Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: The Americans 1.04: "In Control"

“Because I fit in just fine. But I remember where I came from. Not having all of these things. It being about something bigger than just myself.”

“In Control” centered around one of those big news events that probably would have been important to me if I had been alive when it happened. It turns out I missed the Reagan assassination attempt by a little over two-and-a-half years. It was interesting to see the Soviet interpretation of the event, and heck, it was even interesting to see the American perspective. The fact that President Reagan was shot once was kind of a dry, boring historical fact that I learned. I’d like to do a little more research into the Reagan assassination, actually. I’m kind of a Cold War history buff, although I’ve generally been drawn more towards events in the 60’s and 70’s. Some of the conversations that took place in this episode felt very informed by 9/11, and I wonder if people actually talked about events in that way in 1981.

The episode opens with Elizabeth and Phillip really wanting to get their groove on. After the kids go to school, they head to a fancy hotel. Elizabeth and Phillip enjoy their romp, but as they are leaving the hotel, they see some disturbing news on television. President Reagan has been shot. They are also saying that James Brady has died (we know now that he didn’t, although he was paralyzed), and the Secretary of State gives a press conference saying he is “in control” of the government. This is a bit of a faux pas, considering there are others ahead of him in the Order of Succession. The Russian characters in the show all think this could mean a coup has taken place, and even if there is no coup, there is concern that the U.S. might blame this on the U.S.S.R. As a result, frantic actions are set in motion.

The Soviets have good reason to be concerned about the blame game, at least. The immediate first reaction over on the FBI side is to see if the assassination attempt was at all remotely connected to the Soviets. As Stan’s boss puts it, if Hinckley ever so much as said “nyet” in his life, he wants to know about it. This means that Stan needs to contact Nina, and quickly. What makes the situation complicated is that the Rezidentura is super busy at the moment, too. Stan thinks he can send a signal that will ensure a meeting within 24 hours, but that is not fast enough for his boss. Nina tells Vasili that she wants to go listen in on conversations at a bar Congressional staffers frequent. Vasili encourages this idea, but he doesn’t quite trust Nina, and he has her followed.

Elizabeth meets up with Claudia, and the news is not good. Those frantic actions I referred to earlier come into play. Elizabeth is instructed to prepare for “Operation Christopher,” which I gather, in the universe of the show at least, was the Soviet plan for guerrilla war in the United States. We see Elizabeth go to a remote field to dig up a chest of sniper rifles and dynamite. The Soviets mean business. That particular scene almost feels clichéd in its melodrama (they really were all doomsday prepper?), but I think it does some good work in illuminating Elizabeth’s thought process. Elizabeth believes in the Motherland above all else, while Phillip is a bit more skeptical and deliberate. We will see this dynamic play out throughout the episode, especially when the tension is ratcheted up further by a conversation involving the Secretary of Defense that Phillip and Elizabeth overhear. There are references to fighter planes and a duplicate “nuclear football” (briefcase with our nuclear codes).

When they’re not doomsday prepping, Phillip and Elizabeth are methodically trying to gather intelligence. Phillip uses a media source who is friendly to the cause to get the names of some of the staff at the hospital where Reagan was taken. Phillip and Elizabeth then pay a visit to the home of one of the hospital’s nurses. They roll up in a government car (courtesy of Gregory, which clearly doesn’t make Phillip happy), and they pretend to be staff in the Office of the Vice President. They tell the Nurse that the Vice President needs to know the truth about the President’s condition. Happily for everyone, the nurse says that Reagan is expected to pull through. This assuages one of the two big fears. There will be no coup, this time, at least.

Nina’s rendezvous with Stan is a really close call. Amador is supposed to be keeping an eye on the situation from a window above, but he somehow misses the fact that a car is trailing Nina. Stan, however, still has actual spy instincts, spots the tail, and calls of the meeting with Nina. Nina goes into the bar she had said she was going to, and all is well for now. Stan and Nina do get to meet up later, but Stan doesn’t get a ton of intel out of the conversation. The Russians were confused too, and there is some humor around Nina not understanding the idiom “chicken with its head cut off.” The conversation, at least, does go a ways in convincing Stan that there was no KGB involvement in the assassination attempt.

Preparing for Operation Christopher is quite emotional for Elizabeth and Phillip. There’s a scene where they have a screaming match over whether Phillip has become too American. There’s also a scene where they’re mapping out sniper angles in the Secretary of Defense’s neighborhood and they get caught be security. Elizabeth just flat out shoots the security guard in the head. Elizabeth wants to report the conversation they heard about the nuclear football to Moscow, but Phillip really wants to delay until they know for sure whether or not there is a threat. Luckily, Phillip’s slow and methodical approach wins the day, and there is no unnecessary Cold War escalation. Phillip talks to Stan and finds out the FBI believes Hinckley had mental health issues and wasn’t a spy, and that plus the nurse’s intel is enough to ease Moscow’s fears. Elizabeth ends up admitting to Phillip that he was right on this one, and that is a very difficult thing for her to do.

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