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The fifth season of The Americans ended with a twist Tuesday.
The jam-packed season finale of the FX spy drama saw Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) seriously contemplate a return to Russia but ultimately decide to stay put. The episode, a rare one co-written by showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, was directed by series vet Chris Long.
“We felt it was very emotional,” says Weisberg, looking back on the season. Fields adds that the pair have heard from viewers that the recent episodes have felt slow — but they feel differently about the pacing. “We thought we were moving pretty fast,” he says. “I mean, they got married. Elizabeth told Paige [Holly Taylor] about her rape. Phillip found out about his father. Gabriel [Frank Langella] left. We can hardly keep up. We’re exhausted.”
The series has become more topical this year due to striking parallels between U.S.-Russia relations today and those explored in the show. “If anybody had said a few seasons in that suddenly Russia would be perceived as the greatest threat and possibly one of the greatest enemies that the United States possibly has, we would have said, ‘That’s insane. You are bonkers,'” says Fields.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the executive producers ahead of the season finale’s debut to talk about where things left off, how this season differs from past ones and the drama’s newfound relevance in the current political climate.
What did you hope to accomplish in the season finale?
Joe Weisberg: Having done a season where the marriage had been closer than ever, we really haven’t seen any angry conflict between them. They’ve been solid even though they’ve had to deal with a lot. They’ve been leaning in this direction with them ultimately deciding together that they were going to go home. We wanted to then have them in this place where the rug got pulled out from under them. Elizabeth, who is a patriot and an idealist and somebody who believes in serving their country, really more than anything just couldn’t do it at the last minute. To see what would happen, and to watch Phillip have to deal with that, to watch him as a loving husband accept that rather than get angry, to watch her see him accept her in that way…. Imagine how that would have been dealt with at any other point in their life in earlier seasons and how this titanic event unfolded now.
At what point did you know that they weren’t going back to Russia?
Joel Fields: I think that was really very early in the season break. That was a fundamental part of how the season start.
Paige has been through quite the emotional journey this season. Is it safe to assume that she doesn’t know that her parents were considering going back to Russia?
Fields: She doesn’t know, but she’s in grave turmoil in the beginning of the season. And what we see over the course of the season is her finding a strength, but we know through her parents that the place she’s looking for that strength is a place that comes with quite a cost.
And poor Henry, being told he can go off to boarding school only to find out he can’t.
Weisberg: Yeah, that rug really got pulled out from under him, too.
Fields: Philip really should not have felt the need to be so honest about that. He really could have waited to explain that after the plane landed — it would have been obvious. Phillip is a guy who so wants to be honest. He couldn’t help himself there.
But might Henry be able to go off to school after all?
Fields: Well, we don’t know. We’ll find out. I mean, we know. [Laughs.]
We’ve seen Philip be really conflicted about his work in the past, but this is the first time they’ve actually talked about leaving the job behind. I’m assuming we’ll see this continue to play out in their marriage next season?
Fields: Only on this show could it be a spoiler to say what would be the source of their marital challenges — but it feels like this would get us into the spoiler territory. What we can say is, as always, what we’ve most wanted to explore on this show are the human relationships and the marriage and family story. For sure, that’s going to be a big part of the final season.
Is Philip really going to take a step back?
Weisberg: We’ll find out, won’t we?
Fields: We believe there was a subtle, subtle nod for him in that scene that indicated that intention.
Weisberg: But intention and follow-through, well we’ll see.
Meanwhile, Stan’s future is rather uncertain and he has his girlfriend who we suspect may be a Russian spy. Do you expect the audience to think one way or the other at this point?
Weisberg: No, we think the audience should be as sure as Philip is.
Fields: I think if the audience has good, honest conversation like Philip and Elizabeth, they know as much as…well, they basically know nothing. I don’t say that as a joke because to the extent that this show is about trust and identity, at some point, you are taking one another on face value. We are taking one another based on the interactions we’ve had and how we’re treated and how we’ve seen other people behave. That’s what we have.
Weisberg: Until we find out that we’re married to a deep undercover spy. And then you’re Martha.
Speaking of Martha, we see her story take an unexpected turn with the prospect of adoption. When did you decide that’s where her journey in Russia would lead?
Fields: I think we knew that we had a story for her this season but we didn’t know how many pieces it had or how far it was going to go. It kind of evolved over the season, much to our delight.
Is it safe to assume she goes through with adopting the little girl?
Weisberg: She certainly was talking about adopting a child with Clark. She’s got nothing better to do. She seemed to be pretty moved in that. I think the intent was that she didn’t think it was a bad idea.
There’s been a lot made of the parallels between the show and current U.S.-Russia relations. What do you make of it now?
Fields: I would say that when we started this show, if anybody had said a few seasons in that suddenly Russia would be perceived as the greatest threat and possibly one of the greatest enemies that the United States possibly has, we would have said, “That’s insane. You are bonkers.” And now I would like to propose that by the time this show’s finale airs, that once again that will seem bonkers and that the world will return to a better place where we’re no longer enemies but finding ways to work together and move things in a positive direction as individuals and as a nation.
Weisberg: We’re going to start the movement now. We have until the show’s final season airs. [Laughs.]
You’re now working on the show’s final season, yes? How far are you into the process?
Fields: We have 10 outlines written scene-by-scene in detail, and we are in the process of doing what we call our season review now, where we take all of our stories and define every storyline and rewrite and rewrite. Soon, we’ll start turning in the scripts.
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