‘The Americans’ Cast & Creators on the ‘Heartbreaking’ Series Finale: ‘It Just Felt Right’

It’s barely been two weeks since their critically acclaimed series wrapped its six-season run on FX, but the cast and creators of “The Americans” reunited Sunday at the ATX Festival in Austin, Tex. to deconstruct the “heartbreaking” series finale.

On hand were showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, executive producer Chris Long and series stars Keri Russell (Elizabeth Jennings), Matthew Rhys (Philip Jennings), Noah Emmerich (Stan Beeman), Holly Taylor (Paige Jennings), Keidrich Sellati (Henry Jennings), and Brandon J. Dirden (Dennis Aderholt).

Russell said she was surprised at first by the finale, which saw the Jennings return to Russia without their children, Paige and Henry. But “it just felt right,” she said. “I wanted this couple to pay in some way, and they paid in the worst possible way. It’s heartbreaking.”

Agreed Weisberg, “That’s a hell of a toll,” who along with Fields recounted that the finale had been something they’d planned since the end of the first season, though the story beats evolved until the final moments of production, as they painstakingly wrote and rewrote the episode. “The notion of them going back to the USSR without at least one of their children was always there,” said Fields. “When we finished writing the script, we looked at each other with some surprise and realized the original ending had stuck.”

Having the family ripped apart deprived the characters of any sense of a happy ending, with ramifications that would reverberate as they tried to reacclimate to life in Russia. “It decimated him,” said Rhys of Philip, the character he embodied for six seasons to multiple Emmy nominations.

Throughout the panel, the cast was often pressed to offer their interpretations of some of the finale’s more ambiguous scenes, several of which played out silently.

Emmerich resisted exploring the question of what Stan said to Henry in the scene between them in the car, as Stan broke the news to Henry about his parents. “Sometimes it’s more important to see what’s happening than hear what’s happening,” said Emmerich.

That was his approach to the garage scene as well, where Stan confronts Elizabeth and Philip just after they’ve picked up Paige. “Hopefully what I felt is communicated through the work,” said Emmerich. “That’s the best way I can communicate what I felt. I leave the words to these guys.”

The actors all praised the writers for creating such layered, complex characters.”They allowed Elizabeth to stay Elizabeth for the whole series,” said Russell. “She didn’t have to suddenly become nice and give everyone back tickles every night. She got to stay who she was.”

The challenge of playing a woman who wasn’t always likable, who made tough decisions — and was far from a stereotypical character — wasn’t lost on Russell. “It was endlessly interesting to get to be the character that got to [be the tough one],” she said. “I just think we haven’t seen as much of that. It was interesting to have Philip be the more emotional and relatable one. That’s what was more fresh about the story.”

She also praised the experience of working with her co-star Rhys, who’s become her partner off-screen as well over the course of the show. “You’re only good as your scene partner,” she said. “That’s been one of the best things about the show, is getting to work with you.”

Both acknowledged the writers’ skill in building a drama that was a spy thriller on one level, but also offered a far deeper exploration of a marriage under the most extreme of situations. “It was so rich, it was a real steak dinner every night,” said Rhys.

Weisberg and Fields also declined to answer the question of whether Renee was truly a spy, which Philip revealed to Stan at the end of the garage scene just as the Jennings made their escape. Emmerich said he thought Philip told him about Renee not as one final act of manipulation, but from a place of honesty. “I interpret that as a great act of love and respect,” said Emmerich.

“I say never trust a woman who goes to bed fully made up with her hair done,” joked Rhys. Replied Emmerich: “Now you tell me!”

Taylor said she thought Paige’s decision to get off the train was motivated by her concern for her brother, Henry, to make sure he wasn’t abandoned. But, she said, Paige is done with her spy games. “I think she’s out,” said Taylor.

As she and Sellati bickered good-naturedly about their characters’ relationship in the finale (“I saved you,” said Taylor. “I got off that train for you!”), Fields jumped in : “Oh my god, I think we found our spinoff.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Practical Magic

    'Practical Magic' Prequel Among Three HBO Max Pilot Orders

    HBO Max is continuing to build up its original programming slate with three new projects. Variety has learned that the nascent streamer has given pilot orders to the half-hour dramedy “Generation” and the hour-long drama “Red Bird Lane,” as well as a pilot production commitment for the one-hour drama “Rules of Magic.” All three projects [...]

  • James Corden Variety Cover Story

    James Corden Signs Deal to Host 'Late Late Show' Through 2022

    James Corden has signed a new deal with CBS which will see him stay on as host of “The Late Late Show” through 2022. The multi-talented Brit had been in advanced negotiations with the studio since May, and the new deal is sure to see him score a substantial bump in pay. The previous deal [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon

    Reese Witherspoon, Home Edit Duo Set Lifestyle Series at Netflix

    Netflix has ordered a new lifestyle series that boasts Reese Witherspoon among its executive producers. The hour-long series will follow master home organizes Clea Sherer and Joanna Teplin, the duo behind The Home Edit company. In each episode, Sherer and Teplin will transform the lives of their clients by conquering clutter with their signature style. [...]

  • 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Renewed for Season

    VH1 Renews Two Series in 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Franchise

    “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been renewed for Season 12 at VH1, the cabler announced Monday. Additionally, the “All Stars” version of the show has been renewed for Season 5. RuPaul made the announcement in a video, which you can see below. The flagship series will welcome a fresh group of drag queens eager to prove [...]


    'Fleabag' Star Andrew Scott Joins 'His Dark Materials' at HBO

    Andrew Scott, known to many as the “hot priest” from season 2 of “Fleabag,” has joined the cast of the “His Dark Materials” adaptation at HBO. The announcement was made via a tweet on the series’ official Twitter account which shows Scott on set with Lin Manuel Miranda, who is set to play Lee Scoresby [...]

  • Stephen Amell Arrow Season 5

    'Arrow' Star Stephen Amell to Lead Starz Wrestling Drama 'Heels'

    Stephen Amell has set his first major post-“Arrow” role. The actor, who will make his final outing as the bow-wielding super hero this season, has been cast as the lead in a wrestling drama series entitled “Heels,” which has been handed an eight-episode order by Starz. The hour-long drama is set in a close-knit Georgia [...]

  • Curiosity Stream Altice

    Altice USA Pacts With John Hendricks' CuriosityStream Service

    Altice USA has set a deal with John Hendricks’ CuriosityStream to expand distribution of the science- and history-focused subscription streaming service. The deal will make CuriosityStream available to all Altice USA’s 4.9 million customers across 21 states, including a big cluster serving New York and Connecticut. Altice also plans to add the CuriosityStream app to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content