The Americans: Dissatisfaction

In What’s the Matter with Kansas, episode four of season five, nobody is happy with the status quo, but only one man decides to shake things up.

Elizabeth and Philip are visiting their collective parent handler Gabriel. Is he going to offer them some pirogi or maybe soup made with contaminated water and a single rotten potato to remind them of their childhoods? Nope.

No soup for you!

He has a new assignment. They have to go to Topeka Kansas and sex up some lonely hearts who work for Agricorp in order to find out more about the plot to sabotage the Russian food supply, which they are all convinced is a thing.

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Maybe they’d feel a little less certain about the evil intentions of the US if Gabriel shared some intelligence like about that time in 1983 when the Russians were so convinced the US was about to launch a first strike that they almost did, but it was really just a saber-rattling NATO exercise called Able Archer as we all learned from another spy-show, proving that you can learn a lot from television.

Regarding the new gig, they both speak up, telling Gabriel that with two teenagers, the FBI agent across the street, the minister and his blabbermouth wife, plus commuting to Illinois, they’d prefer not to take on new long-distance romances. Isn’t there anyone else he can send? Gabriel tells them there is not, and they leave chastened.

Breakfast at the Jennings, Philip stares into the yard, looking uneasy and maybe exhausted. They confront Henry, not about his freakish growth spurt, but because his math teacher called and wants to meet with them, as though they were his actual parents. Elizabeth is at the end of her very limited patience and wants some answers from the boy. She interrogates him, but he doesn’t break. Uh oh. Two rebellious teenagers!

He is so going to bring them all down.

Later we see Philip sitting on a plane in a new disguise, looking unhappy. Next he’s at a gym with circa-1980s equipment including non-digital stationary bikes. He tries to chat up his mark, Deirdre Kemp, a high-level administrator at Agricorp but she doesn’t seem very interested, and frankly neither does he. Wait a sec, didn’t someone else on the show recently meet someone at the gym? Hmm.

In Moscow, Oleg has a new partner, an ace interrogator with an unfortunate resemblance to Peter Lorre.

For those of you who haven’t seen Casablanca yet, this is Peter Lorre.

Still worried about the tape that could send him to the gulag or worse, Oleg swears his mother to secrecy and tells her he’s in trouble because in America he trusted someone he shouldn’t have. Mom cries. That went well.

Elizabeth has better luck than Philip did with her mark. They meet cute in a health food store where Elizabeth in a brunette bob and big glasses, calling herself Brenda, spills some carob chips. (There is no bad look for this woman.) They’re going hiking – which may or may not be euphemism.

Philip as whatever-his-first-name-is Eckhart is having a beer with Alexei. How long will it take Alexei to say something bad about Russia? Three two one and… After talking about how you can’t even sit and have a brewski, he starts in on how the Soviet Union has the same land and climate as the US but they can’t feed their people. Strangely, he doesn’t mention anything about trying to sabotage the food supply.

When Philip gets back to his real fake home, Elizabeth is watching television. Something about bees making honey because this show has a rule that everything shown on a television screen must relate in a clever way to the plot. He tells her how the honey he is trying to trap is SOOO boring. She says hers is “full of himself.”

When you’d rather cuddle in front of tube with your honey than sex up strangers, maybe it’s time to give up the spy gig.

But no rest for the Jennings! We see them out to dinner with Stan and his new girlfriend Renee – the one he met at the gym which is a hotbed for spies meeting marks. Is Renee a spy? We still don’t know, but it’s fun to speculate, and we’ve certainly been led to.

Who is she working for?

Oleg and his new partner Ruslov have gotten the store manageress to give them a name, someone else they can now go after. They’re discussing this with their boss, the Colonel. Ruslov and the Colonel want to lean on the guy using his son in Afghanistan for leverage. Oleg, having lost a brother in the war, wonders if there’s another way. The Colonel is not pleased with the backtalk.

Who else is having work issues? Stan is still not over the CIA’s plan to drive Oleg to suicide or prison. Aderholt tells him a story to cheer him up. He’d “blackmailed the shit” out an asset once, and nobody died. The entire family defected and they lived happily ever after in Tuscan! Maybe this will change Stan’s gloomy attitude.

Paige is babysitting for Pastor Tim and Alice. Pastor Tim gives her his old college textbook about Marx, who Pastor Tim thinks was a pretty cool dude despite being anti-religion and all. Tim thinks maybe reading it will help her understand her mom better. Why does this show make everyone even slightly liberal seem like a doofus-stooge who’s soft on the commies? Tim if you love Russia so much, why don’t you sit out in a car while Elizabeth and Philip kill and/or sex someone up?

Seriously? Does Tim have to be such a wuss?

Philip calls Deirdre from a phone booth. How did he even get her number? She’s still not interested. He tells her he’ll call her when he’s in town and “hope for the best.” How much research did they do? Did it occur to anyone she might play for the other team? Or no team? Or that Martha’s old cover story about the married lover might in this case be true?

Meantime, Elizabeth is getting along great with Ben, the scientist she’s supposed to love on.  They’re having a make-out session, but she stops it, and tells him she has to work, and she’ll see him next week. Is leaving them with blue-balls part of the KGB playbook or is this just a passive-aggressive reaction to not really being into your job any more?

The baby’s asleep, and Paige is restless. Being her parents’ daughter, she turns into Veronica Mars and/or Harriet the Spy (pick your reference) and starts going through the drawers. She comes across OMIGOD Pastor Tim’s secret diary! Because sure adult male dads all keep diaries.

Stan has another meeting with the Deputy Attorney General. Stan tells him about that time when under John-Boy Gaad’s orders they decided to kidnap a KGB agent and grabbed poor Vlad Kosigan, and then Stan shot him in the back of the head. Stan tells the Deputy AG that if the CIA doesn’t lay off his buddy Oleg, he’ll go public with the story.

Who saw that one coming? While one could imagine Stan leaving the whole dirty business behind him, this act of rebellion is quite the surprise.

Paige comes in from school while Elizabeth is in the kitchen making lasagna. How does she find the time? Let’s play where’s Henry! He’s with Doug, a name previously mentioned a couple of seasons ago, but they speculate that he’s not really with Doug. Maybe Henry has a girlfriend. Maybe he’s not home because he’s now too tall to fit through the door. Who knows and who even cares? It’s not like he’s family. Elizabeth turns on the water to drown out the sound in case the house is bugged or Stan is lurking, or Henry’s giantism extends to his hearing, and she begins to tell Paige about her secret life as Brenda. She doesn’t tell her the job includes sexing Ben up, but she mentions her “source” is a scientist, and Paige figures he’s is a man. It wouldn’t take a lot for Paige to piece everything together, but she doesn’t seem to just yet. (Who wouldn’t be wigged out — so to speak — if you found out your mom was Mata Hari?)

Anyone else get the feeling that at least part of this business of revealing to Paige, by both her parents, is about trying to convince their teenage daughter they are cool?

Paige tells her mother about her snooping and finding the diary. She says she was looking for the name of the lawyer that Alice allegedly told about the Jennings but she couldn’t find it. Elizabeth asks if Tim wrote anything about them. Paige didn’t see anything. She warns her that Alice would go straight to the FBI if she found out, and tells her not to do anything like that ever again, but stops short of actually making her promise not to, and Paige doesn’t say she won’t.

Oleg has another chat with his mom. This time she tells him a family secret. In the bad old days when they got to the men through their wives, she spent five years in a labor camp. She tells him she did what she had to to survive, and he should too.

Those Russians are tough!

Where in the world is Mischa? He made it out of Yugoslavia stuffed in the backseat of a car below a refrigerator. Why is someone moving an old refrigerator from Yugoslavia to Austria? Never mind. He got through, and we see him arriving at JFK airport.

Welcome to the USA!

We still don’t know exactly what his mother’s instructions say or where he’ll wind up next though the promo for next week will give us a pretty good idea.

Philip and Elizabeth get ready to go to sleep at the same time and in the same bed. She tells him about the diary. He’s not pleased. She tells him she told Paige never to do it again, but then she speculates just a little. What if there was something they could use? Philip doesn’t bite, and she drops it. Philip asks her about Kansas. She doesn’t want to talk about it, which he interprets as “You like him,” but Elizabeth insists that’s not it. He seems nice, and he laughs a lot, but he’s “laughing while he’s trying to starve an entire country.” There might be a serious point here. We all laugh, make jokes, and are nice even though our government may be doing terrible things, even though we might be doing terrible things we don’t think about – paying taxes that support drone strikes against civilian targets, buying clothes made by prisoners or child labor, etc. But The Americans doesn’t seem to be making that point. Historically, we know that the US wasn’t sabotaging the grain. Alexei had it right. The Soviet Union (as we see in the Oleg plot line) is imploding. They can’t feed themselves. Elizabeth and Philip, but mostly Elizabeth, can’t or won’t accept that. For Elizabeth her mission is still sacred. The Americans (no italics) are evil and must be stopped, even if they’re funny, like to hike, and seem harmless, but Philip has been and continues to be, despite his love for her, the wild card. How would he react if he knew about Stan’s act of courage? Or realized they’d gotten it wrong on the grain? Or if he found out the Center had kept something really important from him — like about Mischa’s imminent arrival?

Thoughts? Predictions? Will Mischa meet his Americanski family? Will Philip make it real with Deirdre? Will Henry grow another foot by the next episode? Feel free to speculate in the comments below.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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