Review: ‘The Americans’ – ‘Divestment’: Til death do you part?

A review of tonight's “The Americans” coming up just as soon as I won't be able to ride the trains the next time I'm home…

“Being married and being at war do not always go together.” -Reuben

Before we even get to the opening credits, “Divestment” offers us a series of interrogations, and discussions of interrogations:  Elizabeth and Philip and Reuben try to get their South African prisoners to talk, Martha and other FBI staffers gossip about Walter Taffet's interviews about the bug in Agent Gaad's office, and Nina returns to the prison interview room to learn that if she can coax information out of Anton (the refusenik scientist kidnapped by Philip and Elizabeth in season 2) the way she did with Evi, she can get her sentence ended immediately.

Throughout the episode, we are presented with characters who are trapped and characters who get to go free, and often the only difference between the two, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, is how committed they are.

So of the two South African prisoners, the Afrikaner true believer refuses to give up anything and is burned to death – through a process that came to be known as “necklacing” as it became a prominent and horrible method of execution in that region in the '80s – while young Todd reveals where the bomb is and is set free by a pair of spies who have a son not too much younger than he is.

Among our Soviet contingent, Nina has reached a point where she is concerned only with self-preservation, so it's not hard to understand her taking the deal, even as Anton – defined at this point by his belief that his native land is an awful place run by awful people – seems like he'll be a tough nut to crack. And Arkady has so far managed to keep Oleg out of the Minister of Railways' paternal clutches, but it feels like a delaying tactic at best at this point.

And then there's Martha. Poor, poor Martha, whose only way out of the trap she realizes she's fallen into may be inside Elizabeth's suitcase.

Should Martha have told “Clark” that the bug was discovered? Probably not. When she learns that Walter Taffet is from the Office of Professional Responsibility – aka, the division of the FBI where her husband claims to work – whatever suspicions she had at the start of this fiasco are replaced by an inescapable conclusion: whoever her husband may be, he does not work for the U.S. government, and he seduced her to trick her into spying on her co-workers. She's not an agent herself, but she knows enough about the spy game to have some idea of what might happen to a woman in her position, depending on which side gets her. Turning herself in to Taffet and Gaad gives her a life in prison at best, and possibly a death sentence for treason. Telling Clark that the jig is up and that he's now at risk of exposure also probably leads her to the grave – and much sooner – but at this point, all she has left is the thinnest, saddest of hopes that some part of that relationship has been real. When Clark tells her that he really did fall for her, it's a lie that even she can see through, but she goes to bed with him anyway because pretending it's the truth is the best option she feels she has left.

If she's lucky, maybe Philip takes pity on her the way he and Elizabeth did on Todd, and they arrange passage to Moscow or Cuba. But if she's being honest with herself, all hope for her vanished long ago.

Another great episode that managed to keep the tension and ugliness high even as the two teenage girls who've been at the center of so much of this season's drama were shunted off to the side for a week.

Some other thoughts:

* This week, in Alan Wants a Web Series: “GAAD VS. MAIL ROBOT.” That is its title, that is its content, that is all anyone needs. Hell, why stop at a web series? NEW FX TENTPOLE DRAMA. SUNDAYS AT 9: “GAAD VS. MAIL ROBOT” VS. “THE WALKING DEAD”!

* Another potential escape in the making: Elizabeth tries to get Gabriel to pull strings to arrange Philip's son Mischa exit from the Afghan front lines. It's a compromise she's making – offering to support Philip's continued seduction of Kimberly in exchange – because she loves her husband, but I suspect it doesn't hurt in assuaging her guilt over their ongoing split on the Paige issue.

* Speaking of which, I'm impressed by the way the show has managed to take such a slow and steady path with Paige's recruitment. We have only five episodes left this season and the furthest she's gone is to look up some stories about Gregory on microfilm. It's a patient approach that's been justified by how strong the season has been around that; the mere threat of her recruitment has been such a potent source of conflict between husband and wife that the show hasn't had to rush the recruitment itself.

* This show doesn't offer a ton of humor, and perhaps as a result of needing some kind of release from all the awfulness, I sometimes find myself laughing harder at something than was maybe intended – if laughter was desire at all. Case in point: Vasilly giving Nina the stink eye as he enters the room and she realizes her new superior is the same man she tried to frame for her own crimes. A tense moment that nonetheless made me laugh long enough that I had to pause the screener.

* Given how little Stan is in this episode, I'm a little surprised this wasn't the one they gave to Noah Emmerich to direct. (This, or next week's episode, since he would have been spending much of the week before his episode focusing on pre-production tasks.)

* Taffet's interviews finally give us some backstory on Aderholt, who's more of a up from the bootstraps guy than many of his colleagues, in addition to being black at a time when that was more rare in the Bureau. I like how the show keeps addressing that in subtle ways – Stan last week making sure to mention Aderholt's race when discussing him with Philip, or Taffet tonight asking him about the difficulties of fitting in while “new” – while Philip and Elizabeth are involved in the anti-apartheid movement.

Finally, we're at a point in the season where episodes are being delivered to critics very late because of where the show is in production. I didn't get the link for this one until 4 this afternoon. Just preparing you for the possibility that between now and season's end, there just may not be enough time to review certain episodes until sometime the following day.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at