S3E9 ‘Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?’

Directorial debut on The Americans by Stephen Williams and the second of two consecutive writing credits for Joshua Brand.

“A toast to ‘turning the page’”
So let’s get this right; pre-credits (scene two) P is trusting Martha to not inform on him – not Clark, Clark is bogus. Instead, P is trusting Martha to not inform on … her husband. So he shows up for dinner and we’re straight away into a new paradigm.

The view in last week’s blog was that Martha was accepting Clark’s implicit offer to be an asset – it was the conclusion of a whole sub textual conversation that ended with Clark asking “Is that enough?” Now we get confirmation of that “Clark, it’s okay. It’s fine. I’m fine. I just needed to know and now I do”.

Over dinner – fully knowing what this now means – Martha matter-of-factly talks of her day at work. Effectively she is laying out the deal; no more talk of children (“It’s just not a good time”), ‘yes’ to being his asset, and actually ‘yes’ to being a willing informer.

Clark’s side of the deal? It’s unstated but we know he just has to be a part-time husband; hey, come home sometimes and enjoy the sauce. It’s a deal he can live with, and Martha can live by – literally. For now anyway.

And the deal she has made with herself? She’s in denial. She doesn’t want to be alone. Above all, she loves this man – whoever he is.

Inevitably, the Centre is keen to put P’s new asset to the test – is she real or is this an elaborate ploy to try and bag an entire Soviet cell? Martha’s debut task will be to switch tapes on a bug inside the abused robot. Walking with Gabriel, P instinctively senses danger for Martha and spells it out, E doesn’t miss a thing and notes the change in tone.

Later, while fetching water for Betty, E comments “It’s only natural you developed feelings for Martha”. Everyone seems pretty accepting of this new reality. Let’s hope the mail robot doesn’t kick up another fuss

“Where were you born?” “Russia”
If this were real estate, an enormous stretch of beach front would be afforded to E’s conversation with Betty Turner, a random elderly bookkeeper who is later invited to eat her own metaphorical gun. After an abrupt start in the repair shop office, the women soon get round to talking family; marriage, kids and, most importantly, husbands and The Other Woman.

There is, of course, no need for this – E isn’t in disguise and someone downstairs is tampering with equipment which belongs to the FBI. It can only end in a shortened pension for Betty so it looks like we’re here to serve a wider narrative purpose.

Betty talks about her husband, the family business and their lives together (he a machinist and WW2 vet, she a math teacher and mother): good, decent, hard-working people. We take a break from the office as E offers to fetch water for Betty – though she is really inquiring of P whether Betty needs to die. P’s view? “She picked a bad time”. The second half of the girls chat is more frank.

Once she grasps she is going to die, E allows Betty to choose between her medication or something messier. E still encourages conversation and we can perhaps link this to the taped conversations of her own mother, and maybe other experienced women: so what do we make of a woman so bereft of female companionship she postpones killing an elderly innocent for a few motherly moments …

Whilst the conversation offers titbits about marriage, children and family the obvious parallel between the two is Betty’s remarriage to Gill (after they divorced and he married another) – shades of Martha, of mistakes corrected, of long-term union, of putting The Other Woman in a context that you can live with. There is much here for Elizabeth to reflect on as Betty gulps her prescription and convulses. Never has E seemed so lonely. That looks to be the point here. Lonely in her marriage.

… meanwhile, is seething over a Scrabble board. First, The Center wants to recruit his daughter – and we all remember Jared. Second, by excluding him in the discussion with E (about Paige’s recruitment), P can no longer trust Gabriel. And now The Center want his other wife to take, what he thinks, are unnecessary risks (ask a janitor already!). Gabriel’s line “You should trust the organisation” seemed pretty close to a bitch slap.

In the closing scene it’s clear the trust has gone. Hell, P probably trusts Martha more than Gabriel and The Center (band name!). Sure, we’re only talking about a weekly cliffhanger and we’ll all get over it but what P is saying resonates … ‘Don’t take me for granted: I’m running two marriages, a 15-year old doper-nympho, a real smart FBI neighbor and you want to recruit my daughter without my permission? Show a little respect here’. He has a point.

The good news is 52 points for ‘Sphinx’: Go Sphinx!

Elsewhere …
Hans had a busy three scenes; sent away by E, then the wordless, visceral brutality of his amateurish murder of Todd, and finally a declaration to E that he (a) “will do whatever is needed of me for the cause” – pause – (b) “for you” (an apparent declaration of love for E).

He’s used that phrase before – “the cause” – and we now understand Hans is choosing to conflate his cause and E’s cause, which doesn’t work (Hans wants rid of the white supremacists governing South Africa, the Soviets and Americans are engaged in a clash-of-empires proxy war, also in Apartheid South Africa). If he’s not careful, Hans may end up dying for the wrong cause.

Stan and Ollie – sorry, Oleg – are hamming it up with some plan Stan hatched to trade Nina for Zinaida (the bogus defector – or is she?) and, frankly, who wouldn’t.

It’s a long shot, it’s costing Stan credibility at work (why didn’t he search the hotel room properly?) and they do make an unlikely odd couple; will The Minister for Railways tells Oleg Nina is working as a honey trap? Will he go off the rails? Is Stan becoming the bugging suspect? They crack a beer or two, and neither quite say ‘that’s another fine mess you got me into’. That’s detente for you.

Contrast of the week: Not only The Other Women (Helen and Martha) but also in the character of the two deaths.

Going back to the opening seconds of the episode, E is seriously pondering something while waiting for Hans in a derelict building. I suspect it was only while waiting she decided Hans’ potential outweighs the possible risk of him being alive … so she didn’t kill him.

Not often you get a full death rattle these days … yay Betty!

Paige had a single scene this week, but she was everywhere.

While it doesn’t quite feel convoluted P sure has a hell of a time downstairs in the repair shop with … something fiddly.

I’m not too hung up on Betty’s pre-death rattle observation “That’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things” Sorry Betty but it’s just not about you.

So we close this epi thumbing through dictionaries … ‘Geode’ … ‘Amatory’ (cf ‘wedlock’) … as if there’s not enough already.

(Very belatedly added the 5 stars rating thing tonight (Sat, 11th April). Up top – please do use!)


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6 responses to “S3E9 ‘Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?’

  • kip g

    Great observations. But I’m surprised you didn’t discuss the PKDick title.
    Also, I really liked the Betty interaction. It was nearly straight out of classic Twilight Zone. I was hoping she might hallucinate Elizabeth sprouting a pair of red wings.
    small details: jihood?I thought he said geode the second time.
    Stan and Ollie, that’s perfect! You get sphinx points for that one.


    • apb

      Hi kip, good catch on ‘geode’. Thanks for that! What I’m finding is the word count on the recaps keeps going up so I’m having to prioritise. In the end I decided the epi title was partly a nod to a great author and also just a bit of fun with a fun aspect of the show. If you think you see somethng more textual, please let me know!

      I also wanted to talk about a great contrast tonight – the two deaths – but it’s already almost 1200 words …

      Love the parallel with the Twilight Zone, it was exactly like one of those random situations …Thanks again.


  • Athab

    Congrats on the terrific blog. I think you are the only one who has cottoned to the fact that Philip is developing Martha as an asset.

    I read the Hitfix blog on the Americans, by Alan Sepinwall, which is kinda meh, IMO. He called Martha and Clark’s dinner ‘cordial’, but I think he missed the subtext, totally. You are right, he is developing her and she is a willing subject. That phone call where Martha says its not te right time for kids, and her subtle steering of Clark, was masterful. It goes both ways, in fact, how Clark uses her and she him.

    In this show, subtext is so important. If the FBI doesn’t consider Martha as a suspect, it will be because of how she handled herself when Taffet interviewed her, and also because they would not consider a female secretary as a possible agent for the KGB.

    I think Martha decided a long time ago to support Philip/Clsrk simply because she loves him so much, and she is willing to do anything for him.

    Again, congratulations on that blog. Great work!


  • K.

    I am a fan of your analysis of The Americans and have truly enjoyed your recaps. One thing that really struck me in this episode was “Sphinx.” It was such an incredibly loaded choice. The sphinx was a brutal killer, of course, but there’s more to it. I took a look at Wikipedia and this sentence jumped out at me:

    “In Jean Cocteau’s retelling of the Oedipus legend, The Infernal Machine, the Sphinx tells Oedipus the answer to the riddle in order to kill herself so that she did not have to kill anymore, and also to make him love her.”

    Just wow.


    • apb

      Hi K, wanted to acknowledge your comment – it might take me until the weekend to catch up but what a wonderful catch! It’s almost enough to deal with Gabriel’s inferences at face value (love and marriage and wedlock, “from the Norse ‘wed’ ‘lock’ which means perpetual battle”), where Gabriel is presumably drawing a distinction between Agent Martha and wife Elizabeth. This is a beautiful find and takes an already outstanding scene to somewhere rare. I’ll get back to you!


    • apb

      Hi K, getting back to this … did you notice Gabriel and Claudia met in a Greek diner this week and that the former posed a riddle to the latter? I’m not going to get all conspiratorial about it but (from the same Wiki article):

      “The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, and to have asked a riddle of travellers to allow them passage.”

      It’s coincidental, I know it is …


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