The Americans: The Mail Robot Always Beeps Twice (S4 E12 Recap)
A Roy Rogers in Franconia is not an undiscovered poem by William Carlos Williams, but the penultimate episode of season four (the best season ever) of The Americans, and it has more balls in the air than an average episode of Arrested Development, which is a lot of balls.
We begin with future Gen Xer, Henry,beating his dad at a computer game. Philip is not using his super powers, which in addition to making it real for the ladies, probably include lightning reflexes which would give him an advantage in Pac Man, and might arouse even Henry’s suspicions. This brief interlude of normal suburban life is interrupted by the return of Elizabeth and Paige from the food pantry. Philip knows something really big happened the second he sees them. He hustles them into Paige’s room, and away from the boy who must never know the truth.
Paige feels they should do something – like maybe call the police. Elizabeth reminds her they can’t bring attention to themselves what with being illegal aliens and Soviet spies and all. Elizabeth looks like she’s in shock – not because she killed a guy – but because Paige caught her doing it.
Henry comes upstairs and wants to know what happened. Philip quickly reiterates what Elizabeth said downstairs. They ALMOST got mugged, but screamed and scared the muggers away. They sure seem upset, but Henry probably figures it’s because they’re girls. Philip shuts Henry’s door. Given that he is a fourteen year old boy and therefore needs to masturbate frequently, they’ll be able to safely continue their conversation in Paige’s room.
Note to Philip and Elizabeth – if you want to keep Henry distracted, leave some Playboy magazines “hidden” in various places where he can easily find them.
Philip hates to leave, but he has some important work to do, and he’s no longer telling Paige he’s needs to rebook a tour stat due to a plumbing emergency in Cancun. This leaves Paige and Elizabeth alone because it’s not like anyone else lives in that house. Paige is at once horrified and fascinated by her mother’s actions. It’s a callback to last season when the South African activist asked her if her kids knew what a bad-ass she was. Now one of them does. Paige asks her if she’d ever done that before – and by that – she seems to mean the murder part, as opposed to simple self-defense.
Elizabeth in keeping with the new since last week circle of trust in which Paige is now included, tells her “yeah.” Paige asks a follow-up, “How many times? If ever there was a moment when a little variation on the truth-telling might have been called for, this was it, but instead of just picking a number that’s less than her fingers and toes combined, Elizabeth simply says, “I dunno.”
Even Dexter kept track.
Meantime, Aderholt, another minor player now upgraded, is talking to the son of one of those people Elizabeth had to protect herself from. He’s over at Ye Olde Mail Robot, VHS, , and Betamax Repair Shoppe, talking to Betty’s boy, who tells Aderholt that his mom had been sick for a long time, so it wasn’t a surprise, and there was no autopsy. Aderholt thanks him, but it’s not over.
Remember how last week we still didn’t know if all that work even got them the secret level four access
MacGuffin code? Well, it seems that Elizabeth’s destruction of Don and Yung-Hee’s marriage was not completely in vain after all… or was it? Philip gives William the code, but William decides he’d prefer not to be the one responsible for starting the zombie apocalypse.
William walks away looking slightly less miserable than he did before, and if he knew what was good for him he might consider putting his espionage skills to the test and disappearing himself before the KGB does it for him.
Speaking of the KGB: Over at the Rezidentura, Tati has some good news to share with her occasional fuck-buddy Oleg. She’s going to be the new Rezident in Nairobi. She shyly mentions she could maybe use a new deputy, but of course it’s not America, and it’s no big deal, and she’d totally understand if he…
Oleg tells her he’ll think about it, in a pleasant tone that sounds like a cross between, “I’ll call you” and “Let’s do lunch.”
It sure looks like Tati fell for the big O for realz – not that she wouldn’t shoot him in the back of the head herself if she knew about the Zenaida stunt. But how does Oleg feel about Tati? It was Arkady who told him to get close to her and find out what she was up to. Sure she pillow-talked him into getting her a computer expert, but who was zooming whom as they might ask in a couple of years after the release of Aretha’s album?
Oleg congratulates her again, and Tati, maybe slightly flustered because the proposal she’d rehearsed all morning didn’t go off quite as she’d hoped, mutters something about the possible death of half the people on the eastern seaboard if that thing she did that so pleased her bosses goes wrong.
Girls, take that tip as seen in Cosmo magazine: After you throw your heart in front of him and he gives you a lukewarm response, raise the temperature by saying something that will really grab his attention, and then just walk away leaving him open-mouthed in front of that poster of Lenin.
Philip gets back from his meeting with William. Paige is asleep. Elizabeth tells him how right before the incident, Paige was telling her what Matthew had said about meeting Martha’s father. They both get the significance of this. She was reporting to her mother. Well, she always liked to play travel agent when she was younger… Not even Elizabeth, who seemed in favor of recruiting her, is happy about this development.
Over at the FBI, Aderholt is watching some tech guy silently take apart the mail robot, looking for a bug, and there it is! He brings Stan and their new boss Mr. Munchkin into the vault where they all talk about how bad this will look for them on account of being owned by the KGB once again, and also how even if they find whomever is picking up the wire, it won’t go any further because them Russians is crafty.
Paige is taking a sick day from school, but will they give her the evening off from church too? Elizabeth brings her a cocoa, like she used to when she was younger but without the phenobarbital that kept her from waking up in the middle of the night and realizing her parents were never home.
Elizabeth sits with Paige and they talk, only Paige calls her out for never actually answering her questions, so Elizabeth tells her about her childhood in Smolensk, a city best known for being along the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler.
At the Rezidentura, Tati, who has decided never to mix love and work again — to the point of maybe scratching out the words on her arm with a safety pin — talks to Oleg coolly about the US space shuttle, and weather it might have a dual mission. The shuttle they are talking about is the Challenger which will blow up in a couple of years because even the US with all its resources and money people can screw up. Oleg tells her he’s thinking about her offer, and she gets flustered again saying there’s no pressure, and then runs back to her office probably so she can bang her head against the door while yelling, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Over at the FBI they bust some poor woman on the cleaning crew, who apparently sings like Irene Cara, because soon Stan is telling the others how she didn’t even know she was working for the Russians. She just met some guy in a Roy Rogers in Franconia who told her he was in the mafia and needed her to collect a wiretap to help his uncle beat a gambling wrap.
Now it’s time for some calls to moms. Philip and Gabriel go to a phone booth where Gabriel calls Martha’s mom to tell her that her daughter is being well cared for by people who respect her. This might make Philip feel better about ruining Martha’s life, but it doesn’t seem like it would be all that reassuring to Mrs. Hanson, given Gabriel says nothing that backs up his claim.
Then Oleg calls his mom, who is startled because for a second she thought she was hearing from her dead son. Boy that was depressing. They don’t say much or talk for long. Maybe Oleg just wanted to hear her voice in case he’s in the unlucky half of people on the eastern seaboard.
Elizabeth is trying to watch a soap opera with Paige, and it looks pretty obvious she’d rather be out “protecting” herself. As has been pointed out by my betters, the soap is General Hospital, and welcome to this week’s moment of meta: The scene they’re watching features a soon to be revealed Soviet sleeper spy.
Henry comes in with Matthew, the older brother he wishes he had. Matthew is going to show him how to hook the computer up to the television. For those of you born too late, the purpose of this would be play video games, as streaming did not exist – also everyone born before 1985 used to go to school by horse and buggy. Matthew asks Paige if she wants to help. Elizabeth steals glances at the two of them while Henry goes into the garage looking for the antenna switch box, the purpose of which Henry explains to Elizabeth because otherwise half the audience will have no idea whether or not he’s sprouting complete gibberish.
That night, there’s another meeting with more furtive glances between Oleg and Stan. It seems they weren’t done last week after all. Oleg tells Stan that the Soviet Union has the best scientists in the world, but not enough resources, and that makes for a very dangerous combination. He is therefore telling Stan that not only is the US working on bio-weapons, but that they send some of the work out somewhere else, and the KGB has someone in one of those places. He hands Stan a tape or some kind of file. Now, they’re done.
Oleg walks out of the car, but is he really walking out of Stan’s life? I’m still working on that spec script where the two of them open up a post-cold war detective agency, though the odds of either one of them making it out of this series alive are slim.
Stan runs back to tell his vertically challenged boss that this is big, by which he didn’t mean anything personal. They decide to pull everyone off of the mail robot drop, except one surveillance guy with a camera because they don’t want the KGB to get stirred up.
Philip picks up William and takes him to Gabriel’s. Gabriel gives him the ol’ one final mission speech. You’ve heard it before in mafia movies, war movies, spy films, and cop films. You do this one last thing and then you’re finished and able to retire peacefully with a hero’s welcome and your pot o’ gold, hot honey, money for your lover’s sex change, a college fund for your grandchild, or whatever or whomever you were doing it for in the first place, Gabriel doesn’t even offer him a dacha on the Crimean, just a chance to go home and get married. (Hey, if William’s feeling a little culture shock on re-entry, maybe they could hook him up with Martha? She’s available. She’s nice. And her hobbies include tantric sex.) The only problem is the recipient of the one-last-mission speech always dies in the course of said mission, usually just at the point when it looks like he’s going to make it.
After he’s cowed into accepting an offer he never would have been allowed to refuse, William leaves, and Gabriel nearly collapses because he hasn’t been the same since the glanders which is like a sneeze compared to this other thing. Philip admits he too has doubts about the mission, and you’d think Gabriel would as well given what he’s still going through, but he admits to not really knowing the right course of action despite just convincing William to go through with it. They both agree that Elizabeth would be steadfast.
While they may admire Elizabeth’s strength, “steadfastness” and unquestioning patriotism does not equal heroism on this show. Oleg is the hero. He’s the one who’s committed acts of treason twice – once in an attempt to save the woman he loved, and now to save half the people on the Eastern seaboard, and/or maybe life as we know it. Confronted with the reality of Tati’s mission, he had his Stanislav Petrov moment – with a difference. Petrov became a hero by his inaction – his refusal to launch a retaliatory strike even though the Soviet computer system reported missiles heading in from the West Coast of the United States. Oleg had to take action. He blew a major operation on a hunch that America wasn’t actually planning to use bio-weapons against the USSR, and that the Russians were incapable of handling the material properly, that there could be a catastrophe if he didn’t step in, not that there absolutely would be.
Paige gets a ride home from Matthew. Is she buddying up to him because she’s a budding spy or because they both have dads whose work is dangerous, and she’s always kind of liked him? Have we ever seen Paige like a boy? I’m not saying Paige isn’t into boys. I’m just saying she wears a lot of flannel. Somehow their lips lock for a few moments, and then Paige says she has to go home, where she immediately tells her parents that Matthew told her that Stan hasn’t been home from work in two days.
Elizabeth and Philip confront her about not really needing this kind of help from her except when it comes to Pastor Tim, which is a completely different thing. Paige points out that maybe someone needs to check up on whatever Henry is talking to Mr. Beeman about, but her parents don’t think that’s her concern. Why not? Do they have his house bugged?
The FBI have been going through the personnel files of several labs with top secret government contracts when a call comes in that William whatever his last name is allegedly died when he was five years old. Seriously, the guy made it to level three security clearance, and was under surveillance by the FBI (as was everyone where he worked) and they never figured out that he had a false identity? Is there another mole in there?
Back at the Jennings home, Paige is still miffed that her parents keep changing the rules on her. The phone rings, and Philip has to go back out to work. Paige wants to know EVERYTHING. They don’t want to tell her EVERYTHING, and she pulls out, “Wah wah wah, do you trust me or not?” And boy does she have them wrapped around her finger! Elizabeth admits that her father has to go get part of a weapon they need to defend their country – if they’re attacked. The word “bio” is not used, but let’s not forget that Paige, along with the rest of America, has recently seen The Day After and has also just seen Elizabeth go nuclear. She lets out one word, “Great,” that says volumes.
Where does that leave us? Philip is on his way to pick up the the zombie apocalypse virus while the FBI is racing to find William. Looks like we’re heading for some kind of super cliff hanger season finale. Will Philip’s EST-enhanced feelings save him? Will William do the right thing and suck up the virus sample and die nobly before he’s made to talk? Or as nobly as is possible while you’re liquefying? And wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if in the midst of all this, something totally surprising happened, like say Henry being less obtuse than his family realizes, which is either being foreshadowed or red-herringed all over the place?
Your thoughts, theories, and predictions welcome below.