Season 4, Episode 7 – “Travel Agents”
Directed by Dan Attias
Written by Tanya Barfield
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Dylan Baker, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Langella
Air date: Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, 10pm
The Americans isn’t a show that has a dense number of concurrent plots, so it is somewhat of a rarity for those additional narratives to slow in service of a larger story. But when the show focuses on a singular plot, it typically means we’re in for a doozy. “Travel Agents” delivers; heightening and lifting the show’s normal atmosphere of tension and dread to frightening new levels.
For an episode that’s all about her, it’s a great choice that Martha (Alison Wright) doesn’t even show up until about nine minutes into the proceedings. The audience is left just as clueless as the characters on the show, and it’s nice to see how each side responds to her disappearance. Wright has been astonishing over the course of this stretch of episodes, but she’s on another level entirely in “Travel Agents,” as she’s clearly at wits end. That sequence where we do rejoin Martha is expertly directed by Dan Attias, who lets the camera fall into a mode that’s best described as structurally handheld: at first it moves quickly, matching her frenzied actions, but becomes more controlled during a few moments where she’s slowing down enough to get a handle on what she’s perceiving. This sets the tone for her actions throughout the episode — calling her parents and contemplating suicide on the bridge — play out in such a way that there’s seemingly no way for Martha to make it out of the episode alive.
These actions, combined with previous knowledge that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is definitely not afraid to pull a trigger if a situation necessities it, culminate in one of the most suspenseful moments of the show’s history: Elizabeth — who’s been a little less featured than some of the other characters in this episode — emerges from the woods like a hunter sneaking up on an unsuspecting deer, ratcheting the tension even higher as she works her hand into her jacket pocket for what’s presumably a pistol. Attais sets the shot so that both Martha and Elizabeth are on the opposite ends of the frame, straight out of a western showdown. Martha’s fate has always seemed as doomed as the ending of a Shakespearian tragedy, so to see the show subvert expectations and keep Martha alive — especially after a prelude that tense — knocked the wind out of me almost as hard as it’s knocked out of Martha.
While they’re still a half-step behind, Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Anderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) orbit near the action just enough that they’re a real threat to either catching Martha or the Jennings. It’s easily the closest we’ve seen Stan come to catching Philip (Matthew Rhys) and/or Elizabeth (which should make the moment where he actually does even more intense than this was), and it’s a harrowing experience to watch unfold.
However, nothing could prepare for the one-two punch of Elizabeth’s query over where Philip’s true love lies, partnered with Philip having to detail Martha’s future to her. Both Russell and Rhys are superlative, as they navigate through the sea of emotions that arise between them. Rhys gets special credit for his role in delivering the devastating news to Wright, who suffers through another devastating blow.
Martha states: “I’ll be alone. Just the way it was before I met you.” But Martha has been emotionally alone since her and Philip’s relationship began. Now, that emotional reality has become actual reality. All of “Travel Agents” functions in a way to isolate Martha from the Jennings. Even in its final moments, that isolation is still present, despite the fact Martha has been found. Elizabeth is alone at home, running her wedding ring-adorned hand through her hair as she contemplates in the mirror. And, sure, Martha and Philip are in a room together – but they couldn’t be more apart.
– “I’m in charge of FBI counter intelligence, and my secretary married a KGB officer.” Poor Gaad, who looks to be out of a job after this. Richard Thomas has been a constant source of humor on the show, so I do hope he’ll be involved moving forward. I’m not holding my breath though.
– Oleg’s (Costa Ronin) growing disposition at the Rezidentura, and the scene with Stan’s superior wanting to bring Oleg are definitely a bit of foreshadowing. Considering the fact that he’s feeling more alienated than before upon his return, the loss of Nina, and now this shady business with Tatina (Vera Cherny). It’s probably a safe bet that it won’t be long before we see Oleg defecting in a major way.
– Hey, look, the kids are alright! Kind of. The combination of the Jennings / Beeman kids join in on the isolation, as their parents knowingly and unknowingly chase one another all around the DC metropolitan area. But they’ve got the right idea, as I definitely could have gone for a beer by the time the episode was over.
– This is easily the closest we’ve come to Stan catching Philip and Elizabeth. The moment where Stan catches them or figures it out on his own is going to be even more nerve-shattering than this. I fully expect it to be an amazing moment to behold.
What did you think of this week’s episode?