Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Philip and Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans.

The Americans showrunners have a few topics they really don’t want to discuss

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Philip and Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans.
Photo: Pari Dukovic, Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

[Note: This post discusses plot points for the series finale of The Americans.]

The Americans has assassinated its final agent and hosted its last family dinner. It was a stirring conclusion—Philip and Elizabeth forced to flee the U.S. back to their homeland, Stan confronted with the proof of his best friend’s deception, and the kids remaining on American soil—which allowed the series to provide a moving reflection on many of the key themes it has addressed over the years. Thanks to a scheduling snafu, The A.V. Club only had a few minutes to check in with showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields and look back over the course of the show. But they spoke openly about certain decisions, remained stubbornly tight-lipped on others, and as for the lingering question of whether Renee is indeed a Russian spy—well, you can see for yourself the degree of their eagerness to clear up that little mystery.

The A.V. Club: When we spoke to you a few months ago, you mentioned how you actually ended up sticking with the original ending you had envisioned from the very start. Was that concept just Philip and Elizabeth returning to Russia, or were there other parts of the finale included in that original idea?

Joe Weisberg: That was the whole original ending. We didn’t know if they’d go back with one kid, both kids, no kid, but that was the original idea. Everything else you see in that ending we did not have.

AVC: Which is interesting, because while the family dynamics are very passionate in the last few episodes, the showdowns with Claudia and Stan are equally so. When did you start to realize how significant those two scenes would be?

Joel Fields: Well, the final showdown with Stan we knew was coming for quite some time. I think that was something we had in mind fairly early on, although we didn’t know the details of it, and boy, as inevitable as it was… it was inevitable it would be intense. As for Claudia, that was something that broke fairly late. That really unfolded only over the course of the final season, as we figured out what that story was.

AVC: Stan’s last confrontation with them is fascinating for how inscrutable his decision-making is. In some ways it seems like he doesn’t shoot and/or arrest them not necessarily because he doesn’t want to, but because he doesn’t want to have to tell Henry that he’s the guy who shot his parents. How do you view his choices there?

JW: You know, I know we don’t have much time [to talk], but even if we did, we’re not answering that question, because we feel like we should leave that one open to the audience. But I love what you just said—in a way that’s kind of a beautiful thought. And it’s because of the audience coming up with their own beautiful thoughts like that that we kind of want to stay out of it.

AVC: Fair enough. Then let’s discuss Philip and Elizabeth; they end up in the same geographical place, if not necessarily the same emotional space. Was the idea this season always to push them to the breaking point to see how they’d handle it when confronted with the ultimate threat of capture?

JF: I think that’s an interesting way to put it. We knew that they were gonna be further apart than they’d ever been when the season started, and since we know that that was gonna be the ending, and we knew that they would be together at the end—although how they would feel, and what exactly “together” would mean, was somewhat ambiguous at the start. You know, this is a show about a marriage, and it has its ups and downs—they’ve been through a lot of ups and downs—they’ve been very close to each other, they’ve been very far apart, they started with one of them being more in love than the other one. So just sort of traversing that terrain from the incredible distance after he’d taken three years off from work, and she’d had to do this job all on her own, and these resentments had grown between them, and then having to go through this incredible crucible of everything they’ve had to go through this year, and just figuring out where we find them, and then suffering this incredible tragedy of losing their kids, the way they lose them in the end—that was the story we were telling.

AVC: And that’s part of what makes this final arc so relatable, is how it carried through a central theme of the show, which is people being asked to make the best decisions for their family and themselves, when there’s no good answer as to what the “right” decision is. There will always be second-guessing and wondering if you made the best choice. Was that on your minds in a larger story sense as you were crafting this ending?

JW: I don’t know if it was on our minds in an overt, conscious sense, but I think that’s something we just believe about the world, and therefore that makes for more interesting character drama. So it’s natural that we’d be pulled towards that in the end.

AVC: Did that get a little meta for you guys? I know you both spoke last time about your anxieties over the ending, that it’s both a very high bar to clear but also a low bar in the sense of just not wanting people to hate it, and you.

JW: [Both laugh.] Yeah, it could’ve gotten meta, but we really did our best with each other’s help to keep all that noise out, and just focus on making the best finale we could make.

AVC: Okay, one last question that has to be asked, even though I think I know the answer: Renee. Do you have your own views on whether or not she’s a Russian agent, and did you guys ever disagree on that?

JF: Oh, that’s on the “do not say” list.

JW: Yeah, we’re not gonna say.

JF: And not just because we’re out of time. Even if we had more time, we’re still not gonna say.