Spoiler alert: This interview contains details from “The Americans” season 5 finale “The Soviet Division.
The end is near for FX’s “The Americans.” With only 10 episodes remaining in next year’s sixth and final season, the fifth season finale set the stage for what’s to come. Undercover Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings scrapped their plans to return home to the USSR — with firmly American kids, Paige and Henry, in tow — due to a massive development in one of Philip’s operations. Is there any chance they don’t regret that decision before the series is over?
Meanwhile, their friend and neighbor Stan continued to get even closer to mysterious new girlfriend Renee (is she or isn’t she a KGB spy herself?), Martha made a life-altering decision in Russia, and Henry discovered Philip doesn’t want him leaving the family to go to private school.
Poor Philip and Elizabeth. Just when they thought they were out, you guys pulled them back in. What were your goals for the arc of their relationship this season?
Joe Weisberg: We wanted to tell a story that had a couple of things going on. The marriage was closer than it had ever been. So in the long running arc of the show with all of its ups and downs, the two of them had gone through a lot and become more devoted, more in love, and more able to work and live together harmoniously than at any point in the show. The conflict we had in previous seasons where they would sometimes be at each other’s throats about various things wasn’t taking place in this season because they were functioning very well as a couple.
At the same time, with Philip in particular, his arc that he’s been on for a long time — he’s unable to do this work anymore — was continuing apace and even accelerating. It was all moving toward a place where it felt to us that they were now at the point — it even came up at the end of last season — they were moving towards the point where they would start to take very seriously the idea it was time to end all this, take their kids and go home. And want to go home together as a loving couple with their family, while struggling with all the problems this would create for them. That’s what we wanted to explore.
And of course it being “The Americans,” and it being Philip and Elizabeth, the life they lead and everything they’ve done, of course the rug would not just get pulled out from under them by external events — Breland getting his promotion — but Elizabeth’s steadfastness and loyalty would mean that her reaction to that would be she couldn’t go. And we’ll see how the marriage responds to that.
There’s a montage with Elizabeth looking at the comforts of her house — the kitchen, the closet, etc. Is there a part of her that doesn’t want to leave?
Joel Fields: We can leave it for the audience to read it. In a way that’s an American perspective, an American would be thinking, “What am I leaving behind?” She’s not an American. Thinking about how she grew up and what her values are, she might be looking at those things thinking “these are the very things I want to leave behind — a world in which you have ten unnecessary pairs of shoes, a machine to wash your dishes, extra clothes you don’t need, that create such a stratified society.” That could be in her head too.
JW: It might be neither. They’re on this verge of a big move. She’s just taking in these things that are so much a part of her life here, and realizing it’s not going to be like that back home. It may in fact be both: “These are not my values, but a part of me has gotten very used to it.”
JF: Both always works for us. Or she might be looking at the closet thinking, “There are my yellow pumps!”
Russian life played a central role this season, but the finale stayed almost entirely in the U.S., with the notable exception of Martha’s scene. Was there a reason for that?
JF: We felt like we had ended pretty powerfully our seasonal stories for some of the characters there — we had a big piece to tell with Martha — and we had a lot of story to follow for the main characters in the finale. That’s just sort of how it broke down in those last two episodes. It really had to do with looking for the right feeling of how the final pieces of the season unspooled rather than anything specific.
It’s always great to see Martha again. Just tell me she’ll be back next season.
JW: If we did and it wasn’t true would you actually be glad next season?
No, but I’d be happy right now.
JW: What if I send you a picture of her and her adopted child?
Let’s talk about that. Alison Wright’s performance was amazing, and it was a really touching scene. But where did the idea of Martha adopting a child come from?
JW: From the very beginning of the show one of the projects was — everybody knows the dark side of the KGB and the awful things they did, but in America you didn’t hear anything, or very little, about the decent and human people who worked there. Part of following Philip and Elizabeth as people we can relate to was trying to show that. We saw Oleg and the Rezidentura and we got to meet a lot of people in the KGB and understand there were decent people who worked there. They weren’t just villains or cartoon characters that we learned to think about when we thought about the KGB.
In a way the Martha story was going back to that idea too and showing when you have an agent who worked for you, you infiltrate them and bring them back to your country, that person doesn’t just get abandoned. You still care about that person, you have their interests at heart. Gabriel was still going to care about her and have the support of the KGB in trying to care for her. Both individuals and the bureaucracy were going to do what they can to help her adjust and have a better life, even though they had been so awful and destroyed her in so many ways. What a mixed and complicated journey for her.
To put it mildly. Paige is on a complicated journey of her own. We see her walking through the same parking lot where she and Elizabeth were attacked, and Elizabeth killed the attacker, right?
JF: Same parking lot, same route.
Is any part of her looking for that to happen again, to prove herself?
JF: She’d sure be ready for them if she was. She’s certainly more prepared for it, but I wouldn’t say she’s hoping for it.
We didn’t really get an answer on Stan’s new girlfriend, Renee, and whether she’s KGB or not. Unless I missed it…?
JW: No, no answers on Renee.
What can you say about their relationship?
JF: We think it’s progressing very nicely. He’s happy. They seem to be communicating well. She’s helping him get through some of his issues. She won’t watch movies with him unless he talks about his feelings.
JW: They’re a great match. Unless she’s a KGB spy.
Or maybe even if?
JF: Maybe even if.
JW: Things turned out OK for Martha.
JF: There’s good and bad in every relationship.
Stan is having his own doubts about what he does and his future. Is that another sign we’re getting close to the end?
JW: It’s more a factor of what he’s gone through. He’s had quite a journey from when he blew Vlad’s brains out to having Nina got killed and all these people he’s had to manipulate and twist around. He’s not the most demonstrative guy about it but it’s been pretty rough on him. I don’t think counterintelligence at the end of the day has necessarily been a good fit for Stan. And I think he realizes that.
Back to Philip and Elizabeth — they’re serious about taking their children back to Russia. Is it optimistic or delusional for them to believe the kids will be fine with it?
JW: I don’t think they think that. I think they think that it’ll be tough. They’re aware that bringing the kids back will be a tough project. Maybe they don’t know just how hard it’s gonna be. But illegals did take their kids back, with various levels of success and problems, I doubt it was ever easy. But when you’re from there, when it’s your homeland, you figure this can be done. By the way there’s a really great story in the Guardian from about six months ago about the 2010 illegals and what happened when they went back with their kids. It’s not a happy story. Those guys didn’t have a choice.
JF: Imagine the shoe was on the other foot, if you were an American spy with very deep cover in the USSR, how could you think anything but your children would be happier there even if it’s a tough transition? Home is a better place. Certainly better than enemy territory.
They also have two very different kids right now. Given everything we’ve seen this season, do they even know Henry?
JF: He seems to have surprised them several times this year.
JW: I think it’s fair to say — look at all they’ve been through with Paige in the last couple of years. You get to know somebody through experiences and interactions. There’s been a lot more connection with Paige over the last few years. It’s not just on the show that Henry’s been off playing video games, they’re just not doing very much with him. They don’t know him as well.
It feels like a situation a lot of working parents are in. They’re so focused on other things they don’t realize they’re living with a stranger.
JF: I’d say that’s exactly right.