The Americans: Margo Martindale's guide to the spy drama's essential episodes
For six seasons, Margo Martindale has starred in The Americans as the calculating on-again, off-again handler to Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). She's been their guide — so ahead, she guides EW through her favorite scenes with her favorite scene partners across the FX series, which ends its run in a week.
Elizabeth: The golden agent
Of all Claudia's relationships on screen, Martindale says she cared the most for Russell's icy Elizabeth. "What she was to me all these years was somebody I saw myself in as a young girl," she explains, which is why the two share some of the most potent scenes. The actresses had a much easier rapport when the cameras weren't rolling, Martindale assures: "We always cracked up the most."
Their best episodes
Martindale chooses season 1, episode 6, titled "Trust Me" — in which Elizabeth beats Claudia up — as the representative for Claudia's relationship with Elizabeth. "Now, that says a lot about our relationship," she says. "I think we've come to terms with each other as time has moved on."
In fact, she thinks her favorite episode is one that's yet to air. The penultimate hour — spoiler alert! — is "probably my favorite," Martindale teases. "It's so controlled and emotional in a very deeply unsensational way."
Listen up, Philip
On the other hand, Philip Jennings was always a thorn in Claudia's side, because she considered him the softer of the pair, Martindale says. In fact, every time she shared a scene with Rhys or mentioned his character, she tried to say his character's name with a tone of disgust. "I always try to spin his name when I say it, like, Phiiiiil-ip," she says, laughing as she demonstrates. “Like, ew. ‘How is Phiiiil-ip.’”
Their best episode
Unlike Claudia and Philip, Martindale and Rhys had a great time as scene partners, particularly in season 1, episode 12, "The Oath." In it, Claudia posed as the mother of Clark — Philip's identity when seeing Martha (Alison Wright) — and put on a disguise herself to keep up the ruse when Clark married Martha. "I'm telling you, we laughed so much with that whole thing, because we were the nerdiest group of people you've ever seen," Martindale recalls, laughing. "We had so much fun playing that. It's just so ridiculous. Clark's mom!" (You can glimpse an image of Martindale's look here.)
Spies like them
For her scenes with Frank Langella, who played Gabriel, the Jennings' other handler (when they rejected Claudia), Martindale invented her own unique, romantic story for Claudia and Gabriel. "I decided that we grew up together in Russia and were in the same army, and I imagined we had a nice little fling," she says with a chuckle. "That's in my head when working with him, so whenever you saw me with Gabriel, it was probably my least guarded."
Besides, she adds, "I loved Frank Langella. He delighted me with his stories, and he's the most fascinatingly beautiful man." That's why she can't pick a favorite episode – but if she has to, she recommends watching their last one together, in season 5, episode 6, "Crossbreed."
Season 6 brought Paige (Holly Taylor) into Claudia's orbit, and to Martindale, the relationship was always that of a teacher and her pupil, unlike her deeper connection with Elizabeth. "I'm mentoring Paige," she says. "She needs to know more about where we come from, what we're made of."
And how they let loose. Their spotlight episode, Martindale says, would be season 6, episode 5, "The Great Patriotic War," in which Paige learns to drink olive oil before drinking vodka to keep herself from becoming intoxicated. Martindale remembers how the three women enthusiastically filmed the scene: "We didn't drink the vodka, but we drank the olive oil!" she marvels. "[Director] Tommy Schlamme said, ‘Hey, y'all, do you think you could just really drink the olive oil because when I get down and close, it looks like water?’ And we all went, ‘Yeah!’ without blinking an eye."
As for Martindale's favorite scenes for herself? She has two moments she loves of Claudia's: The first, she says is season 1, episode 3, "Gregory," when she's introduced. "I loved that she posed as a regular person in a diner," the actress says.
The second is the season 1 finale, "The Colonel," in which Claudia uses a stun gun on a mark and ends up slicing his throat. "I turned around, tasered him, slit his throat, and then watched him bleed out and told him exactly why I killed him," she recalls. "I thought that was the clearest [example] of who she was. Brutal!"
A final salute
Martindale sums up the series finale as "perfect" and bids farewell to the series with praise for her colleagues. "To do a beautiful show like this, you have to have a clear voice," she says. "[Showrunners] Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields are the purest writers I've worked with. They stuck to their guns, they never allowed themselves to be influenced by the outside world, and they never let it be sensational. It's controlled emotion, is what it is, and I think that's what's made for a powerful show."
The Americans ends Wednesday, May 30, at 10 p.m. on FX.