'The Americans' Recap: Season 1 Episode 4 'In Control'

By Chris Baggiano,

“In Control” brought the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan to the forefront causing miscommunication and hysteria on the side of the USSR. This event further fueled the tension between Phillip and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, “In Control” often felt uneven and confusing as much of the story received little introduction. It felt too busy and generally lacked focus.

The assassination attempt on President Reagan brought about confusion for both sides. Stan and the FBI immediately focused all their energies into discovering whether this was a KGB sanctioned attack with the FBI director forcing Stan to set up a meeting with Nina. Likewise, Phillip and Elizabeth weren’t sure if the KGB was behind it either but they also received additional tasks. Phillip took it upon himself to try and find some more information about Reagan’s health status while Elizabeth met with Claudia (i.e. Granny, the new boss, from last week’s episode) and was commanded to move forward with Operation Christopher.

The confusion came from a seemingly innocuous statement that General Haig made to the press following the shooting in regards to the succession of power stating that he was in control of the White House. There was something lost in translation between his statement and the freak out of the KGB. It would have been smart to have a conversation between Phillip and Elizabeth in regards to this supposed coup and what that meant for the KGB and their prospective actions. Instead the episode felt very muddled as to the reason behind why the KGB felt there was a coup in place.

The addition of Operation Christopher only furthered the confusion. The operation entailed Elizabeth to begin scouting a possible assassination on Haig, if not other upper commanders. Operation Christopher is clearly no small-scale operation, any time you plan on assassinating the Secretary of Defense, it should have more gravitas. A previous mention of planning for this Operation would have helped the audience immerse themselves in the tension of the scene even more, plus may have shed some light on what the operation exactly was and when it was supposed to be utilized. It seems the goal was to kill Haig in hopes of him not beginning a coup, thus ensuring he wouldn’t be able to start a nuclear war with the USSR by blaming Reagan’s assassination attempt on the KGB. Also, while scouting out Haig’s residence, Elizabeth and Phillip are discovered by a local policeman who Elizabeth kills because he was going to call in their appearance in the neighborhood. Hopefully this action will have ramifications.

As all of this was unfolding Phillip was calling in favors from KGB operatives, one of which is a media personality, to try and find Reagan’s status after surgery. This storyline was the easiest to follow but, due to time constraints from the other story lines, felt a little rushed and after some early focus (including a montage) was forgotten with everything else going on. He and Elizabeth did end up finding out Reagan’s status from a nurse by posing as two officials from the Vice President’s staff.

In fact the main drama and tension of the episode came when Elizabeth and Phillip listened to some garbled recording of a private Haig conversation from the bug they planted earlier in the season. In it Haig made a mention of the nuclear football which is the briefcase that contains many of the nuclear weapon launch codes. Upon hearing this Elizabeth wants to immediately tell the KGB but Phillip puts his foot down by telling her they would sit on it because he didn’t feel the recording was clear enough. The differences between the characters were perfectly encapsulated in this scene.

Elizabeth cares all about country and, as revealed in a flashback in this episode, has been taught to rely only on herself. She believes that giving the USSR the upper hand is all that matters. Phillip, whether he is fond of the USA or not, says that he always felt their job was to keep the peace and not make war. Phillip knew that relaying that information to the KGB would have escalated a situation that was entirely misread by the higher ups and would likely bring war. As revealed later in the episode, when Phillip made the decision to not relay the information, he knew he and Elizabeth would be facing dire consequences from the KGB if they ever found out. In a return to the solidarity and the budding connection the two are going through that was shown at the end of “Gregory” and the beginning of “In Control” (think hot midday hotel date), Elizabeth assured Phillip she wouldn’t tell if he didn’t.

On the FBI side, Stan was forced to call Nina at the embassy to set up the meeting. As phones were ringing off the hook Nina finally decided to meet Stan and lied to her boss about where she was going. She was followed by the embassy but Stan realized this in the nick of time. This also caused some tension between Stan and his partner, somewhat randomly, because his partner did not notify Stan of the car following Nina. Once they met Nina chastised Stan for contacting her at the embassy and revealed that, to the best of her knowledge, the USSR had nothing to do with the assassination attempt. Apparently, Stan is also having problems at home with his wife, although the scene’s inclusion felt really random.

Paige also received some time to develop her character. She seems to be crushing on Stan’s son, Mike, a little bit. She revealed to him that she didn’t understand why the news continually showed the footage of Reagan getting shot over and over again, feeling it was gratuitous. Eventually she backtracked on that statement to get back in Mike’s good graces. Paige seems to have a bit of her mother’s mentality for seeing the cold hard truth and being able to sift past emotions, so the tug-of-war between Elizabeth’s desire for Paige to be sympathetic towards the Soviets and Paige’s inherent American patriotism has just added another wrinkle.

image: Fox

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