FX’s The Americans just finished up its penultimate season on May 30, 2017 with an episode that left questions dangling about the future of KGB Agents Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). Series creator/executive producer Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields recognize that the fifth season was a slow burn, but the deliberate pace allowed for more time to explore the Jennings family dynamic.
With only one season left to tie up the story of Philip, Elizabeth and their children Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and Paige (Holly Taylor), Weisberg and Fields took part in a conference call to wrap up season five and provide the broadest of hints at the upcoming sixth and final season.
Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg The Americans Interview:
Is the ultimate ending of the series, the season six finale, vastly different from what you originally envisioned or are you following the same path you initially set out on?
Joel Fields: “To our surprise, it is very similar to what we had set out to do. We have now written all 10 outlines scene-by-scene for the final season and we are in the process of refining them before we start writing scripts. We have certainly found ourselves many, many times over the years writing the show surprised as stories have turned in new and unexpectedly fun directions. We really, I think, in many ways expected that this ending we had in mind would change. But although there have been different iterations of it, it has really been different variations of the same ending. It sure seems that that’s where we are headed.”
This season even more so than previous seasons has shown how much of a family drama The Americans is, and not just a spy show.
Joel Fields: “It’s funny. We got about three episodes into our outlines for this current season and [FX President] John Landgraf called us and said, ‘You know what you have found this season is that rather than story propulsion, you’ve found emotional velocity.’ He said, ‘I think this season is the season of emotional velocity.’ We felt like that seems like an apt description of what we were going for.
It was an active choice. All of those personal decisions, getting to the wedding for them was a big transition. Getting to that decision of Elizabeth thinking that the marriage was more important than the mission and it was time to get the family home was a huge thing. And then having the U-turn of that mission becoming so important that she would have to make a different kind of decision but have to do it in the context of protecting this marriage that had become so important to her… All of those things seem to be escalations and challenges that we wanted to explore with the characters.”
How strong is the pull toward home and is there a possibility they’d stay in the United States if their mission is over?
Joel Fields: “Part of what they want is to go home. I think they both want that, in a sense. You’ve been seeing that over the last season, or even season and a half, you’ve seen it more with Elizabeth but with Phil too, there’s a pull towards home so that this idea to get out from under this, that she has had a yearning to return to the place that she loves.
For him, it’s both about being able to make her happy and give her what she wants, but that he has that inside of him too. He’s been thinking about the past and remembering where he comes from. If they’re not going to be spies anymore, she’s not the one who wants to stay and live here otherwise, that that’s the other place. Even if he becomes very accustomed to this, that other place is where he’s from. It is the logical step. We say all the time that if you were CIA officers and were done with your mission, you’d come back to America. So, it’s going home to them.”
Joe Weisberg: “If I can just add to that for Philip, just as in the end for Elizabeth where she’s got to stay and do this mission, she doesn’t want to do it in a way that’s going to harm him. So, she makes that tough proposal to him about his future. I think for him there’s no world in which Elizabeth Jennings is going to quit being a KGB officer and stay in the United States. If she’s going home, he’s going with her because they’re husband and wife.”
How did the idea of the wedding come about?
Joel Fields: “I think that the wedding in episode 10 came about, I’m going to say 80% through the break of the season which meant we had a rough sketch of the ending and it dropped in place afterwards and then everything was refined from there.”
Joe Weisberg: “That’s right. I think we knew that we had the ending and we had to work towards that in a number of different ways.
And this isn’t in answer to this question, but it just popped into my mind about the delicacy of the final scene of the two of them sitting together. You sit there and you watch the depth of those performances between those two actors and the subtleties and the variations that are conveyed on their faces and in their inflections – that is the second to last scene of the season that we shot and was shot when hail started to rain. Keri and Matthew sat there and we had to digitally remove hail from the shot; we had to do sound work to get rid of the hail falling around them, and those two were so committed to that scene. They just kept going and in between takes Matthew was pulling hail out of Keri’s hair. And yet you get that real, deep, nuanced performance.”
How would you describe Martha’s overall journey from the mail robot days to this season?
Joe Weisberg: “Well, one of the things is it’s so interesting to look at the ending in that in the very early days she was this victim and in this terrible place and we’d say, ‘Poor Martha.’ And one of those things you saw in those early days is she wanted more than anything else to have a baby. She asked Clark for that and that was shut down. She was never going to get that. And then sure enough at the end of this crazy, horrendous journey where she’s on the one hand been treated so horribly, on the other hand she’s shown such strength and fortitude – almost more than anyone could have imagined – and then at the end she gets this thing which is what she always wanted most. More than anything else it’s a surprise and it’s moving. You can’t say that it’s any kind of fate or justice or recompense. It’s just what happened to this woman.
It’s a story of how the KGB was able to both do these most awful things to her and then still take care of her in the most loving and kind way. We think that that tells a lot about the people and about the organization that they’re capable of both of those extremes, and in her ability to weather all these storms and still find a source of love in her life. I think it mostly just feels human to us.”
Given the current impact Russia’s having on America, will that in any way affect the story moving forward or make the show even more relevant?
Joel Fields: “It doesn’t affect our story because the story does take place in the ‘80s so we don’t let any of that come in. But in terms of the relevancy of the show, on the one hand we’ll leave that to others. On the other hand, we certainly know that it changes the way the show is experienced by the audience and we hope to the extent the show is about what it means to have an enemy, about the fact that ironically one of the things that connects us all as human beings is the fact we all seem to need to have an ‘other’ and to create an enemy. To the extent that those things are placed thematically, we hope that it’s a good time to have a show on the air that challenges people’s ideas about that and reminds people that even our greatest enemies are human beings.”
Did you always plan to expand the scope of the show to Russia?
Joel Fields: “We did not plan that at all, no. We had the residentura; we always liked doing the storyline of Russians speaking Russian and always thought that was a fundamental part of the show. But we never thought we’d be going back and telling long stories in Russia.
Nina ended up back there for a little bit of a story, but then when Oleg went back suddenly that opportunity presented itself and we thought that was great. We could tell the story of what was taking place in that society and show a lead character of ours living his life there. That got us very excited, both in terms of stories we could tell there and visually what we could show about life in Russia.
The real connection with Philip and Elizabeth was more just a counterpoint than anything else. They were thinking of going back there and they’re remembering their life. It all plays against just a modern reality of what’s taking place there.”
Were you tilting the table a little bit toward Stan’s new girlfriend being in the KGB?
Joe Weisberg: “Our effort is not to tilt. Our effort is to be so ambiguous that nobody knows what the hell is going on.”
Was the idea that Paige and Henry would want to go to Russia more of a wishful thinking kind of thing or something Philip and Elizabeth thought they could actually get away with?
Joel Fields: “I remember looking at every one of those scenes with Joe and asking basically that question which is, ‘Where are they, how firm are they, and to what extent are they deluding themselves?’ What is the story they’re overtly telling themselves? We tried to have as many layers of that in there as possible so that if we were successful, you can look at those scenes and see many of those things simultaneously at play.”
Will the pace accelerate in the final season?
Joel Fields: “What we can promise is that the pace should feel different next season because we want every season to feel different. That’s something we set out to do at the beginning of each of our seasonal creative processes, and this final season is the same. It will definitely have a different feeling and pace than this past season and we hope from all the other seasons.”