The Americans: The Curious Incident of the Mail Robot (S4 E11 Recap)

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The Americans has always excelled at the long game. Not only does it take years (sometimes) to develop and utilize an asset, but plot threads and characters — even long dead ones — have a tendency to resurface. In Dinner for Seven, (S4, E11) we’ll hear about a character we only met once last season, whose unfortunate demise may get another look. There’s a shout-out (but no sighting) of good ol’ Mail Robot. We’ll finally find out what the Patty plan was all about. Stan and Oleg will have another top secret assignation. And Gabriel will make pirogi, just like his momma did in the old country, when she could get eggs.

Pastor Tim, who by process of elimination is now a major player, stops by the Jennings home to apologize for his wife, and tell them he was thinking of their family while he was lost in the wilderness. They invite him to dinner because they are a scared of him and his wife who may or may not have actually left a tape with a lawyer, but they’ll have to wait till they know for sure before they can kill them.

Papa Gabriel makes pirogi for his favorite surrogate daughter. Why the treat? Maybe to soften the bad news – mission-best-friend-betrayal has to go forward.

"You know Elizabeth, if you ate like this everyday, we wouldn't be able to send you out on these assignments.

“You know Elizabeth, if you ate like this everyday, we wouldn’t be able to send you out on these assignments.”

Elizabeth looks crushed. Next we watch her in Patty drag watching Yung Hee and the kids leave the house. Don is alone when Patty – his wife’s bestie from hell – comes in and tells him she’s preggers. Don reasonably tells her that she can’t have it and he’ll pay for everything. She seems appalled by this, not only because the plot calls for it but because all Americans are appalled by abortion even though that’s how about 20% of pregnancies in this country end. She storms off telling him she’ll take care of it – by herself.

So he doesn’t suspect there is anything remotely fishy about any of this? The seduction? Blacking out? The way she got handsy? They don’t warn people with “level 4” clearance that spies are everywhere, and they must beware of women who ask you to come in and move a dresser bust up a chifferobe?

Stan and Philip are drinking beer because that’s what men do. Stan mentions his ex-boss was killed in a Thailand, and even though they say it was a robbery, he suspects the KGB. Why? Because they’re animals! He doesn’t seem to remember mentioning Gaad’s vacation plans to Philip that time at racquetball. Maybe Philip is putting a little something in Stan’s beer. And if he’s not, maybe he should be.

Elizabeth comes in looking beat from a tough day at work ruining nice people’s lives. Stan leaves. Philip gives her a hug and she tells him, “It’s all yours now.” Meaning what? We’ll see. The kids come home and Paige gives her report on church. She’ll be working at the food pantry a couple of nights a week.

Philip tells Elizabeth about Gaad, and that he put the trip in his report. She says a long, “Hmmm.” Which loosely translated might mean, “Yeah, whatever.”

Elizabeth stops by church to pick up Paige from choir practice, reminding us that despite working day and night for the church, Paige is still too young to get a license. Tim notices that Elizabeth seems tense. But is she? Or is that part of the act? She confesses that she and Philip have been under a lot of pressure, but is she saying that to draw him in or because that’s an actual feeling she has that she can identify? Now that she’s done with Yung Hee, and has killed her other fake-friend, Lisa, she has no one to talk to. Tim assures her she’s safe there, but Elizabeth isn’t “safe” anywhere, and all she’ll admit to is feeling like she was “coming apart” when Alice thought she and Philip had something to do with his disappearance.

Is she trying to seduce him? Because that would give the Jennings some serious leverage in getting the tape back.

Stan has one of his clandestine dates with Oleg. Oh, the furtive glances, and sentences that trail off. Has this been mashed up yet on YouTube and delivered as Brokeback FBI? In the end, Stan tells Oleg that he’s not giving in to the pressure he’s under to blackmail him – which he could do easily given that Oleg helped him bust the very well-placed Zaneida because it was their best hope of getting Nina back. Instead, Stan tells him this will be their last rendezvous because if you love something you gotta set it free. But can you quit him, Stan?

The spy love that dare not speak its name.

The spy love that dare not speak its name.

And then we have it, the pièce de résistance, dinner at Casa Jennings. Alice and Elizabeth are in the kitchen, with Alice still feeling foolish and apologetic, even as Elizabeth tells her she would have done the same. Poor Alice has no idea how close to right she was.

There is the inevitable knock on the door, which Henry answers because he has to do something. It’s Stan returning a video of Silver Streak. If memory serves, the film would have been a bit risque for Henry given the Jennings’ high standards as it was made at a time when women as classy as Jill Clayburgh gave after dinner blow jobs on a first date and without reciprocity. Lonely Stan notes something sure smells good, and Henry invites him in without checking with the parents first.

This leads to several wonderful and awkward set pieces beginning with Stan’s seeing a very pregnant Alice standing next to Elizabeth. He comments that Elizabeth isn’t the only one with a roast in the oven. It’s meta because Keri Russell’s real baby bump is being obscured by the world’s largest salad bowl.

This week's episode of how to hide a baby bump. Stand her next to someone even more pregnant, and put a giant salad bowl in front of her.

This week’s episode of how to hide a baby bump. Stand her next to someone even more pregnant, and put a giant salad bowl in front of her.

Ah to be a neuron in Pastor Tim’s brain! What a life of intrigue! Not only is he dining with Russian spies, but their neighbor the G-man too! Will Alice blabber out something stupid? Because seriously never have the Jennings been at greater risk of exposure.

Henry, who will never, ever, ever be trusted with the family secret EVER tells Stan about that time Pastor Tim got himself arrested for chaining himself to a fence. Paige interrupts to say “We believe in social action.” Tim adds, “We believe in social action with a healthy dollop of Jesus in the mix.”

Stan seems to think this is just gravy groovy because he is hungry and not on the job at the moment, but this is lion and the lamb stuff to use a biblical metaphor. In the real 1980s, not as seen on this show, the FBI loved to infiltrate churches just like Pastor Tim’s, and groups like the aforementioned CISPES — provoking violence and routing out commies everywhere apparently unless they could make a nice roast lamb.

No, we haven't met before, and I wasn't the guy at the CISPES meeting who kept saying we needed to blow up the Pentagon.

No, we haven’t met before, and I wasn’t the guy at the CISPES meeting who kept saying we needed to blow up the Pentagon.

Pastor Tim and Stan breaking bread together are worlds colliding, but Stan doesn’t try to defend the bureau’s record, and Tim doesn’t attack him. He’s just the sad sack whose wife left him and he wouldn’t get a meal that didn’t come out of a can if not for his caring neighbors. Maybe the Jennings really are peacemakers.

The next day it’s time for the aim of the long con that was Patty’s friendship with Yung Hee to be revealed. The Rawlins, Patty’s white trash family of Okies from Cali-forn-e-ay show up at the workplace of Don. Isn’t this on a military base? Granted they didn’t used do as much security theater back, but would they really have allowed them in a secure facility?

What’s the play? Patty went and killed herself after that cad Don left her with child and told her to abort. Gabriel playing Paw appears even more sickly and frail than his normal post-virus self. Step-Maw is the “computer expert with perfect English” that Tati needed Oleg to get for her, and Philip as a blond in aviator glasses is stringy-haired brother Joe. They tell Don he needs to give them money to transport Patty’s body home and pay for the funeral expenses. He’ll do anything to get them out of the office. Stringy Hair Joe says he’ll go to the bank with Don to get he cash. They’ll have to leave Maw and Paw in the office because Paw is not a well man and what kind of a monster would make him wait in the car after he drove his daughter to suicide?

Paw hasn't been the same since he had that virus.

Paw hasn’t been the same since he had that virus.

Don falls for it. No sooner are they out the door, then Gabriel starts looking for the codes in the files and Step-Maw copies the floppy disks (which you’d understand if you were a child of the eighties or before).

Far be it from your humble recapper to criticize spycraft, but really? Was there a Plan B if Don balked? What if he put them in a conference room and never gave them access to his office? What if he lawyered up? What if a lot of things? This was the best plan they could come up with? Wouldn’t the code be something he might maybe have memorized and not written down on a post-it cleverly hidden on the bottom of a Las Vegas snow globe like where my mother-in-law keeps all her passwords in Del Boca Vista Phase II?

Elizabeth flirts meets with Pastor Tim yet again in the guise of picking up Paige. That girl is never going to get her license is she? Tim mentions the FBI guy next door. Elizabeth smiles and tells him you can’t choose your neighbors. Tim leans back and says, “Can’t you?” Oh you two! Elizabeth tells him how she’s closer to Paige now than ever – thanks to him. Then they start talking about faith, and Tim tells her that belief “makes things better.”

Word of advice, Tim. Do not ever offer to move this woman's dresser!

Word of advice, Tim. Do not ever offer to move this woman’s dresser!

Aderholt is looking into Gaad’s death for some connection to the KGB. He tells Stan about a “curious detail.” Remember that time Gaad went “batshit” and started beating up the mail robot and it had to be sent out for repairs? Seems there was a death reported in the repair shop the next morning. The report says natural causes, but who knows? And wouldn’t that be some clever irony – Betty’s revenge from beyond the grave! Sure Elizabeth has killed lots of people since then, but that one rattled her.

Back at home, Philip tells Elizabeth that Gabriel didn’t find the codes, but they’ll check the disks. Good luck with that! Do they know how fragile those things are? Elizabeth wonders whether Don will tell Yung Hee about Patty. Philip tells her he doesn’t think so, but who knows. It’s not the answer she was hoping for. Unable to help herself, she goes to a pay phone and calls in to listen to Patty’s messages. Yung Hee is desperately trying to reach her, and crying that something is not right with Don.

Raise your hands if you think we’re not done with this sad saga yet. Then again, it’s The Americans, where the postman always rings twice and old plot threads and characters always come back. Who thought we’d see Kimmie again, and there she was last week.

Once more, Elizabeth goes to a churchy thing to pick up Paige. This time she and Pastor Tim talk about the power of prayer. Elizabeth asks what if you don’t believe in any of that. Tim surprises her by offering another creed, that belief doesn’t matter, that it’s all about how we treat each other – in which case she is TOTALLY going to hell.

As Paige and Elizabeth walk out, Paige asks whether or not she’ll be sentenced to all this do-gooding churchy stuff forever. Elizabeth tells Paige things might get easier, and she doesn’t seem all that worried about the tape. She doesn’t tell her that she seems to be working an angle. Paige reports to her mom that Matt told her Mr. Beeman met with the father of his secretary who was a spy and disappeared. Elizabeth does not tell Paige she’s talking about her step-mother. Paige tries to parlay this intel into some driving practice, but Elizabeth is too tough to fall for that.  Looks like Paige trusts her mom now, and will be a good little KGB asset unless of course something is about to happen that will change that.

"Okay, forget about the driving, but if I start sleeping with Matt, could I maybe get off church duty?"

“Okay, forget about the driving, but if I start sleeping with Matt, could I maybe get off church duty?”

Gosh they’re walking a long time through desolate dark streets. Where are they parked? Nebraska? They turn from the street into an even more deserted darker parking lot.We can feel the story grinding along self-consciously. A couple of white guys approach. One’s maybe in his thirties, the other looks considerably older – your stereotypical alcoholics on the bum. Elizabeth is ready to avoid trouble and hand over her entire change purse, but one of them gets a little lewd with Paige and, uh oh. Elizabeth knocks him down and then there’s a click of the knife the older one draws. The knife winds up in his neck. The younger one takes off as the older one bleeds out, kind of like Gaad last week. Elizabeth grabs back her purse, and yells at Paige to get in the car NOW. It’s time to amscray!

The Americans has been on a streak of fine storytelling lately, but that scene broke it. It was as though the writers knew that Paige had to get a look at Elizabeth in action before she got too cozy, and they only had two episodes left so they decided to make something happen, even if it felt stagey and rushed.

Let’s hope shortcuts like that won’t be repeated on the final two episodes. What will happen? Like Pastor Tim says none of us is ever really in control.As always, your thoughts and theories are welcome in the comments below.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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  • nomilubin

    “Elizabeth does not tell Paige she’s talking about her step-mother.” Ahh, this made me laugh. Along with many other lines…How can you be so funny about this unbearably imploding tragedy??I wonder if they’ll be able to completely turn Pastor Tim and Alice…eh, long shot I guess, but less likely things have happened on this show. Yung Hee/Don sad saga definitely not done yet. Don’t know what will happen (of course) but I suspect they will never get what they’re after on level 4. Adding to the horror of the futility of it all, I also think there has to be even more destruction with Yung Hee and family in order to push Elizabeth further toward humanity, those pesky emotions, as I think William called them.

    • I’m very curious about what they’ll do with Pastor Tim. I don’t think they turn them. But the trick is to keep Paige from telling him about what happened. Her silence is vital because Pastor Tim is aiming for some middle ground. If all the Jennings do is some intelligence gathering and warning indigenous Central Americans that the militia is coming, then he’ll keep his mouth shut, but if he knew they were dropping cars on people, etc he’d be forced to turn them in. If Paige tells Tim what she witnessed the jig is up. He’s no dupe. I love the line reading when he says “Can’t you?” in response to Elizabeth’s saying, “You can’t choose your neighbors.” He’s gone from feeling like a device to becoming a full fledged character — a “good Christian” who’s humane and brave and who’s allegiance is not to Russia or the US but to an ethical system of treating each other well. Elizabeth continues to do really bad things that she believes serve the greater good. He continues to feed the hungry, offer clothes to those need, etc. That there’s no hypocrisy and that he’s not doing it for pie in the sky when he dies, is a challenge to her. I can’t imagine a situation where he turns her, but I think the fact of him, may force her to see herself differently.

      • nomilubin

        Ah, very well said. I’d (duh) not thought far enough thru the consequences of Paige seeing her mother kill someone in that way. Right, they will have to keep her from telling Pastor Tim. It’s going to be ugly with Paige, but, narratively, I think it’d feel repetitive if she went again to Pastor Tim; feels unlikley they’d do that again. But this will certainly be a fear of P&E’s and of ours. What you say about Pastor Tim becoming a full character is correct. Elizabeth goes to him (like ten times in this episode!) to work him in some way that is not entirely clear yet (tho I do NOT agree that she’s trying to get him into bed as some have figured), BUT he’s also…not “working her,” but genuinely affecting her in ways that she has never quite experienced before, and through a kind of pure compassion that at once points up (if inadvertently) the “evil” that she’s justified with “the greater good,” and offers her a theoretical way out. It can be hard to tell what’s real and what’s faked with her, but I think it’s clear that this time some of her hesitancy is not for effect, but rather an unexpected reaction to what he is saying to her.