‘The Americans’ Defies All Expectations In A Must-See Episode

There’s no dialogue for the first five minutes of last night’s incredible episode of The Americans, “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears.” (You’d think that would be the best episode title for a prestige drama ever, but nope, last season’s “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” has it beat.) There doesn’t need to be. The silence speaks volumes.

Martha and Clarke, er, Philip wake up, she turns away from him. They have breakfast with Gabriel. Martha studies a jar of peanut butter for a peculiar amount of time, like a death row prisoner savoring her last meal before taking that long walk to the chair. The three of them leave while the sun’s still down, to an otherwise abandoned runway where an airplane is waiting to take her, and only her, to Cuba, then Prague, then finally, Russia, her new home. Right as Philip is about to say something, Martha interrupts him. “Don’t be alone, Clarke,” she instructs him. It’s one last #PoorMartha for the road.

This was the 47th episode of The Americans. I should know better than to expect Martha’s plane to blow up while its taking off, or for someone to shoot her in the back of the head, because it’s not that kind of show (except when it is). The only explosions in “The Magic of David Copperfield V” — which sets aside the Martha Death Watch (although she’s as good as dead; if she returns to the United States, she’ll be guilty of treason), in favor of showing the effect this “simple” secretary had on so many lives — are Elizabeth and Philip’s fight over EST, and Martha, and Gregory, and so many other “agents” they’ve lost, and my jaw hitting the floor when “Seven Months Later” came on-screen.

Narrative time jumps can be a lazy crutch for writers when they’ve dug too deep of a hole to climb back out (True Blood, Masters of Sex, and Desperate Housewives are guilty of this), but there’s nothing careless about The Americans‘ decision to leap forward over half a year. (The transition from Copperfield’s Statue of Liberty to the mini golf version was an inspired choice by director Matthew Rhys. I wonder which wig he wears behind the camera?) It’s a pivot. If the first eight episodes of the season were about Nina and Martha, then the final five move back to the Jennings and Stan. What a relief.

The Americans has never been the easiest show to watch, but this season has been more stressful than usual. There’s the whole Nina situation, and the vial that almost infected half of Northern Virginia, and the rat in the freezer, and Philip and Elizabeth’s sparring, and Philip’s flashback to his first murder, and, of course, the FBI and KGB’s hunt for Martha. To quote Gabriel, “It’s never been this bad. It’s worse every day.” The show ran the risk of drowning in its own misery. But then, “Seven Months Later,” and we’re at a mini golf course, where Paige is having a grand ol’ time with Pastor Tim and his pregnant wife Alice, and the rest of the Jennings — even Sloppy Joe enthusiast Henry — are playing hockey in the driveway. A safe Russian passion in front of the world.

Things aren’t what they seem, though. Philip and Elizabeth may have, temporarily, made up, but Paige has changed — she’s slowly, methodically, sadly becoming one of them. How was her day with Pastor Tim? “They were both in a good mood. They enjoyed miniature golf. Alice said she can really feel the baby moving. I said I can’t wait to babysit.” With a less tired-looking Philip and Elizabeth temporarily sidelined, per Gabriel’s request, Paige has become the spy in the family (now there’s a spinoff idea). She looks as miserable as Frank Gaad is relieved that he’s no longer employed with FBI. Now he can enjoy his trips to Thailand in peace, and give Stan advice without having to worry about someone bugging his office. Keep working Oleg, he tells his former employee, “you can’t lose sight of who these people are.” Gaad might as well have been talking to us. We sympathize, even root, for the Jennings, because we’ve seen them at their most intimate. All the hallway fights, bedroom exploits, and dinner table conversations. But they, or more accurately, who they represent, also want to make the Statue of Liberty “disappear.” That The Americans was able to pull off this point without it feeling too heavy-handed is even more magical than David Copperfield.

Is it too soon for #PoorPaige?