Warning: The following review contains spoilers.
“Walter Taffet” was Noah Emmerich’s directorial debut, but you sure as hell wouldn’t know that from watching the episode. The entire third season of The Americans has been incredibly cinematic, and Emmerich continued to bring it for the show. The ending abduction alone would be enough to earn Emmerich a standing ovation for his first outing. Sure, he gets a nice assist from the editing and Fleetwood Mac, but the solid action directing is still there. But it isn’t just the action at the end that’s great. Everything from excellently framed shots (Philip and Elizabeth being separated by a beam on the window), to long takes (The shot where Philip stands in the bathroom, separated from his wife, and we feel how separated he is just from the open door), to everything about the scene where Martha destroys the receiver. It’s all so good that you would swear Emmerich was a seasoned television veteran.
Speaking of Martha, Alison Wright deserves all of the praise in the world here. Without saying a word, and without ever delving into overacting, she absolutely nails the bathroom scene. We see every single thought as it goes through her head and are just as nervous as she is that the jig is up and that Martha’s long foreshadowed downfall will happen this episode. But it doesn’t. As we move from the office and back to her home life with Clark, the entire dynamic of their relationship changes completely. Philip knows that something is up, and plays it as smoothly as he can, but for the first time in their marriage, Martha knows something really important that Clark doesn’t.
Stan’s earlier talk with the new guy whose name I never remember about the source playing the agent may have been brilliant foreshadowing for what Martha’s arc for the rest of the season might be. Some thought that Martha wanting a child would be the main source of conflict for Clark this season. What if instead that was just the peak of their marriage, and now it’s all downhill as Martha plots against her husband to save herself? Is Martha that strong? I honestly don’t think so, but there’s a chance everyone, especially Clark, is now underestimating her.
How strong is The Americans right now in that I have barely even mentioned Philip and Elizabeth? How strong is the show right now in that Oleg, Arkady, Nina, and everyone and the Rezidentura (Which was often some of the strongest season two material) again didn’t make an appearance this episode, and it was still one of the strong points of the season? Getting back to Philip and Elizabeth, Rhys and Russell are great again as usual, but there’s one moment from the episode that was just great: Philip, disgruntled and passive aggressive, telling Elizabeth that he’s going to see Martha. It’s a shot fired. Philip is all but telling his wife “I need to confide in someone right now, and I know I can’t do it with you.” Things don’t turn out for Phil the way he expected them to, but the intent is still there. And although Philip and Elizabeth have a great moment when Philip gets back from Martha’s, that doesn’t mean that damage wasn’t done and then things aren’t getting rockier and rockier.