[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Wednesday’s Season 3 finale of The Americans. Read at your own risk.]
Paige couldn’t handle the truth.
On The Americans’ Season 3 finale Wednesday, Paige (Holly Taylor) made the trip abroad with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) to see Elizabeth’s ailing mother. While the visit went off without a hitch, the troubled teen still couldn’t deal with the weight of her parents’ KGB identities and endless lies, placing a desperate call to Pastor Tim in her room upon their return. “They’re liars and they’re trying to turn me into one. … They’re not who they say they are. They’re not Americans,” she whispers. “You can’t tell anyone. They’re… they’re Russians.”
The scene was wonderfully intercut with footage of President Reagan’s infamous speech on March 8, 1983 (the episode title), in which he dubbed the Soviet Union an “evil empire” — which Elizabeth made Philip (Matthew Rhys) watch just as he was about to divulge his own inner turmoil about the mounting burden of their job. Earlier in the episode, while Elizabeth and Paige were away, Philip had taken care of the “Martha thing” by killing Gene (Luke Robertson) and framing him for Gaad’s bugged pen. He also began attending EST sessions solo, where he bumped into Stan’s ex-wife Sandra (Susan Misner), who suggested that they tell each other everything.
Meanwhile, Stan (Noah Emmerich), in hopes of securing Nina’s (Annet Mahendru) return to the United States, turned in a tape of Oleg (Costa Ronin) admitting that Zinaida (Svetlana Efremova) is a double agent, only to find his job temporarily on the line.
So what’s next for the Jennings? Will Philip tell all to Sandra? And where in the world was Martha (Alison Wright) in the finale? Executive producer Joel Fields answers our burning questions.
When did you decide that Paige would tell Pastor Tim?
Joel Fields: That was kind of a late development. I think there was a lot that we knew early on. We really planned to end on the “evil empire” speech. Even as that final montage came together, I think it was maybe two-thirds through the season that we realized that that was going to be the moment. I think we realized it in part by seeing how impacted Paige was by finding this out and how in her grief she didn’t have anywhere to turn. … She’s their daughter, but she’s also an American and I don’t mean that in the sense that she’s patriotic because she’s not going across the street to Stan Beeman, but in the sense that her soul has needs that are different. As she says to her mother, “I don’t think I can spend my life lying to the people in my life.”
I loved the shot of the three generations of women holding hands, and Elizabeth on the ground, like she was almost begging Paige to join the cause. Do you think meeting her grandmother helped or hurt Paige either way? Philip and Elizabeth were obviously hoping this would help them.
Fields: For me, it’s unclear. What is clear for me is I don’t think she went there with a plan to tell Pastor Tim. I think she’s spinning and in grief and doesn’t know what she feels. Part of what’s powerful to me about how Holly and Keri played things is that beautiful scene when they get back. Paige admits from the depths of her soul that she doesn’t want to spend her life lying to people and Elizabeth, with her best maternal support, tells her daughter, “Everybody lies.” And then when Philip asks how it went, she said, “I think it was good for her.” Elizabeth is smart. She knows this is going to be a long process for Paige to recover from. She’s not going to force her to do anything. She doesn’t think there was any simple transformation that could take place on this trip, but she thinks it was a big step, and yet there’s Paige in the other room making that call and a big move that will affect them all.
Did Elizabeth think she kept her at bay for the time being?
Fields: I think part of the tragic circumstance of living a life of lies is that you can never be sure, even with the people you love the most. All of us have to make a choice to trust the people we love. That’s what love is; that’s what family is. On the other side of that trust, what you get in exchange is intimacy. But it’s always a leap of faith. For these characters, it’s very large and the stakes are life and death.
You guys have started breaking Season 4, so what are the repercussions of this?
Fields: I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I will tell you we’re very excited to write those repercussions and dig into that. … Joe [Weisberg] and I have a pretty clear story on [what Pastor Tim would do], but we’re always open to changing it and making it better. So far, it’s holding and so far it’s working. … [Philip and Elizabeth] are in a box. Their relationship with Paige is different than their relationship with other people in their lives. It’s a lot more complicated and a lot more fraught, which means it’s a lot more interesting and fun to write if and when they find out.
Poor Henry. He’s left out in the cold.
Fields: [Laughs] Well, he does have a handheld football game! And a pretty good Eddie Murphy impression. But he’s also finding a new companion in Stan, which is both a potential threat because who wants to see their child start to be parented by someone else? And also, it’s an incredible occupational threat for these people with this secret.
The scene a couple weeks ago when Stan walked in and Paige was eyeing him, like, “Does he know? How much does he know?” was great.
Fields: Oh, yes. So good. Larysa Kondracki directed that and it was just pitch-perfect. That’s something that won’t go away for [Paige].
Philip’s cracking under the pressure. Did you script it that way for Eilzabeth to cut him off as he was trying to bare his heart and soul? Was there a version where he actually told her?
Fields: We first wrote it out in our heads and we gave it to Matthew before the scene shot when he asked for it. It’s interesting. Did she cut him off or did Ronald Reagan cut him off? [Laughs] In fairness to Elizabeth, she sits down and listens and says to him, “I don’t understand. Tell me.” He’s trying and not getting there, and in a pre-TiVo era, Ronald Reagan starts to deliver the most important words of his presidency on the Soviet threat, so she didn’t quite cut him off. … I think the story of how that thought gets finished is a big ongoing part of that character and this marriage. As you said, that thought has to do with, “Is he cracking?” How does he reconcile his soul with who they are?
I loved the parallels between father and daughter. Gabriel even told Philip he was acting like a child. They were both wrestling with things, acting out and being defiant in their own ways.
Fields: Totally. And it’s a threat to the status quo when children grow up because everything changes. That will definitely continue.
A lot of people were expecting a big aftermath with Martha after last week’s spectacularly creepy wig removal, but she was MIA in the finale. What’s ahead for her?
Fields: There’s more Martha ahead for sure. It’s funny. There’s a lot of talk that Martha wasn’t in the finale. The truth is we didn’t put her in it because we felt like we really wanted to give her her due and give her story the dramatic resonance it warranted. It felt like it was better done in Episode 12 with the plot getting closed out through Gene and what Philip had to do to protect her in the finale. But don’t worry, there’s a lot more Martha ahead!
I think some people also feared that he de-wigged to kill her and might do it off-screen.
Fields: We’re not gonna kill Martha off-screen between seasons, that much is for sure. I can say that!
That wig scene was so well done. Even if he was going to kill her, it was like he was giving her the respect and courtesy of not killing her as someone she knew.
Fields: Right. We knew we wanted to do that scene. The first stage is writing it. The second stage is getting the expletive-laden email from Alison Wright after she’s read it. [Laughs] The third stage is shooting it and the final stage is editing it. That was one where there was also a lot of discussion about the mechanics of the wig itself. I’m sure you know, we really struggled with Clark’s wig and we felt like we had a big screw-up in Season 1 when it was just plucked off his head. Then we tried to correct it in Season 2. We had kind of our weak arc in Season 2 and then it became this dramatic character point here. We just wanted it to feel very real. He was choosing to double-down on their intimacy rather than do something worse.
Speaking of intimacy, how seriously is Philip considering telling Sandra “everything” or at least continue their EST relationship?
Fields: EST itself and the possibility of a relationship with Sandra, a woman for whom honesty is the most important quality – that’s a very combustible and dangerous thing in their lives. And yet it could also be the thing that helps him. And is Stan going to find out?
What’s Stan’s next step, job-wise, both in general and in trying to get Nina back?
Fields: Ironically, he’s on the outs with the people he most needs to support him whose trust he betrayed. And yet he’s been given carte blanche by the Reagan administration to do what it takes to get inside the Rezidentura. He’s on the one hand having his greatest professional triumph and on the other finding that he’s gotta do it without the help of the people who most deserve the trust. But he hasn’t given up on Nina.
Do you have a theme for next season? A general plan arc-ed out?
Fields: Our amazing writers room … is hard at work every day on Season 4. And we’ve been talking a lot about theme and the shape of the season. We hold two things at the same time: We have strong ideas about where we’re going, and a lot of strong instincts about how the season will start and where the twists will be and where it’s going to end.
Will we see Gabriel, Claudia and even Kimmy again?
Fields: We love all those characters and we sure hope so.