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The Americans - Travel Agents - Review: "Trouble" + POLL

To accompany my review of this episode, the second part of my interview with Alison Wright can be found here.

Seasons of The Americans, season four in particular, have a very strange structure in that there isn't really one, certainly not with regards to major plot points. As creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields said recently, they take longer than expected to burn through story and they don't rush doing so, which means that they don’t rigidly plan when something huge will happen. This is a refusal to acknowledge the long-standing unwritten rules of television, whereby major moments and episodes are saved, or expected to be saved, for a finale. Shows that do that sometimes do them well, but sometimes there's a string of episodes prior that drag and drag as that show attempts to prolong things as long as possible (looking at you, The Walking Dead). It's for this reason - one of many - that The Americans is in the top tier of television right now.

The other major issue with saving major moments and story closures for a finale is that the natural desire to cover as many bases as possible to wrap up the smaller plot points comes into account, stealing focus from what is truly important. And when that happens, an episode like Travel Agents wouldn't happen.

With this hour coming right in the middle of the season, spending an entire episode on nothing but the Martha dilemma was an intelligent - and brilliant - move. That story has been bubbling all season long, but after last week's climax, it was clear that things were coming to a head. To shift focus at all from that would have been a mistake, one that Fields and Weisberg are too smart and too knowledgeable to make.

Right from the start, Travel Agents had a real intensity to it as the pre-credits teaser set the mood of the hour. The opening scene with Oleg and Tatiana plunged us right into the action, and there was an immediate sense of desperation between the pair as they looked for a way to get Martha out. Cut to Gabriel’s safehouse, where he informs the Jennings couple that Martha’s gone, and that Phillip may have no choice but to end his second wife’s life. And from there, it became the Alison Wright power hour.

I’ve mentioned many times in my reviews of the season so far that Alison Wright has been doing some magnificent work, but that was heightened even further in Travel Agents. This was essentially a look into Martha’s very speedily deteriorating mental state as her life continued to unravel. Last week, she had her life in America ripped away from her; here, events set in motion throughout the season threatened to steal her life entirely. As Wright told me when I interviewed her, many of the victims of the ‘Romeo spies’ ended up committing suicide. Much of this episode seemed to indicate that she would off herself, no less apparent than in the scenes leading up to her trek onto the bridge: her paranoia over whether she was about to be caught followed by her phone call to her parents that played out like a goodbye (which, in the end, it was).

After Nina’s abrupt end three weeks ago, it felt well within the realms of possibility that Martha wouldn’t make it out alive. And much like Nina, while that would have been incredibly sad, it would have been completely necessary. This episode played out somewhat in two halves: the first was spent with both sides attempting to locate Martha; the second spent with the fallout from her (mostly) safe return to the safehouse. Once she was reobtained by Elizabeth, that feeling of impending death faded, and that was a welcome relief from the pressure of the 20 or so minutes that preceded it.

Wright’s performance as Martha broke down, most notably during her two phone calls and her earlier moment of paranoia, was utterly superb. Martha has always been a character that you feel very sorry for, mostly because of how she was roped into all this, but here, The Americans pulled us into the show, putting us into her really quite awful position. That was never more abundant than in her moment of paranoia as the camera bounced around the scene, accompanied by the heightened sounds of the world around her. Some great choices by director Dan Attias.

Of course, by the end, Martha had discovered her husband’s true names - both his fake American name and his actual name - and settled down to sleep her last night in the United States. Almost as tragic as her earlier goodbye was Phillip’s admittance that he would never be able to come and visit her. Elizabeth suggested that he lie and say that they will have a life together soon, but after all of the lies and false truths that he has told Martha, Phillip wasn’t prepared to lie again, not in their final moments together. And rightly so.

That conversation between the Jennings couple was quite something, though. For all the marital troubles that the pair had in the first season, things seemed to have been going in a better direction ever since. Granted, they’ve had numerous fallings out over Elizabeth’s handling of Paige last year, but generally, they’ve become much more sturdy as a couple. Here, Elizabeth admits that she would understand were her fake husband to desire a life with Martha, as Phillip attempts to convince Elizabeth that what they have is real in yet another excellent scene.

For Martha, this looks to be the end of the line. How much more of her we see in the future is yet to be known, but if this is the last of her, it’ll be a damn shame to lose one not only one of the best performers The Americans has, but also one of the more interesting and complex characters.


  • The person who loses out most after Martha is Gaad. I can’t imagine that any of the higher-ups at the FBI will be too pleased that his secretary married a KGB operative and spied on them for him.
  • Tatiana is still working on her secret mission and Oleg is still curious.
  • Henry and Paige drank beer! That was fun. Also, Matthew was being so ageist in giving Paige more because she was 15.

What did you all think of Travel Agents?

About the Author - Bradley Adams
17 year old based in England, currently Senior Staff at SpoilerTV. Most of his posts are news/spoiler based, though he is currently the reviewer of Person of Interest, co-host on the SpoilerTV Podcast. Created and is in charge of the yearly Favourite Episode Competition and currently runs the Favourite Series Competition. A big TV fan, his range of shows are almost exclusively dramas, while some of his all-time favourite shows include 24, LOST, Breaking Bad and Friends. Some of his current favourites include Person of Interest, Banshee, Arrow, The Flash, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul and many more. He also runs an Arrow fans site, ArrowFansUK, and aside from TV, is a keen cricketer. Get in touch with him via the links below or via email
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