‘The Americans’ Season 5 Finale Postmortem: Showrunners Look Ahead to Final Year

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (Photo: Patrick Harbron/FX)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Season 5 finale of The Americans.

Pasha lives! Oleg lives! Elizabeth’s going solo — sorta — as a spy! Martha’s gonna become a mama! Philip and Elizabeth are officially married! And the Jennings, for now, are going to remain right there in their suburban home, across the street from FBI guy Stan, and, as far as we know, out from under the watchful eye of journal-writing, intricately-coifed Pastor Tim.

That and much more happened as The Americans wound down its fifth and penultimate season, and Yahoo TV talked to series showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields about Elizabeth’s big decision to take on the majority of the spy work; the complicated, but lovely ways the Jennings’ marriage continues to evolve; and the still evolving spy-worthiness of Paige.

The fellas also shared the many topics they can’t share anything — well, much — about, including whether or not Gabriel, Pastor Tim, and Tuan will return in Season 6; whether or not Stan’s new love will result in him taking a less dangerous, more desk-surfing job with the FBI; and where the Jennings will ultimately make their home.

But, these are the writers of a spy series, and we think there are little hints in even the non-answers, at least enough to tide us over until the final season next year.

Congratulations on yet another amazing season of The Americans. And now, we wait many months for the final season.
Joe Weisberg: Thank you. On a day where we’re in the mist of rewriting all 10 of our stories for next season. We have rough drafts of the whole thing.

Does it feel a little too close to the end, then, since you’ve got all those stories broken out.
Joel Fields: It feels way too close to the end.

Weisberg: I think I’m in total denial. We’re going to take a break for the summer to let everything percolate. I think when it’s going to hit me, if I had to predict, is when we come back and start prepping the first episode [of Season 6]. That’s when I’m going to collapse emotionally. That’s why I’m trying to get as much story work done now, because I’m going to be useless then.

I’m sure I’m not the only viewer who is relieved about all the people who were still alive at the end of this season…
Fields: Some people went through a rough ride, but it does seem like they might, in some way or another, come out the other end anyway.

Weisberg: There’s no mass slaughter. Some people did come close to dying.

Yes, I was particularly worried about Oleg all season. He has become such a great character. It wasn’t looking good for him for a lot of the season.
Weisberg: Yeah, there was quite a weight on his shoulders. We love those two Russian guys that kept interrogating him. They were so mild-mannered in their own way, but on The Americans that certainly could have been a sign that at any moment they were going to put a bullet in his head.

He really has emerged as one of the most fleshed-out characters, much more layered and deeper than we might have thought originally. Was this always the arc for him, or did a lot of that come as a result of Costa Ronin’s performance?
Weisberg: That’s the arc for everybody. It just doesn’t always work out. Costa was amazing. I’m going to start losing it, but it seems like such a long time ago when we first met Costa, and he first auditioned. We saw this guy, and we thought he was so good and so full of promise then, but I don’t think we did know how much he’d be able to bring to this character, the richness and the depth he’d be able to bring. It’s really something.

Fields: And also, you think about actors taking characters and transforming them, I just can’t help but flashback to Oleg sitting at his desk in the bullpen of the Rezidentura wearing loafers with no socks and listening to American rock music and being the son of a privileged guy, and then you think about how much he’s grown up. It’s really something. He’s grown up more than Henry.

We’re at the point where we’re rooting for him, and that wasn’t necessarily the case in the beginning.
Weisberg: Yeah. This season was great, too, because we not only got to take him back home, but really put him with his family. That created a lot of opportunities for us with that character — not just getting to know [the family] as characters, but getting to sort of take a look at that strata of society, that privileged elite known as the nomenklatura. You don’t get a lot of looks at that on American television, and that was a fun story to tell.

One of the surprises of that is that you expect, with his father’s position, that Oleg wouldn’t be subjected to those guys interrogating him.
Weisberg: We think he could have gotten away with a lot. He probably could have shoplifted without too much trouble. If you look at what Nina first got in trouble for, which is smuggling stereos with cash, his father probably could have gotten him out of that, too. But with the suspicion being high treason, that’s a little much even for his father’s connections, although they are careful about it.

Kimmy also escaped what seemed to be a bad ending, but at the last minute, Philip’s goodbye may not be a goodbye now that Kimmy’s dad got a big promotion.
Fields: That’s the one thing Elizabeth said they’ve got to keep doing, getting those tapes. That’s the whole point of Elizabeth staying on [in America].

So Philip is going to have to continue straddling the line of friendship and flirtation with Kimmy?
Fields: We’ll see next year.

Pastor Tim: another member of the Jennings circle who very easily could have ended the season… less alive. Though maybe all of us, like Paige, were a little over Pastor Hair at this point.
Weisberg: Instead of getting killed, he got a promotion. Honestly, sometimes it’s not good to cross paths with the KGB, but sometimes you can come out ahead.

Those journal entries, though, comparing Paige’s situation to those of victims of abuse. They were harsh, and for all of his judgments about Philip and Elizabeth, he was lying to Paige, too, about how well he thought she would fare in the real world. Have we seen the last of him, or is he going to come back into Paige’s life in the final season?
Fields: You really know what we’re going to say.

Weisberg: Can’t talk about that.

How much has that impacted Paige, though? What really seemed to bother her most wasn’t his judgments about her parents, her family, but that he was lying to her about how much faith he had in her abilities.
Weisberg: I think it was all those things. It was both that he made the judgments, but also that some of that hit home for her. When a whole part of her is really trying to get out from under that, get out from under her own fears and anxieties, to hear everything she probably fears stated so clearly from someone she trusts and thinks has good judgment, it’s devastating for her. Then to have him lie to her, if anything, turned her against him.

And we got to catch up with Martha in Season 5. The likely adoption of the little girl at the orphanage is something potentially wonderful, and maybe not something that would have come into her life had she remained in America, certainly not if she had gone to jail or even if she had continued on indefinitely in her life with Clark. Should we see that as a happy ending for her?
Fields: We’ll let that be up to everyone who watches to decide how happy it is.

Weisberg: We like what you just said.

Fields: It really does, for us, echo back to that time she went to the children’s home with Clark to try to pick one out.

Weisberg: By the way, it’s not like we’re looking for happy endings, but that is where the story went. How do you get a happy ending out of that Martha story? That’s like a miracle. We weren’t looking for it. We were perfectly happy with a typical miserable ending.

Fields: Yeah, and we also liked that in a not so roundabout way that Clark/Philip/Gabriel story comes around to Martha at the end of it.

That’s the biggest sign that Gabriel really did have some empathy. He got very angry with Philip at certain points, but he also maybe did have some empathy about how much guilt Philip had in that situation with Martha.
Fields: Absolutely, and himself, too. I think it shows something about his character on both of those fronts.

Will we possibly see Gabriel again? There were hints that Philip and Elizabeth shouldn’t really expect to have him in their lives again, but could that be possible?
Weisberg: I’d like to refer you to our Pastor Tim response on that.

Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman and Laurie Holden as Renee (Photo: Patrick Harbron/FX)

Renee, Stan’s new love, brought some big changes in his attitude this season, which was fun to see, a more relaxed, less work-obsessed Stan. He seems to have some fatigue with his work and the things that it entails, the manipulation, but there also seems to be a big part of him that realizes he let his first marriage go. He didn’t fight for it. He has another chance now. How much of what he wants to do in his career is based on the chance to have a successful relationship this time?
Weisberg: Well, I think you’ve articulated everything pretty eloquently there. It actually feels like a full answer just to say, “Yes.” That actually is a really good articulation of where he’s at and his growth as a person. He wants to do better this time.

What can you say about the likelihood of him actually attempting to do that in the final season, especially since Renee — rather suspiciously, as Philip would probably say — tried to talk him out of taking a lower profile job?
Fields: We will say that there is a 100 percent guarantee that that question will be answered in the first episode of next season.

About the final season: how much have things changed from when you started out in Season 1 with the overall plans that you had for the story to where you now expect things will wrap up at the end of Season 6? How much have those plans changed along the way?
Weisberg: That’s a great question, because in terms of where our characters are at and how they’re relating to each other and so much of what they’ve gone through, much of that is in a very different spot. The thing that’s been stock, and it’s not really from the beginning, but the actual ending, where the story is going to wrap up, is something that we’ve anticipated from about the second season on.

Fields: To our utter shock, it has held true these last four years. It has held true while the characters themselves and the stories have gone into all sorts of crazy unexpected places. We knew there would be a lot of change for the characters and some of it has surprised us along the way, but I think the biggest surprise to us, as Joe suggested, was that the big pieces of this ending have really stayed as we had envisioned them since somewhere around the middle or end of the second season.

Weisberg: I think that may have helped consciously, or even more subconsciously, construct much of the intervening story.

Has the series become more collaborative along the way, in terms of the actors having more input as they got to know their characters more?
Fields: Collaboration with these actors has grown in terms of our relationship with them, but it’s been fairly the same in terms of process. It’s one that we sometimes refer to more as a process of alchemy than any other kind of connection, although often we’ll have conversations with the actors about their characters’ subconscious intent. We tend to write very… how do I put this… terse scene descriptions. A very thin scene description. So we’ll sometimes get calls about what’s going on, or because there’s so much happening to these characters we’ll get calls about the different levels that we have in mind. All of the actors, but particularly Keri [Russell] and Matthew [Rhys], tend to research well in advance of their scene work, so we’ll sometimes get calls or emails from them a couple weeks out asking about the tonalities or intent of certain scenes. Where the alchemy comes in is that our greatest pleasure is being surprised by their performances, how they take the creative intent and give it a level of depth that we hadn’t seen or a sideways approach of humanity that we hadn’t expected. It’s always just so much fun to see them bring it to life on set.

At the end of this season, the Jennings made this decision that Philip is going to focus on running the travel agency and getting the tapes of Kimmy’s father, but that it will be Elizabeth doing most of the active mission work. She just warned Tuan that it isn’t a good idea to do the job alone. Why does Philip agree to this arrangement?
Weisberg: As you saw, he’s reticent. He doesn’t want to do it. She just finally makes a compelling enough case that she lovingly and sympathetically and empathetically understands that he can’t keep doing this, and it’s making her miserable, too. I think that’s the turning point for him — that she can’t see him do this anymore. It’s bringing her down. It’s not working for the two of them.

The offer is also a big show of respect for him on her part, I think, because she has always felt more loyal to the cause, to their country. He’s expressed some doubts along the way, doubts she doesn’t have, or at least not as strongly as he does. Although we think she’s going to be in more danger, it really is a sign of respect for her to acknowledge that he feels differently, and that he should act accordingly. She’s going to help provide that opening for him…
Weisberg: As we thought about what we wanted to get to in the story of their marriage this season… Of course, this was the season they literally got married. Your phrasing of that in terms of respect brings to mind something a therapist once said to me many years ago, which is that love, in a lot of ways, is an easy emotion, but respect is really what makes a relationship work. To have a marriage without respect is really to not have a solid foundation. That really is what that final scene was about to us in so many ways. It was Elizabeth actively loving Philip enough, respecting him enough, to acknowledge his needs as an individual and to understand that in order for their marriage to work, the individual needs needed to be recognized as well. That, in order to be a successful couple, they had to recognize each other as individuals, too.

Their marriage ceremony was such an intimate, personal scene, because it wasn’t something for other people to witness. It was just for them, about the fact that they have a real marriage now, true respect and love and caring for each other, which is not where they were when we met them in Season 1. When the series finale rolls around, how much do you want that to have been the story of the series?
Fields: We’ve said, it’s a story of a marriage. What you just talked about is the story of this marriage. I think there are other capsules we could give that would also be about the family, but I don’t think any would be more central to the heart of it than what you just talked about. This season is particularly important in that regard, because in this season they’re closer and more connected and getting along better than they ever have been. They’re accepting each other more. For all the issues and all the problems and everything that happens at the end, and exactly what happens at the very end, they are really in a very strong place in this marriage. We’ve charted the ups and downs of that, and there’s more to come next year, but that’s the show.

Without, obviously, giving anything away, but in a general sense, what do you still want to explore with their marriage?
Weisberg: To be honest, it’s hard to answer that without giving anything away, because the things we explore in the marriage don’t happen outside of the context of what’s happening in the story, so it’s hard to sort of discuss it in isolation. Some people might say that we did do it a little bit outside of the context of the story this season, but to us, not so much.

Russell and Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings (Photo: Patrick Harbron/FX)

We have to touch on Paige a bit more. In the past couple of seasons, we’ve really seen her emerge from someone who we didn’t think would necessarily be able to handle the truth about her parents. But she continues to try to be thoughtful in trying to figure out what it means, and to not make judgments about what they do and the things that she maybe guesses they have to do in their work. I know you can’t answer some of these questions specifically, but what do we still need to know about Paige to know whether or not she’s going to follow in her parents’ footsteps?
Fields: [Laughs] I think that that’s a trick question, where you’re trying to trick us into answering whether or not she’s going to follow in her parents’ footsteps.

No, not at all. I think right now she seems like she could be successful as a spy, but also I think there are ways she still could be tested that might reveal vulnerabilities that would mean it isn’t something she should pursue.
Fields: I think that’s right. And also the question of what would it mean for her to be a spy? I don’t think Philip or Elizabeth… certainly not Elizabeth, she doesn’t think she’d be pulling Paige in to be a spy the way Elizabeth is a spy. As she said to Philip a season ago, Paige could get a cushy job with the State Department, and Philip’s response was, yeah, that’s what you always think when it starts out. I think Elizabeth has a whole different view, so the question is: what could Paige handle, and how might things change? We’ll see.

There’s also the question of, if she did decide to become a spy, would she necessarily work for the KGB? Maybe she would become an American spy.
Fields: That’s always a danger of training a spy, isn’t it?

There’s also the question that came up very relevantly this season about them going back to Russia, and how Paige and Henry would survive. The situation with Pasha, and how badly that almost turned out, made that an issue Philip and Elizabeth had to consider more seriously. Again, it seems like Paige probably could handle the move, and maybe even thrive there, but this season we’ve seen that Henry found his passion, his place where he’s thriving, so maybe a sudden move to Russia could prove Pasha-level devastating to him. Before the series finale, is that something that will be addressed, where this family is going to end up eventually?
Weisberg: First of all, we want to stress our respect to you for continuing to try, but we’re still not going to tell you. Second of all, we want to tell you that the question of who will fare how if they go back to the Soviet Union is a pretty tough one to predict. That, to some degree, was what Pastor Tim was trying to say to them. It may seem in certain ways that Paige would do better than Henry, but it could be the exact opposite. It could also be that they both collapse or that they both adjust. It would be such an unpredictable shock to the system, and, to a certain degree, this holds true for Philip and Elizabeth as well.

Fields: By the way, I just want to add that we loved your use of “Pasha-level” tragedy. If there’s any way that Yahoo TV could implement that across all television shows, I think that would be a really good gauge of people’s tragic character arcs.

With Pasha and his mother returning home, Tuan’s assignment with Philip and Elizabeth appears to be finished. Is that the end of his arc?
Weisberg: Again…

I know. Mischa: he’s such a sweet character, and he’s one step closer to his dad. I know you can’t say anything specific, but can you confirm that his story will continue next season, that he will continue to try to meet up with Philip?
Weisberg: Now I feel like you’re taking us out of espionage and into just politics. We can neither confirm nor deny.

What do you want viewers to be thinking about the series until we meet up with everyone again for the final season? What are the things we should be thinking about, questioning, with Philip and Elizabeth?
Fields: Well, that was a pretty interesting final conversation they had, so if you just think about where that could lead, it should lead viewers to really wonder what’s going to be going on when they come back.

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