Here is what the FX Network’s Website has as the synopsis for the “Walter Taffet” episode of The Americans (3.07): Philip and Elizabeth feel the weight of a new family secret. Stan faces struggles both at work and at home. Martha confronts a shocking development. I appreciate attempts to avoid spoilers in the synopses of TV shows, but could those three statements be any more generic? I’m not even sure I know what the first two statements are referring to, but I do understand the reference in the last sentence: “Martha confronts a shocking development.” However, I wouldn’t say Martha actually “confronted” the shocking development—unless by confront we mean she worried, she cried, and she couldn’t really decide what to do. Together, Martha’s three responses of worrying, crying, and indecision create an odd form of “definition by example” for confrontation—but I suppose I’m getting too semantical. The second sentence in the synopsis is kind of funny: “Stan faces struggles both at work and at home.” That statement applies to just about every episode of all three seasons of The Americans. In fact, the network should just include that sentence in each synopsis of every episode from now on. However, I must admit that I can’t recall what Stan’s struggle at work was in this episode. In fact, because three days have passed (as I initially wrote this sentence) since I watched the episode, I’m also having trouble remembering what the “new family secret” is that seems to weighing so heavily on Philip and Elizabeth. Excuse me, then, while I stop this review to watch the episode again. I’ll be right back. Okay, I’m back. Sorry. “Walter Taffet” is one of the best episodes of one of the best seasons of one of the best shows on television—and, despite my penchant for facetiousness, I am not being hyperbolic in this instance. I mentioned in a recent review of Justified that the current season of that series has been lacking tension. This latest episode of The Americans probably has as much tension in its 45 minutes as the current season of Justified has had through its eight episodes thus far. While I’m not sure what the FX Network’s synopsis is referring to when it states “Stan faces struggles . . . at work” (that’s him in the background over Martha’s right shoulder in the next picture), Martha certainly faced a “shocking development” at work—as you can tell by the look on her face in this image: Martha realizes that Stan, Agent Aderholt, and their supervisor Frank Gaad (all of whom are behind her in Gaad’s office) have discovered the listening device that was hidden in Gaad’s pen—a pen that Martha planted in her boss’s office to help “Clark.” Martha believes “Clark,” the alias used by Philip when he poses as Martha’s husband, works for a government agency called the “Internal Affairs Division of the Committee to Oversee United States Counterintelligence Agencies” (which I guess would be abbreviated as IADCOUSA if such an organization actually existed). Martha is a gullible woman who has always been desperate for male attention, and she intensely believes Clark coming into her life (and marrying her) is the best thing that has ever happened to her. However, aside from the lack of physical violence, “Clark” has created a relationship with Martha that is eerily similar to the dynamic that is evident in abusive relationships. In a way, Philip’s espionage assignment as Martha’s husband involves emotionally abusing Martha—albeit it without her being aware of the emotional damage being done to her. For instance, one of the first things Philip did with the listening device Martha planted for him in Gaad’s office is edit together a subsequent recording that made it seem that Gaad and Stan were making fun of how ugly they think Martha is—which Philip used to reinforce Martha’s loyalty to “Clark.” Thus, she was a willing accomplice in what she believed was a legitimate attempt to uncover evidence of inappropriate conduct by Gaad. However, with the discovery of the bug, Martha begins an internal questioning of the legitimacy of Clark’s surveillance scheme—especially after a complete electronic sweep of FBI headquarters is conducted, and Gaad then introduces Martha to “Walter Taffet from OPR.” The agency Taffet is from (OPR) is a branch of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and it stands for Office of Professional Responsibility. Unfortunately, the creators of the series have it wrong; someone from OPR would not be brought in to investigate the discovery of an electronic listening device in FBI headquarters: The Office of Professional Responsibility, reporting directly to the Attorney General, is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving Department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate or provide legal advice, as well as allegations of misconduct by law enforcement personnel when related to allegations of attorney misconduct within the jurisdiction of OPR. (sic, from OPR’s government Website—emphasis added) The FBI’s own Internal Affairs Division seems more likely to be the government body assigned to investigate a security breach within the National Security Branch of the FBI (NSB), of which Gaad is the supervisor. Normally, Gaad’s NSB agents would investigate this type of security breach in another government division. However, since the breach occurred within the NSB itself, the correct investigative body is not immediately clear. Yet, I’m fairly certain it would not be OPR—and it’s not a case of OPR’s duties having changed since 1983, as OPR was created in 1975 for the specific purpose of investigating DOJ attorneys who were involved in the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal. Nevertheless, we have Walter Taffet from OPR investigating the discovery of the electronic listening device that Aderholt found in Gaad’s pen. This episode being titled “Walter Taffet” is somewhat surprising (but ultimately revealing) in that the character only appears in two brief scenes. His first appearance was when Gaad introduced Taffet to Martha, who clearly fears her role in the security breach has already been discovered. However, since Martha is Gaad’s secretary,* Taffet merely asked her for a list of all of Gaad’s appointments for the past few months. He does not suspect Martha at this point any more than he suspects everyone—including Gaad himself, as Taffet tells him. The second scene in which Taffet shows up is only a three or four seconds in length. It’s when Martha gets in the elevator the next morning to go to her desk and Taffet rides up in the elevator with her. The nervous tension in Martha is obvious, and Taffet’s two brief scenes would not be reason enough to cause this episode to be titled “Walter Taffet.” Thus, the title seems to foreshadow that we (and Martha) will be seeing a lot more of Walter Taffet in the coming weeks. Speaking of secrets, I never did get the sense in either of my two viewings of the episode that Philip and Elizabeth were feeling “the weight of a new family secret”—or even what that “family secret” might actually be. I’m assuming the secret is that Philip has a 20-year-old son who is a Soviet paratrooper fighting in Afghanistan. However, Philip disclosed that information to Elizabeth while they were lying in bed near the end of the episode, so it’s not really a “secret,” and only Philip seems to feel any “weight” related to this information. On the other hand, Elizabeth did seem to be a bit on edge in a later scene—a scene that surprised me a little the first time I watched it. I was taken aback a bit when Elizabeth shot an unfortunate woman in the forehead during an operation in which she and Philip were in the process of abducting an intelligence officer of South Africa’s apartheid government. The woman made the mistake of parking her delivery van in the same alley in which Elizabeth had parked her van. I live here, and I know parking is difficult to come by in Washington—apparently even 32 years ago. As Philip was brawling on the sidewalk with the South African intelligence officer (who clearly was trained well enough to see Philip coming), Elizabeth needed to get her van in place to help Philip. She asked for the time from the woman who was unloading restaurant supplies from her own van, but as the woman began to apologize for . . . something (not knowing the time, perhaps?), Elizabeth shot her in the forehead. Perhaps Elizabeth really was feeling the weight of learning that Philip has a son from a relationship he had with another woman 20 years earlier. Perhaps the restaurateur was the unfortunate victim of Elizabeth cracking under the stress of finding out that she’s a stepmother. However, on my second viewing of the episode I realized the woman had a South African accent—an indication that she was also a South African intelligence agent who was part of the operation to assassinate a Soviet-backed anti-apartheid leader that Philip and Elizabeth were using as bait to draw out the South African agent they were after. However, the female South African agent wasn’t important enough for Philip and Elizabeth to abduct her, so a gunshot to the forehead is all the time Elizabeth could give her. This South African apartheid subplot brings up one of the things I love about The Americans. I have seen other Websites praise the series for pointing out the “evil” of the Soviet Union and the righteousness of the Reagan administration—comments that I was surprised to read (and which I, unfortunately, cannot locate again through Google in order to provide links, so you’re just going to have to accept my word that they are out there or look for them on your own). In contrast to those Internet comments about The Americans displaying the righteousness of Regan-era America, I have always thought the series does an excellent job of supporting the long-term validity of Marxism as a means to achieve social equality—albeit while balancing the Marxist notion of social equality with the obvious immediate benefits of laissez-faire capitalism during times of international economic stability. Historically, the Soviet Union was more involved than the United States was in bringing down South Africa’s apartheid government—albeit with the Soviet plan being that the subsequent South African government would be a Marxist regime and a Soviet ally. Elizabeth fully supports the notion of the USSR having a Manifest Destiny to bring about worldwide egalitarianism through the spread of Marxism—but she is simultaneously blind to the corrupt bureaucracy that is ruling Mother Russia. On the other hand, while also desiring worldwide egalitarianism, Philip enjoys the benefits of America’s strong economy during the Reagan era—and he would like to see the entire world have the type of material advantages he can access as an undercover Soviet agent living in the United States. However, Philip also seems blind. In his case, Philip is blind to the reality of the world having limited capital and resources. While it would be possible to spread the wealth enough for other nations to raise their standards of living, the effect would be a lower standard of living in the United States. In the end, Philip’s priority is to have his children enjoy the benefits of an American lifestyle regardless of the consequences to the rest of the world. Despite my own tendency to live my life in accordance with Philip’s priority, I intellectually agree with Elizabeth’s priority. Thus, the ideological conflicts that periodically occur between Philip and Elizabeth are a reflection of the ideological conflict within me. This conflict also ties into a discussion Stan had with his son during the scene in which Matthew was looking at a paperback book from the future (see my March 19, 2015 Spontaneous Quixote column for more about this book from the future). Stan was telling Matthew a little about his previous assignment as an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated a white supremacist organization. Stan’s undercover operation somewhat paralleled Philip and Elizabeth’s assignment as undercover KGB agents who have infiltrated American society—and Stan tells Matthew about the psychological effect that such assignments can have on a person: Stan: I got pretty screwed up. Matthew: How so? Stan: I had to pretend to be friends with people I really didn’t like. Terrible people. The beauty of this series is that it’s unclear which side of the conflict is comprised of the “terrible people”—as Philip pretends to be friends with people on both sides. He pretends to be friends with Stan, but he also pretends to be friends with his KGB supervisor, Gabriel, who is pushing Elizabeth to turn their daughter, Paige, into a junior KGB agent. In this regard, The Americans is superior to other recent literary and cinematic works in revealing the reality of moral issues that can be cast in various shades of grey. * The etymology of the word secretary, which has become a politically incorrect term in recent years in favor of “administrative assistant,” is from Middle English and refers to a person who has been trusted with secret matters. Thus, it’s ironic that Martha, as Gaad’s secretary, is a willing accomplice in the security breach. It’s also ironic that secretary is now a politically incorrect term, as “administrative assistant” doesn’t sound nearly as important. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses An Analysis of Robin Hood and Zorro: What Our Folk Heroes Can Tell Us about Ourselves - (Part One: Robin Hood) - Psycho Drive-In April 2, 2015 […] Quixote column for March 12. Two weeks ago I postponed the Robin Hood vs. Zorro match again because my review of episode 3.07 of The Americans contained a spontaneous divergence into a monologue about temporal anomalies and parallel universes […] Log in to Reply The Americans 4.01 “Glanders” - Psycho Drive-In March 27, 2016 […] episode 07 (“Walter Taffet”), the FBI discovered the listening device that Martha Hanson planted in FBI Supervisor Frank […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.