[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Wednesday’s series finale of FX’s “The Americans.” ]
It maybe can’t compete with a Russian journalist participating in the staging of his death, but “The Americans” series finale will certainly have people talking.
The farewell episode of the Cold War drama found Stan (Noah Emmerich) at last confronting his neighbors Philip (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) about their double lives as undercover KGB spies. But he doesn’t turn them in. Instead, the final moments — ever — of the series see Elizabeth and Philip back in Russia, no kids in tow, taking in their return to their homeland and wondering what would have been had they never lived their lives as spies, what will become of their kids, and how they’ll adapt.
“It feels strange,” Philip says.
“Privyknem,” Elizabeth replies, Russian for “We’ll get used to it.”
The Times spoke to series creators Joe Weisman and Joel Fields to help us cope with saying Прощай/goodbye.
Was it always the plan to keep the marriage between Elizabeth and Philip intact, with both making the return to the Soviet Union? And no one dying.
Weisman: It's a complicated answer because we knew from really almost the end of season 1, beginning of season 2, that Philip and Elizabeth were most likely going to return to the Soviet Union, maybe with just one of their kids or none of their kids. But that didn't mean necessarily there wouldn't be any casualties. All we really knew from that point was that we'd like that ending, of them going home, either alone or with a kid. But we didn't even know that ending would stick. So there was a reasonable chance that somebody could've been killed or anybody else could've been killed. Almost anything else could've happened, including that ending could have gotten blown up easily along the way.
Fields: I'll just add that casualties is all a matter of how you look at it. It's true that no bullets fly toward the flesh in that final episode, but I think the phrase we used at some point, Joe and I, was we're going for emotional carnage.
Weisman: We think nobody's in good shape at the end of this series. Philip and Elizabeth lost their kid. We'd be hard-pressed to come up with anything more devastating than that. Then if you look at the two kids, they've lost their parents. So --
And poor Stan.
Weisman: Stan's in a disastrous place too, so at least as of the moment that the series ends, they're all a pretty big mess.
Was there a moment in the writing where Stan did turn them in? Or a scenario where he didn’t piece it all together?
Fields: Well, everything was an option, but that — Stan turning them in — was never a storyline where that was really on the table — at least as we put this last season together. It's funny, we ran almost every scenario through our heads in order to make sure we really had the ending we liked best. And there were also some scenarios that were dismissed pretty quickly and some alternate scenarios that we gave a lot of consideration to. I think Stan never really finding out was dismissed pretty quickly.
We don’t get an answer on whether or not Renee, Stan’s second wife, is a spy. But do you have an answer in your mind? Does Laurie Holden know?
Fields: We'll give you a big no comment on all of that. Because as we come to the end of this story, we feel like we really got to tell the end of the story that we felt it wanted to be told, and part of that is turning the remainder of it over to the audience and letting them experience the end in this way.
Weisman: You know, it's interesting, we had a version of it at one point where Stan never got any clue at all about Renee, and that we didn't like. We didn't like leaving it hanging with Stan completely in the dark. That felt like cheating on him in a way. That felt sort of clever, almost cute. But as long as Stan got the word from Elizabeth so that you understand that going forward, he's going to have to deal with that, that felt interesting and emotional and then it leaves it to the audience to use their own imaginations to think about what he'll do or he won't do about the marriage.
Do you think Philip and Elizabeth would still be in Russia today, still together? What would they think of Putin?
Fields: We'll leave that up to the audience to figure out.
Aside from the disguises, a hallmark of the show is the music. Can you talk about the song selection for this episode. You give us Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” and U2’s “With or Without You.”
Fields: That was a real joy. Both of those sequences, as often happens with us, we knew that we would need music there and that very likely they would be songs. But we did not know which, even when we filmed them and even when we were in the editing room working on those sequences, we didn't know whether we would be able to find the right songs. We looked at just so many options and both of those montages. At one point I remember thinking that there were so much kind of emotional stuff happening in both those places that maybe we would have to figure out score rather than song. But then in each of those cases, we heard those songs, “Brothers in Arms” and “With or Without You,” and each one, boy, they were just so elevated by those pieces. We feel like we really got lucky.
Weisman: We're used to sitting in the editing room with Chris Long, our producing director ... he also directed the last two episodes ... and our editors, in this case Daniel Valverde and Amanda Pollack, who directed the last two episodes also. We're used to sitting with them and going over a lot, a lot of song choices, montages like that. But this being the last two episodes, especially the finale, but really, the finale, especially, we're so determined to hit a sort of level of, as close as we could come to for it that our sort of fastidiousness and perfectionism reached kind of insane levels. So we went from hours we would normally spend trying to get that right into just hours and hours and hours. And the dozens of songs we would normally listen to went into like, I mean, Joel will point this out, we listened to 100 songs for that. I don't know if we quite got there, but we probably got close, and we were in danger, I think, almost of losing our minds and driving each other and everyone else crazy. But we also knew that it would pay off.
Did you always know what the final words of the series would be — in this case, “We’ll get used to it” in Russian? Or did you at least know you wanted to end it with Russian dialogue?
Fields: Those sort of all came out when we were doing the scene toward the end. That final scene, Joe talks about the obsession, boy, that final scene was rewritten so many times, and it took us a long time to get to that, "We'll get used to it." But that's another one, when we found it, we knew it was right.
Weisman: And we didn't know if it'd be in Russian or English until we watched it in the editing room because we shot it in both ways. We shot it in Russian and we shot it in English, and although-
Fields: And we never saw it in English.
Weisman: Chris Long in his director's cut showed that to us in Russian, and always, always, the few times ... I don't know ... the three or four times in the history of the show we shot something in English and Russian, and we always looked at both to see which we liked better, but we loved this so much in Russian, the director's cut, as Joel was starting to say, we never watched the English version.
Can we talk about the scene where Stan confronts Philip, Elizabeth and Paige in the parking garage—
Fields: We really wanted to explore this relationship, this friendship between Philip and Elizabeth but also between these two families ... excuse me, between Philip and Stan but also between their two families and what it had meant. And in a lot of ways, this scene was both the ultimate test of and the ultimate result of the relationship that had been built over all of these years.
Were alternate endings discussed?
Fields: We went with our gut. I mean, we certainly explored and talked through alternate endings, but in terms of filming, the only options we had in filming were whether Elizabeth's final line would be in Russian or English. I think we had a strong sense it would be in Russian, but we got it both ways. But beyond that, we wrote the ending that we felt.
Weisman: Oh my God, if that ending hadn't worked, we would've been totally [screwed].
Fields: We would have been totally screwed if the ending hadn't worked. I don't think it occurred to us in a major way that the ending might not work. I think we had a lot of confidence in it. You always have a little choice with a little anxiety. But the truth is our bigger anxiety about this episode was probably that the garage scene, which we rewrote, we spent more time writing that scene than we've ever spent on a scene in the show, and the episode wouldn't have worked and the finale wouldn't have worked and, guess what, the show wouldn't have worked if that scene hadn't worked. But when we went to the read-through is when we knew that was gonna work. I mean, we wrote our final draft of it when we started to have confidence in it, but we didn't really know until we heard it.
When do we get the spin-off on how Henry is processing everything?
Fields: I thought you'd want to spin off on the future of the Mail Robot.
Weisman: But yeah, it’s horrible. Poor Henry.
Are you ready for people to dissect the finale?
Weisman: We're excited about it, and I think that it's easy to imagine a scenario where we'd be dreading it, but that's not how we feel at all. I think we're ready to have that sort of back-and-forth conversation to continue, and it'll obviously be the last one, and that's kind of sad. But that's one of the crazy things about television in this age. If you're incredibly fortunate as we've been to have a show that critics and writers take seriously enough to write so seriously about, that becomes one of the great projects.
So, if someone wants to make a show about the current U.S.-Russian relations, what advice would you give about exploring that dynamic?
Fields: Well, that's easy. Wait 20 years.
Weisman: I was going to say wait 35 years. I guess our collective answer would be wait 27 and a half years. Yeah, exactly, both our math is off.
All these years later, has your Russian improved?
Fields: I had no Russian to speak of and I still have no Russian to speak of. But I feel like we had something better than Russian. We had Masha Gessen doing our translation, and it's hard to beat that. Joe, did your Russian get better over the years?
Weisman: My Russian has been at a steady decline. I spoke a kind of low-level Russian at one point, and then I studied Spanish, which knocked most of it out of my head. And its precipitous decline has not been arrested by the show.