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TV CRITIC’S CORNER

You may be missing one of the best TV performances this year

Alison Wright as Martha in FX’s “The Americans.”
Alison Wright as Martha in FX’s “The Americans.”Eric Liebowitz/FX/FX

The Americans 10 p.m., FX

Forgive me, dear reader. I sometimes obsess in this column over particular shows and actors, and right now I can’t let go of Alison Wright, who plays Martha in FX’s “The Americans.” Once again, I need to sing her praises. There is a spoiler from last week’s episode included here, by the way, so beware.

I think Wright has been truly extraordinary and haunting in this role, as a FBI secretary manipulated into spying for the Russians through a relationship with Matthew Rhys’s Philip Jennings. It is a hard role to play, I imagine, because, until relatively recently, Martha has only semi-consciously known that her beloved was a fraud. Knowing but not knowing — Edie Falco, too, worked that position of awareness beautifully on “The Sopranos.” Martha saw Philip’s wig, Martha knew he was always away, and yet she fooled herself into having faith in him.

Wright was heartbreaking all along, but particularly last week, when she and Philip said goodbye. Her farewell sequence, which took place entirely before the episode’s title sequence, was handled poignantly and quietly — with Rhys doing a great job in his first directing stint. You could almost hear Martha’s lonely, hopeless thoughts, as she prepared to be moved to an unknown land, her life no longer her own. A brave, heroic soul underneath it all, she wished Philip well despite the fact that he’d destroyed her. In some desperate, deluded way, she still loved him, and maybe even felt sorry for him.

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Will she be treated well in Russia? Despite Philip’s promises, that doesn’t seem likely. I imagine her living an ordinary life, like the one she lived before Philip, but with no parental safety net. Or perhaps she will be killed. Either way, I imagine Philip getting reports about how well she is doing, to keep his morale high.

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Will we see Martha again? After all, “The Americans” followed Nina after she left the States. But Martha’s farewell last week had a feeling of permanence, and the rest of the episode focused in on the emotional toll Martha’s bad luck had on Philip. She was a fading memory when the episode leaped ahead seven months.

Wright deserves an Emmy nomination for her work on “The Americans.” She delivered one of the year’s best performances.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.