The presence or absence of parental figures
weighed heavily on this week’s episode of “The Americans,” and it was almost as if the position everyone thought they were in — when it came to how they relate to their own mothers, fathers or children — had been suddenly switched. Whether it was with Paige and Henry, Gabriel and Phillip or Elizabeth and Betty, the characters either fulfilled a parental role needed by another, or inadvertently harked back to their own childhood.
When Elizabeth and Phillip headed to a repair shop to bug the malfunctioning Mail Robot, the presence of a sweet woman named Betty interrupted their perfect break in. Elizabeth knew she couldn’t let the woman live, but that didn’t stop her from momentarily embracing Betty as a replacement mother figure. With her own mother gravely ill and expected to die at any moment, Elizabeth has been relishing the tapes she’s been getting from Gabriel over the past few episodes. But instead of hearing her own mother’s voice on a tape, Elizabeth listened to Betty talk about her husband, her son and her life. It was quite a bonding moment, making it all the more painful when Elizabeth forced Betty to take her entire bottle of heart medication.
While Paige’s new-found Christianity has been a notable plot line this season, her only brief scene this week involved her as the only parental unit present in younger brother Henry’s life. As she scolded him to put down his video game and go to bed, she became the only real authority figure in the house. It’s true, the 1980s were the height of the latch-key kid phenomenon, but even at this point, one would think Henry would start to wonder where the heck his parents were. Paige has been gaining independence for a while now, but it’s almost as if she’d reached her independent apex just as Elizabeth was mourning the loss of a mother.
Philip’s Loyalty: USA
Phillip finally hit his breaking point with Gabriel at the end of this week’s episode; after Gabriel patronized him over a high-scoring word in Scrabble, Phillip was tired of being treated like a child. “The problem is you, Gabriel, and all this talk,” Phillip said. “I trusted you. And your job was to look out for me… And now my job is to look out for my family, because no one else will.” Might Phillip finally take some kind of action against Elizabeth and Gabriel’s plan to indoctrinate Paige?
Elizabeth’s Loyalty: KGB — But…
There was a brief moment last week when it looked like Elizabeth might have been more bothered by the gruesome death of Vinter than Phillip was. Now, though she’s sternly still on the side of her cause, we’ve never seen her get this emotional over someone she’s killed before. Two weeks ago she barely batted an eye as she shot a young woman between the eyes, but now she shed actual tears over Betty. Was it just the fact that Betty reminded her of her mother? Or does Elizabeth’s shell have a crack?
Stan: Savant or Square?
I don’t share my fellow reviewer’s enthusiasm for Stan Beeman, but I have to admit that he was a badass this week. Between coming up with the plot to perhaps call Zinaida Preobrazhenskaya on her defection, to taking a slam in the head from Oleg only to share some brewskies with him in the car moments later, Stan definitely had a savant week.
Best Asset: Martha
When Martha became suspicious of Phillip last week, there was a brief moment when we all thought he might just kill her then and there. But she didn’t push the subject, perhaps because she thought the same. Is that what she’s doing now, as self-preservation? Or is she suddenly totally on board and actually being helpful in Phillip’s plot? It’s not clear if she understands everything about what Phillip does, but she knows it ain’t right, and yet still wants to help. Who knew Martha would be on board with a little espionage? Hey, she’s into everything else. Except for having children, all of a sudden. Once Martha figured out a bit more about Phillip, she told the adoption agency a swift “no” and dropped her own maternal desires — another parental swap.
Wig Count: 2
Weak wig week! The only ones seen were the blonde, banged number Elizabeth uses when she sees Hans, and Phillip’s Clark debacle. It’s super interesting that Phillip and Elizabeth didn’t wear wigs to the Mail Robot factory; they really must have never expected to be seen. Speaking of Hans, he should really look into getting some wigs of his own if he’s going to insist on sticking around. If he had had one during “The Burning of Vinter,” he might not have been recognizably seen and then wouldn’t have had to kill poor Todd in such a brutal way.
Quote of the Night:
“You think doing this to me will make the world a better place?” – Betty
“I’m sorry, but it will.” – Elizabeth
“That’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things.” – Betty
It’s interesting to note that the episode’s title is a play on words of the science fiction novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Phillip K. Dick, which was in turn the basis for the 1982 film “Blade Runner.” In the book, humanity has come to abhor killing because of a collective empathic experience known as The Empathy Box. Has Elizabeth had a sudden empathic jolt of empathy when it came to Betty? Elizabeth has been challenged before, by Phillip, by Claudia or others, but this line from Betty seemed to truly affect her. The next question is: do spies have nightmares?