'The Americans' Finale: Keri Russell & Matthew Rhys on the End of the Jennings' Story
After six seasons on FX, The Americans signed off Wednesday night... and not in the way most fans thought it would
First off, married Soviet spies known as Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) both survived! That should please all except for those who can't forgive Elizabeth for the many deaths at her hands. OK, I’d be in that category; I'd welcome a grand death scene that the brilliant stars would kill. And I probably wouldn’t minded a good sob. But executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Brooks opted for the non-sensationalist option — disregarding some corpse leg-breaking and decapitation.
In a surprise move, next door neighbor and FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) let the family of spies go. They stopped for a snack and an emotional call to Henry, who they had decided to leave behind to enjoy an American life, and then boarded a train for Canada. But then came another shocker: Paige got off at the last stop before the border and when we last see her, she’s quaffing vodka in the empty apartment that belonged to former handler Claudia (Margo Martindale).
All that was left was for the bereaved parents to get to Moscow. Were we expecting KGB assassins to show and execute the once-faithful spies, now working for Gorbachev’s liberal faction? Didn’t happen, but who knows if it will.
Below, Russell and Rhys share with TV Insider their feelings about the conclusion of Elizabeth and Philip's stories, what they thought of how the series ended, and what they think comes next for their characters.
What surprised you most in the finale?
Keri Russell: All of it. I had no idea it would such a route of devastation with the kid. I did not see the Henry aspect at all. You’re watching this couple go through the series and you’re rooting for them, but you want them to pay. They chose the most painful way for them to pay, they took their kids away. They lost Henry and then, when Paige chose to stay behind... as a mother, it was too much.
Did you think Elizabeth would survive to the end of the show? She did kill so many people.
I had no idea, but there have been so many turns and twists. By the third or fourth episode, I thought they were setting her up to do so. She was unlikeable and could never redeem herself. I was ready for whatever the writers would do; I trusted them. I do believe she deserved to live, of course..
What did you think of Elizabeth’s arc?
I love it. To get a chance to play a woman who is more than the doting, comforting wife. It's incredibly satisfying. I relished it. I hope viewers feel the same way. I did reading the scripts. It was a thrilling emotional journey and a satisfying ending.
What was the key turning point this season?
So many — especially about Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage. I think they were inching along toward the path, toward their bond getting much stronger. And their level of intimacy was much more than an operational relationship.
What’s the future of their marriage?
I don’t think it will be easy for a couple years. It’s pretty devastating, what the loss of children would do to a marriage. But I think what Joe and Joel wanted to convey is, no matter what, they’re going to have each other. They’ve come through this together. We know communism doesn’t win; the wall falls. Hopefully, in a couple years, they’ll try to find the kids and repair the relationship. That’s the only saving grace I have as a fan of the show. But expect a couple of bleak years.
What do you like most about working with Matthew?
Just having a professional partner like that makes it fun to work with. He’s so good. We had a lot of fun together, but it’s time for it to end before we kill each other. As sad am I am to see it go, it feels like the right time to leave when the stories are still so good and compelling.
Do you see the overall story as a tragedy?
It’s not American hopeful. Joe and Joel wanted a Russian ending, whatever that means to you. Not everybody wins. It’s bitter sweet and bitter. I really liked the ending.
Why didn’t she kill Jackson, the young guy in the car she slept with who was suspicious of her?
She knows that she should act, but she chooses not to, or she can’t bring herself to. I loved that scene. When she said to him, 'You had a great night with someone f**king. You’ll be fine.' When he says, 'You’re scaring me,' she saw the monster that people perceive her to be. Everything was unraveling. She was such a good soldier, but she was so tired and working on her own, and she started to slip off, make mistakes, become more human.
What was your very last scene?
The last big scene we did was calling Henry when it was freezing and snowing. That was a difficult scene. But there was one tiny, little pickup scene when Elizabeth notices Philip taking an axe out of its case and she realizes , 'Oh, s**t, he’s going to chop off the head of our colleague who died after being shot.' That was the last scene of the whole series!
What scene in the finale did you enjoy most?
Matthew Rhys: The scene talking to Henry on the phone in the booth. It was difficult to do, both how to pitch the scene but also because we were in a snow storm at 4:30 am.
Did Paige’s decision to get off the train and leave her parents surprise you?
It did, but know what [the producers] like to do, present these very open-ended questions to the audience. That was one of them. Paige can go in any number of directions; she can continue her work, stop and care for Henry, there are many variables.
Did Philip and Elizabeth, in the end, get what they deserved rather than what they wanted?.
Exactly. Perfectly put. As a new father, I can’t imagine having to leave and abandon their children and lives so violently. Whatever the reward of returning home is at the cost of abandoning their children. The punishment is lifelong, really.
How will that affect the state of Elizabeth’s and Philip’s relationship?
You don’t know, but ultimately they have no other allies, no one who understands this incredible journey they’ve been on. They do need and respect each other. I was thinking about how Philip wanted to defect. I’m sure they would have been living a comfy life in the witness protection program, and the kids would be doing OK, as opposed to this.
Why did Philip tell Stan that Renee could be a spy?
He’s trying to help Stan, but it’s possibly going to leave him tormented about that question. He has genuine concern for Stan. So it just couldn’t leave it unsaid.
Do you ever imagine Philip bumping into Martha in Moscow?
We have talked about a moment in a supermarket with the three of them meeting and going, 'Hi, what are you getting?' 'Oh, the same as you.' The comedy version of the show.
Will you miss wearing wigs?
If I never wear another wig in my life, it'll be too soon.
Has playing this role given you some insight into these people who are our enemies but are patriots in their own eyes?
Well, I think a patriotism indoctrination can be evil in a way. You can’t blame the snowflake for the avalanche. We’re all the same people, tribal and scared.