Wednesday, March 25, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth Has a Conversation With a Woman in the Field in 'Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?'

FX's The Americans - Episode 3.09 "Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Philip and Elizabeth struggle with the gravity of unexpected collateral damage. Stan and Oleg hatch a risky plan to help save Nina.

Everyone wants to make the world a better place. And yet, everyone has a different understanding of how to make that happen. Philip and Elizabeth need to have a bug inside the FBI office. That's how they can bring about change in the world. Hans hates what his people are doing in South Africa and will fight against it. Stan and Oleg agree that Nina's world is much better if she is back in America. Every one of these characters is fighting for a cause. But they also have to balance the weight of their cause with their own personal responsibilities. Philip needs to be the one to think about his family. Paige and Henry are safe at home reading the Bible and playing video games, but danger and uncertainty surrounds their lives as well.

In the wake of the bug in Agent Gaad's office being discovered, Philip and Elizabeth are trying to figure out the next step of the mission with Martha. Martha really has been backed into a corner. If the FBI learns the truth, they will lock her up. If she turns against Clark, then he'll kill her. It's an impossible situation. So, all she can do is put on a smile, make some dinner and pretend that this relationship is still real. It isn't. He's still just there for the information and she continues to provide it for him. But it's also the only option that she has left at this point too. She now knows who Clark really is. She may not have all the specifics but she's smart enough to know the situation she currently finds herself in - and she's doing the best that she can do to stay alive with the life she has right now.

It's because of Martha that the scene-stealing mail robot at the FBI offices is going to have even more importance moving forward. This discovery has really upset Gaad. It's because of him that government secrets may have been exposed. He didn't know. How could he? And yet, he's still going to face the repercussions of that bug being discovered in his office. He took that anger out on the mail robot last week which sends it to the repair shop this week. That workplace is much easier for Philip and Elizabeth to get access to which makes the mail robot the perfect target for the new bug. Sure, the talk around the mail robot likely won't be as good as the talk from within Gaad's office. But it's also better than no intel at all. Sure, it's a risky venture to take considering the office is on high alert now. They won't be stopping with the official investigation any time soon - at least not until they have someone they can hold responsible. They'll also be looking for bugs much more frequently now. Keeping Martha as an asset in this mission is very dangerous. Philip does trust her. He understands what the new dynamic between them is right now. But if a better opportunity should present itself, what's stopping Martha from getting out from underneath all this danger?

Taking risks is a part of this business though. They take every necessary precaution in order to maintain their identities and survival. But risks and death are an inevitable part of this craft. Sometimes it is brutal and messy - like Hans going after Todd, the college student Elizabeth let go a week ago, just because there's the chance he saw him and could recognize him later in the field. Elizabeth didn't want to take that chance. It was better to stop their working relationship because of that uncertainty. That's not what Hans wants though. He wants to eliminate the problem so that he can keep working with and learning from Elizabeth. It's a mission that doesn't go all that smoothly for him. His one bullet doesn't kill Todd and he has to brutally chase after him and straggle him in the elevator in order to finish the job. It's messed up that Todd was able to escape one death only to meet another one. It wasn't quick and simple like Elizabeth and Philip typically handle the deed. It was complicated.

And then, things get complicated for Elizabeth and Philip when they break into the mail robot repair shop to plant the bug. The mother of the man who currently runs the business, Betty, manages the books and has the unfortunate luck of being there when Elizabeth and Philip are completing their mission. Her fate was decided the moment that the two of them heard her moving around upstairs. And yet, it's not just a brief encounter for them. Elizabeth heads up there and makes sure that Betty doesn't try to leave or contact anyone. It's an elongated sequence that helps better highlight the brutality of killing people who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Betty strikes up a conversation with Elizabeth and the audience gets her whole story. She has lived a long life. She's been married twice to the same man and has one son. She talks about marriage, family, war and religion. All of those are issues that Elizabeth is currently dealing with. For her part too, Elizabeth is incredibly honest with Betty because she knows that she'll never be able to tell anyone what happened here.

The stuff between Elizabeth and Betty really is the episode highlight. They go back and forth learning details about the other. As people, they have details in common. They can bond over being married and having kids. But that is then paired with the brutal realization of the profession that Elizabeth is in. She is a Russian spy here to make the world a better place. To Betty, Elizabeth is evil. And yet, she comes to accept her fate. She hates being forced to kill herself but it's also the way she is most at peace with. Betty's life isn't going to last that much longer because of a heart condition. It allows Elizabeth an easy way out of this situation. She doesn't have to quickly kill Betty and then figure out what to do with the body. The way that it happens allows for a clean death that no one will question. It is still very dark. We learn her whole life's story and this is how she comes to an end because she has the misfortune of running into Elizabeth Jennings in the field. But Betty also does bring up some valid points about how Elizabeth can do what she does while also being a parent? Or how she is actually an evil person just trying to justify her lethal actions by claiming to "make the world a better place." In the end, Elizabeth deals with Betty like she was always going to have to do. And yet, she left a lasting impression on her as well. She needed to listen to her story and then share some of the details with Philip. She had no choice but to kill her but it's good to know what she was still effected by the experience of it as well.

And then comes the final scene of the episode where Philip and Gabriel are playing yet another game of Scrabble and Philip has to say that the biggest problem he's having is Gabriel and the Centre right now. Throughout the season, Gabriel has been asking Philip to trust him and the Centre. They know what's right to do. They have thought about the bigger picture ideas and know exactly what the complications could be during all of Philip and Elizabeth's missions. To Philip though, that's a connection lacking in humanity. Gabriel is just as pressing for information on the mission of informing Paige the truth as he is on what's happening with Martha and Kimberly. But Paige isn't like the rest of the missions. She is Philip's daughter and he needs Gabriel to respect that this whole situation is much more complicated and personal than what they typically have to do. Gabriel can help point out that Elizabeth and Philip both wanted to be paired together. But at the end of the day, he still is treating Paige like a mission for the Jennings and Philip needs to make sure that it is more than just that.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?" was written by Joshua Brand and directed by Stephen Williams.
  • Stan and Oleg try to find out if Zinaida is a double agent or not by breaking into her hotel suite and seeing how she reacts. They are still uncertain. And yet, the most intriguing part of this story is how the two of them are working together for the common goal of rescuing Nina. They don't know that she's doing a much better job of rescuing herself. But that last scene in the car was a nice moment - especially considering Oleg started the season stalking Stan and later pointed a gun at him.
  • However, Agents Gaad and Aderholt sure do seem suspicious over how this whole security breach with Zinaida happened in the first place.
  • Martha's plan of opening her house to foster kids is also done because of her knowledge of the truth. She's trying to make Clark happy. It's sad that this is her life right now.
  • If The Americans was actually on Emmy voter's radars, this is one really impressive episode for both Keri Russell and Lois Smith.