Starting tonight, “The Americans” joins the short list of shows that have had the luxury of plotting out their series finale storylines over multiple seasons.
The FX drama, which received a two-season pickup last year, opens its fifth year with intrepid Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings juggling yet another set of identities — this time with a set up that is elaborate even by their standards.
The planning of the season’s plot engines was made easier by the fact that showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields now have the season-six finish line in sight. The momentum the show built up in season four — with its first Emmy nom for drama series and Writers Guild Award win for drama series — didn’t hurt, either.
“It’s liberating to know where we’re going,” Weisberg told Variety. “We broke the stories for the fifth and sixth season together (last summer) and then we got down to the details of the fifth season.”
The certainty of knowing that “Americans” has 26 more hours of story to deliver “added a richness to what we were doing,” he added. “It wasn’t something we’d done before.”
Beyond the ability to plan effectively, the overarching story of season five has “fallen into the shape we’d hoped it would,” Fields said. “In the past when things hadn’t fallen into shape, we’d say, ‘That’s OK, we can just push that off to next season.’ We can’t really do that anymore. This year things have come together just as expected, which is very convenient given the story we’re telling.”
“Americans” stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys echoed the showrunners’ sentiment about the change in their working process this year. For Russell, the fifth season shaped up to be an intimate dive into the life of the married couple wrapped up in professional and personal secrets kept from each other and their teenage children, Paige and Henry.
“Because we know what the end is, they’ve almost let the story unfold a little slower,” Russell said. “It feels slow and contained and much more about the family. The show feels smaller and more intense. It’s much less about car chases and wigs.”
Russell and Rhys don’t know every detail of the ending Weisberg and Fields are cooking up — and they’re not complaining. “I know one vital piece of information, which was shocking to me,” Russell said. “Who knows what they are going to do. They surprise me all the time. That’s a good thing.”
Russell allowed that Henry has a bigger than usual storyline this season. Of course, Paige’s growing understanding of the family business continues to complicate life for the Jennings.
“As soon as Paige came into the fold, everything just became magnified. You feel that there’s an an impending … something,” Rhys said. “You just kind of feel like something’s coming, and it doesn’t feel good.”
Weisberg and Fields weren’t about to give out any spoilers when the two made the rounds at the Plaza Hotel late last month at the show’s fifth season premiere party.
Weisberg offered the non-spoilery tidbit that “The Americans” took a small crew to Russia for the first time to grab some exteriors in the actual Motherland. “They got some beautiful stuff,” Weisberg said.
The time frame of season five isn’t as closely knitted to historical events as in past seasons, Weisberg and Fields said. There are not as many references to specific cultural touchstones, such as last season’s storyline involving the November 1983 airing of the ABC telepic “The Day After.”
But they do address the dawn of one media-centric invention of the mid-1980s: the TV infomercial.
“We have a lot of fun with that part of the era, and we have some really good songs,” Fields promised.