'The Americans' Season Finale: The Spy Show's Producers Break Down the Events of Season 5
[Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead unless you’ve watched "The Soviet Division," the Season 5 finale of The Americans. Plot points are discussed below.]
The Americans—FX’s Cold War spy thriller about Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings, an all-American couple who are in fact, Russian spies—finished its fifth season on Tuesday with an abrupt turnaround.
After making the difficult decision to end their two-decade covert mission and head back to the Motherland with their kids Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Salati), Philip learned that the highly placed American official whose home he’s bugged had been given a plum new job: overseeing all things related to the Soviet Union. When Philip told Elizabeth, she insisted that it was their duty to stay, since he had befriended his target’s teenaged daughter Kimmie (Julia Garner) and had ongoing opportunity to retrieve the tapes.
The Americans’ executive producers Joe Weisberg (who is also the series creator) and Joel Fields talked about the finale and the rest of Season 5 to a few reporters. Here are some takeaways.
The producers cop to the show having a slow burn this season.
“We wanted to take the gas pedal off the spy missions and focus on the dynamics of the family stories,” they say. FX president Jon Landgraf, they recount, called the more languid pace “the season of “emotional velocity.”
Among those emotional storylines: the surprise, tender and clandestine Russian Orthodox wedding. It was an event that Elizabeth wouldn’t possibly have imagined—or wanted— as she was living in what was mostly a sham marriage when the show began. Weisberg and Fields reveal that in the aftermath, as the actors sat outside together, they were being pelted by hail.
“In between takes, Matthew was pulling hail out of Keri’s hair,” Weisberg recalled. If you don’t recall that, it’s because the show digitally removed all signs of the frozen rain.
Despite indications to the contrary over the seasons, it wasn’t just Elizabeth who wanted to go home.
Elizabeth’s longing for her homeland may always have been stronger, but Philip has also “been thinking about the past and remembering where he comes from,” says Weisberg .
Elizabeth put her marriage above anything else, in the finale’s last moments.
Though she decided that they had to stay in the U.S. so Philip could keep retrieving the official’s ever-more-important tapes, she told her husband that he could step back from any further missions. As zealous as she is about serving the USSR, Elizabeth’s offer came from a place of “compassion, love and real understanding” of the burn-out her husband was experiencing, says Fields. Though he was a trusted partner in espionage, the marriage came first.
The move home was postponed, but would Paige and Henry really ever accept a life in Russia?
The couple had lots of conversation about the best way to bring their kids around to moving to Russia and when to tell them. Their acceptance could be wishful thinking, the producers admit. “Is the story they’re telling themselves dominated by self-conscious pushes and self-deceit? “ Fields poses.
Back in the USSR
The somewhat controversial longer Russia-set segments were not originally planned, Weisberg and Fields reveal. KGB officer Oleg Burev’s (Costa Ronin)return to Moscow, however, gave the show the opportunity to explore what was happening in the Jennings’ homeland in the ‘80s, and use those scenes as a counterpoint to their memories of what was decades earlier a very tough life.
“Poor” Martha (Alison Wright) might actually find some happiness in Mother Russia.
For the cynics among us, that scene in a Moscow park where a KGB officer takes the exiled Martha, in her now familiar babushka, to watch a group of orphans playing, seemed too good to be true, even when the functionary suggested that she could adopt a child of her own.
But, it's quite possible, we’re told, that Martha—who has lost everything, including her “husband,”(i.e. Philip, posing as a government worker named Clark) and her country—might indeed finally get the baby she always wanted. “You can’t call it fate, justice or recompense,” said Fields. “It’s just what happened to this woman.’
The KGB had its good side.
Finding Martha a baby was also a way for the show to highlight a more humane side of the KGB, the producers admit. That, along with the truth-based story of Oleg and his fellow KGB officers fighting corruption in the Soviet Union’s food industry, are a way, the producers say, “to remind people that even our greatest enemies are human and challenges their ideas about creating enemies.”
Not every Jennings operation will have an on-air resolution.
Once again, the creators follow reality in their scripts. Some missions will conclude, and others could go on indefinitely. Using the Kimmie story as an example, they say Phillip is presumed to have been meeting the girl regularly, but not until something “really interesting happens”—i.e. her father’s new assignment—does it warrant onscreen attention. “It wouldn’t be true to what their lives are really up to,” says Fields, “to have to wrap every story up,”
Haven’t there been more hints that FBI agent Stan Beeman’s (Noah Emmerich) girlfriend Renee (Laurie Holden ) is actually a KGB operative?
Nope, Fields says. “Our effort is to have it really so ambiguous that nobody knows what the hell is going on."
They’ve known the series’ ending since the beginning of the show, and they’re sticking to it.
Despite unexpected turns in the storyline during its run, Weisberg and Fields expect the finale of the series “to be very similar” to what they had originally planned. “We’re surprised actually,” Fields says.
What that conclusion is, of course, only those with the highest security clearance can know.
The Americans will return in 2018 for its sixth and final season on FX.