“In Control” was the first episode so far to really depict what the Cold War was about; the minor misunderstandings leading to high tensions and possibly explosive outcomes. With the attempted assassination of President Regan both sides of the fictitious war sprang into action. The Americans began searching for evidence the Russians were behind the attack while Moscow armed itself in preparation for being blamed. All it resulted in was a lot of huffing and puffing, threats and suspicions and then a lot of backing down when they realized that, like most assassins, it was just a crazy guy looking for some attention.
In many ways The Americans is a quality show. The production value is high, the acting excellent and the points made about the absurdity of the Cold War are often times eye opening and interesting. But, the point where these encouraging aspects begin to fall apart is when they try to convey an actual representation of what the Cold War was like for those fighting it. As I said, this episode was a perfect example of the Cold War, but the attempt to depict the tensions that lead to near disasters fell flat.
In short, there is no tension because there is no sense of urgency or danger for the audience. We know that the Russians had nothing to do with Reagan’s assassination attempt just like we know the ensuing confusion didn’t result in World War III. The perception of the Russians was interesting (that they assumed Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s proclamation of “I’m in control here” was indicative of a coup instead of an egotistical wind bag), but the tone of the show wasn’t aiming for interesting it was aiming for thrilling. And thus, The Americans encountered its first major misstep.
The Americans must have some idea that thrilling espionage is not the best course of action, because they also offered plenty of character drama this week. Philip and Elizabeth continued to work on their relationship like most couples by sneaking off for a little afternoon delight at a swanky hotel. Of course spy work has its marriage benefits as well because after a hard day of preparing for guerilla warfare they still had the energy to go for round two.
But round two was much more about making amends. Elizabeth was ever the loyal soldier and agreed with the orders coming down from Moscow. Her many years in America have done little to sway her from the teachings of her homeland, but her husband seems to have been more observant. While Moscow called coup and had all their spies preparing to take down important American leaders, Philip recognized that a declaration of control in America is much different than in Soviet Russia. His calm, level headed thinking saved the world from nuclear warfare and he got a little action. Not bad for a day’s work.
But what does that mean for the show’s future? Elizabeth realized her husband knows more about America than she does and she also conceded that our government is perhaps safer than the one she’s used to. We know that the Cold War never really amounted to much, so where will that leave these spies? Will they defect to America and live out the rest of their years in capitalist peace or will they return to the country they haven’t seen for twenty years and endure the tumult of the designation of the Soviet Bloc? I think it’s obvious which sounds like the happier ending to us, but what ending will the Jennings find more appealing? And, more importantly, as they sink further into their roles as instruments of destruction (killing a neighborhood security officer, etc.) which ending will we decide they deserve?
There are many interesting questions that still need to be answered, so misstep aside, The Americans is still doing something right.
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