The Americans 3.08: “Divestment”

In an early scene in last night’s The Americans, Oleg’s father calls Arkady (Lev Gorn) to ask why his son has not been sent home as he requested. When Arkady answers that Oleg (Costa Ronin) would like to finish his work in America before returning, the Minister of Railways is not happy. But instead of directly pulling rank on Arkady, he appeals to him on an emotional level, explaining to Arkady that he has two sons far away from home, Oleg in the U.S., and another fighting in Afghanistan. Asking for one his sons to be close to him is merely “a very human request.”

This intimate, more personal sentiment prevails throughout the entire episode, giving it an even more contemplative mood than usual. The title, “Divestment,” sardonically refers to the fate of Eugene Venter (Neil Sandilands), the South African intelligence officer kidnapped at the end of last episode. However, it applies more obliquely to the way in which other characters back off (divest) from their professional and emotional rigidity, allowing empathy to help guide their actions. Elizabeth (Keri Russell)in particular seems to soften the most, as she bookends the episode by making another “very human request” of Gabriel.

Well, there was one big exception to this empathetic note: that whole setting fire to a human being scene. Reuben (Dwayne A. Thomas), deciding that shooting Venter is not the appropriate method of execution, proceeds to “necklace” him (a technique used during the ‘80s in South Africa where the victim is placed in a tire and set on fire). Last episode, Elizabeth seemed to connect with Reuben and his commitment to the cause. However, witnessing this brutal murder seems to trouble her. It’s never explicitly stated, but her reaction is one of a quiet horror, and her actions afterward indicate she might be rethinking her hardcore stance. First, by agreeing to let Todd (Will Pullen) go free, even though she knows that Todd may have seen Hans (Peter Mark Kendall) at the scene, placing themselves and the entire operation in danger, and then later, after seeing Philip’s anguish over his son in Afghanistan, by asking Gabriel (Frank Langella) to intervene on Mischa’s behalf.

Alison Wright as Martha

The big revelation of “Divestment” comes near the end, when Martha (Alison Wright) finally figures out that Clark isn’t who he says he is. After being interrogated by Walter Taffet (Jefferson Mays), a real OPR agent, she confronts Clark (with the help of a bottle of wine) and knows immediately from his reaction that he’s lying. Without telling her any specifics, Philip (Matthew Rhys) confirms her suspicions. Just as it looks like Martha is headed for the chest of drawers where she keeps her gun, Philip convinces her that despite lying about his job, he truly loves her, and that he will do whatever he can to protect her. She accepts his help (though she doesn’t have much choice), but the burdened looks on their faces as the episode ends shows that this is a very uneasy truce. Reuben’s observation to Philip that “Being married and being at war do not always go together” looks like it will apply to Martha and Clark, not Elizabeth and Philip. Credit to the writers for giving Martha a much-deserved showcase this season (weird to call her impending departure a victory lap, but that’s what it’s been). Her performance the last two episodes has been stellar. I knew I’d feel sorry for sad-sack Martha when her time was up, but I didn’t think I’d feel this sorry.

Other notable events from “Divestment”:

Fresh off her betrayal of Evi, Nina (Annet Mahendru) is asked again to bring someone into her confidence. This time it is the scientist, Anton Baklanov (Michael Aronov). A married, dedicated man, Nina will have to use all her charms if she wants to gain the total freedom she’s been promised.

Nina’s new assignment also brings her face to face with Vasili (Peter Berg), the man she set-up in order to save herself. Nina asks him the question everyone on the show could be asking. “Is it too late for forgiveness?”

Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas) provided some much-needed levity this episode. Watching him freak out under the stress of the investigation was thoroughly enjoyable. He also raises an interesting theological question, is there a hell just for mail robots?

Also entertaining was Walter Taffet’s interrogation questions, with this one garnering the loudest laugh from me, “Were you charged with maintaining Agent Gaad’s pens?”

Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) may annoy Stan (Noah Emmerich), but I loved his responses to Taffett. I wonder if Snuffy the dog was really in his file.

Venter’s interrogation must have been particularly humiliating. Getting beaten up is one thing, but getting beaten up by a guy in a Chrissy Hynde wig is another.

Paige (Holly Taylor) continues down her path to the KGB, doing her own research on Gregory. One possible snag, she’s not ready to forgive Gregory’s criminality in pursuit of his higher goals. That’s okay, even though Elizabeth moderated this episode, I don’t see her backing off of Paige’s transformation. That frog continues to boil.

Court Haslett is the author of Tenderloin, a crime novel set in 1970's San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @courthaslett and at The Rogue Reader.

Read all of Court Haslett's posts for Criminal Element.

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