When the FBI sends a high-tech machine out for a fix, Soviet spies Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) seize the opportunity to install a listening device on Episode 309 ("Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?") of "The Americans" on FX.
FBI Special Agent Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas), under intense pressure after a KGB bug was discovered inside a ballpoint pen, took out his frustration on a temperamental mail robot. Now Philip and Elizabeth break into the repair shop and begin the delicate process of turning the robot into an unwitting Soviet asset.
Tragically for Betty (Lois Smith), the shop owner's elderly mother, she comes in for some late-night bookkeeping and encounters Elizabeth. Betty soon realizes she's about to become collateral damage in the Cold War.
After Elizabeth stoically reveals the purpose of her mission, she forces Betty to overdose on heart medication.
"You think doing this to me will make the world a better place?" Betty bravely asks. Sadly, according to Elizabeth, the answer is "yes."
"That's what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things," Betty retorts. Then she shivers and gasps for breath before collapsing in her chair.
Another woman in peril is FBI secretary Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), who recently discovered her husband "Clark" -- actually KGB spy Philip -- lied about his identity.
"Martha knows about me," Philip tells a shocked Elizabeth. But don't worry, Philip adds reassuringly. Martha still trusts him and "doesn't want to know more than she has to."
Elizabeth urges Philip to end his relationship with Martha -- and presumably end her life -- but KGB handler Gabriel (Frank Langella) has the final word.
"Martha may still be of use," says Gabriel, who's reluctant to kill a key asset in the FBI's counterintelligence division. Gabriel also won't require Martha to retrieve tape recordings from the mail robot. Traitorous, low-level employees can perform that dangerous chore.
In other action, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) conspires with his KGB nemesis Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) to liberate a woman they both love. She's double-agent Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru), who was convicted of treason and imprisoned in Moscow.
Stan suspects that Soviet defector Zinaida Preobrazhenskaya (Svetlana Efremova) is a spy who now has access to top-level U.S. officials. If Stan and Oleg expose Zinaida, she could be swapped for Nina in a prisoner exchange.
When Zinaida returns to her hotel, she finds Oleg hiding in the shadows with a gun. He gives her two weeks to recant her public statements denouncing the Soviet war in Afghanistan -- or else!
"Then you'll return to Russia," Oleg says, "where you'll be embraced as a hero -- a lost daughter of the revolution who was seduced by the West and has returned to her senses."
But the threat of assassination doesn't frighten Zinaida into admitting she's a spy, Oleg informs Stan at their next rendezvous. Then the Cold War thaws a bit when they drink beer together in Stan's car.
Finally, a Scrabble game turns ugly when Gabriel disingenuously asks Philip what's bothering him. As Gabriel is well aware, Philip is livid about KGB plans to recruit his 15-year-old daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) as a second-generation spy.
And Philip can no longer tolerate Gabriel's make-nice duplicity that seems to win over Elizabeth.
"The problem is you, Gabriel, and all this talk," Philip says, "because you think you can wrap me around your little finger. I'm not Elizabeth!"
Gabriel failed in his responsibility to protect the Jennings' household, Philip contends.