A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a treasure of science fiction literature and not just because of that incredible title. In the world of Dick’s text, nuclear war has largely decimated the world. The animal population as a consequence as either has become extinct or extreme and as a result, companies have begun to manufacture android animals for those who can afford them. The protagonist is a man named Rick who happens to acquire an electric sheep and subsequently throughout the novel struggles with the question of whether or not androids might be capable of empathy. Mail Robots replaces the sheep with its own complex characters, wondering if its protagonists are capable of empathy or if they are blinded by the mechanizations of their ideology and patriotism. In crafting this thematic structure, The Americans simultaneously emerged with not just the best episode it’s had this year or even the show, but one of the best hours of television ever created, period. In a sense, little progressed significantly in terms of plot, but the emotional cataclysms that were reached this hour felt far more significant. In a structure that is reminiscent of Homeland’s best episode, Q &A, the most power this episode exudes is between two individuals simply having a conversation, trying to discover who the other is at their core. As Elizabeth looks forlornly upon the old woman in front of her, tears are falling down her face. As we gaze upon those very tears, the android shell that envelops Elizabeth melts away and we can see that inside there lies a beating heart. And in that heart lies empathy.
Martha’s sense of empathy seems to be ebbing away, replaced by a combined sense of apathy and coldness. There’s only an extreme sense of death behind her eyes, as if any semblance of hope had just abandoned her entirely. One can’t really fault Martha for that loss of positivity considering the recent events that have completely upturned her life. Alison Wright turns in a terrifically cold performance here, her absolute iciness throwing Clark into an absolute tailspin. The adoption agency calls to inform Martha that her and Clark have been cleared, but she shuts that down immediately. Clark is just as stunned as everyone, but before he has time to process that bit of news that just a few days ago would have made his ecstatic, Martha drops the second bombshell of the evening. Quietly she informs Clark that in a fit of rage Agent Gaad had attacked the Mail Robot and now the machine had been sent for repair. It’s a seemingly innocent comment but the revelations are immediately clear. Martha knows that Clark is a spy, that much is immediately clear, but whether she knows for whom is not. She had decided that the way to survive this was to ensure that she kept herself useful with information, information such as what was the next best target for a bug to implanted in. How far Martha plans to take this remains to be seen, but here it is beyond dispute that this relationship had gone from having a beating heart to a core of cold machinery, churning away until it inevitably corrodes and falls apart.
Hans, who so far had seemed to be an earnest but innocent player in this game of espionage, had gained a sympathy from the audience by his vehement hatred of the apartheid regime. This week, he’s confronted with Elizabeth quietly, noting that she was pretty sure that Todd had seen him last week as he had stepped down the ladder a little too early. Hans, who had clearly fallen in love with Elizabeth, is aghast at the news of his potential departure and takes actions into his own hands – quite literally. He finds himself within a room full of stacks and in that room is Todd. For a split second they made eye contact, right before Hans shoots his adversary in the eye. As is perhaps fitting for a novice, Hans’ gun manages to jam. Now in much more of a jam than ever before (pun intended), Hans goes on a bloodier version of a wild-goose chase, abandoning his gun in the process. Instead, he goes straight for the jugular (I swear I’m not trying) and strangles Todd to death. As has been the tradition on The Americans, Todd’s death is exceedingly graphic and uncomfortable to witness with the blood pouring down his face amidst his ragged breathing. Hans afterwards breaks the news to Elizabeth, who for a moment is concerned before an expression of interest sets within her. “It was… um… messy,” he confessed. “It didn’t work out as planned…” “It seldom does,” Elizabeth offers as an observation.
Seldom is true. Martha’s information leads Phillip and Elizabeth towards the small repair shop where the now infamous Mail Robot was being repaired. It was supposed to be an empty building but inside was a woman named Betty, sitting quietly at her desk because she enjoyed the quiet where she could balance the books without disturbance. The quiet things in life, after all. There’s an ominous foreboding to the entire sequence that rests upon the immediate understanding that there was simply no way that Betty would survive the night after having seen Elizabeth without a wig. Lois Smith delivers an absolute powerhouse of a performance in this episode, quietly conveying an entire odyssey of human emotions within a single sequence. The two women bond over their shared life experiences underlined by the thematic unity of love and war and in certain moments the audience slips into a calm reverie, before Betty at last simply asks Elizabeth if she would be allowed to leave. She quietly, kindly says no as the realization of imminent death dawns upon her. An overdose of pills is laid before her and she takes them quietly. It’s almost impossible to convey how heartbreakingly tragic it was to see Betty slowly lose consciousness and drift towards death. But before she took her final breath, she has enough consciousness for one last, chilling conversation:
“You have children? And this is what you do?”
“With my husband,”
“To make the world a better place.”
“You think doing this to me will make the world a better place?”
“I’m sorry, but it will.”
“You know, that’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things.”
It’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Elizabeth to be, her tears perhaps an indication that she saw of her own mother that was dying back in Russia within the woman who now lay dead at her own hands.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“You know how to stir, right?.”
+“But we’ve just reconsidered. It’s unrealistic.”
+“I needed to know, and now I know.”
+“To turning the page.” Paige?
+“I’m not sure he’s going to make it.”
+“You should trust the organization.”
+“What we done, what we’ve done to the blacks in my country, it’s wrong. It has to stop. I will do whatever is asked of me, for the cause, for you.”
+The plan to uncover Zinaida’s true loyalties was brilliant and foolish at the same time
+BLT is the new Milky Way
+“That’s not a good idea.”
+“You’re very pretty.”
+Gill freed Jews in the camps
+“Are you a robber?”
+“Where does she live?”; “Russia.”
+“Your English is very good.”; “I’ve been well-trained.”
+“You aren’t going to let me leave. Are you?”
+“It’s not possible, no.”
+“This is not how I expected it to end. This story.”
+“I’m not afraid of leaving the world.”
+“Who are you?”; “A patriot.”
+“Did he tell you I’m afraid of pain?”
+“But after the war, he wasn’t anything.”
+Aspirin works better with beer and raw eggs to cure hangovers?
+Gabriel to Phillip on Elizabeth: “She chose you.”
+“The problem is you.”
+“My duty is keeping my family safe and I will do that.” Phillip versus Gabriel is an exceedingly intriguing development. Will Elizabeth join in with him?
Title: Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?
Written By: Joshua Brand
Directed By: Stephen Williams
Image Courtesy: Spoiler TV