The Americans recap: 'Lotus 1-2-3'
The pace picks up a little bit in this episode as we finally come to understand the nature of the agriculture program Philip and Elizabeth are investigating and suspicions about Stan’s new girlfriend are vocalized by our antiheroes.
We begin with Philip undercover (and under the covers) with his boring Kansas contact, Deirdre, who ends their lovemaking by offering to show him her spreadsheet computer program Lotus 123 – which gives this episode its title.
During the chore of sex, Philip’s mind wanders to his childhood home and memories of his father bringing home three grim root vegetables for them to eat.
Elsewhere, Elizabeth is spending time with Evgheniya, the wife of defector and Russian farming expert Alexei Morozov, who reveals that she has finally gotten a job and will now be teaching Russian to government specialists who study Soviet agriculture.
Back at the FBI, Stan Beeman and his trusty sidekick Agent Aderholt tell their boss that the effort to recruit Soviet businessmen as spies is not bearing fruit.
“None of these guys are hungry,” Stan says.
His boss is unmoved, so Aderholt jumps in to weigh the pros and cons: “Let’s say after a couple months of this we get lucky and one of the guys is willing to work with us. What are the odds they give us something that makes all this worth the effort?
“If nothing else we keep the KGB busy and irritated,” their boss says.
“Well, we’re certainly busy and irritated,” Stan replies.
“That’s a good joke,” his boss says. So funny, he forgot to laugh.
As teased in the previous episode, Henry’s teacher calls in Philip and Elizabeth for a conference. (Remember Henry? Their son? It’s been a while.)
Turns out, the boy isn’t in any trouble. Rather, he’s brilliant, and the teacher wants to place him in advanced math classes.
This surprises Philip and Elizabeth. Henry is dryly amused to see his absentee parents grappling with the reality that their son (a) exists, and (b) is good at something.
Elizabeth also uses this as chance to tell Philip what she has learned from Alexei’s wife. “There’s a chance we could get every officer they’re training for Moscow,” she says.
We see a little of Stan and his new girlfriend, Renee, who swings by the Jennings house to invite them to see Romancing the Stone. They decline, and later that night we see Stan and Renee in bed, trying to romance something of their own. She notes that he seems preoccupied, stressed. But he can’t tell her what’s happening at work.
“Can’t you be, I don’t know… vague?” she says.
“I was a little aggressive with this thing with my boss. I may have said a little too much. It’ll work out,” Stan says.
Across the street, Philip notices Renee’s car in the driveway while the lights to the Beeman house are dark.
“They’ve been seeing a lot of each other,” he says. “We’ve been giving the Center a lot of detailed reports about Stan. They know he’s recently divorced, they know he’s vulnerable. They know he’s a loner who would go for her type.”
“That’s crazy,” Elizabeth says.
“You think so?” he responds. They’ve certainly pulled off crazier in their day.
We don’t get the answer to this question in this episode, but later when Renee is hanging out at a bar with Stan and Aderholt, we see a bearded figure following them – Philip, in disguise, tracking Stan’s new love interest (and possible fellow spy).
Back in Moscow, we see Burov pursuing his investigation into corruption in the Russian food markets. He and his strong-arm partner threaten a distributor by mentioning his son fighting in Afghanistan.
The man doesn’t break. Doesn’t even bend. “You son of a bitch,” he tells them. “You want to arrest me, arrest me. Otherwise leave me alone.”
Burov is disgusted by this tactic, but his partner plans to try it again: “Let him think about his son for a few days, see if he comes in.”
Burov has other problems waiting at home. His mother and father have arranged a kind of Dating Game set-up, with three young women they are obviously foisting on him as possible wives.
“How could you think I want any of those silly young girls,” he tells his father. “I can find my own dates.”
In New York, we see Mischa, Philip’s estranged son, place a call to the number his mother left for him. He reaches the KGB operator and leaves a coded message, again following instructions, but instead of reaching his father, he merely sets off the alarms of KGB handlers Claudia and Gabriel.
They’ve been tracking every signal Philip gets since Mischa disappeared from Russia.
“How did he get here?” Claudia asks.
“I’m sure it wasn’t a walk in the park,” Gabriel says.
“He’s unstable,” she says.
“Are we talking about Mischa or Philip?” Gabriel wonders.
“The boy,” she says. “He’s already been in trouble for speaking out against the war.”
“It’s a complicated war, Claudia. He fought in it. He’s not mentally ill.”
“His mother defected. He got himself arrested. And now he’s coming to see a father he’s never met. I doubt he’s stable,” she insists.
“He’s his son,” Gabriel says.
“It’s too risky,” she says.
“You don’t trust Philip?” Gabriel asks.
“It’s not about me. He already has entries in his file that don’t look good,” she says. “How do you think people at the Center are going to feel about a meeting between Philip and his wayward son? And when he tells him he was put in an institution because he thinks the war in Afghanistan is a joke – what happens then?”
Claudia puts a finer point on it. “You care about him. We both do. But he’s shaky.”
The thing is, we know that she’s right. For a good long time, Philip has been suffering from a debilitating case of “Are we the baddies?”
Back home, Philip confesses to Elizabeth: “I’ve been having these memories of my childhood. My father, bringing home food and clothing.”
“So, good things?” Elizabeth asks. She doesn’t get it.
When Mischa reaches out again to his father, he gets an appointment for a park rendezvous, but the person who comes to meet him is Gabriel.
“It must be very hard. But if you love him, you must forget this. You cannot see him,” Gabriel says.
In Kansas, Elizabeth is having more luck (and a much better time) with her mark from AgriCorps. Ben Stobert is cooking her meals, and making jokes, and winning her heart. She likes him, even though she ended last episode saying how disgusted she was that a man could be so cavalier while plotting a famine in the Soviet Union that might kill millions.
“What is it you do exactly?” she finally asks, over fireplace s’mores.
“Right now I’m working on saving the world,” he says.
“Good luck with that,” she laughs.
Then he lays out the secret plan: “In the Peace Corps, I traveled around and saw children dying because they didn’t have enough to eat. Half their crops were lost before they were harvested. But if there was a grain that could resist pests, fungi, drought… The poorest people in the world could feed themselves. Famines cause wars. A single pest can cause mass starvation.”
“You’re a real idealist,” she says.
“No, I’m a realist. We need to develop crops that can withstand almost anything.”
Elizabeth wants to know how. And he tells her the plan:
“We take the strongest wheat plants from around the world. We crossbreed them, then we get the most destructive pests we can find, test the plants, and breed again. We’re close to developing the strongest strain of wheat the world has ever known.
“And when you have it?”
“I work for a company and they sell it,” he says. “But it would make food supplies cheap and more reliable around the world. In Africa, Asia, places were people suffer through cycles of famine. It might never happen again.”
Back home, Philip has sought refuge in an EST self-help meeting, but it’s only making things worse. “Old patterns between parents and children create barriers. They keep us from seeing what’s really there,” the instructor says.
In this case, it’s not his relationship with his mother, but rather Mother Russia that is strained.
When Elizabeth gets home, she also makes his self-recrimination worse. “We got it wrong,” she says. “Stobert isn’t looking to poison us or our food. He wants to save people.”
“From what?” Philip asks.
“Pests. Drought. Whatever. He wants to develop a wheat that can grow anywhere. He wants to feed the world,” she says. “The bugs in the lab were there to test the crops for resistance to make sure they could survive anything.”
“You believe him?”
She does. This devastates Philip.
“So the guy in the lab, the one we…” He can’t even bring himself to say “killed.”
“We didn’t know,” she says.
Philip, running from himself, flees to another identity and goes to have dinner with their fake son Tuan. But once there, he can’t hide from his own agony with an airline pilot disguise.
Tuan, sensing danger, excuses himself.
“That guy in the lab. That can’t happen. Ever again,” Philip says.
“We’ll be more careful,” she says.
“More careful?” Philip’s not buying it. “This has been hard for me. For a long time. You know that right?”
“I do,” she says. “Look, when we know this kind of thing is coming up, maybe it can just be me.”
“No, it’s us Elizabeth,” Philip tells her. And we see that, although he is definitely “shaky,” as Claudia described, Philip considers Elizabeth to be his constant, his rock.
“It’s us,” he tells her again.