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While fully immersed in season five of FX’s The Americans, I’m sitting on my sofa wondering what about this season is off for me.
So, I consulted my The Americans is Amazing Checklist to see if I could figure out what I was missing.
Does it have wigs? Yes.
Is Paige whining? Yes.
Is Phillip like a super-hot leading man? Check.
Does Elizabeth’s hair look like a Jhirmack commerical? Yes.
Is Stan a credible threat to the Jennings’? Um … not right now
Is there plenty of sassy Margo Martindale? NOT NEARLY
Am I coveting Elizabeth’s outerwear? Definitely
Is Elizabeth still a hardass compared to Phillip? Oh yeah
The conclusions I came to about all those things reminded me that every season has had tense episodes and not so tense ones. The things I love about the show really haven’t changed all that much. Even without Margo Martindale being a total ball buster as Claudia every other week, the show still managed to surprise, shock and scare me. But somehow the stakes are lower. Where is the magic spark and the high stakes this season that make me chew my fingernails off?
It hit me like a ton of mousey, sad, sexy bricks. Martha. This show needs Martha in a bad way.
I’ve already mentioned that Alison Wright makes every show she’s on better just by virtue of being an incredible actress with a highly watchable face, but her turn as poor Martha on The Americans isn’t just another tick mark in the interesting supporting character box on your Golden Globes scorecard. For four seasons, Martha has been not only the foil for Elizabeth, but also the lynchpin that wrenches the stakes higher and higher.
From season one, Martha was more than just the other woman. More than just Phillip’s unwitting asset at the FBI. As the dynamics changed, Martha became another way that Phillip was humanized, and that Elizabeth and Phillip’s relationship was set on tenterhooks. Even when they were in a good place, Martha was always there too.
Behold, one of my favorite Elizabeth/Phillip foreplay scenes, which is only made possible because Martha is a lioness in the sack.
In season one, when we were being introduced to the dirty side of the Jennings’ reality as Russian spies, Martha is this pure force of single, spunky lady. She has a cute little DC apartment, furnished with all her favorite things. She is optimistic. She has effectively shot down annoying bro-types that she works with. And she is after Clark. And it’s adorable.
Of course, knowing Clark is really Phillip and purposefully leading her on also makes her pitiable, but we are nevertheless rooting for her all the same.
In season two, as Clark’s wide and work widow, she’s effortlessly sanguine, and an actual safe harbor for Phillip, and not just Clark, to come home to. We quit seeing her as quite so naive and begin seeing her as formidable force, which ALSO makes her a credible threat. OH, MARTHA. I miss you.
But even as we destroyed this poor working woman who had it all, she held up under the pressure. But we honestly didn’t believe that she would keep them out of the woods until her ass was actually on that plane. SEE? STAKES. DRAMA. TENSION. Martha brings it, man.
Without her, this season is missing a key ingredient. A female character who is intrinsically linked not only with the greatest threat to the Jennings’ cover (Stan and the FBI) but also one who is inherently wedged into the real drama of the show – Phillip and Elizabeth’s relationship. She’s been the only thread that runs through both of the major conflicts of the story, and without her, the story itself suffers.
And I jumped up and squealed. Her little basbushka head trying to figure out if she’s buying rice or marshmallows. I’ve missed you, Martha. And if this was just a ploy to satisfy those “Will Martha be back this season?” questions, and we never see her again, I might riot.
Why not let her teach Mischa English since he’s back home? I’d be ok with that May-December romance. Anything to get Alison Wright back on my TV every week in this awesome role.
The Americans airs on Tuesday nights on FX. And tonight – at least Margo is back!
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