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The Americans Finale Postmortem: Who Survived Season 1?

Wednesday’s season finale of The Americans left viewers on the edge of their seat as Elizabeth (Keri Russell), not Phillip (Matthew Rhys), walked into a trap set up by the FBI that would’ve resulted in a striking blow to the KGB.

Believing the meeting with a possible intelligence asset is actually an FBI setup, Phillip decides to take on that mission himself, leaving Elizabeth to simply pick up a recording and then get the kids out of town. But it’s Elizabeth’s seemingly simple mission that’s actually the setup. Nina (Annet Mahendru) is able to deduce a coup is coming after Stan (Noah Emmerich) guarantees her extradition, but, because it’s the ’80s and there are no cell phones, the KGB is unable to warn their agents, resorting to more archaic methods to send the abort message. But when Phillip realizes the abort is meant for Elizabeth, he goes straight into the FBI’s trap to save her — and although they are able to escape, Elizabeth gets shot in the process.

Obviously, Elizabeth will survive into Season 2 — they’re not firing Keri Russell, ‘natch — but other characters’ fates are left up in the air, including Claudia (Margo Martindale) who was told she’d be reassigned, but risked her own life to save Phillip and Elizabeth after getting the abort signal. To get the scoop on Season 2, turned to executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields.

Will there be a time jump between Season 1 and Season 2?
Joel Fields: We’re still figuring stuff out. We have a lot of the ideas about the next season. There’s not going to be some great leap forward in time. Elizabeth has been shot, but I don’t think it’s a great spoiler to say she won’t die, the relationship will continue, and we’ll probably want to pick up the story fairly close to where we left off.
Joe Weisberg: No one ever goes backwards to like ’77. That would be interesting.
Fields: One of the things we say in the writers’ room is that all joke pitches eventually become true pitches.

What was the decision behind having Elizabeth shot in the finale? How does that change her feelings about the KGB?
Weisberg: The thing that we always try to remember is that it’s a show about a marriage. That’s the thing that we think lends for the depth of feelings and helps the viewers connect to it. Even when she gets shot, what that really is about is what Phillip and Elizabeth feel for each other. When we first started thinking about that, what intrigued us was how that would alter the relationship between the two of them. That was the main thing that was important about it, that it would be a catalyst for her to be able to say what things she’s been feeling ever since that night in the hotel room when she found out that Phillip was getting an apartment. It allowed her to say she wanted him to come home and it pretty clearly motivated him to want to come home as well. I don’t think it’s something she’s going to blame the KGB for. She might blame Stan, but at least he made it up to them by watching the kids. [Laughs]

Do you think that this will reenergize their commitment to the KGB, or will this make them second-guess the organization?
Fields: I don’t think what happened in the finale is really going to challenge their attitude towards the KGB. There may be other reasons for them to question that as the show continues to unfold. I think they’re soldiers in a military operation behind enemy lines and what happened happened. In that sense, it’s par for the course. I think the real question is how does it affect the dynamic of their relationship and marriage? There’s probably nothing more lonely than being a spy. You’re living a life that’s a constant lie and you can’t have an honest conversation with anybody. Phillip and Elizabeth are in this strange situation where there is somebody with whom they can try to be honest. Now the question is how much they’re going to open up emotionally? That’s going to be the story of next season.
Weisberg: The KGB, in terms of operations, was right. They were right that the meeting with the colonel provided almost unimaginably valuable intelligence and they were right that the meeting should’ve gone forward because it wasn’t a setup. The thing that turned out to be a setup neither the KGB, nor Phillip and Elizabeth, nor Claudia could’ve anticipated. It would be hard for anybody in the world of intelligence to blame anybody else for that. That was just damn good work by the FBI.
Fields: When you think about it from an operational standpoint, the KGB did everything it could when they got the information. Arkady (Lev Gorn) went and spray-painted the cars, which put them at risk for exposing his operation inside the Rezidentura. Claudia, who was not in disguise and had every reason to figure they were past their fail-safe, drove her car into the middle of the park to try to get Phillip up. Had that been a setup, she was giving herself up too!
Weisberg: There you go defending the KGB again, Joel. [Laughs]

Speaking of Claudia, will Margo Martindale still be a part of The Americans next season, or is Claudia’s transfer a way to facilitate her exit for other projects?
Fields: Whether she’s there or not there, she’ll be part of The Americans. Our hope is that she’ll be there. She’s a fantastic actress and we love the character. Margo does have a pilot that she’ll find out about soon, but there’s always a hope for Claudia in the world of The Americans.

In the closing moments of the finale, we see Paige (Holly Taylor) exploring the laundry room. Will we see the possibility of Phillip and Elizabeth’s children discovering or being let in on their secret in the second season?
Weisberg: We think that Season 2 is going to be a big chance to explore the family dynamic between the parents and the kids. As you saw, one of the kids is starting to get a little curious about what the hell is going on with this family. Not that she thinks her mom is in the KGB, but that some of the things that have been going on in the family are starting to not add up for her.
Fields: We’ve explored this in the writers’ room that every adolescent, at some point, starts to get a feeling that their parents aren’t who they imagined them to be from the moment they were toddlers moving forward. It just so happens that in Paige’s case, when she starts to ask those tough questions, boy is there a secret she doesn’t know about.

There’s only so long that Stan Beeman can be unaware that his neighbors are KGB agents. Is there any part of him that suspects that his neighbors could be this couple?
Weisberg: We think he’s really over that. That it was something he suspected in the pilot and he got over it and dismissed it as him being paranoid based on his undercover days. He really let that go. Until there is really more evidence that appears, there’s no real reason for him to suspect again. Those things do have to come up, but it’s up to us to dole them out as we see fit. For example, those sketches came up, but those sketches don’t really look like them.
Fields: We spent hours seeing different sketches to make sure that they felt believable, but they would also never tip Stan off.
Weisberg: Lucky it’s the 1980s because those were the days before sketch artists used computers and get these much more realistic sketches. We talked a lot about what people see when they’re victimized and how those ideas are fused with their different fears.

Arkady raised the question of whether Stan could ever be turned since Nina is really working for the KGB instead of against them. Do you actually think that’s a possibility?
Fields: Well, we’ll see, won’t we? I don’t mean that to be cagey, but Stan is a character who has really surprised us over the course of the season. Noah Emmerich is such a deep and rich actor. As we started to explore the cast story in terms of what may or may not have happened when he was undercover and take him on this journey with Nina to becoming a guy who’s really using his position of power to enter into a sexual relationship with somebody who had her life in his hands to a guy who would kill somebody. Who knows where Stan could go? He’s also a guy who is deeply patriotic and loves his family. What was partly exciting about that moment with Arkady was that it was a chance for Nina to suddenly be faced with a different view of Stan. She saw him as a very powerful FBI agent, but to allow a different perspective from Arkady, she’s been shown Stan has a weakness.

In that same vein, Phillip has married Martha (Alison Wright). How long can he really keep up this charade?
Weisberg: We think those kids really have a chance! [Laughs] In the real world, KGB illegals married secretaries of important men with access to classified information. Some of those marriages lasted for years. I think some of them lasted over a decade. Now that doesn’t mean that a fictional one that you created on television necessarily can believably last as long or feel real for that length of time. It depends on how you set it up. We don’t know how long it will last or how long we want it to last. One of the most interesting things to explore in that relationship is what Martha does and doesn’t know. I love the moments where she says to him, “Is this real?” or “You came out of the blue.” You get the feeling that a part of her either knows or suspects, but she’ll push anything down for love because that makes her feel so human. If being in love with this guy is more important than anything, that means it could last forever.

In the beginning, you guys set out to make viewers feel sympathetic towards the KGB. How successful do you feel about that now looking back at the season?
Fields: Oh I’m so glad you asked that!
Weisberg: [Laughs]
Fields: I love Joe Weisberg, we get a long great. I don’t mind that we’re quoted interchangeably to the press, but I did not say I wanted you to root for the KGB, that was Joe. For me, I wanted people to root for Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings and for these two human beings in this crazy, super-charged, emotional relationship behind enemy lines. We know that Communism failed, they lost the Cold War, so we’re not trying to get people to root for that. But for that world that they lived in in 1981, a world where nuclear weapons are poised and at the ready, and their nation is teetering on the edge of survival, it’s a very powerful place to put two characters in a love story. I hope, in that, we were successful.
Weisberg: To a certain degree, people are just letting go of rooting for this or that. They don’t feel so much that it has to be one side or the other. Everything is complicated and you can root for the different sides all at the same time; it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think that’s a real interesting to feel while watching a show about the Cold War.