The Americans: Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?
March 25, 2015 10:46 PM - Season 3, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Hans takes on a freelance operation, Martha decides to get on with things and makes supper, Oleg and Stan take the next step in their plot to exchange Zinaida for Nina, Mail Robot entertains midnight visitors, and Philip and Gabriel play Scrabble.
posted by orange swan (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh Jesus, that scene of Elizabeth making the old woman take the pills..... and her pupil pulling off that horribly messy murder...... wow.

A whole episode showing just how terrifying these people really are was brilliant. Peeling away the veneer of "badasses" to show that they are absolute monsters.

posted by lattiboy at 11:32 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hans is an idiot. He had a golden chance to get out of the espionage business and decided to invest himself in it again. Dude. If you could have had a talk with Philip about how you're going to feel about that decision at 40, assuming you live that long, you'd kick yourself black and blue.

Betty: Do you think that killing me will make the world a better place?

Elizabeth: Sorry, but yes I do.

Betty: That's what evil people say to themselves about the things they do.

You nailed it, Betty. Even Elizabeth knows it.

What the fuck, Martha? You've decided your best option is to keep pretending nothing's wrong and to keep feeding "Clark" information and pasta with plum tomatoes and basil? But then you don't know that your marriage isn't real, that there isn't even a Clark.

I always thought Philip felt simply pity for Martha and guilt over what he's doing to her, but it seems he has other, better feelings for her as well, such as trust, which means he must also have a little respect for her. Perhaps he has a certain affection for her too.

Oleg got a chance to do what he's probably always wanted to do: to go off on Stan.

Zinaida has discovered the BLT. Good luck turning her now, Oleg!
posted by orange swan at 5:08 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, and it seemed so unnecessary for Elizabeth to confront whoever was in the office. Why on earth couldn't she and Philip simply have left and come back the next night, or kept quiet and hidden until Betty left? Anyone who shows up at the office late at night to do some work isn't likely to stay more than a couple of hours at most.
posted by orange swan at 5:31 AM on March 26, 2015

Why on earth couldn't she and Philip simply have left and come back the next night, or kept quiet and hidden until Betty left?

I agree, they should have simply waited until whomever it was finally left. OTOH, if that person had come down to the repair bay, they probably would have had to kill them anyway.

As for why couldn't they have come back the next night...There wasn't any guarantee the mailbot would have still been there the next night. It could have been quickly fixed and rushed back to the FBI the next day. They had to act when they definitely knew they had the opportunity. I was kind of surprised they both went on that mission. It seemed to be something one person could have accomplished. Elizabeth seemed to be there exclusively to eliminate any possible interruptions.

The whole scene, though, was worth it just to see Elizabeth actually show some emotion and crying after Betty died.

Loved the very bright line Phillip drew with Gabriel. He's pretty much just declared himself as an enemy. I'm standing by my belief that the season ending will see Elizabeth on a mission against Phillip. Probably with Paige as bait.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 AM on March 26, 2015

Another quibble: How worthwhile is it going to be to bug the MailRobot when all it does is patrol the open office areas of the FBI building? The useful conversations are all going to take place in the offices behind closed doors.
posted by orange swan at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

How worthwhile is it going to be to bug the MailRobot when all it does is patrol the open office areas

I thought the same thing. I'm wondering if the mailbot bug mission was actually some kind of "test" for Phillip and Elizabeth? Gabriel seemed pretty evasive about it, saying only they needed to trust these decisions.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:45 AM on March 26, 2015

I assumed they were installing the receiver (not the recorder) into the mail robot so that Martha wouldn't be caught with it, and that they were either use her to do a one-time drop of a microphone or have someone else do that.

I said "Ohhhh!" when it became clear that Martha was just going to play-act that everything was peachy keen. The casual gossip about her office (which was clearly telling Clark what he needed to know while she was pretending she wasn't passing confidential info), on top of the cooking a family meal, the urging a taste, treating a cautious Clark as if he had forgotten to bring home toilet paper but was forgiven - all the normality of a couple not breaking national law. The forced casualness of her dropping the Gaad info and that the robot had been sent out for repair paired with her call turning down a child right now, I just feel so bad for Martha. This is the only thing she can hold onto, and so she's going to hold onto it tightly.

I thought Elizabeth let Hans off too easy. How did he know that the Center didn't have other plans for the South African dude they let go? I can't see the Soviets appreciating an undisciplined killing, especially in a spy-in-training who did it to control his own future. What happens if a Soviet spymaster sends him off elsewhere?

I wonder if the Soviets are planning on having Zinaida plant the next recorder after the internal investigations are over. Her reactions to Oleg make me think she's definitely a double agent.
posted by julen at 11:55 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The scene in the office actually made me cry, which I'm not sure this show has done to me before now.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:10 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The office scene was brutal. BRUTAL.

And I loved every element of it. I loved the lighting. I loved that it came about as a gap in KGB knowledge, but that Phillip and Elizabeth are so competent that at this point, we, the viewers, are just sort of wondering how the death is going to happen. I love the contrast between how silently and efficiently that death happened, and the mess and noise of Hans murdering that other dude. I loved how impassive Elizabeth was on the surface, and how calm she might have felt internally, too, but how you knew the emotions were roiling underneath, and how they handled Phillip and Elizabeth and their separate, cooperative marriage.

Also, a lesser show would have found a way to hamhandedly remind you that Elizabeth's mother kept the books for the local Communist group and how she has probably seen her mother sitting up late at night working on stuff -- but no, this is the Americans, and this is important, and they know you're smart. So they let your knowledge of Elizabeth control. The scene only works, in fact, because you know what Elizabeth is capable of, both in terms of being a remorseless murder machine for the spread of socialism in our time, but also all the times you've seen her curl up in a tiny ball in the basement, listening on headphones to the voice of the dying mother she will NEVER SEE AGAIN, all the little tender things she does for Phillip, the way she loves her daughter, but not in the way that Americans do.

They let that all stay with you, as you sit there, watching her watch this woman who looks like her mother,

who is her mother's generation,

who is beautiful in the photograph much as Lionel said her mother is beautiful

who is lonely, who is angry, who is human, who is complicated, who stays up late does the exact same kind of office work that Elizabeth's own mother used to do, and you think that it's going to be OK, because the lady is dying, and she's mixing up who is with her, and she's going to pass easy, and this is totally a scene to give closure to the Elizabeth-and-her-mom story line

and then, that STONE-COLD


It was brutal, and I love that this show took the time to make it that way.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:10 AM on March 27, 2015 [13 favorites]

I'm standing by my belief that the season ending will see Elizabeth on a mission against Phillip. Probably with Paige as bait.

Given how brutal this season has been already, that is one of the very, very few things that would be hardcore and awful enough.

On the other hand, given the emotional load on Elizabeth after this episode, I'm wondering if the close of the season is her joining Phillip in roguery. Possibly by straight-up murdering Gabriel.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:43 AM on March 27, 2015

This episode was very much about Elizabeth.

From the beginning of the season, she has been trying to bring the love back into her marriage: rebuffing Hans against better spy wisdom; perturbed by Philip's whole deal with Martha, "do you have to 'make it real' for me?", and then now, twice, she responds to Phillip's defensive responses with "that's not what I meant" in the pleading tone of a lover trying to be understood, to be let in. It really made me feel for her. I don't think either Phillip or Elizabeth have been the cold espionage-o-trons they sometimes try to be, but Elizabeth, I think, is especially a creature of passion. And she's worried about her marriage, and wants to save it.

I had been wondering what was up with Phillip; why he couldn't seem to see this. I mean the two can giggle like teenagers while sneaking a joint out the window, and that's sweet and all, but I wondered why Phillip couldn't see the love Elizabeth is dying to give him ... until that final conversation with Gabriel. When told "in a way, Elizabeth chose you", he says "it sure hasn't felt that way". But then a few exchanges later, he realizes what he knew all along: Gabriel is "the problem", and Phillip needs to protect his "family". Not Paige, not his kids; his family, i.e. everyone. He knows Gabriel has been trying to play them off each other, and he's having no more of it. So I support the theory they will indeed go rogue on his ass. They've offed one of their own before. Hell, they did it in ep 1.

That office death was chilling as hell, but the kind of Cop Buddy comedy going on between Stan and Oleg was a nice counterbalance. Sure hope Stan can keep it together. Oleg, I'm not so worried about, so long as Arkady - the man who scoffs at the wrath of Railroad Ministers - has got his back.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:24 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had been wondering what was up with Phillip; why he couldn't seem to see this.

I think for Philip, it comes down to Paige. As long as Elizabeth persists in trying to turn Paige, nothing else she does to try to save their marriage/family is going to be enough to make up for that, in his eyes.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:14 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

That's a good point. And I think that also leads us back to Gabriel. Yes, both want Paige to be a part of the Cause, but notice their approach and motivations. Elizabeth, in her belief in "making the world a better place", talking to her daughter about the injustice suffered by minorities and the poor. She wants her daughter to be a part of creating a just world. Gabriel, he comes from a place where concerns about the prudence of an operation can be responded to with "trust the Organization". In other words I think Elizabeth wants Paige in out of love; Gabriel wants her in for the sake of the Center. I think it's that love that will bring Phillip and Elizabeth around to taking down Gabriel, however, let's not forget the little snag of her having asked the guy to look out for Mischa. Phillip might not even know it yet, but that's a trump card (or, more appropriately maybe, an X or a Q tile) Gabriel already has in his hand against him.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:40 PM on March 27, 2015

If Elizabeth and Phillip kill Gabriel, might that mean we get Claudia back (now that her other show is cancelled)?
posted by julen at 4:58 PM on March 27, 2015


The show must not be worried about The Americans' low ratings because that was, uh, not something you'd spring on a new viewer.

But it was so good!
posted by Monochrome at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe I am giving too much credit to Martha here, but my read on her turning down the children services agency and then clearly feeding Clark information she's pretty sure he will want, I think she's going to push him for a baby of their own.
posted by betsybetsy at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Anyone else get a distinct Coen Brothers vibe from Hans' first kill? I mean wow. Popped him in the eye, all bloody and screaming, the gun jammed up, fighting his way into the freight elevator... Was expecting the next scene to be a nervous Hans contacting Elizabeth on how to get his hands on a wood chipper.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:26 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The show alternates between film/tv ideas about killing and violence where it's all neat, instant, and balletic, and the more realistic version where it's chaotic, messy, brutal, prolonged, and uncertain. And, really, for very highly trained killers like Philip and Elizabeth, the unrealistic version isn't so unrealistic. But even for them it won't always go the way they plan. And it hasn't. But for others, like Hans, who imagines himself as Elizabeth, the reality is a shocking, bloody mess. The show alternates in these portrayals to serve this sort of narrative purpose -- highlighting distinctions in competence and expectations and between carefully planned and hastily improvised operations.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:55 PM on March 30, 2015

What a great performance by Lois Smith, the poor victim Betty in the office. She's an actress with a long pedigree; you may remember her as Grandma Stackhouse in True Blood. She brought some much needed humanity to the show. Such pathos. I'm increasingly convinced that Elizabeth is nothing but a monster. Maybe a victim, in her way, but a monster willing to sacrifice her daughter, her humanity, and a sweet widow just trying to pay some bills.

Philip by contrast I have some respect for. He genuinely feels a little bad for Martha, although he's certainly willing to keep exploiting her. He's fiercely defense of his family. And all the way back to the very first episode he was willing to consider quitting his spy career if that was the better choice. OTOH he's still about to fuck a 15 year old girl for Mother Russia, so there's that. I almost wish at this point they'd play him as the cad and enjoy whatever disgusting thing he's doing to that poor girl.

I'm totally confused with where Martha is at. She confronted Clark and asked "who are you?" the episode previous; did we see the answer? Because she seems to accepted.. well, what? Who does she think Clark is now? She's signaled her submission, although part of me hopes it's all a double-cross and she's flipped now and working counter-espionage. I'd like to see her end this season with some dignity.
posted by Nelson at 9:22 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think Martha got turned, and is intentionally setting up Clark via the mail robot remark, which was too convenient. I wouldn't be surprised if Phillip and Elizabeth were watched as they entered the repair warehouse. The fact that we didn't see Walter Taffet at all last episode makes me suspicious.
posted by gsteff at 10:39 AM on March 31, 2015

That would be very strange and out of character for the show to pull a deus ex machina in that Martha gets turned but the viewers don't see any indication or direct exposition of that having happened. Somebody mentioned in this in last episode's thread but it seems plausible to me that acquiescing to Clark is her best option here. She knows she can't confess, lest she be a traitor and face a life in prison or worse. She considered the gun, but thought better of it. If she sticks with Clark, he made it clear he doesn't want to tell her about who he really is and what organization he's with (under the lie-guise of protecting her, but eh) and so she can hold onto him and his devotion to her, however bullshit it may be. It's all she's got. So now the last thing she wants to do is make herself useless to him, because the gun or confession become better choices. She makes a nice meal, ends the baby plans (she now truly understands why a child is not possible for them), and offers some info to make good on her promise to cooperate and not stand in his way. If there's any feeling there beyond that, she's lucky. But he's proven that he's been decent to her at the very least, and highly invested in making her as happy a wife as he can under these circumstances.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:45 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Late watcher via streaming.

I thought the office scene was one of the best the show has ever had.
posted by about_time at 6:24 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking of incredibly amateurish like Hans' operation, I thought the Oleg-Stan play was so bad and obviously a setup that Zinaida was struggling to keep from busting out laughing. Oleg's disguise and spiel felt way too Hollywood-y and the way it seemed like he was "surprised" by Stan's entrance and left in a panicked dash would signal to any real KGB that they were fakes.
posted by coolname at 12:07 PM on November 10, 2017

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