for an anniversary. But we get a sense of how the mundane is like a burst of fresh oxygen to Martha, who is now suffocating under the weight of so many deceptions.
After being snatched up by Hans and spirited away for a clandestine meeting with “Philip,” she may be feeling more than a bit afraid, too. But she must know she can’t leave. Running would alarm the FBI. And there’s nowhere she could go that the KGB couldn’t find her.
Back at the Jennings house, Philip goes to Paige’s room with photographs.
There is no Aunt Helen, he admits, but then says: “It’s not all a lie, Paige.”
“This is you in the hospital the night Henry was born. Your mom said I had to bring you over that night, even though it was late. It couldn’t wait until the next day,” he says. “Here we’re camping in the Blue Ridge mountains. You were 7.”
Paige smiles. She remembers. “Henry was afraid a bear would eat him.”
“I didn’t know that,” Philip says
“He made me promise not to tell,” Paige says.
It may be a small thing, but that line is important. Paige can keep a secret.
Later, Philip advises Elizabeth to again press for a trip back to Russia to visit her ailing mother. “You should go,” he says. “And take Paige with you.”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth says.
“She doesn’t’ think she has any family and she does,” Philip says.
This may bring stability back to their daughter, and could even invest her more deeply in their cause.
The question of family versus country comes up again as the Jennings head out to speak with the eponymous Abassin Zadran (George Georgiou), the Mujahideen bloodthirsty Mujahideen leader who is about to meet with U.S. senators who are going to give him the tools to blow Russian helicopters out of the sky.
Using their phone hijack, Philip and Elizabeth trick the guards at the hotel into thinking they are authentic CIA representatives there to speak with Zadran. They get him alone and plant the seed of doubt in his head about his Afghani colleagues.
They claim that the other two men are traitors to the cause. One of them has a son who was captured by Soviets and he is trying to protect his family now rather than fight for Afghanistan. They point out that there has been little military action in that man’s region ever since.
Rather than target one of the more reasonable Mujahideen guerillas, this gambit to target the craziest and most vicious of the three seems to pay off. “Why is there no war here in America?” Zadran says through gritted teeth. “My country is always at war, and for what? Afghanistan has nothing. No planes, no helicopters, no medicine. Nothing of our own. All we want is to live in the land of our fathers in peace.”
He admits they are right about his fellow Afghani representatives. “I don’t know these men. My men are in the mountains. My men are honorable. They want to fight and die as martyrs.” He says he would gut “200 infidels” if they stood before him, and the CIA reps played by Philip and Elizabeth urge him to consider taking action that would allow him to meet the U.S. Senators alone.
Back in the hotel, Zadran decides to inform the two other men that they will not be meeting anyone the next day—by slitting their throats. When last we see him, he is standing over the mutilated body of one of them while the guards who are there to protect all three hold him at gunpoint.
He will certainly seem like a reasonable partner for U.S. interests.
Elsewhere, we get a wonderful conversation between Frank Langella’s Gabriel and a long-absent, much missed part of The Americans, the Jennings’ former contact, Claudia (Margo Martindale.)
They’re in a diner, and the two die-hard Communists are not loving their choices. Literally, the vast array of choices is irritating them. “There are 14 types of omelets and 20 kinds of hamburgers,” Gabriel grumbles. “How does one choose?”
“The paradox of being American,” Claudia says.
“Mmm. Isn’t this a Greek diner?” Gabriel retorts.
The risk they run now is that things with Paige will run too slowly and Phillip will continue to block progress.
“I can’t help wondering if Philip is right. It’s their daughter,” Gabriel says, the first time we’ve ever heard him express doubt about this. Claudia looks furious.
“I’m thinking, Claudia. I can think out loud with you after 30 years,” he says.
“Think out loud all you like,” Claudia says. “It’s a free country. Or haven’t you heard.”
Gabriel worries about a situation like the one we witnessed last season, in which the son of a pair of KGB deep-cover operatives was brought into the Directorate S project and ultimately lashed out and murdered his family.
“Everyone was in mourning. I thought they might shut down Directorate S,” Claudia says.
“And yet with all that, they still want to try it again,” Gabriel laments.
“They think you can do it,” Claudia tells him.
These two aren’t used to choices, they’re used to orders. This is uncertain and uncomfortable territory for them.
At the Jennings home, Elizabeth has come to a decision. “Paige, I’m going to see my mother before she dies. In Russia. I talked it over with dad. You should come with me. It will be the only chance you have to meet your grandmother. But it’s your choice.”
The music playing on the stereo, to drown out their conversation, suggests Paige is unmoved: “This means nothing to me …” go the lyrics to Ultravox’s “Vienna.”
The final scene takes place at Martha’s home. “Clark” enters and finds she has packed her belongings and is planning to flee. He can’t let her go. It’s funny—with Paige the solution is letting her get away; with Martha, she can’t go anywhere.
“Clark” needs to do something, and his choice is simultaneously eerie and moving. “Clark” kills himself as Philip peels off the disguise and reveals his true self to his wife.