Why Everyone is Freaking Out About Last Night’s ‘The Americans’


Things have never been worse for the characters on The Americans, and yet the show has never been better. Directed by Matthew Rhys, last night’s episode — amazingly titled “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” — begins with a dreamlike sequence in which Philip and Gabriel accompany Martha to a remote airfield. She boards a teeny plane and takes off into the early-morning darkness, presumably never to be seen again. The wordless scene of the three of them sitting around the kitchen table in the safe house, Martha intently examining a jar of Skippy peanut butter, perfectly captures the queasiness of her situation. You can imagine what must be going through her head: Do they have peanut butter in Russia? What will my life become?

“Don’t be alone, Clark,” she says in the scene’s only spoken line, before she boards the plane, and it’s a shock to recall that she still doesn’t know Philip has a whole other family — one that also began as a work arrangement but, like his relationship with Martha, deepened over time into something real. I don’t know if Philip truly loves Martha in a romantic sense, but I have no doubt that he loves her and cares for her. I have no doubt that when she left, she took a piece of him with her.

This episode established a new normal for the Jennings family. Philip’s moping around the house, unshaven, reading EST books and talking about taking up hockey again. We see how Philip used Martha as a pressure valve from his real marriage, and now that it’s gone, he’s miserable and cranky. That can’t be easy on Elizabeth, who picked up on the fact that Philip was closer to Martha than she realized in the previous episode, when she finds out that Martha already knew his real name (and real hair). Elizabeth breaks the tension with cigarettes and a clandestine trip to the movies with her chummy new asset, Young-hee (the wonderful Ruthie Anne Miles).

“The Magic of David Copperfield V” is also notable for its seven-month time jump, a device that’s become more commonplace on TV over the years: Parks and Recreation jumped ahead three years at the end of its Season 6 finale; Masters of Sex took months-long leaps throughout its first season, and made a years-long jump between the second and third seasons; Breaking Bad’s fifth season confused viewers by leaping ahead three months, before doubling back to catch us up.

After two Martha-heavy episodes, The Americans turns its focus back to Paige, who tells her mother she can’t keep going to church and pretending like everything’s normal with Pastor Tim and his wife, Alice. Elizabeth snaps, informing her she will continue to go to church and report back on everything that happens there, because she put the whole family in jeopardy when she told Tim their secret. “That is all that stands between us and this family being destroyed,” she says. It’s a chilling speech, and Paige knows her mother well enough to know she’s dead serious.

Gabriel senses that Philip and Elizabeth are reaching a breaking point — Elizabeth appears shell-shocked after she divulges that she had to kill one of her assets, a rare moment of shakiness for this sturdy, sensible character. In another scene, we see a disguised Philip visiting Gene’s grave. These two steely pros are starting to lose it, and Gabriel knows it: He tells them he won’t give them any more new assets for a while.

The Americans has always compressed its action into a short amount of time — it’s only been two years since the events of Season 1 — so the seven-month jump is a notable shakeup. But “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” (named for a 1983 Copperfield illusion) sticks out for another reason. With Gabriel giving the Jennings’s a “vacation,” we see Elizabeth and Philip start to relax a little and behave more like a regular family. But we also see Paige growing increasingly morose and miserable with her new spying duties. In a montage, Paige dutifully plays mini-golf with Tim and Alice, apparently having a good time; later she returns home and is about to go upstairs when her parents stop her. She reports on their session in a flat tone, weary and resigned. Sound familiar?