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TV Review: The Americans 3.12 “I Am Abassin Zadran”
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The Americans FX

The Americans
Season 3, Episode 12 – “I Am Abassin Zadran”
Directed by Christopher Misiano
Written by Peter Ackerman & Stuart Zicherman
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Langella
FX
Air date: Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 10pm

Secrets and lies are two intrinsically linked elements, as it’s impossible to have one without the other. The Americans is a show that’s lived in the area between those places and this season has really focused on the emotional weight of what it means to have secrets, to keep secrets, and what it is to tell lies to keep those secrets.

I Am Abassin Zadran” refers to the titular mujahideen commander Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) speak to in the episode, but for Martha (Alison Wright) this could have easily been the name behind the man she’s known as Clark. Identity is at the heart of this episode, as we continue to see Paige (Holly Taylor) struggle with her changed circumstances and question who she’s been all her life. These are weighty questions to posit as the show heads into its season finale, but they’re questions this show is capable of not only asking, but providing the answers to as well.

Spoilers for the latest episode of The Americans will be discussed below.

Philip’s reveal to Martha plays like a horror movie, shot and acted with such an unnatural and eeriness, it often looks as though Philip might actually peel his face off — continuing the idea that Philip is now “unmasking” himself to her. It’s a moment though that many other shows might have rushed to provide. Building and showing the spycraft associated with the Jennings family allows this moment to have substantial weight. And the fear that builds with Martha throughout the episode is palatable — as all it takes is one visit from Stan (Noah Emmerich) to send Martha’s barely contained paranoia into complete overdrive. Being dropped off in the middle of nowhere by a stranger claiming to be a friend of your husband doesn’t do wonders to bring assurance either. Martha’s phone call to her parents is telling: the walls are closing in and she’s all alone — the camera framing her back and the empty side of the bed.

As Philip comes undone to Martha, so does Paige, pulling the threads of what her life has been to this moment and realizing that it’s all been lies. What strikes me about the work that The Americans has done with Paige this year is that she consistently proves she’s smarter than her parents give her credit for — as she continually pushes them to expose the truth. “It’s all lies,” she screams, but what parent doesn’t lie to protect their child? It’s only when Elizabeth and Philip continue to reveal themselves to Paige do things finally seem to be on the turn around.

Shining a light on a shadow eliminates the mystery, but with so much exposed, The Americans feels much more volatile than before.

Quick Thoughts:

– Alison Wright (who I discovered this week is British! I never would have known as her American accent is so good) and Holly Taylor are doing some truly incredible work here. Sadly, I don’t think Martha is long for this world, despite what are very clear attempts from Philip to do the best he can to delay that outcome.

– It was very nice to see Margo Martindale again, if for no other reason than for me to continue to be caught up in the bliss of Justified‘s fantastic series finale — it was Martindale’s Emmy-winning turn there that brought her to the harsh world of this one. While I wish we’d had time to see her interact with Philip and Elizabeth, an incredible scene with Frank Langella is just as satisfactory.

– A bit of staging that I really liked: Philip and Elizabeth are together in the garage until Paige asks them to move away and then they separate — a great metaphor on how divided they’ve been because of circumstance involving their daughter.

– I have a feeling the finale is going to be crushing on a number of fronts. Bring it on.

– The song that plays over Elizabeth and Paige’s chat is Ultravox’s “Vienna.”

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