Appearances notwithstanding, Elizabeth and her new target Ben didn’t poop all over the floor. Elizabeth/Brenda spilled some capitalist carob at a health food store to lure scientist Ben into a communist meet cute. That was among the things that happened in What’s The Matter With Kansas? That’s the title of a book by Thomas Frank but, frankly, the episode wasn’t based on it…
I had a lot of fun with the title this week. I considered borrowing the title of this old song:
But Elizabeth/Brenda’s colloquy about Gorp with Ben reminded me of a certain great John Irving novel. As the least outdoorsy guy on the planet, I was only vaguely aware of Gorp, which is a form of trail mix according to Garp. Henceforth, I will refer to Ben as (what else?) Gorp Guy and Elizabeth’s Topeka identity as Ebrenda. I wonder if the two of them will play Topeka-boo in the next episode. Things seem to be headed that way. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more.
This episode boiled down this season’s storylines to their essence. The focus was on the main characters: Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, Oleg, and Stan. All of them had food and blackmail on their minds. I’d rather not serve spoilers so we’ll pick things up after the break. But first a musical interlude:
Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship has evolved over the course of the series. Their marriage was obviously arranged by the KGB but they’ve become more like a bona fide married couple. That’s why they’re squirmy about running a Kansas honeypot operation. They try to wiggle out of it but Gabriel is a stern spook daddy this time around. He insists and they relent.
Honeypots Are For The Bees: It looks as if Elizabeth’s lead is more promising than Philip’s. His contact is a cold fish who resists his boyish charms. It could be the wig: it’s wavier and wiggier than usual. Gorp Guy, on the other hand, seems to be an open book: he likes hiking, dirt sleeping, and woodpeckers. I’m not sure if he’s a fan of Woody but we may learn that eventually. We know that Philip enjoys watching nature programs about bees: he’s watching one when Elizabeth returns from Kansas. Holy heavy-handed symbolism, Batman.
Philip remains world-weary and pragmatic about this assignment. He doesn’t want another Martha on his conscience, but is willing to attempt to seduce a woman who is “passionate about logistics.” Yawn. But Elizabeth is a true believer. Ebrenda makes out with Gorp Guy but leaves him wanting more. She *seems* to like him but at episode’s end, we learn that she’s disgusted by making nice with a man she thinks is trying to poison the Russian food supply. But is he? Philip’s scene with Morozov makes it likelier that the fault rested with the Soviet Union’s horrible distribution system: “We still use horses.”
Let’s giddy-up and move on to our next segment:
Parallel Worlds: Stan and Oleg have many things in common beyond having done the slap and tickle with the late double agent Nina Krilova. They’re decent guys doing rotten jobs. Stan remains upset about the CIA’s attempt to blackmail Oleg. The latter thinks Stan has betrayed him but we see Stan go rogue. He meets with the Deputy AG and threatens to expose his execution of the Russian diplomat/spy to the media if they don’t lay off Oleg. What a pal.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Oleg finds himself perturbed by the methods his agency wants to use in exposing food supply chain corruption. It’s really a hunt for scapegoats and Oleg urges his boss and new partner to be “decent” as they play good copski, bad copski. They do not agree but they *do* move up the food chain from the store manager played by Alia Kliouka. She was Svetlana, Livia’s one-legged nurse on The Sopranos. I forgot to mention her last time. I am a slacker Sopranos fanatic.
Gulag Mommie Dearest: I’d previously thought of Oleg’s mother as a grief-stricken and fragile woman. She turns out to be another Russian steel magnolia. Oleg tells her of the CIA’s attempt to blackmail him. She relates her own secret: that she had been imprisoned for five years as a means of keeping her husband in line. In the immortal words of Onslow of Keeping Up Appearances fame:
She advises Oleg to do whatever it takes to survive just as she did as a prisoner of the state. She really knows how to keep up appearances. Now that I think of it, Margo Martindale bears a passing resemblance to Patricia Routledge…
Paging Pastor Tim: Everyone’s favorite lefty minister made his season 5 debut this week. He and Alice have been busy with their newborn baby. It’s time for their first outing and who you gonna call to babysit? Not the ghostbusters, but Paige Jennings. Who the hell would trust Venkman with their kid?
Channeling her spy mama, Paige takes the opportunity to search the premises. She finds Timmy’s diary. Paige’s first thought is that it might contain the name of the lawyer Alice allegedly gave a tape exposing Spy Family Jennings back in season 4. She comes up empty and there aren’t *any* mentions of Paige’s family. But there is some juicy gossip about Tim’s parishioners. It’s gotta be more interesting than reading Tim’s dogeared Karl Marx volume. I believe they prescribe Das Kapital as a sleep aid.
In another fab scene between Paige and her mother, Elizabeth lectures her daughter about the perils of snooping. Ironic, no? But she does concede that there might be some blackmailable stuff in the diary of a mild pastor.
It looks as if Paige is finally warming to the task of being a second generation spook. I almost called her a KGB illegal but she was Born in the USA. But she’s not a “cool rocking daddy in the USA.” That would be Philip. Speaking of his spawn:
Refrigerator White Boy: I was wrong about Mischa’s Philip quest. I thought he’d find his way to America at the end of this season or the beginning of season 6. Instead, he was smuggled out of Yugoslavia in a fridge by a soccer mad Slavic coyote. The previews for the next episode show him with Gabriel. I doubt if he’s there for a meal or to borrow a sweater. Stay tuned.
I’ve tried to avoid using music that was recorded after 1984 but sometimes I cannot help myself. They’re my rules and I can bend them if I want to. That’s why I’m giving Nick Lowe the last word with a song from 1990.