The Americans has never been a show interested in rushing plot along—especially when there's so much emotional devastation to comb through—but season five has been even more of a slow burn than usual. Even so, last night's episode "IHOP" came with some very surprising developments, including an investigation into Tuan's secret nighttime excursions, Henry's boarding school dreams, the return of Kimmy, and best of all, Gabriel visiting Martha in Russia.
This is only the second time Poor Martha, played by Alison Wright, has appeared on the show since she was smuggled out of America as the FBI closed in on her midway through season four. Unlike her first appearance shopping at a barren grocery store in episode three, we get to spend some quality time with her at her new home, and see that she's still struggling to integrate into life there (though her Russian is definitely improving).
We got the chance to talk to Wright about what Martha's life is like now, what was going through her head when Gabriel came to her door, and what her ultimate revenge fantasies would be for the character.
I am filled with a mix of joy and deep sadness every time we check in with Martha in Russia now. [Last night's episode] was the most amount of time we've spent with her since she left DC. What do you think life has been like for her there? How is she adjusting? Well you know, we say that she is getting on with it. She's getting stuff done. She's grocery shopping..or trying to. She looks like she's taking a shower and brushing her hair. She's getting on with it, you know, she's not a... a puddle on the floor.
Most of all, I think she's been combing over every interaction with Clark since the beginning and trying to piece together what was true, what was a lie. Trying to understand all the times that he canceled or couldn't come. Really combed over everything that he ever told her, to see if any of it was true, or if any of it was real. I think she is taking a really long hard look at every single step that has got her to where she is today and I think she has just been doing that day in and day out.
I thought that so much was contained in that line, "I understand everything now." Is she completely hardened to what her life is now? To an extent, yeah, like we all are when we're emotionally damaged or hurt. I think we can be. I came across a great quote that I saw in a piece of street art the other day that said, "Break your heart and find your spine." And I think that really applies to her.
Do you feel like Martha has accepted her life in Russia? And that she's probably not going back to America? I don't think that's clear yet in what they've shown us. I think it's still a little bit of a mystery how she feels about things and who she is at the moment. It is a very heightened situation to have Gabriel at the door and coming to her house. That's just how she was in that moment. I don't think we have necessarily have been shown who or what she is now. Not yet.
Considering how isolated she has been from her old life, do you think there was any part of her that was happy to see Gabriel, to see a familiar face? No I don't think so. I think for me it was panic of, "What does he want? What is here to tell me?"
Right. Or, "What is he here to ask me?" I don't think there is anything good. This is 1984, she can't Facebook stalk her mom and dad and see if they're okay. She has no contact. She doesn't know what's happening at home at all. She doesn't know if her parents know everything that she did, and all the laws that she broke. She doesn't know if the FBI is still looking for her, if maybe they're gonna extradite her back. Are they going to send her back to America? Has Clark been killed? You know, there's just a plethora of panicked thoughts that come to her I think when she opens the door and sees Gabriel—a man who has lied to her, and perhaps been the puppet master orchestrating a lot of the things that happened to her behind the scenes all this time. So, there's nothing good about seeing him, I don't think so.
Do you think at this point, does she hate Clark/Phillip, or is there part of her that is still holding out some hope that she'll see him again? You know when you have these complicated romantic relationships it's kind of easy to separate him into a few different people. To separate him into Clark, which she knew, into Mischa that he turned out to be, into a KGB spy. I think there are different factors that you can imagine somebody and depending on your mood at that moment, if it's nostalgia or if it's pain, or if it's anger or if it's revenge, you think of them in different lights. I think she's still thinking of all of those different versions of Clark, or Phillip, or Mischa, or whoever the hell he is. I think she's got them all floating around in her head. And who knows what would happen if he walked in the door and was standing in front of her, who knows.
Looking back at everything that she's done and everything that has happened to her on the show, do you view her as purely a victim, or do you think she knew on some level what had been going on? I think we're all complicit in the decisions that we make, and as an adult you have to be responsible for the decisions you make and the actions you take. But do I think she was manipulated, absolutely. So in that sense she is a victim of professionals, that this is their job, this is what they do. Absolutely, yeah. And she's paying a very heavy price. Yeah she's alive, and I suppose, compared to most of the other people that the Jennings come in contact with, she doing really peachy. But we can see how difficult that being left alive is to her.
Martha has been underestimated time and again by people around her. Do you think she'd ever try to turn things around and become a spy herself, or take power back in some other way? Well, we've got a whole other season, let's see what they come up with, right? Who knows. I would be down. I would love a revenge Martha, I would love that, are you kidding? Everybody would love that on some level I think.
Yes. What have you thought of the 'Poor Martha' meme that has come up over the years? I love that we've managed to create a character that has affected so many people, and that so many people have invested feelings of empathy and sympathy for her. I think that's a real testament to the creation and the writing and ultimately the portrayal of this woman. I think it's marvelous if you can really believe in a character, even though they're in these insane situations. I think it means we've all done a good job.
Did you always know that she was going to last so long, or was it a surprise to you that she stuck around and she survived, when so many who came across the Jennings have died? You don't ever know when you're doing TV if the show itself is gonna last. You know the ax can fall at any time for television. So there's not this security of longevity at all. You don't know ever when it's going to be over.
Now it all seems to make so much sense. But, who knows. I do think that this is [showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields'] plan. I do think that this is their intention from the beginning, but you know they would be the only people that could actually answer that.
Has it been difficult or very different for you now that Martha is not interacting with many of the cast members that you used to? It's been difficult not telling anybody that I was shooting The American's twice, or just not being able to give people any satisfaction at all when they ask—and I'm talking about like my friends and my family. I didn't tell anybody at all that I was doing Martha again. So really I had to be disappointing people constantly that she wasn't back and I wasn't working, and why wasn't I shooting and that's a little isolating when you are the only one that knows the reality and you have to lie to everybody.
I can imagine. So you've continued to be hounded— Oh yeah. All the time. Everyone hounds me.
Since you're pretty far removed from the action back in DC, had you been keeping up watching the show separately? I'm on a Broadway schedule right now, and was straight away as soon as I wrapped Feud. I think I came home and like had a day and then went straight into rehearsals. So Broadway is pretty brutal. There's not much time to do anything. But I have caught up recently. I have been catching up on this very new season. There's a lot of characters that have gone and a lot of new ones being introduced. I'm up to speed now though.
Both of the Jennings, Phillip in particular, have seemed especially worn out by the latest Kansas honeypot operation. Do you think Phillip is still thinking about Martha, still affected by what happened with her? Has that changed how he approaches these sorts of operations? I think it's possible. I think that really only Matthew can answer that. You know, he's spoken out about how he didn't think that Phillip had any real feelings for Martha. So if that's the case, then perhaps not. I don't know how much of a consideration she is for him at all. We might be giving him a little bit too much credit, assuming that he's actually been affected by her.
That probably speaks to his performance and the deep wells of sympathy I think a lot of people feel for him at this point, despite everything. Mmm-hmm. Maybe
it is misplaced sympathy.
True. I mean, they've done a lot of terrible, terrible things to people. Mmm-hmm, yep, yep.
What are your hopes for where Martha could go or turn back up again as the show gallops towards it's conclusion? That she would find peace and forgive herself most importantly. In whatever kind of capacity that is. Or if she wanted to be a ninja and come back and try and slit Phillip's throat one night while he was in bed too, I'd totally be up for that!
That would be a fun ending for the entire thing. Right, I'm sure a lot of people would really love that. Not everybody, but some people would love it.
I think there's a lot of Martha fans who just want her to be okay. Yeah, she deserves to be okay. She was just looking to fall in love. She didn't deserve all of this.
Do you know if you're back for next season? If I did I wouldn't tell you.
I figured as much. I'm very good at keeping secrets. Very good.
You've certainly had lot of experience over all these years. Before we end, let me just add also that I loved you in Feud as well! Oh marvelous, marvelous, yeah. I just watched the finale last night. I just saw it, it was fantastic.
Have you had any conversations about being in the next season? No conversations about that at all. Of course I do know that it's about Prince Charles and Princess Diana. So personally I feel like Ryan Murphy should be obliged to give me a role. But that's just my feelings on the matter. I haven't heard anything yet. I do look remarkably like our former Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Blair. So I'm gonna do like a photo fit and casually email it to Ryan, and maybe make him think of me. But I would work for him again in a heartbeat, happily. FX is knocking out one amazing show after another. I could happily be at home on this network for awhile.
What was it like following Charles and Diana in the news? It was bigger for you guys than it was here. They were constantly in the press and stuff. I can actually remember the day that they got married. One of my earliest memories as a kid, I had a really great helium balloon with them on it. I don't know if it was '81 or '82, but I let it go not realizing that it was gonna go, and it was one of my most early traumatic memories of needing my mom to get a ladder to get into the sky to get my Charles and Di balloon back. And of course it was gone forever. But I was a really little kid. But they were of course in the press all the time. In England, they're an institution. They're one of the rods that hold up the country.
Well I can't wait to see that. I hope that you pop up there too. Me too, thank you.