The Americans Recap: Revenge of the Mail Robot

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The Americans
Episode Title
Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?
Editor’s Rating

Despite a brutal murder and an assault, this was nonetheless one of the quieter episodes of this show. A lot of it was spent talking to a woman we'll probably never see again, a woman who has to die because of a robot. And most of the action happens under the surface, as things start to shift: Martha finally gets with the program, in her own way, while in his own way, Philip starts to get out of it.

But first, there's bad news for Hans: Elizabeth announces that their little spy game is over because Todd might have seen him climbing down the ladder as they shoved him in a van last week, and also because she let Todd live. Elizabeth insists that Hans can serve the cause in other ways, but he's already thinking about the one part of this equation he can change.

And that's why he murders Todd. Yep, he follows him to his job at some sort of of empty book warehouse, shoots him the eye, and when his gun jams, finishes him off by slowly strangling him to death. Even crazier, this plan actually works: When Elizabeth finds out that he got away with murder, she lets him back into spy club almost immediately. "I will do whatever is asked of me for the cause, for you," he tells her. He's a man after her own heart, in more ways than one.

Stan and Oleg are now full-on colluding, which I'm sure will end well for both of them. Oleg thinks that the defector Zinaida might be a double agent after all; he has no definitive proof, but he's got a feeling — and a risky plan that could let them know for sure. Stan keeps feeding delicious Milky Ways to Zinaida, then leaves her alone in a hotel room long enough for Oleg to slip in wearing an actual fake mustache and threaten her in Russian. She doesn't crack, though, and when Stan returns, Oleg has to pistol-whip him to make it look good.

Fresh from his weird night with Martha, Philip tells Elizabeth that the FBI found the bug in Gaad's office, and then drops the even bigger bomb: "Martha knows about me." Not the KGB part, but definitely the "not who he said he was" part. His plan: to do nothing, and keep kicking it with Martha. Elizabeth freaks out a bit, knowing that he could be in enormous danger if she told anyone about her suspicions. But Philip seems unworried. Why? "Because I trust her." It's not a bad impulse. Of all the people he puts his faith in, she's probably disappointed him the least.

Even better, when Philip (a.k.a. Clark) returns to spend the next night with his second wife, Martha seems transformed. From the moment he opens the door, she's all smiles, chattering about the fresh basil she got for dinner, the plum tomatoes. It's like everything is back to normal. Strangely, it's not just denial, either. When children's services calls, she turns them down flat. "It's unrealistic to think about children," she tells Philip. "It's fine. I'm fine. I just needed to know, and now I do."

Maybe it's even easier, now, finally knowing that the nagging uncertainty in the back of her head wasn't wrong after all. They eat the spaghetti of cheerful resignation, and he says, "Thank you." I think he means it. Best of all, Martha keeps dishing about the FBI, including Gaad's amazing assault on the mail robot.

When Philip recaps the situation to Gabriel, his handler seems equally confident that Martha will protect her husband, and adds that their next step is to bug the mail robot. Philip's not sure that this is the best time to send Martha on another treason adventure, but Gabriel implies they may not need Martha to change the tapes. How is that now? He says something ominous and vague about needing to "trust the organization" and walks off in a black hat and trench coat toward what I assume is Spytown, USA.

Late at night, Philip and Elizabeth head to the repair shop where the mail robot's being fixed — because, awesomely, the ROBOT ATTACK has become a major plot point — but just as Philip starts to install the bug, they hear a noise from the front office. Elizabeth investigates, and finds an old woman who comes in every night to do the bookkeeping. Her name is Betty. "If you scream, I'll have to tape your mouth shut," says Elizabeth calmly,when the woman tries to call for help. "I don't want to have to do that."

She and Elizabeth spend a lot of time together over the rest of the episode, most of it talking about family. We learn that Betty's dead husband Gil was a machinist, that he started the shop. That he fought in World War II and liberated concentration camps. He went off to war a Christian Scientist, and then came back four years later believing in nothing at all. "What he saw, it stayed with him," Betty says. Trauma does that. A lot of times, you aren't ever the same again; you just get better at learning to be something different.

If you didn't know how this was going to end the moment you saw the old woman, you know the moment she asks Elizabeth her name — and Elizabeth tells the truth. She tells the truth about her family, too: Her father was a coal miner, her mother an office worker. She's from Russia, she tells the woman, because you can tell a person anything before you kill them. Elizabeth empties a bottle of pills on the desk near Betty and slides them toward her.

"It's better than falling down in the street like a drunk and waiting for some stranger to pass by," says Betty when she realizes what's happening. "Or sitting in front of the television alone." She takes the pills, one at a time, without any fuss. You can get better at learning to live with anything, even dying.

As they wait for the overdose to kick in, Betty's last thoughts are on her marriage: on Gil, the man she married twice. How the second time around they were more realistic, that there was no more talk about wanting each other to be different. And, of course, they never talked about the other woman, Helen — the one he left her for the first time, the one who happened to be her best friend.

A dying woman is probably the closest that Elizabeth will ever get to a priest, so she confesses her secrets, too. How she has children, but how she and her husband do this together sometimes — they kill people. “Why?” asks the woman, shortly before she collapses. "To make the world a better place," says Elizabeth. Betty doesn't believe that could be true, and her last words offer no absolution: "That’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things.”

Later, Philip has his own terrible conversation about marriage, chatting sullenly with Gabriel over yet another Scrabble game, and it's almost as unpleasant. Gabriel muses about the etymology of some very select words, including wedlock, which he claims is Norse for "perpetual combat." (Note: It's not.) Gabriel is trying to help Philip again, or at least he's trying to handle him, if he even sees a difference. He advises Philip that love and marriage are nearly opposite states: the difference between a bolt of lightning and tending to a garden. He confides that Elizabeth rejected the first officer proposed to be her husband: "In her own way, she chose you." It's a comforting idea, but Philip doesn't want anything from Gabriel: not comfort, not compliments, not marriage counseling.

When Gabriel asks what the problem really is, Philip's reply is simple. "The problem is you," he sneers, almost like he can't believe the question. "I trusted you." And unlike Martha, Gabriel didn't protect him when it mattered. Or, more accurate, he didn't protect Paige, and convinced Elizabeth stop protecting her, too. "And now my job is to look out for my family because no one else will."

Although he doesn't say the words, they aren't entirely on the same side anymore.