In "Walter Taffet," the midpoint of the third season of "The Americans," Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas) discovered the microrecording device that his secretary, Martha (Alison Wright), placed in his pen, sending the FBI into an agency-wide mole hunt. It's now the midpoint of season 4, and Gaad has finally found the mole, but he's not any more at ease because of it. The discovery of Martha has no happy endings for anyone, least of all Martha, whose sole remaining hope — that she can steal away to wherever with "Clark" — is crushed by the end of the episode. If it's less despairing than the ending "Travel Agents" teases, it's only marginally so.
The title "Travel Agents," it turns out, refers not to Philip/"Clark" (Matthew Rhys) or Elizabeth/"Jennifer" (Keri Russell), but to Oleg (Costa Ronin) and Tatiana (Vera Cherny), both working to get Martha a flight out of the country while flirting all the while (additionally, to their efforts to move an agent, or a source, out of the country). Their job isn't easy, but they're able to nab a pilot with far less flopsweat than anyone else is able to track down Martha, and it's up to Philip and Elizabeth to track her down before Agents Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) can. "If she starts screaming," Philip is informed, "There may be no other choice." He can only nod sadly.
Sad nodding and dry remarks are about all Gaad can manage, either. Part of it may be sadness that someone he's trusted for three years is responsible for the pain of a lot of people (and the death of an innocent tech agent), but more than anything else, Gaad knows that he's up the creek. He spends much of the episode silent, staring out windows with a sense of loss that Aderholt and Stan pick up on. He defends Stan to higher-ups, saying that he's already "dead," chewing his tongue and trying to work out the millions of reasons she might have turned ("was the Kama Sutra that good?"). The reasons, ultimately, don't matter for him. It happened under his watch. He's done for, and he can only wait for the inevitable.
Everyone else is also waiting for the inevitable, in one way or another. Elizabeth has a clear sense that Martha is probably doomed, though she doesn't try too hard to force it with Philip. "Gabriel's right, you know...," and he does. But he still waits by the phone with the KGB operator, waiting for a call that could give the faintest hope that she might get out of this. Martha, for her part, walks faster and more frantically than usual, the camera taking her point of view to make every strange man in an overcoat on the street a potential threat. She makes a call to her parents to tell her she loves them (the FBI picks up and finds the park she's in) before taking a walk on a bridge, the same one in a photo of her with her parents, a potential last place as she looks over, tears streaming down her face, her chin framed just above the bar. But when Stan and Aderholt get the same idea, there's nothing to be found.
"Clark" gets another call from Martha, one less trusting than she's ever been before ("You'll just tell me some version of the truth that's not very true"), but still as vulnerable and honest about her pain as she's ever been with her husband. "I want it to stop, Clark, I want it to end." He convinces her to give her location, but Elizabeth finds it first, startling Martha and keeping a hand in her pocket in case she needs to cut a loose end. For a moment, I was convinced that she had stabbed Martha after she screamed, something I think director Dan Attias encourages, briefly, given the focus on the horrified look on Martha's face. Instead, she's just left bruised, badly, as she and "Jennifer" return to the safehouse.
So many of the particulars in "Travel Agents" are in-the-moment beats, successful but the most conventionally thriller-like in season so far. That's not a criticism — it's a corker — but the final scenes between Martha and "Clark" push the episode into pantheon territory, after the thriller elements have been dispensed with and we find a way to make Poor Martha's situation even more hopeless than last week, when she learned her husband was KGB and that she'd never go home again. This week, she's able to get minor gains in learning "Clark's" real American name and his birth name, "Mikhail...but everyone called me Mischa." It won't last: as he ices her bruise, he has the look of a sad, guilty dog on his face, paired with the admission that he's never going to be able to visit her. "I'll be alone...just the way it was before I met you."
Martha has had a deeply lonely existence: a teenage abortion, a lonely life in Washington, D.C., a lonely marriage with a man who lied about his identity and used her, and now the promise of a lonely life in Russia, where she knows no one and doesn't speak the language. There's a sadness when Philip and Elizabeth part in the episode, shortly before this exchange, in which Elizabeth encourages Philip to lie and say he'll be on the plane with her. She asks if he'd go with her if he could, trying to tease out his real feelings about Martha without hurting him. "I love you...I'll be home in a few hours," he says. "You need to stay," she answers. But again, there's little comfort for any of them, be it Elizabeth at home, preparing for bed; Martha, crying herself to sleep; or Philip, lying next to her and staring at the ceiling with a thousand-yard stare. No matter where they are or where they'll be, they're all alone, in some form or another.
-Oleg's getting really flirtatious with Tatiana. I wonder if his grief over Nina's death is going to play into this at all.
-Martha will probably get on that plane, but I've no idea whether her trip ends with suicide or with a lonely existence in Russia. They'll both be painful.
-I've given plenty of praise to Wright's increasingly desperate performance, but Thomas' deadpan walks the sad/funny line beautifully.
-Henry, Paige and Matthew share a beer on the couch while watching TV. This brief moment of teen rule-breaking is some much-needed levity. I'm most amused by Henry being disappointed he doesn't get his own, even though he clearly doesn't like the taste much.