All season long, The Americans has addressed issues of loyalty and consequence. What has made this season so powerful is the emotional connection Philip and Elizabeth have had to their work, and how deeply it has affected them. Starting the season off with the gruesome deaths of their fellow spies set the stage and tone for what would follow, and the season’s tight focus on just a few stories (which are now connecting) have made for an incredible arc of episodes. No hour has been so dedicated to consequence as “Martial Eagle” though, a dark and difficult walk with Philip as he goes through crisis. Hit the jump for why “I know this is war. It’s just easier for you.”
The long-planned mission to the military base finally took place in “Martial Eagle,” but it couldn’t have been more of a letdown for the Jennings. As things went sideways, Philip was left slitting the throat of an innocent, as well as killing several others who were not part of the plan. Worse still, when he and Elizabeth go back to find their terrified truck driver — whom Philip had not let Elizabeth kill, but rather, just tie up — they find him frozen to death.
“Martial Eagle” was a powerful hour that showed Philip, typically calm and level-headed, completely losing himself. The piling on of death blows are adding up for him, and he doesn’t know where to direct his anger, so instead drags down everyone he can. He lashes out at Elizabeth, that the life they’re living is easier for her (insinuating she’s without emotion). He reduces Paige to tears when he yells at her about the money she gifted to her church, and begins ripping pages out of her Bible. Later, he visits Martha, and (after drinking copiously), decides to devastate her by playing the clip he had withheld last week, that edited version of Gaad where it sounds like he and the others are laughing about how ugly they think she is. Not content to stop there, he goes to Paige’s church and confronts her Pastor in a threatening manner. Would he kill him? Beat him up? (As the Pastor suggests). But he backs off and leaves after Pastor Tim sees and comments on the violence and brokenness inside him. He may not believe in Jesus, but he knows he needs to find a way, somehow, to forgiveness.
“Martial Eagle” also gave some very promising material to Stan, whose arc has felt like an afterthought this season. Sandra is essentially leaving him (something long overdue), which he didn’t see coming. She ribs him that he of all people should have noticed — he is counterintelligence, after all. But Stan has been blind to many emotional things, like of course Nina. Him telling the Department of Defense staff about Soviet spies and silence, and how they prey on emotional weaknesses, was of course completely ironic given his own situation (not to mention one of those he talks to is Fred). Martha, who deserves something positive after the way Clarke treats her, and her constant forgiveness towards him, uses her smarts to connect the triple murder with the secret Defense meeting. Stan uses her instincts and goes further, exploring all of the evidence from the crime. He’s close to connecting these multiple threads together.
But there’s still other work to be done, and once again, Elizabeth ties in business with the personal by bringing up aspects of her troubled marriage with a woman from AA who works as an assembly line worker for Northrop Grumman, the new target for getting security secrets. Gaad, too, is not about to let circumstance and a few bad turns get him down: he confronts Arkady about spilling secrets that will cause major deportations within the Rezidentura, unless Arkady gets the Soviet Foreign Secretary to back off regarding Vlad’s death. The show must go on.
“Martial Eagle” was a dark hour that continued to explore the emotional and personal side of a cold business. It’s not easy for anyone.
Episode Rating: A
— I know not everything can take place in daylight hours, but I swear, I could not see almost any of what was happening for the first 15 minutes of the episode (basically until after they found the driver dead). It’s great that it’s realistic and all but, sheesh, gimme some lights!
— Isn’t it interesting how the Soviets and Soviet sympathetics are so riled up about the American government planting false documents because they know the Soviets will be trying to steal them? As if it’s not because they are trying to steal them.
— It was illuminating to hear Elizabeth talk about how her months with her injury essentially proved what a great guy Philip is to her and to their family, and how she’s been looking for a way to take care of him since then.
— D’aww, loved the scene where the nice old man asks Philip if he’s ok.
— This episode was co-conceived of by Oliver North, which is why I guess there was so much specific information about the base and how the DoD operates regarding development strategies (that it’s not only highly secretive, but also compartmentalized so no one person has all of the answers).
— Stan: “You’re telling me you’re going to have an affair?” Sandra: “I might.”
— Strange and interesting scene where Elizabeth woke Paige up to make her do work through the night, to illustrate how spoiled she is compared to the lives her parents had growing up. In Soviet Russia, the night works through you!
— Stan also has yet to figure out why the Soviets wanted Anton. He has a lot of work to do!
— “As we say in the U.S., heads will roll” – Gaad.
— Pastor Tim: “There is grace and forgiveness for you.” Philip: “Do you believe that?” Pastor Tim: “I do.”