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'The Americans' recap: 'Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?'

Elizabeth learns how easy it is to go wrong while trying to do right.

Posted on

Jeffrey Neira/FX

The Americans

TV Show
run date:
Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell
Current Status:
In Season

“You think doing this to me will make the world a better place?”

“I’m sorry. But it will.”

“That’s what evil people tell themselves … when they do … evil things.”

These are the dying words of a stranger, but they have wounded Elizabeth Jennings like no bullet, knife, or punch has yet. Tonight’s episode of The Americans, “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” steals its title from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired Blade Runner—another story that questioned what it means to be both human… and inhuman.

The old woman who utters these words (played by a charming and riveting Lois Smith) punctures a hole in Elizabeth’s otherwise impenetrable devotion to her grim life’s work for the KGB. Until now, Elizabeth has seen herself as a spy, a saboteur, a soldier—but overall an agent of equality. In this moment, forcing an innocent elderly woman to commit suicide for the crime of catching up on warehouse paperwork when she and Philip break in to bug the FBI’s mail robot, opens her eyes to a different reality: Maybe she’s just a murderer, a thug, an oppressor. Maybe she is the enemy.

We’ll get into the mother-issues that allow this particular victim to strike such a nerve with Keri Russell’s usually stoic character, but let’s dive into how the episode starts: With Elizabeth breaking some unfortunate news to Hans, her young South African KGB recruit. She says that he may have been spotted by Todd, the pro-apartheid college student and would-be bomber she spared in the previous episode. After the fiery death of his terrorist handler, Todd confessed everything Elizabeth, Philip, and their South African revolutionary Reuben Ncgobo wanted to know.

Given what Elizabeth has to do to poor, heartsick Betty, the purely innocent bystander, later in this episode, the mercy she showed to potential mass-murderer Todd seems out of place, no? When she tells Hans that his, um, KGB internship is being scrapped because this Todd guy caught a glimpse of him… something else rang false, at least for me. I actually went back to the previous week’s episode to see if this really happened, if Todd really did see Hans, and sure enough, yes, he did. But, but—remember that Todd spent a lot of time not only looking at her, Philip, and Reuben, but talking with them and begging them for mercy. Surely those are some faces he’ll never forget. The kid he saw briefly at a distance, scurrying away—so what? How is that a threat?

Still, she tells him: “Hans, it’s over. Us. This.”

I’m no mail robot, but … this does not compute. Especially for a woman who is eager to draw her own daughter into this life. It’s never stated explicitly, but my theory is: This is a test.

The next scene has Matthew Rhys’ Philip delivering Elizabeth a one-two hit of more troubling news:

1. The FBI found the bug they embedded in the desk pen of Special Agent Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas.)

2. Gaad’s secretary, and Philip’s “other” wife, Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) knows he’s not the internal affairs investigator he claimed to be.

“The person they brought in to investigate isn’t me,” he explains.

But there’s a silver lining: Martha hasn’t ratted him out, and he doesn’t think she will. Elizabeth is incredulous. “How can you know?”

I loved Rhys’s hesitation here, and thought he was going to say: “Because she’s my wife.” I think that’s what the character was actually thinking, although what he tells Elizabeth, his “real” wife, was somewhat softer.

“Because I trust her.”

From there, we get a moment of high blood pressure as Philip returns to her apartment, casing it a little first before bearing down and heading inside as the “Clark” husband she thought she knew, but still doesn’t.

He could easily be walking into a trap, but no, there’s Martha at the stove cooking tomato sauce. The phone rings (a little conveniently), and Martha explains that it’s Children’s Services. “We’ve reconsidered. It’s just not a good time,” she says, like she’s brushing off a telemarketing call.

“Clark” isn’t sure how to take this sudden abandonment of her desire to start a family, even though he’d been trying desperately to suppress it all along. “It’s unrealistic to think about children. Not now. Clark. It’s okay. Really,” she tells him after hanging up. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”

So … she doesn’t mind that he lied to her, got her to commit treason by bugging her boss’ office, and still hasn’t explained who the hell he is? “I just needed to know,” she says. “And now I do.”

Except … she doesn’t. 

Over dinner, Martha goes a step further, showing her commitment to this shape-shifter spouse of hers by downloading more information, more willingly than she ever has before: Gaad is freaking out and beat up the mail robot, and he did so much damage that the robot had to be sent away for repairs.

Let’s pause for a moment and analyze this: Why is Martha not melting down and taking “Clark” with her?

NEXT: A Martha conspiracy theory ….