The Americans 5.04: “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Review

Carobs & Honey

A Television Review by Akash Singh


In 2004, American journalist and historian Thomas Frank published a book entitled What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank’s primary focus was on the radical shift in populism in his home state, the kind that went from holding corporate thieves accountable to the kind that instead decides to protest inequality by picketing abortion clinics. Why did Kansans shift so vehemently towards consistently voting against their own best interests? is the primary question that drive’s Frank’s text. The answer to that fairly broad question lies in part, he argues, within the diminishing differences between the two major political parties on the execution of core economic issues. Beginning in the final decade of the twentieth century, the theoretically center-left Democratic Party, fearing further presidential losses to the center-right Republicans, began to espouse a more centrist economic platform. Their presidential success in 1992 was seen as the confirmation that a winning strategy, for example, would dismantle the welfare state in favor of a state that would engage in the principles of free trade. Where the two primary political parties would differentiate themselves considerably were social stances, with the Democrats falling to the center-left and the Republicans falling to the center-right. It’s a cursory analysis but a foundational one nevertheless, one that gets to the heart of the reality of systems that are seemingly diametrically opposed to one another failing the people they theoretically serve in equal measure. It’s a continuation of the theme from “The Midges” but it serves this slow-burner of an episode quite effectively.

The episode opens with Elizabeth and Phillip finally acknowledging what the audience has surely wondered from time to time, that the two of them were simply juggling far too much for seven people and they were two. The drive back and forth from Oklahoma City seemed difficult enough, but adding in back and forth trips to Topeka, Kansas every week seemed to be far too much. Gabriel unhelpfully suggests that the two of them go every other week on a singular basis, layering over any potential discomfort with a sharp reminder of the Soviet food crisis, not that anyone needed reminding of that in the first place. Reluctantly, both Elizabeth and Phillip begin their respective Kansas journeys. Elizabeth, in one of her most fantastic wigs yet, shows up as a saleswoman who spills carob everywhere (one of the many food motifs throughout the episode) and tries to hide her immense disgust at making out with a scientist in part responsible for the starvation of an entire country. Phillip in turn does something similar, acting as the typical man in a gym who sees a woman wearing headphones and assumes that somehow that is an invitation to have a conversation that is a thinly veiled attempt at asking the women in question out and or to proposition her for sex. The entire sequence is thoroughly uncomfortable and even though both Elizabeth’s and Phillip’s encounters are overwhelmingly anchored to sex, the disproportionate amount of power in Phillip’s circumstances adds another layer that is difficult to shake off.

Paige in the interim has discovered her own sense of espionage talent, realizing that in spite of herself, there was something about the work of snooping that she had a seemingly innate talent for. She discovers Pastor Tim’s diary and finds possible proof that the pastor had cheated on his wife. Paige, if this is true, would have in some part been let down by two “systems” of parents, if you will. Elizabeth is aghast that Paige put the trust between her and Pastor Tim on thin ice, but she couldn’t help but be a little impressed by her daughter’s instincts. Oleg continues on the warpath of his own, somehow calmly managing supermarket corruption practices before coming clean to his mother about having been compromised in America. She noted that after her marriage, she had been sent to a prison camp. All the wives were. Oleg is horrified by the revelation, but she assures her son that she did what she had to do in order to survive. She formidably tells him to do the same. The implicit truth that no system was going to protect Oleg more than he would able to protect himself rings clearly and loudly far after the episode moves onto another story, one where Stan becomes the surprising semi-defector. He confesses to a superior that he murdered Vlad by shooting him once in the back of the head and if the attempt to draw Oleg in wasn’t called off, then Stan would go public with that information. It’s a stunner of a moment and the catalyst that finally broke Stan’s back arrived through Agent Aderholdt, who calmly noted that some of the FBI had found a compromised target and they “blackmailed the shit out of him.” Everyone ended up happy, Aderholdt added as an adage, just in case the logical assumption of how that ended had taken root. Stan nods and affirms Aderholdt’s ending note, but something had sharply shifted in his eyes. It’s a sharp turn from a man who wanted to head the entire FBI and if the focus on his love life is going to go down the suspected route, Stan may find himself without any system of support at all.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+Henry and the food motifs

+“Labor is therefore not voluntary but coerced…” So Pastor Tim is a Marxist? Him and Elizabeth should talk about Capital over coffee. I would watch that.

+“Who knows what goes on with the good pastor?”



Episode Title: What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Written by: Peter Ackerman

Directed by: Gwyneth Horder-Payton

Image Courtesy: Vox

Source: Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?


Every review from now on will have links to organizations who are in need of resources. Please contribute if you are able:


Syrian Refugee/Refugee Crises

Preemptive Love Collection

World Vision

International Refugee Assistance Project

World Relief

White Helmets

Syria Relief

International Rescue Committee

Hand In Hand for Syria

Karam Foundation

Portland Refugee Support Group

Lutheran Community Services Northwest

Catholic Charities of Portland

Workers’s Justice

Interfaith Worker Justice

Voz Workers’s Rights Education Project

Medical Justice

Doctors Without Borders

The Syrian Medical Society

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Planned Parenthood

Center for Reproductive Rights

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Neighbors for Clean Air

350 PDX

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Northwest Environmental Defense Center



Crag Law Center

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Racial Justice

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

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Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice

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The Trevor Project

Q Center


Friendly House

Equity Foundation


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