SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the series finale of “The Americans” that aired May 30.
FX’s period spy drama “The Americans” has officially come to an end. And while the audience may not be as used to it yet as Keri Russell’s stoic Elizabeth Jennings, there are a couple guys who are thrilled with how it all turned out: co-showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields.
“We test drove almost every ending you could imagine,” Fields says, noting that that did include versions that would have killed off some main characters. But this version, which the writers and producers came up with somewhere around the end of the first and beginning of the second seasons, “felt right” and “never shifted even as we moved forward toward it,” he continues.
For Fields and Weisberg, it was a no-brainer to have McDonald’s be the Jenningses’ final meal in America. To get the right look for the restaurant, “The Americans” production team relied on the fast food corporation’s in-house librarian and a bit of green screen fairy dust to recreate a deserted roadside 1980s Mickey D’s.
“We loved that…Philip’s final goodbye to this greatest icon of both American capitalism as he had become enamored of capitalism and sort of as America itself,” Weisberg says.
Like all other parts of the series, Weisberg and Fields say they dictated this action based on what the characters would actually do. This is why earlier in the finale Philip (Matthews Rhys) stops feeding neighbor and FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) their homespun lie of an all-American family during a confrontation in a parking garage that pits himself, his wife and daughter on the wrong side of the FBI man’s revolver — a scene that could easily have turned into bloodshed with one misstep from either side.
“We know some of our stories are a little more far-fetched and wild than that,” Weisberg says, “but when we’re getting to something really big and really emotional, then we want that to ring as true as possible.”
Fields and Weisberg say it is up to the viewers to decide what Philip said — or when he said it — that made Stan decide to let them go.
“At the end of the day, that friendship was a real friendship,” Weisberg says of Stan and Philip’s past bromance over racquetball and beers. “There’s no question about it through all the layers of bulls— and lying and manipulation and everything else, it’s hard to argue that these two men didn’t love each other.”
Therefore, he says “that scene becomes an exploration of six seasons’ worth…of a real relationship.”
Fields adds that that scene is the one they spent the most time writing out of the whole series because they knew “the stakes were high.”
“If that scene didn’t work, the whole ending of the show didn’t work,” he says.
It also took a full day to film, and Weisberg credits the actors for pulling it off.
“These were people who have worked together for such a long time and really love each other and trust each other and like working together,” he says. “And they’ve done a lot of very intense, emotional scenes together. But nevertheless, there was something for them you could just feel very important and moving. …It was sort of like you could see they just couldn’t wait to do it. They just loved having this challenge and this opportunity and this ability to sort of do their craft at the highest levels.”
Still, this isn’t to say everything went according to plan. Songs have always had particular resonance on “The Americans” and it was crucial to find the perfect one to play toward the end of the finale that is otherwise absent of dialogue — especially since it runs over a long train ride involving Elizabeth, Philip and their daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), while Stan Beeman has to tell their son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) that they’ve left him behind (Oh, and that his parents are spies!).
Fields and Weisberg went with U2’s soaring 1987 hit “With or Without You,” but the choice was not obvious or immediate. The showrunners are mum to say which other songs lost out, but there were many and Weisberg knows someone will eventually make a YouTube smash cut featuring potential alternatives.
Then, of course, there may be a certain contingent of the audience, particularly in this political climate, who wanted Stan to vanquish his Russian enemies — or at least cart them off in a squad car.
The showrunners understand this, but they say they’ve also made a point of creating an increasingly topical series in a creative bubble. Despite Weisberg’s own history as a CIA officer, he says “what interested us was these characters and these themes and it was, kind of, a relief to be able to wall ourselves off every day in the relatively safe world of the mid-80s.”
And isn’t losing their kids punishment enough?
Perhaps that’s why Elizabeth’s dream sequence on the plane as she leaves North America for Russia is also not abundantly clear. She sees herself pregnant and in bed with her former paramour Gregory (Derek Luke). Elizabeth tells Gregory she doesn’t want the kid anyway before she sees flashes of a young Paige and Henry as depicted through Erica’s (Miriam Shor) artwork.
“There just seemed to be so much in her subconscious there,” Fields says. “And this seemed like a great way to put it together and shake it up and just let it all be. …That moment that she had talked about in the first season was the moment that she was starting a family. And now here she was leaving them behind. And looking across the aisle at this man who had over all these seasons truly become her husband.”
Still, Philip and Elizabeth’s kids are alive even if the elder Jenningses can’t see them anymore. So are a lot of other characters, like Alison Wright’s Martha, who is also now in Russia and would be very shocked to see him appear in her Moscow supermarket — which could make a meet-cute for a spinoff series.
Weisberg and Fields have heard many such spinoff ideas — from Paige working in the state department to Henry as a hockey star to Stan following up to see if FBI officers saw him interrogate the Jenningses in that parking garage — but they have no plans to bring any of them to fruition.
“It really feels like this one wants to be fully told at this point — it feels like that kind of story,” Fields says. “It does seem like the story is over to us.”