The Americans comes out of the box swinging this week with another outstanding effort at 80’s Cold War goodness. Ronald Reagan is our President and John Hinckley has just squeezed off a few rounds to try and assassinate the Commander in Chief to impress actress Jodie Foster. While I was toiling away in pre-school learning my ABC’s when this historic event occurred, it made for gripping television as the young Russian spies prepare for the worst in the day that unfolds after the shots ring out. The name of the episode “In Control” refers to the confusion regarding what has just happened and who exactly is in line to take the helm of the United States should the President not pull through. What wowed me the most was that The Americans is able to implement things from previous episodes as counter measures to the possibility of World War III. This is not just a stand-alone episode; The Americans has quietly been waiting for something of this magnitude to happen on their watch. The allusions made in previous episodes are important things to remember in this type of series. Storylines that you think are dormant boomerang back unexpectedly, much to the viewer’s delight.
The episode starts out nice enough with Phillip and Elizabeth taking the afternoon off from the travel agency to have a romantic escapade at a ritzy D.C. hotel. After both get their cookies, they head down to the bar area where the other Americans (real Americans) are glued to their TV sets as news rolls about the attempted assassination. While they are both superb actors pretending to be genuinely concerned for the U.S. President, Phillip and Liz must scramble into action immediately to decisively determine whether or not Hinckley was a Russian agent. This aggressive action could be just the coup that starts World War III.
If you remember from Episode 2, entitled “The Clock,” Phillip and Claire have a bug inside the home of Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger. As the Jennings’ receive garbled information from their bug, they debate whether or not to report it to Moscow. The information regards who will be in charge of the “Nuclear Football” (the suitcase with America’s nuclear launch codes) should President Reagan die. Elizabeth is determined to report the news to mother Russia, but Phillip acts on the side of caution, reasoning it will only cause widespread panic. He reasons with Liz that this is not solid intel and reporting it to Moscow can make the situation spin out of control spreading paranoia. Liz throws it in Phillip’s face that he was ready to defect a few episodes back, but he finally gains some ground convincing his wife to do this operation his way.
The dynamic of watching a couple of close to twenty years who do not know each other all that well is remarkably entertaining. After all of this time and the years of cloak and dagger work, they are just now starting to fall in love. Phillip and Liz keep all sorts of spy stuff buried in the woods presumably in a nearby forest. Inside one of their trunks are two high-powered rifles that they pack in their van for any contingencies that may arise. They also have a primitive device able to send codes back to Russia with information about the current situation. It was laughable to see the size of this particular spy toy and how far technology has come since 1981. Gregory, though not seen in this episode, is able to procure a Government Issue car for Liz and Phillip. While in disguise they question a nurse who just got off shift working at the hospital where the President is being treated. They claim to be working for the Vice-President and have the ID’s to go with their story. The kind nurse assures them that the President is OK and is going to be just fine.
Liz meets with their new handler Claudia and she tells her that they must be prepared to implement “Operation Christopher.” What that means we do not know yet, but Phillip has become “Americanized” enough to know not to jump the gun on misinformation coming from American news broadcasts. After all, one of the first erroneous reports was that White House Press Secretary James Brady was dead. Nextdoor neighbor and FBI agent Stan Beeman calls his inside Russian source Nina at the Soviet embassy directly, much to her dismay. Stan must meet with her ASAP to get any pertinent details coming in through the embassy. Nina tells her boss that there is a bar where young D.C. hotshots congregate and it would be prudent to go and pick up some chatter. He agrees, but sends a tail along with her. You have to sympathize with Nina as she did not ask for any of this and is just happy to be in America working for her people. It seems like the perfect marriage of the best of both worlds, but now she is being handled and she is scared. Fear makes us do a lot of things, thus reiterating the title of the episode; it is all about being “in control.” In a scene taut with tension, Stan and Nina walk right past each other on the street purposely. Both Stan and Nina noticed that she had a tail and were wise enough to keep on walking. When they finally do meet in Stan’s car, Nina tries to explain what is going on inside the Embassy. She is shaken and scared and is not cut out for these types of spy games.
While casing Weinberger’s house through the high powered rifles scope to map out how many shots they can get off should they get the go ahead, Phillip and Liz are approached by a neighborhood watch police officer. Liz exits the car pretending to be a lost tourist, but the cop tells her that he must call it in to the authorities as it is standard protocol. When they arrive they will question Liz and Phil and examine the contents of their van. As the patrolman is calling it in, Liz puts a bullet in his head with absolutely no feeling or remorse whatsoever. She has zero emotion about doing what is necessary to maintain their deep cover. At home, Phillip, Elizabeth and the kids head over to Stan’s house to see if he is OK after such a historic day. Obviously they are fishing for information about the attempt on Reagan’s life and the seasoned FBI man is more than willing to give all sorts of details to his spy neighbors, assuring them that Hinckley acted alone and that none of this had to do with Russia. I should point out that Stan and his wife Sandra are having domestic issues and their marriage seems to be very much on the rocks. After three years embedded in a white power type organization, Stan is having trouble communicating with regular people as opposed to psychotic, fringe group members.
Phillip is able to get back to the woods and relay the message to Moscow that he has solid intelligence from the FBI that this attack on American soil has nothing to do with the Russians. For now they are all safe. Exhausted, Phillip returns home to Liz, who lets him know that she is glad they did this his way. It seems that the couple is finally establishing some trust with each other. This was another excellent episode in the freshman series and the cast is really delivering. I recently recommended the show to a friend and although his wife digs it, he is still warming up to the relatively slow pace. I actually like that they do it in that slow fashion because it makes you wonder that if spies had to go through so many hurdles just to get a message to Moscow then, imagine how easy it is today in our culture of On Demand information. Codes and encrypted messages can easily be sent via Facebook, Twitter, burner cell phones and one-time use emails. The Americans is about old school spies and the draining double life you must lead to succeed in the game. Worrying about nuclear war has never been this much fun.
Next week, Liz gets beat up and Phillip gets revenge American style!