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The Americans: In Control

"Why is the KGB running around like cut off chickens?"

It never occurred to me that the KGB would go nuts if an American president were shot. Or why. Fascinating.

Richard Thomas is doing a great job as Gaad, Stan's intense boss, who was determined to find a KGB link to the assassination attempt. It's interesting to see this through the lens of history, because it seems obvious to me that he is just asking for the Cold War to turn nuclear. Is that what he wants?

But of course, the real draw of this series is how our KGB heroes dealt with the situation. The opening scene where Philip and Elizabeth were having a romantic rendezvous in a hotel was just fascinating. It was like they had to leave their fake lives and their fake marriage in order for their real selves to have a love affair. But they split again when they started dealing with the fallout of the assassination attempt. Elizabeth was a good soldier for the Motherland, ready to tell their KGB handlers every detail of what was happening without considering the consequences, while Philip was questioning their orders and holding back information, using his own judgment.

The scenes with Stan and Nina, his reluctant double agent, gave me insight into what was motivating Elizabeth. Like Nina, Elizabeth's world view is still Soviet, even after spending most of her life in the United States. Elizabeth saw General Haig's actions as an obvious precursor of a military coup, because that's what would have happened in the U.S.S.R. But Philip is an American now, like their kids, and he never thought there would be a coup. Elizabeth allowed Philip's opinion to guide her in the end, and that prevented "Operation Christopher" from going down. I wasn't quite sure what "Operation Christopher" was, except that it obviously included assassinations of people high in the U.S. government. Did Philip just prevent World War III?

While Elizabeth was digging up that wonderfully booby-trapped storage locker in the woods, we got an interesting flashback to an incident in her childhood where her mother turned down much-needed food because she refused to be obligated to anyone. Elizabeth's mother taught her that she could only depend on herself. But the outcome here was the opposite. Elizabeth was glad Philip was right, and she was willing to lie to their handlers to protect him. The final scene was the two of them making love at home and in their own bed, suggesting that their American life together and their marriage is slowly becoming real. Despite my previous obsessions with two other spy shows (here and here), it isn't the spy trappings that I like about this series – it's the focus on Elizabeth and Philip, and their complicated relationship. I'm so very happy that the writers seem to get that.

In other news, Stan's wife (what was her name?) is not happy in D.C., and she's angry that he talked to Elizabeth and Philip about his job, but not to her. (Gee, it's certainly handy that Philip and Elizabeth have an FBI counterintelligence agent across the street that they can discreetly pump for information, huh?) Apparently, Stan's previous undercover assignment was not good for his marriage. Lack of marital communication is a big theme in this series, isn't it?

I also felt bad for double agent Nina, and thought for a moment that she was going to be killed. Stan appears to feel bad about the situation; he tried to be kind to her. I really liked him gently trying to correct her English slang. I think I like Stan.


-- The Reagan assassination attempt took place March 30, 1981. The Jennings's masqueraded as members of the Vice President's staff; back then, the VP was Poppy Bush.

-- Elizabeth unhesitatingly killed that poor security guard. Another reminder that our two "heroes" are also bad guys.

-- Phillip made contact with Charles Duluth, code name 'Sparrow,' who is apparently a fake defector and a reporter.

-- Margo Martindale was back and she has a name now: Claudia. She didn't have a lot to do in this one, but can I mention, since it's my turn to review, that casting Martindale as the KGB boss made me happy?

-- I really liked what daughter Paige said about the news constantly showing the same clips of Reagan getting shot, as if repetition would bring about another outcome. It reminded me of the famous definition of insanity. Maybe that explains network news.

-- This week's wonderful antiquated tech: the super spy phone room. Not unlike Bobby's on Supernatural, and for the same reason.

-- Paige is hanging out with Matthew Beeman. Maybe the Jennings's and the Beemans will end up in-laws in the series finale many years from now. It could happen. The Americans just got early renewal; we're getting a second season.

I really enjoyed this one. Three out of four booby-trapped storage lockers,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Great review Billie! And yes, it truly was fascinating to see that an assassination attempt on a US president would make the whole KGB nervous.

    I am truly starting to like this show, although I found this episode somewhat disturbing when I realized that the cold war was sooo close to trigger a nuclear war. What would have happened if they gone Elizabeth's way and reported their suspicions?? It really showed how war often can be a result of a misunderstanding, or the wrong person making the wrong assumptions/decisions.

  2. This was such an interesting episode for me to watch because the assassination attempt happened before I was born but not long enough before I was born that I studied it in history. Of course the FBI would assume it was the USSR. It makes more sense than some nut was trying to impress Jodie Foster. MUCH MORE.

    I didn't know, for instance, that Brady had been reported dead. I was watching this episode and they said he had died and I was all, that's weird, because he's alive now. Maybe he's a vampire.

    I also loved that Elizabeth assumed there would be a coup. As an American, I take our peaceful transfers of power completely for granted. But someone who grew up in a political unstable country would of course expect there to be serious trouble when it's unclear who is in charge.

  3. In the spring of 1981, I was studying in London. A group of us left the theatre one night and walked into the nearest pub where no one would serve us. Finally, we asked what we had done to cause such offense. "You bloody Americans have just killed your President."

    We all went running back to our flat to turn on the television. It was the middle of the night before we knew that Reagan wasn't dead and that everything was going to be all right. At no time, however, did it occur to any of us that our government was in trouble. As Americans, we assume that any transition of power will be done painlessly.

    That's what I loved so much about this episode -- the conflicting views of that transition. Although I had never thought about it until I saw this episode, of course someone raised in the USSR would assume that a general going on television and saying that he is in charge signals a coup. I wonder how many Americans, if any, had that same thought.

    I loved the bookending of Phillip and Elizabeth making love and I loved what it signified. In the hotel room, it felt illicit and playful. By the end, however, they have come through conflict and the sex felt much more real.

    I thought the conflict was fantastic to watch. Until now, I have felt that Elizabeth was the one calling the shots, that she was the one who held more of the power. Yet now, Phillip stood up to her and told her they were going to do things his way. I wonder how much of his confidence and his willingness to go against his country is based on his new relationship with his wife. While they may be in conflict internally, I think he believes that she now firmly has his back externally.

    I thought the flashbacks were fascinating. While Phillip is learning that he can take charge, make decisions and still have Elizabeth care about him, she is learning that, just maybe, she can rely on someone else and not have to simply rely on herself.

    I like Stan as well and I liked the way that he didn't lie to Sandra but, instead, admitted that things between them are not the same. Did anyone else get a romantic vibe between Nina and him?

    Speaking of shifts in power, I would love a flashback episode of the young KGB couple, with a new baby, dealing with Watergate and the resignation of the President. Next season?

  4. Great review, Billie.

    Chris B, I definitely got romantic vibes between Nina and Stan. It will be interesting to see if that leads anywhere.

    Billie, I thought about Bobbie and Supernatural, too, when I saw the phones.

    What struck me when watching this was to realize how lucky I was as a 14 year old American child because when this happened and it was quickly discovered that Reagan would be o.k., it was barely a blip on my radar. In what other country would this be the case? This show highlights this paradox well. I thought the scene with Stan's son and Phillip and Elizabeth's daughter underlined this point, too. His son has had to live a very different life from most American teens. Their daughter is living a typical teen life without even realizing how quickly that could all change for her.

    Thanks for the great news that the show has been renewed!

  5. Great review Billie!

    I have no memories whatsoever of the Reagan assassination attempt, I was a small kid living on the other side of the world and we didn't have a TV. I don't even remember my parents talking about it. Although when we watched this episode together they said they remembered it all...

    I could totally understand Elizabeth's belief that the General whathisname was preparing a coup (like she said had happened before in the USSR) because for many people it's very difficult (impossible even) to imagine things are done differently in other countries! I lived in southern Mexico (Chiapas) during the 1988 US Presidential election, and my mom says that many people there would constantly ask her who was going to win the election and they refused to believe her when she said she didn't know, nobody knew! They were like "come on! Of course everybody knows who is going to win the elections! It's been decided beforehand!" That's because in Mexico the PRI party had basically an "party dicatorship" in place. For approximately 90 years when a Mexican president stepped down after his 7 years, the appointed PRI candidate was always "elected" as the new president. Everybody knew who the next president would be... (until Fox I think? Don't remember, 15 years ago).

    So when people like that, or like Elizabeth, think of other countries, they think things are done the same way as "back home".

    LOVE how the relationship is evolving between Elizabeth and Philip! And nope, I didn't get any romantic vibes between Stan and Nina.

  6. ma chère CCris,

    I remember the attempt as if it were yesterday. They played the "scene" over and over and over again. And again. So it has permanently marked my memory.

    All that to impress a perfect stranger...

  7. Great review, Billie!

    I'm really enjoying this series, but I did have a problem in this one with Elizabeth shooting the security guard. Before now they've managed to give most of the horrible stuff to other people to keep our sympathy for the two heroes, but they didn't here and it really put me off. It's hard to maintain my sympathy for Elizabeth having seen her execute an innocent citizen, especially when we saw no signs of it affecting her at all.



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