Faith on The Americans is about far more than Paige’s recent religious discovery and Elizabeth and Philip have a strong belief that what they are doing is for good even if it causes them to act in horrifying ways. They honestly believe their actions will make the world better and it’s all very utilitarian viewing the big picture rather than the smaller collateral damage along the way. Not that this means they aren’t emotionally affected by what they do as we saw from Philip’s erosion of his soul last season as his body count piled up and Elizabeth has a very strong reaction – well strong in comparison to what we have previously witnessed – to the encounter she has in “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Marriage and trust are two topics which come up on multiple occasions in this episode and considering where our starting point was with Elizabeth and Philip way back in season 1 the pair has progressed in leaps and bounds. They are still incredibly stunted when it comes to talking through their feelings as Elizabeth showed when she clumsily tries to sympathize with Philip regarding the Martha situation. She is very much on the outside of this one as he has a strong belief that Martha won’t betray Clark with Martha showing just this by preparing a very regular meal and feeding him information regarding the mail robot repair schedule.
Elizabeth has her own Martha in some respects with Hans as he shows just how far he is willing to go to carry on serving the cause and by extension her. Todd doesn’t get the second chance Elizabeth and Philip gifted him last week and this isn’t the first time where they have tried to let someone go only to have them end up dead anyway. Hans puts equal weight on doing things for the cause and Elizabeth; Hans has pledged he will do anything for her but I worry his infatuation will become a liability. Killing Todd isn’t as simple as shooting him and he notes how it didn’t go exactly as planned. Elizabeth is quick to point out that it seldom does and it is very rare for something to go without a hitch or someone dead by the end of it on The Americans.
Case in point is the trip to the factory which is fixing the mail robot, a factory which by all accounts should be empty at this time of night but this doesn’t take into account the many unknown whims of people. Philip coldly brushes off this hiccup as “she picked a bad time” while Elizabeth develops a connection with the woman who will become collateral damage. It is unclear if the positions were reversed what Philip would do in Elizabeth’s place, but I don’t think he would have a long conversation about marriage with Betty in the same way Elizabeth does. Betty hits a nerve with Elizabeth on several levels; first as a woman who is probably around the same age as her own dying mother and also as a wife/mother herself. Playing comforter and executioner Elizabeth gets to be there for Betty in a way that she can’t be for her own mother. She is also the reason this is happening to Betty in the first place so it’s not all kind words but also being forced to acknowledge the why of her actions.
The wise old woman chat includes some anecdotes which might be considered a tad convenient considering what is going on between Philip and Elizabeth including their conversation just prior about Martha; it also gives us the chance to see a softer more compassionate Elizabeth than we have maybe seen in the past when dealing with a witness who needs to be silenced. A couple of questions to be addressed first including why are they only in the lightest of disguises? The answer here is covered by the fact that a) they believed the place would be empty and b) if anyone did stumble upon this operation they would have to kill them so the FBI remained clueless about this new bug setup. The other question is why did Elizabeth prolong killing Betty? In part Elizabeth had to come up with a plan to make it look as natural as possible and simply because Elizabeth isn’t as stone cold as she sometimes comes across in these scenarios.
Elizabeth also gets to bare her soul to Betty in a way she can’t do with her mother back home or Philip or even Gabriel. I’ve talked on multiple occasions about how they both use their cover identities as a way to filter the noise of their actual lives so they will both use real experiences and work through them when they are Michelle or Jim or whoever they are playing. On this occasion Elizabeth gets to be as much as herself as possible because Betty is not going to live to tell the tale. So this includes showing her real face, talking about her real parents, her husband and where she is really from. As soon as Elizabeth mentions Russia, Betty knows there is no getting out of this for her and the conversation weaves between talk of the personal and the why behind Elizabeth’s actions. War, religion and family are all on the table and while Betty’s experience is from the conflict which preceded the Cold War there are parallels between the two.
The biggest mirroring comes when Betty mentions she had two goes at marriage with her husband Gil as they divorced then remarried after his second wife dies in an accident. They no longer had “sugar in our eyes” and the latter attempt was far more joyful than the first. The same could be said for Philip and Elizabeth though with perhaps less joy and more stressful spy related deeds, but they too have been apart and then come back together. Far different circumstances of course and yet they are different to how they were before. Philip’s discussion with Gabriel later on about marriage is contentious because of what is going on between them and yet Philip’s notion that his reaction to Elizabeth was like a bolt of lightning he hasn’t experienced with anyone else still rings true.
For her it has taken longer to get to this position but it is clear that she has fallen hard for him over the past few years; there is a jealous streak and her actions this season despite their Paige conflict show just how strong her feelings are. Philip might not necessarily see this and he is wary when talking to Gabriel about her saying that he doesn’t believe Elizabeth felt this way when they first met. Gabriel reveals how Elizabeth rejected the first officer who was presented to her and therefore she also chose Philip, but like Philip I find it hard to trust anything that comes out of Gabriel’s mouth as everything presents itself as emotional manipulation. This game of Scrabble is educational when it comes to the origins and meanings of certain words such as ‘amatory’ – loving, devoted, adoring – while also giving Philip an opportunity to tell Gabriel how he really feels. He is tired of his bullshit and he no longer trusts Gabriel; he knows Elizabeth is lapping it up still but he will do what it takes to look out for his family and this feels like a not so veiled warning to back the fuck away.
Going back to Betty and Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s justification that what she is doing by killing her is the right thing. The two-handed scene between Keri Russell and Lois Smith is brutal in a very different way to the many harsh actions we have witnessed this season. It is rare for The Americans to hit me in this way, normally it stabs my soul while leaving my eyes dry; not on this occasion and misty eyes took full effect. Both Russell and Smith let their characters teeter on the edge and it is far more effective revealing fear and sorrow in this subtle way without landing into hysterics. The stillness of Elizabeth combined with the inevitable end which is prolonged due to the method in which Elizabeth has opted to dispatch of Betty is heartbreaking and as Betty’s breath becomes labored Elizabeth gets to feel the weight of actions even if she ultimately thinks it will make the world a better place. It is not quick and easy and Elizabeth doesn’t usually react with tears when she kills people who happen to get in their way.
Elizabeth doesn’t suddenly unleash a torrent of tears, her wet cheeks are hidden in by the shadows and instead of answering Philip’s question of concern she instead points out they have to get out of there. We don’t see the pair discuss this matter any further instead the aftermath is between Philip and Gabriel with Philip laying down how he really feels. This is in part why Philip and Elizabeth are so dysfunctional as they find it so hard to share with each other at times. Maybe they need to get stoned together again.
The pressure is piling on both of them from multiple angles and as we enter the last third of the season the tension is only going to increase as Kimberly and Paige have both been pushed to the side, they are sure to come back to the forefront and I have a feeling Philip might regret telling Gabriel exactly how he feels about him as everything is still very much at stake. Yes, I think Philip can trust Elizabeth and at a push she would have his back but Gabriel is very good at manipulating Elizabeth particularly as he can dangle news of her mother as a way to reach her emotionally.
Oleg and Stan have to put their trust in each other in their attempt to save Nina and Oleg is now convinced there is something off about Zinaida. This plan involves fake ambushes with very real head blows and a debrief session over beer. This pairing has been unexpected and despite their animosity I think we might have the BFF equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. It is probably not going to end well knowing this show.
Shot of the Week
Snow! Oleg meeting up with Stan post phase one of their plan is made all the more covert seeming by the everything grey and cold location. I do want to see what the sunny warm weather version of this show looks like but for now I love what the snowy conditions add to the look of The Americans.
Disguise of the Week
So there isn’t a photo to accompany this as Oleg was in the shadow as he threatened Zinaida, but let it be known that he had the whole menacing thing down with slicked back and glasses.
Outfit I Would Wear in 2015
Not much on offer this week but I am always partial to Elizabeth’s sweater tees.