The Americans: What's the Matter with Kansas?
March 28, 2017 10:30 PM - Season 5, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Philip and Elizabeth get new assignments from Gabriel and have dinner with Stan and Renée, Philip has a beer with Alexei, Elizabeth tries carob chips and goes hiking with Ben, Philip hits the treadmill and learns about logistics from Deirdre, Oleg continues to work as a food cop and to try to figure out how counteract the CIA's tactics, Stan threatens to sacrifice himself to protect Oleg, Paige crosses boundaries while babysitting for Pastor Tim, Mischa crosses borders, and Henry has issues with his math teacher and with the lack of Apple Jacks in the Jennings household.

For some good reviews of this episode, check out Vox, Vulture, and The AV Club.
posted by orange swan (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Paige: superagent
posted by Burhanistan at 10:53 PM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Another great episode.


This line from the Vox article:

Todd: Yet even as The Americans is keeping us wondering what's up with Henry and Mischa, it's doing wonders of displaying exactly what's happening with Paige, who is either a dangerously reckless loose cannon or some sort of spy savant who's inherited all her parents' skills.

Spoken like someone who never babysat as a teen. You don't have to be a loose cannon or some kind of expert in espionage to get bored in someone else's house and start snooping around. The fact that there might also be something there to find that could mean the difference between your parents' freedom and going to jail would make the temptation impossible for almost anyone to resist I would think.
posted by bleep at 12:22 AM on March 29, 2017 [11 favorites]


Although as I was writing that, Liz & Phil aren't exactly "free" so to speak. Don't they have any agents out in Kansas? Or at least closer?
posted by bleep at 12:23 AM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Pretty good episode but it felt like one of the "in between" episodes.

Also, despite everything else that happened I was left with one question: WHAT DID THE MATH TEACHER WANT? Maybe we'll find out next week.
posted by mmoncur at 2:27 AM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


When Elizabeth and Paige were having their little heart-to-heart over spying at Pastor Tim's, why run the faucet? They were the only ones there? A subtle lesson, even as she was chastising her?

Good to finally see Henry. No doubt he'll go back to his room for the rest of the season.

Stan really has a serious man-crush on Oleg, to put his career on the line like that. That can't bode well for his career.

And now they're taking separate, regular flights to Kansas? This is really stretching credulity.

Overall, an ok episode. There's just so much going on, the entire show felt a bit like a "scenes from next week's show."
posted by Thorzdad at 5:41 AM on March 29, 2017


Slate's s5e4 podcast episode includes a discussion among Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and the Js. Fun hearing that Welsh accent again. Then Peter Ackerman (the writer) talks about the script and Henry.
posted by kingless at 5:44 AM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Don't they have any agents out in Kansas? Or at least closer?

And now they're taking separate, regular flights to Kansas? This is really stretching credulity.

Funny that they tried to tell Gabriel this during the episode and he didn't listen. It's stretching credulity for them too.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:48 AM on March 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Thinking more on Stan's move to blackmail the CIA. One has to wonder if Stan won't now come under closer scrutiny and maybe even be watched, which might draw in the Jennings, his closest friends.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:12 AM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Needed more Martha.
posted by slmorri at 11:06 AM on March 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Paige is going to end up having to kill Pastor Tim, and that's when she'll have a heart to heart with Gabriel.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:02 PM on March 29, 2017


Haven't see the episode but I read a review and would like some warning: is there a sexual/creepy subtext to Henry's interaction with the teacher?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:22 PM on March 29, 2017


...is there a sexual/creepy subtext to Henry's interaction with the teacher?

No. The teacher simply wants to meet with Phil and Liz and Henry claims not to know why, and cops a teenager attitude about the whole thing. We never actually get around to the meeting or see the teacher.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:30 PM on March 29, 2017


He's in the bathroom!

With E & P grousing about Henry's attitude and computer obsession I am thinking that Henry's math teacher is going to tell them that Henry is a math and computer super genius and that he should be in a special program. That program may or may not also cause some kind of conflict in the Jennings household/den of spies. It may also be conveniently located out of state.

Phillip's heart really isn't into this assignment; I imagine he's still having feels about Martha and doesn't want to ruin another woman's life.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:07 PM on March 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


It is so unrealistic that Philip and Elizabeth are doing *all* the spy operations.

My word is Henry tall -- he's as tall as Philip. And he's only supposed to be 13 or 14 in the timeline of the show. No wonder they've been hiding him. I'm dying to know what's going on with his math teacher and to whom he's been talking on the phone.

Philip really doesn't want another Martha-esque experience. It's going to be amusing watching him be bored to death by Deirdre. He may not have loved Martha, but at least she was lively and easy to be with. Lucky Elizabeth gets a guy who's fun and attractive, but doesn't appreciate it because of what she thinks he's guilty of, though I bet he isn't.

I was surprised that Oleg would confide in his mother when he knows she's so fragile. However, she pulled herself together and was there for him. And she once survived 5 years in a prison camp, and apparently has never even mentioned it to Oleg before. She's tougher than she seems.

Mischa got value for his money from those human smugglers. I was impressed by their tactic of using a second car and driver to divert the border guard when he was trying to inspect the first car. So simple yet effective.

Oh Alexei, will you ever stop complaining about Russia?

The show must be going somewhere with the whole Renée thing, but I have no idea where.

I don't get what Oleg's department is up to. They found out who was funneling the best food to specific grocery stores. Why are they talking about ways to work him? Why isn't the next step an arrest? Also, Oleg is used to a great boss like Arkady, and his new boss is not Arkady.

Did anyone else find the similarities between Paige searching Pastor Tim's house and Elizabeth searching Young Hee and Don's house really chilling? From the way both of them looked benignly over the sleeping children to the quiet, systematic search... it's in Paige's genes. It's darkly hilarious that Elizabeth was bothered not by the fact that Paige was snooping in Pastor Tim and Alice's house, but by the fact that they might clue in to her doing so.

Stan Beeman blackmailing the deputy director of the FBI into doing what he wants was a jaw dropper. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He is in the right, but holy shit, his career is so going down the toilet after that stunt. I do wish Oleg could know that Stan had no part of trying to force him into the CIA's service.
posted by orange swan at 7:33 PM on March 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


It is so unrealistic that Philip and Elizabeth are doing *all* the spy operations.

That's the fundamental plot device driving the entire show since the first season. If you haven't gotten past the suspension of disbelief required to accept it by now it's honestly hard for me to imagine why you'd still be watching. Well, ok, the fantastic acting, but aside from that...
posted by mediareport at 7:58 PM on March 29, 2017


I liked this episode a lot; it was full of quiet, emotionally rich moments for a lot of characters - Stan, Oleg and his mother, Paige and Elizabeth and the faucet (watch it again for Paige's looks at the sink), the husband and wife not wanting to seduce more victims but then doing it perfectly anyway...all the stuff that's kept me watching for years, and none of the artificial violence it seems the showrunners occasionally think we need (hint: we don't).

I will say that if you don't have a coherent theory about Henry at this point, regardless of what it is, you're missing out on some of the fun.
posted by mediareport at 8:03 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perhaps Henry has invented a growth serum and is selling it on the black market?
posted by orange swan at 8:26 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


This was definitely a set-up episode. so many scenes that lasted 30 seconds or less. Moving the chess pieces around.
It was interesting how they switched between E doing her craft on budget Grizzly Adams (not at ALL an 80's look) and Paige doing pretend craft in the pastor's house.
What I don't get, when they are talking to Paige and she's asking questions about the things that they do, is why don't they simply say "years and years and years of training". It's total BS Of E to say "sometimes you just have to pretend", when what she means is "i'm a highly trained operative, and craftwork is no joke".

My guess is that if Henry's teacher wants to talk about anything, it's that H is a prodigy, and should already be in college, so off he goes and end of story.

I loved the subterfuge of the two cars at the border. clever, and the second guy was really kinda putting his neck out to piss off the guard. good thing they took the extra money.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:14 PM on March 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


I kinda have a theory that the Center cooked up this bug plot to give the Jennings patriotism a little kick in the pants. Clearly the Americans are doing something with bugs and the Russians want to find out what but the idea of blaming the Americans for the famine is amazingly motivating when the Jennings might have gotten some soft feelings for their targets in this one otherwise.
posted by bleep at 11:49 PM on March 29, 2017


Two subtexts I'm not sure are real or just tinfoil:
1) (not tinfoil) It seemed to me that Phillip was uncomfortable with Elizabeth's having to seduce a guy.. hence the rather blunt questioning, and ignoring her evasions. That was contrasted with his own assignment, which seems utterly doomed.

2) (this is probably tinfoil) Oleg's mum stressed she did anything she had to do to survive. If that included sexual favours to guards for favourable treatment.. is Oleg's daddy who we think it is?
posted by coriolisdave at 12:44 AM on March 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


My deepest hope is that the guy Elizabeth is working in Kansas happily spills the beans that they're working on developing pest-resistant crops, and not crop-destroying pests (perhaps even specifically for export to the USSR). She needs a good solid wedge driven between her and her absolute faith in her mission (and trust in Gabriel, the Center, etc.)
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on March 30, 2017


He may not have loved Martha, but at least she was lively and easy to be with.

Stan did find that copy of the Kama Sutra....

It may be too strong to say Phillip cared about Martha but I think he did genuinely like her. He knew he'd end up hurting her but I don't think he ever saw the end game that played out, with Martha whisked away from her close family in the middle of the night, probably to never hear from them again. I think that really messed him up.

I know we're all suspending belief re the Jennings being spread thin, but id think the Center would be worried about arousing more and more suspicion from the FBI agent/BFF that lives across the street. There is no way Stan couldn't notice so much activity at night, right?
posted by Room 641-A at 7:05 AM on March 30, 2017


I'm firmly in the camp that the travel to Kansas is just too, too much. At least the agents said as much to their handler, the show acknowledged the craziness of it. Perhaps it will be one more indignity for them to complain about. Philip's grim line "what are they going to do, fire us?" seemed really heavy to me. I also liked the contrast of how Philip and Elizabeth are doing on their assignments. Partly just confirming the stereotype about how hard it is for a single guy to get laid, partly also an unacknowledged competition between the two in their relationship.

Also unrealistic is how quickly our heroes have accepted the "bugs to eat our grain" theory. I mean they're not completely stupid, are they? Maybe a bit more storytelling would sell this better. The Jennings are largely cut off from the Soviet Union, a couple of establishing scenes of them believing Soviet propaganda that food shortages aren't their fault would go a long way. They honestly don't know better, they are manipulated entirely by Gabriel and believe what he wants them to believe. Except the danger of exposure to Alexei's discontent... I mean they sort of are telling this story, I think just not very well.

It was nice to see Henry again but hoo boy, is that even the same actor? Puberty is a hell of a drug. I like the idea that he's a math genius and they're going to write him off the show by sending him to nerd school. That seems like the kindest thing. Either that or just don't acknowledge the change in the actor at all, just make him a real character and go with it. I mean we've already sustained 10 episodes of them concealing him, then revealing him in all his young adult awkwardness. Rip off the band-aid and bring him back.
posted by Nelson at 7:42 AM on March 30, 2017


I kind of wonder if them having to cover Kansas is a sign that the Soviets are running low on illegals/US spies.
posted by drezdn at 8:22 AM on March 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


When Elizabeth and Paige were having their little heart-to-heart over spying at Pastor Tim's, why run the faucet? They were the only ones there? A subtle lesson, even as she was chastising her?

Tradecraft, Opsec. The one time you know you're not being bugged is the time you're being bugged. If you make these safeguards reflexive you have less to worry about.
posted by scalefree at 10:29 AM on March 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else have the feeling that there was something more to the double date with Stan's new girlfriend?
The bit about Phillip being from Pittsburgh (did we know that?) and then her details about the area seemed coded to me, like she was trying to expose them, or giving them info about herself.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:57 AM on March 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oleg's mum stressed she did anything she had to do to survive. If that included sexual favours to guards for favourable treatment.. is Oleg's daddy who we think it is?

Hey, that would at least explain why Oleg is a good eight inches taller than his father, so you might be on to something.

Philip's grim line "what are they going to do, fire us?" seemed really heavy to me.

If they refuse to obey orders, they'll likely be shipped back to Russia as William's wife was.
posted by orange swan at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think the show is deliberately showing them as being overworked as a plot point, not just lamp shading it and expecting us to go along.

I think P&E are going to find out that the bugs are not for sabotage, but only after something in their life suffers because of the extra work. That is going to help push them over the edge to quit.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:35 PM on March 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


This episode had a lot of 'naturalistic conversation' that was not related to plot development. So I ask myself what symbolism or theme or whatever informs the dialog and I generally can't come up with the slightest answer. It's frustrating because I assume the writers are trying to do something meaningful with these moments. One that comes to mind is Nature Dude talking about woodpeckers and the anatomy of their tongues, curled up in their head. The Marx quote offered by Pastor Tim is certainly meaty enough to try to pry it apart w.r.t. the character's situations, but one doesn't have time to think about it while watching. My final example is Stan's girlfriend talking about baseball and her uncle running a scrap metal shop in Pittsburgh ("[finding good stuff there like] broken TVs, radios, hair dryers"). Do others here find a larger meaning in any of these conversations? Or am I trying too hard?--it's just, you know, given the quiet progression of most of this episode I feel like I'm missing something that the writers want to do--and I give this show the credit that it might be there, like a serious novel.
posted by sylvanshine at 9:01 PM on March 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


My final example is Stan's girlfriend talking about baseball and her uncle running a scrap metal shop in Pittsburgh ("[finding good stuff there like] broken TVs, radios, hair dryers"). Do others here find a larger meaning in any of these conversations?

Did Phillip actually live in Pittsburgh? I can't recall, but when Phillip says he's from Pittsburgh and then she mentions a few specifics it really reminded me of the scene in Marathon Man when Babe introduces Doc to Elsa, and when she says she's from Switzerland he tries to trip her up with little details. That could be interesting.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:24 PM on March 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


I thought that was about just watching Liz & Phil actually literally doing their jobs, talking to people until information comes out, taking the information in, making sure they're reacting appropriately, making sense of it, remembering it, even though most of what people say is a stream of bullshit. I like that we get to see those moments.
posted by bleep at 9:25 PM on March 30, 2017


id Phillip actually live in Pittsburgh? I can't recall, but when Phillip says he's from Pittsburgh and then she mentions a few specifics it really reminded me of the scene in Marathon Man when Babe introduces Doc to Elsa, and when she says she's from Switzerland he tries to trip her up with little details. That could be interesting.

I thought that was an interesting scene, my ears perked up curious about how Phil would handle it, and he immediately turned it back on her with "What did he do?" Not "Oh, where?" which is what I would expect an actual native to say.
posted by bleep at 9:26 PM on March 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Every spy (and introvert) knows that people love to hear themselves talk. Much easier to direct a conversation that way than to try to bullshit. Plus it tends to make people like you, to some extent anyway. So less chance to trip up and you seem nice, total win-win.
posted by wierdo at 11:04 PM on March 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


("[finding good stuff there like] broken TVs, radios, hair dryers")

One of the themes that they seem to be pushing this season is how much "stuff" there was in America at the time compared to the Soviet Union. There was the salad bar as one example. Then there's talk of this giant scrap yard just filled with things Americans have thrown away. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union bits they're struggling to find why there are issues with the food supply.

I'm not sure if it's intentional, but the scene with the running water fits the theme too. While I'm certain Elizabeth is doing it to prevent anyone from listening in, it sign of the plentiful resources in the US, and peoples' willingness to waste it.
posted by drezdn at 5:29 AM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


That health food store did not look 80s hippie crunchy. It looked like they shot in a health food store from 2017 and just shrugged. I don't expect perfection from set dressing, but I expect something. They do a much better job in Russia than in the USA.

I wouldn't necessarily expect the KGB to have an experienced agent assigned to Kansas, and if you have to fly someone in, you may as well use your big guns. Plus, it seems like there's always squabbling over who gets assigned what missions. Gabriel has his reasons.

It seems like we are being led by the nose to be skeptical about the grain-infestation plot. That makes me think maybe we shouldn't be so skeptical after all. P & E can't afford to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when the survival of their country is at stake, and really the survival of the world. In the context of Mutually Assured Destruction, any act of war was an existential threat. Reagan's "Evil Empire" rhetoric was profoundly disconcerting at the time.
posted by rikschell at 9:46 AM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


It may be too strong to say Phillip cared about Martha but I think he did genuinely like her. He knew he'd end up hurting her but I don't think he ever saw the end game that played out, with Martha whisked away from her close family in the middle of the night, probably to never hear from them again. I think that really messed him up.

Honestly, I think he did love her by the end. And I think he felt guilty for destroying her life. I don't think it was a surprise to him that he destroyed her life, but it was a surprise to him how guilty he felt.

This Topeka woman is clearly not going to be another Martha, though. Martha was dowdy but she had some soul to her, and she was a genuinely sweet person. The Topeka woman is just dry. And I don't think she's that interested in Philip either, to be honest.

Martha was capable of falling in love, which is why Philip was able to work her so well. But this Topeka woman might not be, and that might keep her from being a good asset.

One of the themes that they seem to be pushing this season is how much "stuff" there was in America at the time compared to the Soviet Union. There was the salad bar as one example. Then there's talk of this giant scrap yard just filled with things Americans have thrown away. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union bits they're struggling to find why there are issues with the food supply.

That's an interesting take.

Something about that scrapyard story sounded "off" to me, though? It actually made me a bit more suspicious of Renee. Although I'm not even sure what was off about it.

I think one thing that stands out about it in any case is that hanging around in the scrap yard picking through broken appliances is not a conventionally "feminine" kind of memory or interest, just like Renee's interest in sports isn't. I probably wouldn't have thought about it much except that Steve made such a point before about how talking to Renee is like talking to a guy friend. I wonder if that's going to come to anything.

In that same vein, I also am always struck by how much of a boy's club the FBI is in comparison with the Russian embassy. Although the Russians aren't exactly progressive, I do think that communism pushes them to at least hold egalitarianism as a (theoretical) ideal. And there has been SO MUCH EMPHASIS on how tough Russian women are and have to be, which includes physical toughness and aggression. Meanwhile, American women are generally presented very differently. Even as "spies," Paige is taking care of the Pastor's baby and Elizabeth is also trying to seduce her mark by listening to his random musings about woodpeckers and laughing at his jokes and all and being extremely feminine and conventional about it all. So I dunno, I wonder if Renee's "tom boy" interests ring a little "unAmerican" in the context -- or if the show is at least guiding us toward that perception?
posted by rue72 at 7:40 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


How much of a stupid idiot is Stan? (Yes, sorry I know that's a rhetorical question.)

I just can't get behind his thought process at all. Expose his crime to the FBI bigwig. Tell the bigwig to ensure the CIA doesn't use Oleg upon threat of going public. Verify Oleg is left alone by....?

Seriously, how does he think he's going to enforce this bargain? Does he expect the CIA to say, "Right, we pinky swear we're not bothering the nice Russian." Does he not suspect the CIA is capable of lying to the FBI bigwig? Does he not think the FBI bigwig would lie to him? What kind of an agent is he? He is supposed to be some hotshot undercover operative. How did he ever survive if he can't imagine people lying to him?

He has no means of contacting Oleg in Russia. He has no means of keeping an eye out for him. He has no assets in Russia (or shouldn't, since as a member of the Bureau he's supposed to be concerned with domestic issues). What does he think he can do to protect him? He has put all of his cards face-up on the table before the other players have even had a chance to look at their hands.
posted by sardonyx at 7:51 PM on March 31, 2017 [5 favorites]


I love your comment, sardonyx. It made me think about how shaken Stan has been to learn that the US Govt does not give two figs about his "but he's a stand up guy" philosophy. And how that philosophy is what makes him such an easy mark for E & P. Oh Stan, always assuming the best of people...
posted by CMcG at 7:35 AM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think Stan feels a lot of guilt about murdering Vlad and for Nina's death, and his strenuous and rather quixotic efforts to protect Oleg are the result of transference.
posted by orange swan at 8:41 AM on April 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


I think Stan feels a lot of guilt about murdering Vlad and for Nina's death, and his strenuous and rather quixotic efforts to protect Oleg are the result of transference.

Exactly. The last time he sees Oleg, he tells him "I don't want [your death] on my conscience, too."
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


We tend to forget this, but Stan has been through a lot in the last four years. His partner and friend Chris Amador was abducted and murdered, and he could do nothing to save him. His wife left him despite all his efforts to win her back, and he knows it was his fault. He forced Nina into working for the FBI -- and then fell in love with her -- and she was executed for it, despite his strenuous efforts to save her. Agent Gaad, whom he liked and respected enough to see socially, was killed. He didn't care anything much about Martha, but finding out someone he'd known and worked with for years had married a KGB officer and was spying for him right under his nose must have been a shock too. Computer geek Gene, whom he would have known, also died under suspicious circumstances. Even Mail Robot betrayed him. And he killed Vlad, who was just an innocent kid, out of grief and rage over Amador's murder.

The net weight of all that loss and betrayal and guilt and helplessness must be pretty heavy. When you experience repeated losses in a short period of time, you start to become less resilient, to feel like you cannot take one thing more. Is it any wonder that Stan freaked out at the mere possibility that his BFF Philip *might* be banging his ex-wife, and that he's ready to throw himself on his sword to prevent yet another tragedy from happening to someone else he likes and respects?

And doesn't all this tell us to get ready to see Stan to go completely ballistic when he finds out that Philip is really Mischa the KGB operative?
posted by orange swan at 3:52 PM on April 3, 2017 [15 favorites]


I always enjoy your thoughts on the show, orange swan.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:00 PM on April 3, 2017


this is probably tinfoil) Oleg's mum stressed she did anything she had to do to survive. If that included sexual favours to guards for favourable treatment.. is Oleg's daddy who we think it is?
I had this exact thought! In fact, I expected that to be the next sentence out of her mouth.

Also, I'm on board with the folks who think there has got to be something up with Renee. Sorry, Stan, you're not cute enough for this girl to be that into you. She's a spy. Or something.
posted by teleri025 at 1:55 PM on April 5, 2017


Re: Renee I imagined when Stan said he met her at the gym, Phil is like "Hm, at the gym, eh?" Next time there is he is chatting up a lady at the gym.
posted by bleep at 8:51 PM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Henry throwing the toast in the trash and the reaction of the other characters - to me this highlights how out of step with the rest of the family Henry is.

I can't believe they keep giving Paige more and more information when she seems so ill-equipped to handle the information she does get - and given that she hates lying so much. Even as she keeps dabbling in it.

Love Stan blackmailing the FBI.

It's interesting that all of their honeypot marks succumb. They never get rejected, never chat someone up and suggest a drink and get a "Um, no thanks, not really my type" or "Eh, I'm kind of seeing someone semi-seriously and want to see where that goes" or "I'm gay" response, at least not that I remember - except Don. Even then Elizabeth knew ahead of time he was going to be uninterested and drugged him.
posted by bunderful at 7:00 PM on May 22, 2018


« Older The Flash: Abra Kadabra...   |  Legends of Tomorrow: Doomworld... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments

poster