‘The Americans’ Review: An Ode to the Mail Robot, Updated Survival Odds, and All the Music From Episode 2

Saying goodbye is oh so hard — did we just get our last glimpse of a beloved character / letter carrier?
THE AMERICANS -- "Tchaikovsky" -- Season 6, Episode 2 (Airs Wednesday, April 4, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings, Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX
Patrick Harbron/FX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 2, “Tchaikovsky.”]

Claudia (Margo Martindale) loves Tchaikovsky, but we’re not sure if that sold Paige (Holly Taylor). After being introduced by the experienced handler, the Russian composer’s work scored a key conversation between mother and daughter about the more personal parts of spycraft. Did Paige know Elizabeth (Keri Russell) was lying to her? What will their dynamic be like now that Paige has messed up twice in the line of duty? Is the long-gestating family discussion about what’s next for Paige finally on the horizon?

“Tchaikovsky” evoked more questions than it answered, but it should — this is Episode 2, and though it might feel like only a few precious episodes remain, the final season of “The Americans” still has a long road ahead.

With eight episodes left before the series says dosvedanya, IndieWire is taking a look at where things stand in the here and now, but also honoring the little things we’ll miss when it’s all said and done. Some of it will be hard — like, Paige learning to stay in the car. Some of it will be much harder — like Paige seeing her mom covered in brain matter. So without further ado, let’s get brutal.

So, Who’s Going to Die?

Maybe we should start confronting the idea that Paige could die. Listen, no one wants to talk about it, but the fanbase as a whole needs to be prepared for every possibility, and “Tchaikovsky” was the first episode that floated the thought. She’s been in training, but it’s not going well. She made a mistake last week (with the security guard), but she made another one this week by abandoning her post (the car). How many can she get away with before they catch up to her? If and when they do, will her parents be able to protect her?

The more time spent wondering how “The Americans” will emotionally devastate us this season, the clearer it becomes that there is a multitude of ways it can happen. A surprising number of characters have survived until the final season in a show that makes no apologies about the stakes at play. (Nina, you are not forgotten.) Perhaps the Cold War will come to an end without any character casualties. But there’s no point in preparing for the best case scenario.

THE AMERICANS -- "Tchaikovsky" -- Season 6, Episode 2 (Airs Wednesday, April 4, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Cast Spotlight

OK, we’re going to talk about the Mail Robot, and before anyone says, “Ben, come on. Stop capitalizing the name of the FBI’s clunky mail delivery machine like it’s a person. It’s not a member of the cast — it’s a prop!” maybe you should take a look at the Mail Robot appreciation thread on Reddit or the Mail Robot’s Twitter account that’s followed by showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg. The Mail Robot is absolutely a member of the cast, and if “The Americans” is ever recognized for Best Ensemble at the SAGs, as they should be, I fully expect to see the Mail Robot slide on stage between Rhys and Russell.

In the second episode of the final season, it gets its due. As Noah Emmerich walks out of the office, he pauses in the doorway to avoid the giant machine — which floats in from offscreen like the slick scene-stealer it is — before stepping slightly to the side after checking for mail. The shot is otherwise utterly unnecessary. It adds nothing to the scene or episode other than atmospherics, but that’s not the point:

The Mail Robot became a fixture from its inauspicious debut (in the Season 2 premiere) and gained prominence when it became a titular plot point in “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” (Season 3, Episode 9). It deserves its time in the sun, and bless Matthew Rhys (who directed) for making sure the Mail Robot got at least one more shining moment.

THE AMERICANS -- "Tchaikovsky" -- Season 6, Episode 2 (Airs Wednesday, April 4, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Scott Cohen as Haskard, Miriam Shor as Erica. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Creative Spotlight

This is the third episode of “The Americans” directed by Matthew Rhys (one per season for the past three years) and perhaps the least distinctive. The actor set a high bar for himself with Season 4’s “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears,” but it’s not a lack of style that keeps “Tchaikovsky” from standing out — it’s an acceptance of it.

Rhys models this episode around the subtle joys and slow-burn storytelling that’s made “The Americans” excellent year after year. There’s the delicate pause when the mail robot rolls by Stan (Noah Emmerich, who’s directed three episodes himself, though none this year); the bathroom montage set to “Slippery People” by Talking Heads; the heartfelt “bullshit” spewed by Elizabeth during Tchaikovsky’s “None by the Lonely Hearts.”

It all adds up, even if the most visceral shot is the last: The gunshot itself is bad enough — spraying brain matter and blood all over Elizabeth’s face — but the straight-on reveal of mom telling her daughter to “go back to your car” is a chilling, unforgettable look. Rhys frames it tightly; unflinching despite the grotesque subject. With that shot, he leaves the director’s chair in the same fashion he first sat down: indelibly.

Last Words — And Music!

“Tchaikovsky” is a move-the-needle episode with a number of strong moments that pop among the many minor moments. We’re seeing more of Elizabeth’s breakdown, more of Philip’s (Rhys) new life away from the spy game, more of the big picture politics (Reagan is senile!), and more of Paige’s unreadiness for her presumed role. (Perhaps Elizabeth lying about what the job entails shows that she’s not ready to give her daughter over to the mission just yet.) These details matter — they always have, especially in this series — and they build to a significant impact by episode’s end. Elizabeth and Philip still aren’t talking, not the way they should, and that’s bad for everybody.

  • “Slippery People” by Talking Heads
  • “None but the Lonely Hearts, Op. 6, No.6” by Tchaikovsky

Grade: B+

“The Americans” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. There are eight episodes left in the final season. 

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