Spoiler alert: The following interview includes plot details from “The Americans” Season 5, episode 9, “IHOP.”
It’s been a long wait for fans of FX’s “The Americans” to discover whatever happened to poor Martha. The former FBI secretary who unknowingly married an undercover Russian operative (Matthew Rhys’ Philip Jennings, who used the pseudonym Clark) was whisked away to the U.S.S.R. in the middle of last season.
After a brief glimpse in a supermarket earlier this season, this week’s episode “IHOP” filled in many of the blanks with a six-minute sequence in which Martha (so exceptionally played by Alison Wright) gets an unexpected visit from the newly relocated Gabriel (Frank Langella).
Wright, who also enjoyed juicy supporting roles this year on FX’s “Feud” and Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete” and is currently co-starring in the Tony-nominated play “Sweat” on Broadway, spoke to Variety about reconnecting with the beloved character and what showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg (affectionately dubbed “the Js”) revealed to her about their plans for the season.
How much and how early did you know about the plan for Martha this season?
They had let me know ahead of time what was going to happen and when. There were a lot of logistics to figure out, so I knew for a long time.
Did you film that quick glimpse of Martha in episode 3 at the same time you shot episode 9?
I came back from LA on two separate occasions to shoot [episodes] 3 and 9. I loved that’s how they were going to show her [in episode 3]. I thought it was so smart and so typically “The Americans,” to come in under the radar like that and not pander at all to the viewers. Just pop her in there and you better be paying attention or you’re gonna miss it. I love that about the show.
Did you get the full version of Martha’s story — what she’s been doing, where she’s been — before you filmed that third episode or did you learn a lot of it for episode 9?
I think everything I covered with the Js — going through it, talking to them about where they imagined she was now, emotionally, mentally, what her reality was — we established all of that before 3. I have to know that ahead of time before we go in and shoot anything. As soon as they told me that she was going to be seen again and how that would work out, we had to get down to brass tacks about what’s been going on and what’s been happening. It’s not until I have something written that I can see what she’s saying and figure out how she’s feeling around that. But we’ve always had great communication between us about that, which is super necessary in these moments where we’re finally seeing her at the culmination of her story.
For viewers it looks like Martha’s life has been turned upside down. Does it feel any different for you playing Martha in Russia?
It’s about what is her perspective now? How much has she been damaged? How much of her outlook has been shattered? What has she forgiven herself for? And what hasn’t she forgiven herself for yet? She’s really living in a state of turmoil and anguish on many levels. But also she’s getting on with it — she’s not on the floor. She’s not drunk in Gorky Park with 10 bottles of vodka. She’s getting on with it and surviving. She’s putting one foot in front of the next. I think her brain is constantly turning and figuring out everything that happened from the moment she first met [Philip/Clark]. She’s ruminating on every phone call, every line he told her, everything that felt weird. She’s going through that with a fine-toothed comb to try and find what the reality was.
She tells Gabriel she “understands everything now, all of it.” Do you think she’s had enough time in Russia to piece together all of Clark’s deceptions?
If your heart is broken and you’ve had a really traumatic relationship fall apart, you’re thinking about that 24/7. She’s had months of being on her own with nobody to talk to. She’s just figuring it out, going over and over — to an unhealthy extent, I’m sure — going over every little detail to figure out what she missed, what she was in denial about, the times she could’ve got out. Every tender moment or memory she has of Clark, I think she’s picked that apart. We’ve yet to see whether she believes there was any genuine love or feeling there on his part. They haven’t shown us what she thinks about that yet, she’s still a little bit of an enigma at this stage. All we’re seeing is her reacting to Gabriel showing up at her door — the last person she wants to see — and her in a panic about what he wants. Is he there with awful news about her parents? Are they sick? Are they dying? Is Clark dead? Is she gonna go back to America? What’s going on? All she knows is this man in front of her has perhaps been the puppet master behind Philip this whole time. She’s not ready to believe anything that comes out of his mouth. She’s not going to believe anything so easily anymore. We’re only seeing her in this tiny little moment. It’s not conclusive of how she feels or what she’s going to do at this point.
What do you think her feelings about Clark are at this point?
It will only exist in what the Js decide to write, but I think she’s probably focusing on how much she’s responsible for this. I think she’s that kind of person. She’s not running away from the responsibility of how much she got herself where she is. Forgiving yourself is often harder and more complicated than forgiving the person who hurt you. She’s a grown woman. She’s complicit as well. Those are really complicated, hard, adult feelings. I saw a great piece of art on the street the other day that said “break your heart and find your spine.” I think that applies to her in this situation. I think she’s rebuilding and trying to put one foot in front of the other at the moment.
This has been an incredibly busy year for you. What’s it been like since “leaving” “The Americans”?
It’s been amazing. “The Americans” has opened up all these doors. Ryan Murphy offered me that role on “Feud” because of Martha on “The Americans” I have no doubt. It’s been everything to me. And it’s kind of cool I got to go back and be [Martha] for a little while because it really does feel like it’s been forever. It’s really great to go back and see her again. I hope — they still have another season so they can wrap up the show however they like. My hope isn’t dead that we’ll see her again. That would be fantastic. I’m so grateful to Gavin O’Connor and Joe Weisberg and FX for giving me a shot when I didn’t have a single television credit. It’s always going to have a very special place in my heart.