Oh how I wish I was rushed for my write-up of tonight’s wonderful episode of The Americans. “Walter Taffet” is the show at its best. This may have been an episode that relies heavily on all that we know about the series and the characters so far, but it was written and directed so wonderfully. Noah Emmerich made his directorial debut with this episode and he does a hell of a job with it. We see a number of series and season-long storylines referenced, watch an action scene unfold, and witness a few very tense sequences, one which heavily involves Poor Martha. With half of this season now cleared, this was a great way to really start kicking things into a higher gear.
Martha is a great place to start. For weeks, this season and last, The Americans has only given us so much of Martha and how she functions in her relationship with Clarke. The first season set up some major groundwork and while she has floated in and out, it seems like it is time to start delivering on this aspect of the series. Following a wonderfully filmed discovery of a bug in Gaad’s pen, Martha panics and finds herself holding her breath in the ladies room, while dismantling the device in her purse. Alison Wright has been a real trooper on this series, but his episode really pushes her to be in a few different emotional states.
Later on in the episode, with Martha starting to think about her relationship with Clarke, she requests that they head to his apartment. As The Americans is a smartly crafted series, it is great to see Martha not only get her wish, but find that Philip (as Clarke) has completely prepared for this type of scenario. The apartment Martha sees looks lived-in, which is a credit to the show’s ability to know we can only suspend so much disbelief, but are also smart enough to know a world exists outside of what we are shown in the episodes of this series. Martha is certainly more suspicious of things than ever, but the dance that she and Clarke are playing provides plenty of good setup for more.
Getting back to that bug that was found in Gaad’s pen, this reveal leads to a sweep of the office and allows us to meet the episode’s title character, Walter Taffet. Clearly Taffet will be sticking around for more than his brief two scenes in this episode, but I, again, enjoy how Martha will likely be involved in the activities going on in the office for good reason. Meanwhile, Stan is dealing with a lot at the office and at home, as he is preparing to head to the memorial service for his former undercover partner. This allows him to open up a bit, whether it be foolhardy in the way he talks to Sandra or more honestly, when it comes to his son. For an episode that already has Emmerich quite busy as a director, we do get enough to work with as far as keeping us on track with what is going in his mind as well, even if we are getting a break as far as his issues with the Soviet defector, Zinaida, goes.
We also get a break from the drama surrounding Paige, to a point. Yes, Philip and Elizabeth are most certainly still having issues in regards to how to handle things with her. It is not made any easier after Philip finds out about the talk his wife and his daughter had about their past (to a point), without his knowledge. That said, while Philip is cold to Elizabeth to keep this aspect of the story alive, the Jennings are no less good at what they do. There are a lot of elements here that I would have to spell out in regards to the spy games being played surrounding the plotting of what to do with a man sympathetic to the Communist cause, let alone another check-in with Elizabeth’s AA pal Lisa, which now involves Philip posing in disguise along with her. What matters is the confidence in an episode like this, where even if you cannot suss out the exact details of who is involved with what, the interactions between various characters all seem to connect thematically.
The character work all takes a break for a second in the episodes final minutes, as Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” scores the terrifically staged action sequence involving some hand-to-hand combat between Emo Philip and a potential assassin and a shocking murder by Elizabeth. The Americans is a show that so easily balances a level of style with the sort of professional ease that the Jennings have when it comes to violent action. They are good at their jobs when the going gets tough and the show loves to set these scenes to some great tunes.
Nothing to speak of on the Soviet front with Oleg, Nina, or Arkady this week, but it matters little, as this episode was packed with great stuff. From the various characters we did see and how great it was to watch them open up in various ways, to the few very tense scenarios that allowed this show to get a little more intense than it has been in the past few weeks, “Walter Taffet” is one of this season’s bests so far. Big kudos to Noah Emmerich for pulling something like this off and I can only hope he gets the chance to do more in the future.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Henry report: He has to read a poem in class and is a fan of expanding his vocabulary.
- The way Stan told some bland descriptions about his relationship with Nina was well-executed, as far as holding up the lie he tells himself and would like to believe.
- Everything about the “bug scene” was wonderfully done.
- Lots of crazy wigs in this week’s episode.
- Philip revealing the existence of his son to Elizabeth is a great way to allow these characters to get closer, in spite of everything happening.