LLeave it to The Americans showrunners to entirely subvert our expectations. With their acclaimed FX spy thriller heading into its penultimate season, do Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields tell us how season 5 is gaining steam toward some exciting conclusion? Nope! Not even a little.
“We’ve come to embrace the slow burn — such a slow burn that it may not even be burning at all,” Weisberg says wryly. “It’s not ramped up. It’s not hyped up. It’s not building the tension — but it will be a great season.” So what, then, is going on with EW’s first look image of stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in flight crew garb? Below we spoke to the ever-crafty producers and tried our best to get some answers about the new season, which debuts in March.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When producers know they’re doing a penultimate season, they usually opt for one of two tactics: Either more ramping up to the dramatic final season or they approach things like it’s actually the first half of the final season and major events are happening throughout. Which did you opt for?
JOE WEISBERG: We are doing neither of those tactics. We have a whole new tactic. People have called this show a “slow burn.” We used to think that was a back-handed compliment, or possibly even an insult. We’ve come to embrace the slow burn — such a slow burn that it may not even be burning at all. We’re just telling a story as it unfolds. For us, the penultimate season is just another season of telling a story of this family and the people around them. It’s not ramped up. It’s not hyped up. It’s not building the tension — but it will be a great season.
JOEL FIELDS: In a strange way this story has come to life so much for us that we’re just telling the story we have and following it. It would seem backward to us to say, “How do we construct backward from the final season of the show?” When FX picked up the final season they didn’t say, “You have 23 episodes left.” They said, “What do you guys feel?” and “let’s have a dialogue and how much we need together to tell this story.” The story is giving us more than we’re giving the story.
WEISBERG: Just to be really difficult, we should tell everybody that we’re slowing down. Because when you’re about to come to a stop, you’ve got to slow down! So we’re slowing down some and then next season we’re going to cruise very slowly to the finish line. There were no airbags in the ‘80s, you have to be very careful.
The Americans — unsafe at any speed?
WEISBERG: Ah, there you go! There’s your lede.
So let’s talk about this photo. I know you don’t want to say too much about it.
FIELDS: Meet the Eckerts. Brad and Dee.
WEISBERG: He’s a pilot. She’s a stewardess.
FIELDS: They’re new in the neighborhood.
I look at this and wonder: Are they going to actually infiltrate a plane going somewhere? Or is this for, like, hanging out in an airport cocktail lounge?
WEISBERG: Did Philip in his KGB training learn to fly a 747? That’s a good question.
FIELDS: He’ll probably have to wing it.
Oh boy. So Paige (Holly Taylor). Last time we saw her she was becoming Elizabeth’s mini-me and playing with spy craft.
WEISBERG: That has been in many ways a lot of back and forth on that, and that will continue. This will be the season where there are bigger and more profound resolutions there then we’ve seen before. There’s also going to be a fun and interesting Henry story this season.
Does Paige’s involvement with the Beeman boy continue?
WEISBERG: Well, she sure didn’t seem like she was showing signs of stopping at the end of last season, and the last moments of last season were her father telling her to absolutely not go there — and we all generally know where that leads.
Right? And here we thought Philip was smart. What do you want to say about the FBI? They keep getting clues without getting a clue.
FIELDS: The FBI will be off in a new direction that we think will be intriguing and — in a real rarity for The Americans — occasionally amusing.
Usually, you have subplot like last year’s virus storyline. Is there something like that this year?
WEISBERG: There’s a really good one but we can’t say it.
FIELDS: The Eckerts will be involved in that subplot.
When we last left Philip and Elisabeth they were debating going to Russia. How’s their marriage going? How are our anti-heroes at the start of the season?
FIELDS: First of all: “Anti-heroes”!?
Heroes! They’re totally heroic. They’re great people.
FIELDS: They’re doing their best as soldiers behind enemy lines trying to make it work and — in their view — making the world a better place. They don’t have any of the selfishness of some anti-heroes I’ve heard about. In terms of their marriage, as challenging as things have been for them, they’re in a good place. Their marriage is actually as strong as its ever been. You think of the final moment in the finale, he’s looking at her and she’s looking at him and he’s marching their teenage daughter back across the street from danger. It’s a hard time for them but they have as strong of a connection as they’ve ever had. That’s where the season starts out.
WEISBERG: They’re going to be tested, as usual. They’re in a good place, but will they stay in that good place?
Last season’s attempted mugging had fatal consequences. Obviously, that will impact Paige, but have they gotten away with it, or does that encounter circle back?
WEISBERG: I think you’re onto something there. It’s going to have a big impact. It’s not forgotten.
Martha (Alison Wright), still off the grid?
WEISBERG: She’s off the grid. But what’s your grid?
The grid is the cast of the show.
FIELDS: We did not say that.
Ah! Do we want to talk about Oleg (Costa Ronin)? What’s going on with the Russian side of things?
WEISBERG: We think that’s going to a be a surprising and big story this season. If you’re an Oleg fan, you’re going to be happy…The characters are all heading into new places.
How’s Stan (Noah Emmerich) doing?
WEISBERG: There’s going to be new developments in Stan’s personal life. Laurie Holden is cast in the show and she’s a new love interest for Stan.
Does she work at the FBI?
FIELDS: She’s good at aerobics.
WEISBERG: We feel like we’re being cagey. But we don’t mean to be!