The Americans “Chloramphenicol” Review (Season 4 Episode 4)

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In a quietly devastating episode, “The Americans” did what it does best: lulled the viewer into a false sense of security before dropping the hammer- literally- and hard, in the unwieldly-titled “Chloramphenicol.” Fair warning: there’s no getting around going into spoiler territory, as much as I wish I could pretend what happened never did. Such is the nature of the show, though- it may take its time in delivering a punch, but when it does…oof.

We picked up more or less where we left off, with Liz, Phil and Will all stuck together in Gabriel’s apartment, awaiting their respective fates after potentially being exposed to a deadly virus in the previous episode. First things first, Liz called the Centre and hastily cancelled both the trip to EPCOT and the hit on Pastor Tim and his wife, then called Paige to break the news about the former.

Naturally, Paige, already on edge, thought the worst, assuming her mother was lying and covering up for her real reason for cancelling- that she and Phil were in trouble as a direct result of Paige’s previous actions, which is understandable. Alas, there was nothing much Liz could do about it to comfort her daughter, being essentially quarantined for the time being.

That done, Will disconnected the pay phone’s receiver, bagged it and wiped down the rest as best as he could before the two returned to Gabriel’s for the long haul. Gabriel himself was in really bad shape, looking like he was down for the count for good this time.

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Like many viewers, I was all but convinced he was going to die in this episode, though I remained dubious about the theory that he would confess on his death bed to being Liz’s real father- neither of which would come to pass, as it turns out. Ah, but that, I suspect, was exactly what they wanted you to think, and with good reason.

Back in the Motherland, Oleg (Costa Ronin, “The Diplomat”) paid a visit to his father, to address the issue of Nina (Annet Mahendru, “The X-Files”) as well as contend with the recent passing of his brother, which had left his mother in particular overwhelmed. Igor (Boris Krutonog, “The Italian Job”) said that helping Nina was easier said than done, as she had been labeled a traitor, but that he would “check up” on her to see how she was doing and if she was still alive.

Back at the other home front, Henry paid a visit once again to Stan, this time ostensibly to seek help with his new computer. Stan wasn’t able to, but he did inform Henry that Matthew was going to be around much more soon, which is undoubtedly a direct result of Phil’s conversation with Sandra last week.

Of course, Henry isn’t really there for that, anyway, but rather there to ask about girls, as per usual as of late. He asks Stan about how he and Sandra met, and Stan tells him about how they met cute at a college party when she dumped a drink all over him by accident and couldn’t stop laughing at him afterwards.

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Stan asks Henry why he doesn’t talk about stuff like this with his own father, and Henry says because he isn’t around much because of work, which does not go unnoticed by Stan. Does anything? (Well, okay, there’s the obvious, but who could suspect such a thing, given the circumstances?)

Stan offers to give Henry a ride to school and extends the offer to Paige, who steadfastly refuses, opting to take the bus instead. I love how this show accomplishes so much in shorthand for the discerning viewer. It really trusts viewers to read between the lines without spelling everything out for them.

Paige, of course, isn’t refusing the ride because she doesn’t like Stan, or even because she’s upset about her current situation- she’s doing it because she knows exactly who Stan is and what he does for a living and doesn’t trust herself not to crack under the present conditions, so she simply avoids it altogether, not wanting to botch things up any further than she already has.

As promised in the previous episode, Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden, “Public Morals”) asks out Martha (Alison Wright, “The Nanny Diaries”) to dinner, who accepts, but is clearly wary- and with good reason, as we know from Stan’s suspicions. She frantically calls Phil when she gets home, wondering how she should proceed, but naturally, only gets his answering machine.

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Note, though, how quickly she frames her message in such a way as to mask what’s really going on. As we will see later on in the episode, Martha is quickly learning how to roll with the changes in real time, and in such a way as to not only cover Phil’s butt, but her own as well. Once again, we get this without it being spelled out for us, which I love.

Back at Gabriel’s Will checks out Liz, who is getting worse, losing her appetite and later on, throwing up. Is it a reaction to the antibiotics, or does she have the virus as well? Both Will and Phil seem okay, but only time will tell. Either way, Liz isn’t taking any chances, telling Phil that they have no choice in the Pastor Tim situation and to blame her for it to Paige if she dies.

Astonishingly, she also tells Phil to never tell Henry about their past and to continue to raise their kids as “Americans,” as it was what he always wanted, anyway. She admits that telling Paige about who they really were was a dreadful mistake. It might have taken a near-death experience to turn Liz against her country, but now that she’s had one, will it change her outlook moving forward? We shall see.

As Aderholt and Martha have dinner, Stan breaks into Martha’s place and has a thorough look around, taking pictures, and leaving no stone unturned. Thankfully, the most incriminating things he finds are a gun- almost understandable for a single woman living alone- and that Kama Sutra-type book she has, which gives Stan pause, but he nonetheless dismisses, more or less. No doubt he thinks something along the lines of: you never really know a person, do you?

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Aderholt gets a crash course in that himself, as a quick-thinking Martha seizes the dinner as an opportunity to get something off of her chest, sort of. Of course, she can’t tell the “real” truth, so she settles for some semblance of one: she tells Aderholt she’s having an affair with a married man. Martha also tellingly says it’s been strangely freeing, and that she’s unashamed of her actions. But is she trying to convince a clearly taken aback Aderholt- or herself?

On the plus side, this is smart thinking on Martha’s part, showing that she was a wise recruit by Phil. Not only did she show unexpected grace under pressure, but she laid the foundation for keeping Stan off of her trail in the future without really even knowing it. I think on a certain level, she knew some of her co-workers were getting suspicious, certainly, but I don’t think she knew just how close they had gotten to knowing the truth, either. Indeed, neither does a clueless Phil, for that matter.

Liz has a dream-cum-flashback about her mother, who fell ill when Liz was a child, way back when she was then-known as Nadezhda. (I can see why the Russians changed her name to something more Western-sounding!) Liz’s mother thinks she is dying, and tells her what to do if she does, which Liz can obviously relate to, given her current situation.

She immediately jumps up and wants to call Paige and do the same, but Phil talks her down, saying how it would only make things worse, as Paige was probably already freaking out because of the timing of the whole thing, not to mention it’s the middle of the night.

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Igor tells Oleg that Nina is alive and okay and still in prison. Oleg asks to see her, but Igor says that it’s impossible to do without incriminating them both, which would be bad for both of them. He asks Oleg if he loves Nina, who downplays his real feelings for her- something he will likely come to regret later. Igor nonetheless agrees to try and help on one condition: that Oleg come home and help him deal with his grief-stricken mother. Oleg readily agrees.

Liz’s fever finally breaks and she starts to feel better- it seems that her condition was a reaction to the medication after all. Phil is noticeably relieved, and Will takes note of it, asking him how long the two have been together. Over 20 years, Phil tells him. Will says they’re lucky, as they have someone to lean on in troubled times like these- a genuine family.

Will has no such luxury, making for a lonely existence given his line of work, which makes it tough getting close to anyone, for fear he might inadvertently expose them to something. Phil points out that they are hardly immune to problems, and tells him about the whole Paige situation, admitting that, if it came down to it, he’d choose family over country and walk away from it all- but that Liz never would, in spite of her words earlier.

Gabriel also starts to feel better, and it begins to seems as if the worst has passed. Some might even say we dodged a bullet…but “The Americans” isn’t done with us, unfortunately, as we will soon see. (God, I dread even writing about it!)

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Phil and Liz talk damage control with the kids, as Gabriel thanks Will for going above and beyond the call of duty. Will, as ever, is snarky and abrasive, noting that it wasn’t as if he had a choice, really, having potentially been exposed himself. A more clear-headed Liz tells Phil they can no longer go through with killing Pastor Tim and his wife, thinking they need to try recruiting them instead.

Phil is understandably taken aback at this change of mind, but also a bit dubious of its potential for success, a feeling Gabriel shares, telling them “You would be living in a burning house.” He nonetheless agrees to help smooth it over with the Centre, harkening back to his own adolescence, before the war, when it seemed like everyone was killing one another without end. It’s obvious the near-death experience has had an impact on him as well.

Will tells Liz and Phil he’ll stay with Gabriel for the time being, but that they were free to go. He says that Gabriel is no longer contagious, but that they should still move him out of there ASAP and abandon the place, though he suggests retaining it and continuing to pay rent, just on the offhand chance they missed something, so as to not risk exposing anyone else to potential contagion.

Will may be a testy SOB, but he does seem to care when the chips are down- and not just about himself. Can I just take a moment to note that Dylan Baker has been killing it this season? His Will is truly a brilliant creation, and not just on the page. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he ends up filling the slot once occupied by Margo Martindale in the awards department, come next awards season.

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Liz and Phil, at long last, go home, much to Paige’s eternal relief, who clearly feared the worst. Phil promises Henry to reschedule the EPCOT trip, but suggest that they can still have fun. The family then takes a trip to the local bowling alley, where we learn that Liz is quite the bowler. It is a “vital part of training” Liz jokes to Paige in a Russian accent, marking the first time the two have laughed about Liz’s real identity since it was revealed, which may prove to be a key moment later on, in terms of Paige’s ongoing status as a potential recruit.

We cut to Nina, where we see her in yet another meeting with her lawyer, where he gives her a form of some kind- but is it good news or bad? Thankfully, it’s the former, as it turns out Oleg’s dad came through. Not only is she free, but so is Anton- which should have been my first tip-off that something wasn’t right- and the two have been provided with plane tickets out of there, effectively immediately.

We see the two embrace and the doors open into a clear blue sky as they head towards their long-awaited and hard-earned freedom, at long last. It seems that we are all set to end on a relative high note, but “The Americans” has other plans for us, as it turns out. Nina wakes up, and we see that it was all a dream, unfortunately.

A guard tells Nina she’s been scheduled for a transfer. Maybe not the freedom she longed for, but it’s something. Did Igor come through after all, albeit in a more compromised form? Could be. After all, it’s not as if the Russians were ever going to let Nina off THAT easily. The guard packs up Nina’s meager belongings into a cloth bag and she is led out to a holding area.

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The man in charge pulls out a document and reads it to her. It seems her appeal has been denied, and her sentence is death, effectively immediately. And how. One of the guards pulls out a gun, and before Nina- or we, for that matter- have time to really realize what is going down, he calmly shoots her once in the head and her body crumples to the floor, dead.

And just like that, we lose one of the show’s most beloved characters, with little fanfare or warning, and this time, it’s no dream. There’s no room for dreams in the Soviet Union, sad to say. One of the guards fetches a body bag and Nina is hauled off, and that is where we leave things.

Oh, man, I would be lying if I said I saw this coming, and it hit me like a gut punch. Liz notwithstanding, Nina was probably my favorite character, and I had long since hoped she would eventually get a happy ending, but it turns out that the funeral-like setting she saw in her dream last week was not for Anton, but herself. The show will truly not be the same without her.

I’ve got to give it up to the show for how they played this all around. I think the vast majority of us thought for sure it was Gabriel, if anyone, that was going to die at the end of the episode. I can’t imagine that anyone saw Nina being dispatched so coldly and effectively, least of all after such an upbeat and banal scene as one set in a bowling alley, when it seemed like the worst was behind us.

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But that’s how this show operates, more often than not. You never know when things are going to go south, but when they do- they do so quickly, to say the least. Lest we forget, things didn’t end well for Annelise (the talented Gillian Alexie, now killing it in a different way on “Outsiders”), either, and that happened pretty quickly and somewhat out-of-nowhere as well.

But Annet Mahendru was a core member of the cast, and in a very real way, the heart of the show. Of all the main characters, Nina was the one who most wore her heart on her sleeve, and if you really think about it, it’s no wonder she was doomed. People who lead with their emotions don’t fare well on this show. (Watch your back, Martha!)

Of course, in a way, that was also Nina’s strong suit. By feeling things so deeply, it made her perfect for her job. It’s what helped her seduce both Stan, and in her own way, Anton and Oleg. She was also smart enough to realize that different people require different approaches.

However, it’s probable that it may be these very relationships that sealed her fate in the first place. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Igor ordered Nina’s death, rather than sought to “help” her, thinking it was the best thing for Oleg, under the circumstances. Unfortunately for her, the Russians aren’t much for subtlety. What would likely be seen as a key asset in the US is seen as a sign of weakness in the Soviet Union, so naturally, they had to get rid of her, as if she were yesterday’s newspaper.

It was truly a sad sight, to see her life snuffed out so suddenly and so brutally, to the point where I was left speechless, as if to wonder if I was dreaming the whole thing my own damn self. This may be a slow burn of a show, but when it goes for the kill…oof. It stings. I won’t be getting over this loss soon, I can tell you that.

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Here’s hoping that Mahendru lands on her feet, though. I suspect she will, as there is talent to burn there, as evidenced by her excellent, if similarly ill-fated turn on the recent “X-Files” revival. Give this actress another leading role in something, stat! She definitely deserves it.

And so, as we bid poor Nina a fond adieu- or should I say “do svidaniya”? – Lord knows where we are headed from here. Will Liz and Phil successfully recruit Pastor Tim and his wife? Or will the whole thing blow up in their faces? If it does, will the Centre kill them anyway? How will Paige react to it if they do? Will Henry ever get his trip to EPCOT? Will he be able to contain his disappointment if he actually does? Tune in next week for more, and be sure and chime in with your thoughts on the show down below!