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The Americans “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” Review (3×09)

25 Mar

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

In a season that has featured a dead body being shoved into a suitcase, an extended tooth-pulling sequence, and a gruesome necklacing, it’s saying something when you come across a scene that’s more difficult to watch than all of those. “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” features an absolutely devastating series of scenes that touch upon many of the themes of the show, and the episode again solidifies The Americans as an engrossing, tough-to-watch hour each week.

What’s interesting about the Elizabeth-Betty interactions is that they don’t involve any violence. Being the cold-hearted spy we’ve seen before might lead to Elizabeth quickly dispatching of the witness with a gunshot, but instead, what we get is a drawn-out death. We get an extended conversation that clearly rattles Elizabeth, that pierces the walls she put up around her heart, that causes her to hold back tears as she gets ready to leave the building. It’s a beautiful and masterful performance by Keri Russell, and we’re now beginning to witness a shift in her mindset; this is the kind of experience that might change the way she handles Paige with regards to spying.

And after all, it makes perfect sense why this experience would be key. Betty touches on anything from marriage to the war to religion to children, and we can see the connections between her backstory and Elizabeth’s: Betty’s husband connects with Elizabeth’s father, Gil’s situation connects with Philip’s, and Betty herself connects with Elizabeth’s mother. Even without those connections, though, it’s already extremely tough to watch a person die in front of you, especially if that person is actually interacting with you. As Betty slowly dies, we can see Elizabeth’s cold expression begin to crumble, and it all eventually comes down later when she exhibits outward emotion in response to the death. It’s a huge turning point for the character, and what better way to do so than to hire Lois Smith to play the catalyst? Smith is impeccable in a guest performance that deserves to win all the Emmys, and Betty handles the situation with such poise that by the time she takes her last pill, you already feel like a knife has been twisted in your gut several times over. Truly amazing.

In addition, Betty strikes at a fundamental idea of The Americans when she brings the conversation around to the question of “Why?” Why is Elizabeth able to kill? Why is she doing this when she has kids to take care of? Why do we have such good looking assassins in this show? Essentially, what it all comes down to is the idea of rationalization, the notion that people wrap their actions up in a neat little package with a mission statement stamped on the top. In reality, motivations and feelings and actions aren’t that simple, and it’s clear why some people might have to lump things together and simplify. Hans shoots and strangles Todd not only because Elizabeth looks like Keri Russell, but also because he has to believe that doing so will benefit the greater good; as for Elizabeth, she utilizes the same mindset in her conversation with Betty, but she’s forced to confront herself head on when Betty questions everything she thought she knew. As we move forward, alliances and relationships and ideologies may begin to shift, and it’s going to be a fascinating ride to see how it all pans out.

GRADE: A-

OTHER THOUGHTS:

– “To turning the page.” Heh….turning Paige.

-I hope Zinaida eventually ate her BLT.

– “It’s my job to look out for my family because no one else will.” Great scene at the end between Philip and Gabriel, and it looks like there’s a widening gap between Gabriel and Elizabeth/Philip.

-In just one scene, Alison Wright once again absolutely kills it. Martha’s phone call to Child Services is extremely sad, and it’s a mix of caving in and self preservation and love for Clark; plus, the audience knows that this entire relationship is built upon a lie, so her character’s tough situation becomes even more prominent.

-Oleg-Stan buddy cop spinoff? I would watch it. I’m looking forward to see how this storyline develops, as it’s a very entertaining and intriguing pairing.

-Everyone should get Emmys for this episode, especially the actor who played Todd; after all, he was willing to get his eye blown out just for that scene, which really goes to show you the commitment from these actors.

Photo credit: FX, The Americans

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5 Responses to “The Americans “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” Review (3×09)”

  1. Justin March 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Watching Betty taking enough pills for her to die of an overdose was agonizing to watch and this was a scene that had no blood, no gore, no graphic violence of any kind. I like how the experience seem to have rattled her and I think Hans’s murder of Todd had the same effect on her as well. Hans might as well be a substitute for Paige. What he did to Todd could be the thing Paige would feel compelled to do to protect the cause.

    I wonder if the conflict over Paige would force Philip and Elizabeth to fully turn against the Center and defect. Or it may go another way. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    • polarbears16 March 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

      Yes, exactly. Great thoughts on the Todd-Paige parallels. It seems like we’re really starting to see a change here, and since the show might actually be ending soon (sadly), this might be a part of the endgame.

  2. Mel March 28, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    I love Martha. I love the way she sits down at the table, gives him all the info she has and now let’s have dinner. I wonder how she would be if she knew that he was married to his “sister” and already had two kids. If Elizabeth had had to shoot Betty then they might have searched the warehouse to see what happened and after the pen with the bug in it they may have searched the mail robot closer. So it looking like a suicide or accidental overdose is perfect for them. Great episode.

  3. Fran March 28, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

    Terrific review of an incredible episode.

  4. Matthew Thompson March 30, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    Finally got around to watching this episode. The Elizabeth-Betty scenes were so good. Stan and Oleg having a beer was pretty great too. And I love the episode title!

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