Spoiler Alert: The following postmortem contains details about tonight’s series finale of The Americans on FX
Imagine you’re FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), and you just learned that the next door neighbors who’ve been your best friends for the last few years are literally Soviet spies, the types you’ve been hunting all this time during the tail-end years of the Cold War.
Wouldn’t you just lose it?
But, no, Stan kept his cool. And though he had the Jennings spy family of Philip (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Paige (Holly Taylor) at gunpoint, sweating under the parking garage lights for the activities they were accountable for, the trio were able to tap dance their way out of being cuffed. And in return for letting them go, you could say they indirectly gave Stan the OK to have custody of their son Henry Jennings. He’s the innocent guy in all of this who didn’t need to be tied up in their hijinks and made for collateral damage.
And so it is that the final episode ever of FX’s The Americans, “Start” goes out as a negotiation, and not so much a bang.
But for The Americans creator Joe Weisberg and EP Joel Fields, the series was destined to go down as a peace treaty between the Russians and Yanks, and not with any one Jennings taking a bullet.
“There’s a lot of shooting that usually goes down with different spy stories and when it comes to our main characters, it’s all about relationships. It’s a show about parenthood, and very close friendships. The most interesting scenes in our show are when people are talking to each other, and yelling at each other; it’s all these people baring their souls,” Weisberg tells Deadline about that the calm getaway that the Jennings pulled off tonight.
To untangle them from Stan’s interrogation, Philip, in defending his spy life, appeals to Stan’s sense of practicality and mediocrity as an agent: “We had a job to do. You were my only friend in my whole shitty life. My life was the joke, not yours” Philip tells Stan, “I wished you stayed with me at EST, you might know what to do here.” In the end, confesses, Philip, it wasn’t the Americans they stopped, but their own people who were trying to frame Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as a traitor during his December 1987 Summit with U.S. President Ronald Reagan; the first time a Soviet President visited stateside since Leonid Brezhnev in 1973.
In regards to why Stan didn’t fire, and why one Jennings spouse didn’t jump in front of the other, Fields says, “Killing one of them off, wasn’t in the cards. This is the ending we’ve been steering toward for some time. It always felt right and viable. We experimented with a lot of creative and different endings.”
Staying in the spirit of the spy series, Weisberg and Fields remain tight-lipped about what those alternate endings were.
However, what the duo did share was their insight on the Jennings’ future. Paige in particular has been the secret sauce of the final season, one who the Jennings attempted to shield from their careers, but in the end took to the cause like fish-to-water, able to knock down men twice her size to the floorboards. Paige bravely decided tonight that she would not be on the lam with her parents, nor be destined to a life in the U.S.S.R. She steps off the train and ultimately takes refuge in Claudia’s apartment with a bottle of vodka. Is spy life in the cards for her? Does she wind up infiltrating the U.S. State Department, and watching as President Donald Trump wins the 2016 president election thanks to mother Russia?
“Once Paige’s parents left, their identities are blown, and there’s no real way for her to carry on as a spy with her parents exposed,” says Fields, “She’d be under so much suspicion, she couldn’t carry on.”
Like the ring of suburban spies that were arrested in 2010, and served as partial inspiration for The Americans, would Paige’s doors ultimately be busted down by the Feds decades later?
“I think she went to a place for a few quiet hours to think,” continues Fields about our final memory of Paige.
And unlike Nina’s reception back in the U.S.S.R. which resulted in her death as a traitor to the state, the Jennings, despite countering their bosses’ wishes to foil Gorbachev at the Summit, look as though they wound up on the right side of the law, zooming past passport control and receiving car service from Rezidentura KGB field resident Arkady Zotov who greets them warmly. Looking at the city skyline, Elizabeth tells Philip, “Who knows what would have happened here. I probably would have worked in a factory, managed a factory, you might have.” He answers, “It feels strange” about their new lives back home, to which Elizabeth responds in the native tongue, “We’ll get used to it.”
So all is well?
“It’s tricky for them politically,” says Weisberg about the Jennings’ future in their homeland, “On the plus side, they defended Gorbachev, but they defied conspirators who were powerful and running the KGB on the minus side. It’s a bit tenuous. Gorbachev survived until the end of his term of power (Christmas 1991), so that’s good for them.”
“But in the long term they may not have the right friends,” adds Fields, “In terms of their longer history, that has not yet been written.”