An assassination attempt on President Reagan forced the KGB and FBI to prepare for nuclear war, while both sides parsed out leadership claims made by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. With a universe shown through individuals whose lives wholly revolve around the hypothetical conflict of two disparate nations, "In Control" gave us some tangible examples of what the crucial step just before war might actually look like: political machinations, unburied weapons, and scoped-out targets. History has shown us how the Cold War shook out, so ultimately The Americans isn’t about whether or not guerilla warfare comes to the U.S.; it's more of a discussion of humanity’s role in inhumanity. Temporarily putting Phillip and Elizabeth’s marital woes aside (for the most part), this fourth installment focused more on the familial dynamics that exist between a citizen and her government. The result was a new, yet familiar angle on The Americans’ growing theme of personal interests conflicting with a larger force.
At the end of the day, every public body is made up of a bunch of people. Governments, clubs, organizations, movements all consist of folks in varying degrees of status either calling the shots for said group, or putting orders into action. Forget about those caught in the crossfire (scared hotel worker, Beeman’s son), the question is, who’s most important? Well, as last night’s episode proved, whoever holds the information. While Phillip and Elizabeth hustled to collect the most up-to-date intel on President Reagan’s condition, and Beeman investigated a non-existent KGB connection, both parties’ respective superiors were raring to pull the trigger on nuclear war. Sure, those bombs are mighty powerful, but what’s stronger is the ability to stop or start those bombs, and the withholding of information that would start World War III fell into the hands of a select few on the front lines: Nina, chest-puffing congressional aides, the bullet-catching secret serviceman, and the poor, lead-brained neighborhood security guard all represented figures closer to a danger than their respective leaders.
As Phillip and Elizabeth further shed their unquestioned devotion to Mother Russia in the name of family, we’re seeing an unpredictable team, albeit one that still honors responsibility. Working in sync as a true married couple (with romantic feelings expressed in hotel meetups) yielded discussions about mission assignments as recognizable and relatable as whether or not to stop and ask for road-trip directions. Except the destination was possible guerilla warfare, and as the compassionate one in the duo, Phillip was reluctant to turn preparation into escalation. Elizabeth retorted with a relationship classic: "You think you understand things so much better than I do... why?" Well, because he kind of likes America, and that allows him to see things she can’t. He understands the enemy, the same way Beeman cares for Nina so far as she can provide him valuable tips. Similarly, Elizabeth’s blind hatred of the U.S. prevented her from reading Haig’s declaration for what it was (I looked it up, he was talking about the Executive Branch, not gunning for the Oval Office), and the gorgeous FBI asset’s ignorance of American life made her read the situation incorrectly. It just goes to show how effective discussion can be in moments as tense as this, or as Nina put it, "Both sides have their fingers on the trigger and that’s how it happens. One mistake is all it takes." In both cases, we’re getting two opposing sides forced to protect the very faction each is against for an ultimate greater good.
Now as a series of flashbacks attested, we’re still getting more on Elizabeth’s backstory than Phillip's, which I’m guessing is because he’ll draw the focus on the latter half of the season. When he does, his history better be a doozy. For now, Matthew Rhys is doing such a fine job of bringing everything about Mr. Jennings to life that I’m happy waiting. But back to Elizabeth, or should I say "Nadezhda," and her lessons from mother: uh, basically self-reliance. Not sure we needed any more reasons as to why Elizabeth is such an independent woman, but going forward there could be some terribleness revealed with her mom + Russia, and that kind of thing always seems character-defining. Also, it could inform her relationship with Paige a little more. Either way, it was a big deal for her to relinquish control to Phillip, who, yeah let’s face it, basically took charge like a champ. But we know Elizabeth is capable of going her own way (i.e. straight deading that poor Rent-a-Cop point blank), so following her husband’s lead after all her doubts and back-room loving signified yet another turning point in their relationship. One that put them even further ahead of Stan Beeman and his wife. There’s been no shortage of love for Beeman in the comments section, and I’ll go ahead and throw my hat in the ring too for the fella. Between his scene with Nina, which kind of felt like a first date, and his all-too-real conversation with his increasingly estranged wife, the quote-unquote bad guy is coming off as a very sympathetic figure. Try as he might to live a traditional American life, the Jennings still outshine his marriage by the simple fact that they share so much time and information together.
Oh spies, is there anything they can't do?
– Welp, there goes the Jennings’ first secret from Moscow. Hopefully this brings them closer together.
– Wonder if Dead Security Guard is going to come back to bite the Jennings in the ass.
– Dang, anyone else learning a lot about history from this show’s references? Now I know what the Solidarity Trade Union Movement is (no thanks to public school).
– Really liked the Charles/Sparrow character.
– Man, Amador is STILL getting crap—this time from Beeman for not reporting the car glare.
– Claudia sees something in Elizabeth. Wonder if she’ll turn Elizabeth against Phillip one day.
– Hey real footage taught me that the news reported “James Brady” was killed, when he wasn’t. Way to pull through dude!
– Very rad telephone sequence set to Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Pictures on My Wall.” Happy to have '80s music back, but look, it’s 1981, we’re in D.C. Where’s Minor Threat? Where’s Bad Brains?!
– WTF with Paige and the Beeman boy talking about “Travel agenting is a world filled with peril.” Hmm, is the Jennings daughter too child-actory to bring anything to the table?
– So many historical interweavings this episode.