Tuesday, March 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth Don't Like Their New Mission in 'What's the Matter with Kansas?'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.04 "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

Philip and Elizabeth have qualms about a new assignment, while a specter from Philip's past creates unforeseen dangers. At the FBI, Stan makes a shocking play that could throw his career into turmoil.

Philip and Elizabeth are forced to do a mission that they don't want to do in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" And yet, the reasons why they are concerned about this mission are very different. The exploration and examination of those reactions is fascinating. The two of them count on each other so much. This family unit probably wouldn't have survived for as long as it has if there wasn't some kind of love and intimacy between Philip and Elizabeth. They trust each other. They also worry about each other in the field. Having that intimacy makes them more worried when they go off to seduce other people or carry out assassinations. It's the nature of their line of work. They have to do it no matter what. It's an open and honest discussion that they can have with each other. But it's also remarkable to see them have the same reaction to the new operation in Topeka, Kansas but for different reasons. Perhaps that could be the thing that eventually tears them apart as a family.

When Gabriel sits Philip and Elizabeth down to tell them about their new marks in Kansas, Philip reacts out of concern for the family. Traveling to Kansas to maintain these relationships would be tiring and draining to the entire family unit. It would mean more time away from Paige and Henry. It's for the mission Philip and Elizabeth told Paige about. She understands the reason why they need to act against this horrifying attack on the Soviet Union's grain supply. But it comes as the family is already juggling so much. All it takes is one false move from Paige in any aspect of her life for the family to be exposed. This season has focused a lot on her relationship with Matthew. If she develops stronger and more intimate feelings for him, that could compromise her in a huge way - especially with Stan so close as well. But this episode reminds the audience of the work that Paige continually has to do with Pastor Tim and Alice too. They are still a threat that need to be constantly managed.

Those are Philip's reasons for not wanting to go to Kansas for this new mission. Gabriel has been very accommodating in the past with Philip and Elizabeth's personal issues. And yet, he just calmly dismisses Philip's concerns. He believes the spies will find a way to work it out. Of course, they do. Both Philip and Elizabeth make initial contact with their marks. They open the doors for relationships that can be manipulated later on. And yet, all of this work comes at a cost. This is the mission that Philip signed up for. But he decided a long time ago that his family is more important than his country. He's still committed to the cause. He still ultimately goes to Kansas to begin the seduction. But he does so unwillingly. He's not happy to do this. It also comes in the aftermath of how personal things got with Martha. That was an asset he grew really close with. She's safe and alive in the Soviet Union. The audience got that reassurance last week. Philip doesn't know that though. He's just hardened on the work he's asked to do for his country. Again, he still does it. But things definitely seem colder in his new mission.

All of this stands in contrast to how Elizabeth feels about the mission. She's seduced many people in order to obtain valuable intel. She's had no problems doing so because country always comes first to her. Yes, she does have concerns about Paige. She does worry if the wisdom she passes on will actually stick. But her first priority is ensuring the protection and strength of her country. This mission is really affecting her though. She sees it as the Americans crossing a line. The idea that they would poison the food supply is sickening to her. Those are the feelings that are clouding her thoughts as she interacts with her mark. He's a sweet guy who loves hikes, organic food and weird facts about birds. It's clear that she likes him too. And yet, that's horrifying to her. She has put a face on this horrifying American plot to destroy the Soviet Union. That face happens to be a sweet nerd with a smile. That dichotomy is what really makes her uneasy.

It's because of all of this that Elizabeth enjoys seeing Paige do some spy craft as well. To Elizabeth, it's her daughter following in the family business. She's proud of her even though she also recognizes how dangerous and reckless it can be. Paige is still untrained. All it takes is discovering the right kind of information to change her as a person. She's learning more and more about what her parents do. And yet, she still hasn't mastered hiding and controlling her emotions to maintain a cover. The spy instincts are there. Elizabeth is almost giddy at the thought of Pastor Tim being up to something compromising. But she also has to be hopeful that Paige will listen to her warning about the danger of snooping around his house. Philip is more shocked to learn what Paige did. He never wanted Paige to follow in his footsteps. But now, it may be too late for her as she is willing to risk everything just to maintain her family.

Elsewhere, it is similarly shocking to see Stan expose his crimes just in order to protect Oleg in Moscow. It's a huge move that he pulls. It's been a long time since the show has mentioned Stan's murder of Vlad from the first season. And yet, it's clear the show isn't afraid to use its history to motivate its characters into action as it heads into the final legs of the story. Stan is confident that the Deputy Attorney General won't arrest him for his crimes. It's a huge scandal just waiting to happen that could really embarrass the United States to the rest of the world. However, he confesses to murder not knowing that the CIA has already reached out and tried to blackmail Oleg. In fact, this hour continues to highlight how similar Stan and Oleg are. Oleg confesses his past actions as well. He does so to his mother as he's uncertain of what to do. He doesn't want to betray his country. But he's seemingly in a no-win situation. It's fantastic to watch as she tells him about the time she spent five years in an internment camp doing whatever it took to survive. She encourages him to do the same. It's fascinating to see these two stories happening at the same time. They will affect the other but it's unclear what the consequences will be. Plus, will the two of them ever really learn the truth of what's actually happening across the world from them?

Some more thoughts:
  • "What's the Matter with Kansas?" was written by Peter Ackerman and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton.
  • It's been a long time since the show has told a story about Henry. In fact, it's been so long that it almost seemed like a different kid when he was talking to Philip and Elizabeth in the kitchen. It's not. It's still Keidrich Sellati. He's just grown once again and has a different hairstyle this season. Plus, Elizabeth never really learns who he's talkingto  on the phone and why his math teacher wants to see her and Philip.
  • It was unclear how long it would take Mischa to get to America this season. It's not easy getting out of the Soviet Union. And yet, thanks to a football game and excellent smugglers he succeeds and lands at JFK by the end of this episode. Now, it's just a matter of time before he shows up in Philip's life.
  • Okay, so there is definitely something more going on with Renee, right? Stan just suddenly has a girlfriend this season who seems perfect for him. They even go on a double date with Philip and Elizabeth. And yet, suspicion is raised because Philip also uses the gym as a way to make contact with his new mark in Kansas. That's just like how Stan and Renee met.
  • Last week Philip questioned why the Soviet Union couldn't grow crops as well as the United States. This week he gets some answers from Alexei who notes just how corrupt and crippling the infrastructure of the country really is. That will probably only make Philip more depressed.
  • The sequence that intercuts Elizabeth seducing her mark in Kansas and Paige snooping around Pastor Tim's house is excellent. It shows just how similar these two women are - even though Elizabeth is more experienced with the job.