Almost every episode in the third season of The Americans has featured at least one scene that is excruciatingly painful for the viewer to watch. These cringe-inducing scenes, from the disposing of Analise’s body, to Philip’s dental work, to Nina’s betrayal of Evi, to last week’s necklacing, have become hallmarks of the series. But even given the high bar they’ve set for themselves in this regard, last night’s meeting between Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Betty (Lois Smith), an elderly bookkeeper who “picked a bad time” to pay the bills, was stunning. When a series can cause a grizzled curmudgeon like myself to yell, “That’s it, I hate you, Americans!” during an episode, you know they’ve hit close to the bone.
A lot of other important developments went down in “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?,” a playful title with deeper resonance, but I’ll save those comments for later. There’s just too much to get into regarding the conversation between Elizabeth and Betty. Elizabeth encounters the aging widower when the Jennings attempt to bug the mail robot (the clear breakout star of Season 3) after it is sent for repairs following Agent Gaad’s (Richard Thomas) senseless act violence. Betty is working late at the factory because that’s when she feels “most in tune” with her deceased husband, Gil, the company’s founder.