“One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” (episode 3.11) continues the recent trend of episodes of The Americans having odd titles. Episode 3.09 had the nearly incomprehensible title of “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep”—which, of course, was an allusion to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. While that episode of The Americans did indeed have a robot that delivered mail as part of its plot, nothing in the episode connected it to either Dick’s novel or the film Blade Runner that was based on Dick’s novel.
However, “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” does actually have a small connection to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Nevertheless, it’s still an odd title for this episode; it’s not an accurate indication of what the story is about.
In The Americans, Anton Baklanov is a Soviet scientist and mathematician who is a fictional analog to the real-life Soviet scientist and mathematician Petr Ufimtsev. The main difference between the fictitious Baklanov and the real Ufimtsev is that actual man never defected to the United States; he has always lived in either the Soviet Union or one of its subsequent republics. However, the fictional Baklanov defected to the US in the late 1960s.
In the real world, Ufimtsev came up with mathematical equations about how electromagnetic waves reflect off two-dimensional shapes—and those equations were then used by scientists in Lockheed’s Skunk Works division to develop the radar-avoidance technology that was used in the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters that Lockheed manufactured in the early 1980s. However, in The Americans, Baklanov worked for Lockheed after he defected and helped the corporation to develop that technology.
The character appeared in four episodes in season two during an extended arc in which Philip and Elizabeth were assigned to abduct him so he could be sent back to the Soviet Union to develop stealth technology for the Russians, and/or develop a way to detect the American aircraft that employed such technology.
In this season, Nina Krilova (Stan Beeman’s former Russian lover and double agent who was sentenced to prison in the Soviet Union for committing treason) has been given the task of discovering whether Baklanov’s lack of progress is due to the problems he has claimed or if he is intentionally being counter-productive. Nina has been promised her freedom from the Soviet labor camp if she can get Baklanov to confide in her about the work he is supposed to be doing.
Okay, so that’s the exposition for who Anton Baklanov is as a character in the TV series. Now for the exposition regarding Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
As the title of the novel indicates, it presents one day in the life of the fictitious Ivan Denisovich, who was sentenced to ten years in a Soviet labor camp during the 1950s. However, though the book is obviously a work of fiction, the character is at least partly based on Solzhenitsyn himself—as he was a prisoner in the Gulag labor camp system from 1945 to 1953.
Through his fictitious analog, Solzhenitsyn gave the world its best glimpse inside the Soviet Gulag system. Thus, we might expect an episode of The Americans titled “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” to provide a similar glimpse into the Soviet Gulag system—but we would be wrong!
While there are scenes set in the labor camp, it isn’t the focus of the episode at all. Oddly, the focus is not on Anton Baklanov either. What’s more, at least two days pass during the course of the episode—perhaps three days!
I guess “Three Days in the Life of Anton Baklanov” just didn’t have the right ring to it—particularly since we hardly see Anton Baklanov. His scenes probably account for about 10% to 15% of the episode.
As with “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep,” the title of this episode appears to have more to do with the writers and producers wanting to show how well they can allude to a literary work than in actually creating a literary allusion that provides substance to the episode. However, I’m not implying that “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” is a bad episode. On the contrary, it’s an excellent episode—it just has a poorly conceived title that will disappoint anyone who was expecting a substantial connection to Solzhenitsyn’s novel.
If anything, this episode does a better job in subtly (and perhaps unintentionally) alluding to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta—not the insipid movie that starred the amazing Natalie Portman, but the amazing graphic novel that could have been made into an equally amazing film.
If it weren’t for the fact that they were wearing better clothes, many of the scenes between Anton and Nina that are set in the labor camp’s cafeteria look like they could have been “lost footage” from the Ministry of Truth’s cafeteria scenes in the Nineteen Eighty-Four film that starred John Hurt as Winston Smith.
Additionally, Nina’s search of Anton’s room leads to her discovery of the epistolary story he has been writing to his 13-year-old son, Jacob, who is still in the United States, and who has no idea of what happened to his father. While we don’t see much of the content of Anton’s epistle to his son, it reminded me of the letter to Evey that Valerie wrote on toilet paper in V for Vendetta.
It is Nina’s discovery of Anton’s letter to his son that reinforces the empathy she was already beginning to feel towards him. Later, she intentionally references what he has written in the letter as a way of letting him know that she has been given the task of spying on him, but she tells him she will not reveal his letter to her superiors. His secret is safe with her.
Of course, Evi Sneijder also believed she could trust Nina not to reveal her secrets to the Soviet government, and Evi probably paid for that trust with her life after they dragged her from her cell—so we shall see what Nina might actually do with Anton’s letter if she sees it as the means to achieve her freedom from the Gulag.
The episode doesn’t quite match its title, but it would have been an interesting departure for The American’s if the entire episode had taken place in the Soviet Gulag and actually shown us a day in the lives of Anton and Nina. However, the majority of the episode was set in the United States and focused on the anxiety that Paige, Philip, and Elizabeth have all been experiencing after Paige learned of her parents’ duplicitous lives as Soviet spies.
Thus, there is a thematic connection, as the parent-child anguish Anton is experiencing about his son (and the anguish he imagines his son is experiencing over his father’s inexplicable disappearance) is reflected in the parent-child anguish in the Jennings’ household.
This anguish eventually led to Paige and Elizabeth having a discussion in their car while its parked in the family’s garage—with Paige sitting symbolically in the driver’s seat. During their conversation, Elizabeth told Paige about her mother—Paige’s grandmother—who is still in Russia, and how Paige has the same indomitable spirit her grandmother has. However, Elizabeth’s emotional ploy may not have worked, as the conversation concludes with Paige asking, “How can I believe anything you say?”
And the final bit of parent-child anxiety concerns Elizabeth and her mother back in Russia. Her mother is terminally ill, and it is only a matter of weeks before she is likely to die. However, due to her job as a KGB agent, Elizabeth cannot simply book a flight to Russia to see her mother before she passes—though Philip has been attempting to get the KGB’s central office to arrange a covert trip to Russia for Elizabeth.
As they discussed the idea of a trip in bed one morning, Paige walked in and asked if it would be possible for Elizabeth to make such a trip to see her mother one last time. When Elizabeth answers that it is not possible, Paige quickly leaves the room with an expression of distaste. It’s unclear why she had that look on her face—what her reaction actually is—but it leaves open the possibility that Paige might still turn her parents over to the FBI. After all, Stan Beeman just lives across the street.
If the series had not been renewed for another season, I’m certain the final episodes would have involved Paige turning in her parents. However, now that the series is coming back next year, I’m wondering if we will see Paige become the junior KGB agent Elizabeth has been told to groom her into.
Overall, this was an excellent episode with a great deal more complexity being added to subplots I‘ve not even mentioned in this review—such as what’s going on with Martha as she has to undergo a second interview by Walter Taffet regarding the electronic listening device that was found in her boss’s office (the replacement of which is now roving the halls of FBI headquarters inside the mail robot that isn’t dreaming of anything).
The only real problem with this episode is its title and its empty allusion to a novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It just isn’t an accurate description of what the episode is about. Considering the motif of parent-child anxiety, a better title might have been one that alluded to a song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash: