The Americans, Season 3, Episode 12: “I Am Abassin Zadran”
Written by Peter Ackerman & Stuart Zicherman
Directed by Christopher Misiano
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX
In its third season, The Americans has made its scope wider, moving beyond the emotional focus of the Jennings to take a broader view of those affected by the Cold War. After the spotlight on Phillip and Elizabeth revealing their secret to Paige in “Stingers,” last week’s “One Day In The Life Of Anton Baklanov” examined a variety of elements in the drama’s universe, to less claustrophobic but still tense effect. “I Am Abassin Zadran” finds an effective compromise between the two, developing disparate aspects of The Americans while still giving the episode a moving center, which, if not quite on the level of the Paige reveal, certainly leaves viewers with their heart in their throat. That core, obviously, is Martha, and while her arc has been far from ignored this season, there hasn’t been anything approaching the shocking wig removal with which the episode concludes.
“I Am Abassin Zedrin” gives her plenty to do before its stunning tag, though. The first act finds her being confronted by Stan, who, although his paranoia seems a bit excessive at times, appears to have something of a sixth sense for picking out moles. His read on Zinaida impresses, and he seems to have picked up similarly on Martha’s antics, although the episode leaves us unclear as to what exactly he does or doesn’t know.
What it doesn’t leave ambiguous is the dynamic at play between the two characters, which is part of why the scene works so well. Although Martha has developed some self-confidence since her pre-Clark days, her insecurities have increased with her lack of confidence in him, and the comfort she takes in Stan being interested in her in any capacity develops her need for approval from others. Likewise, his willingness to show up at her house outside of work hours reflects his loneliness, as it did with Zinaida, even though, once again, his apparent instincts are correct.
The scene also functions as a marvelous showcase for Alison Wright, who has been nothing short of outstanding this season. She nicely conveys the delicate balance between Martha’s disappointment at not seeing Clark and her excitement at the possibility of Stan having feelings for her. Still, nothing quite prepares the viewer for the gut punch of the scene, which comes from the cringing face she makes at the end. The sad shot of her wedding photo with Phillip ratchets up the impact of the scene, but there’s enough anguish in Wright’s face to provide an episode’s worth of pathos.
Luckily, the pathos continues to build after the commercial break, which finds Martha blindly trusting Hans in the hopes of seeing her beloved Clark. Hans makes good on his promise, although she doesn’t seem to be particularly relieved by his suggestion that they escape. Some of this season’s saddest moments have been Phillip’s ostensibly earnest pleas to her, combined with Martha’s acceptance of them. On top of the sadness of her situation, one can’t help but wonder what the toll must be on Phillip for saying such egregious lies. Although he appears to have the upper hand in their relationship, one imagines that the pain he brings on himself for his emotional duplicity must even the balance somewhat.
Still, the balance is far from entirely even, as the first scene after the second commercial break reveals. Martha drinks a glass of wine while trying to hide the truth of her sadness from her parents over the phone. Like Phillip, she’s delivering a painful lie; but in her case, her discomfort is much more visible. This is thanks in large part, once again, to the fantastic job done by Wright, who brings out the deeply human ache in Martha’s suffering.
This all builds to the climactic tag, in which Phillip reveals the shocking truth that he uses quite a few more hair pins than Martha suspected. Prior to his unveiling, she tells him that she’s finally done, and, though the episode doesn’t tell us, his act appears to be a last ditch effort to convince her to stay. It’s hard to figure out if Phillip is actually trying to convince her of something here, or if he’s only revealing himself to her because he’s going to kill her (in the manner of Elizabeth with Betty in “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”). Presumably, that will be answered next week, in the conclusion to what has been a stunner of a season for The Americans.