The Americans Recap: Burning Man

By
Those wigs. FX
The Americans
Episode Title
Divestment
Season
3
Episode
8
Editor’s Rating
3/5

This week, many of our favorite spies, kids, and administrative assistants struggle with some tough questions: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Whom do we protect, and whom do we sacrifice? When do you give someone a second chance, and when do you burn them?

The final question comes up rather quickly for the two South Africans who got kidnapped by the Jennings during their Fleetwood Mac attack. After Venter turns down an offer to defect, he gets dragged into the courtyard of the abandoned murder house, because he's too dangerous to live. Elizabeth's ready to shoot him, but Reuben pushes away her gun, saying he wants to do this his way. Which means ringing Venter in a tire, dousing him in gasoline, and burning him alive.

It's so horrible that even the Jenningses look away, but there's one upside: After seeing the grisly murder, terrified young Todd spills everything. Turns out Venter did ask him to bomb the George Washington University campus and pin it on the anti-apartheid movement, but he was too scared to go through with it. Once Philip retrieves the undetonated bomb from his dorm, the KGB Superfriends have a short argument over whether or not to put a bullet in his head: Reuben's down to resume murdering, but Elizabeth thinks Todd has been scared straight. "He's just a kid. Let's give him this chance." They let him go in the middle of nowhere, like a beautiful, dumb, racist cocker spaniel. Run free, Todd!

And in case you forgot, the theme of this season is KIDS!

Relatedly, Oleg's father makes a follow-up call to Arkady, asking why his son isn't already on a flight back to Moscow per his not-so-optional request. Arkady insists that Oleg has important work to do in America, but Daddy dearest says that Oleg doesn't know what's best for him. "I'm asking you to help me look out for the boy. It's a human request." It's also an increasingly pointed and politically dangerous one to ignore.

Later, when Arkady informs Oleg of their chat, even Oleg can't believe that Arkady is saying no to his father. After all, he's the Minister of Railways. "So next time I'm home, I won't be able to ride the train?" jokes Arkady. You're gonna guffaw yourself into a gulag there, buddy.

Meanwhile, back in the Soviet Union, Nina receives her reward for betraying her cellmate/only friend: Her sentence has been reduced to only ten years! And the pot could get even sweeter if she has more of her soul to sell. "You're good at getting people to trust you, Nina," says an official who enlists her to charm the forcibly repatriated Russian scientist from last season and find out if he's dragging his heels on his research. There's something ironic about atoning for betraying people by betraying more people, but Nina is over irony and totally into getting out.

After washing off the prison and donning an adorable sweater set, she begins what I assume is her seduction of the scientist by bringing him tea. Of course he's a dick about it, complaining that she didn't bring him any lemons and shooing her away, which almost guarantees that their next meeting will involve lemons. You know what they say: You catch more flies with lemons!

Inquisitive young Paige has been spending some time at the library, researching old newspaper stories via microfiche because the internet doesn't exist yet. She gazes sadly and sympathetically at a news story about Gregory at a civil-rights protest — until she scrolls to the next article, which involves his arrest on gun and drug charges. Turns out that the truth isn't quite as neat and simple as she thought. This will not be the last time she feels this.

When Paige talks to her mom about the arrest, Elizabeth says that Gregory's life was "complicated." Paige asks if he was a criminal — a good guy, or a bad guy? Elizabeth says that's not always simple, either. After all, when Paige is fighting injustice, who is she really fighting against? "Countries? Governments? People who make laws? You know what I mean," says Elizabeth. Paige does not, actually, but give her a few more episodes.

Back at the FBI, Agent Taffet is conducting endless interviews about the KGB bug, and Martha finally falls under his gaze. He asks her a lot of questions about the pen, including whether she is charge of pen maintenance — like that's a real thing — and she actually does a pretty good job of seeming innocent. She's no Nina yet, but she's closer. Later, when Gaad asks about his progress, Taffet wants to know why there weren't security cameras in the office. "I'm not saying that your negligence resulted in the KGB getting access to the Bureau," says Taffet. But he's also not not saying that. Long story short, after he leaves, Gaad assaults the mail robot, which is oddly satisfying to watch.

Elizabeth comes home to find Philip listening to radio broadcasts about Afghanistan involving phrases like "aggressive offensive" and "scorched-earth tactics." He's clearly thinking about the son he's never met, the one who could be fighting on that scorched earth; he tells Elizabeth that his name is Misha. Later, when Elizabeth meets with Gabriel, she asks him for a favor: She wants him to pull Misha out of the war, to send him back to the Soviet Union. It's a bit ironic that she's trying to get one of Philip's kids out of their war, just as she's trying to get her own daughter into it — but also, maybe that's why.

And finally, finally, there's Martha. She's waiting at home when Philip/Clark comes in all smiles and boring stories, until he notices that she's being super-weird again. When he asks her what's wrong, she says that she met a man named Walter Taffet. Clark looks confused, and asks who that is.

Then she says the thing I didn't realize last week, the revelation that broke her world and her heart and her brain: "He's you." Or at least, he's who Clark is supposed to be, the man who watches the watchers. "Who are you?" she asks, bursting into tears. Clark launches into a speech about how he's the man she married, who loves her more than anything. That he would do anything for her. I kept waiting for the totally reasonable fake explanation, but it never comes. Instead, this is his final play: "I love you. And I would do anything for you. Is that enough? Or do you need more than that?"

There's a long pause, and she shakes her head no, and it's so, so sad. He pulls her in for a hug, and that's it. That's the story of how Martha got flipped. Sometimes, love really does conquer all, but it's not really much of a triumph if the city has burned to the ground. In the closing moments of the show, we see Martha lying in bed after "Clark" falls asleep, living her terrible new life with eyes open.