For most of Season 3, The Americans has attempted to tie the various plotlines of each episode together with a unifying theme. Whether it’s been adolescence, or religion, or suitcases, the creators have clearly put thought into not only the surface story, but also what each week is about. While I suppose last night’s episode, “Walter Taffet,” could loosely be described as being about helplessness, it mostly took a break from this formula and let the characters interact without the need to make any larger statement. Directed thoughtfully by Noah Emmerich (Stan) “Walter Taffet” was an episode of quiet moments, punctuated by one big revelation and one big action sequence.
The revelation is one we’ve been waiting on for almost two seasons. The pen that never barked was finally discovered in Agent Gaad’s (Richard Thomas) office by Aderholt (whose constant question-asking and apple-polishing have begun to annoy Stan). The immediate fallout from this reveal was to finally give Alison Wright her first opportunity to show her acting range (unless you consider incessantly nagging Clark and kind of nagging Clark to be a wide range). Her performance as Martha throughout is riveting. After recovering from her initial shock, she desperately tries to destroy the recording mechanism in a suspenseful, claustrophobic bathroom scene. She then must endure an electronic sweep of the bullpen before returning home, suspicious of Clark. Clearly shaken, she obfuscates to Clark about what really happened at the office, then demands he take her to his apartment. Philip (Matthew Rhys) can sense something is off with Martha, but attributes it to her frustration at wanting a foster child.
The longer- term fallout from the bug’s detection is the titular character, Walter Taffet (Jefferson Mays). Taffet is the OPR agent (the FBI”s equivalent to Internal Affairs) sent to find who planted the bug. His role in this episode is small, but given the fact that the episode is titled after him, his appearance seems to represent a turning point in this season’s plot. Taffet comes off as the type of agent who always gets his guy (or in this case, his girl), and his elevator ride with Martha at the end of the episode does not portend well for her. Even more ominous for Martha is seeing her pull out the gun from her drawer. This is at least the second time we’ve seen Martha with a gun this season (the other was a the range with Stan). Assuming the writers know about Chekov’s maxim about guns (a safe assumption), I think we should all prepare ourselves for the gun’s reappearance. It’s possible Martha uses it on Clark, but I gotta think Vegas would install Martha as the clear favorite for the character who winds up on the business end of the pistol.
Martha isn’t the only wife with whom Philip is having difficulty. Tensions are high again between Philip and Elizabeth (prompting Philip’s late night booty call to Martha) after he learns that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) began turning Paige without telling him. Having to watch this development from the sideline, combined with having to monitor the Afghani war for news about his son, has Philip feeling particularly helpless. Philip and Elizabeth do reach an uneasy peace at the end of the episode after she apologizes to him and he confesses his secret about his son with Irina (more on the state of the Jennings’ marriage later).
Stan isn’t the only husband on the block feeling helpless. Despite the fact that Sandra (Susan Misner) has MOVED IN WITH ANTOHER MAN, Stan had been holding out hope that they would get back together, based on the technicality that they were still legally married. Sandra mercifully broke that illusion last night, asking for their divorce to become official. The end of this relationship, though, was balanced by a new beginning between Stan and his emotionally distant son, Matthew (Danny Flaherty). Stan opens up to Matthew about his time undercover and how it screwed him up as a person and a father. Matthew is accepting of this apology, and seems to understand his dad in a sympathetic, even heroic light.
The episode’s finale is an action sequence where Philip and Elizabeth come together to take down a South African Intelligence officer in broad daylight on a busy city street. It helps that the unlikelihood of this plan working is acknowledged by Elizabeth in an earlier conversation with Hans (Peter Mark Kendall) and further obscured by the excellent soundtrack choice, “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac. The rhythm of the song fits surprisingly well with the action, building suspense for the set up and then picking up its pace as the battle begins in earnest. It’s tempting to read into the song’s lyrics about doomed relationships, especially in an episode where Elizabeth and Philip had real issues, but I think that’s probably a mistake. The lyrics about running in the shadows and never breaking the chain are obviously not coincidental. But despite all the troubles between Philip and Elizabeth this season, their fights have mostly ended on tender notes like the one last night. I’m just not seeing Philip and Elizabeth splitting up, but I might be the wrong guy to ask. I’m still convinced Stevie and Lindsey are getting back together.
Read all of Court Haslett's posts for Criminal Element.