AV Club review of "In Control" from "The Americans."
In short, then, the long game The Americans is playing is about how two rival nations avoided starting World War III, when the odds were stacked against such a thing, and how that happened. At the same time, it’s about two people who have avoided seeing their marriage crumble, when the odds are stacked against such a thing. You can see where I’m going with this.
“In Control” is the first episode of the show to play blatantly off of historical events, something that many TV period dramas try to avoid doing, particularly in the wake of Mad Men, which has mostly relegated the things we think of as “the ‘60s” off to the side. Now, since this is a show about Soviet spies and FBI agents in the ‘80s and it’s set in the Washington, D.C., area, the attempted assassination of Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr., couldn’t exactly pass by without comment. What’s fascinating to me is the way that the show erects an incredibly convincing false history around actual events (like Alexander Haig coming into possession of the nuclear football), then uses it to illuminate the marriage of Phillip and Elizabeth. I have some quibbles here, but I’m mostly just impressed with how good the plotting was.