'The Americans' bosses answer burning questions from season finale
After a certifiably nail-biting string of episodes on FX’s The Americans, season 3 has finally come to an end—and lo, the finale managed to raise more questions than it answered.
Has Paige (Holly Taylor) truly picked a side in her battle between faith and family? Is Philip (Matthew Rhys) struggling under the weight of his mission at the same time that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is reaffirming devotion to hers? Stan (Noah Emmerich) is finally on the rise, but will he ever get the chips to trade Nina (Annet Mahendru) back? And what does Martha (Alison Wright) think about it all!?! (No, seriously, what does Martha think? We have no idea.)
To satisfy our craving for answers to the big questions raised in tonight’s season finale, we jumped on the line with The Americans executive producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg:
EW: Do we call what Paige did—spilling everything to Pastor Tim—a betrayal? A teenage girl turning to a friend? What do we call this?
JOEL FIELDS: We call this trouble.
JOE WEISBERG: We don’t know what to call it. It certainly has the makings of so many different things. That word betrayal is such a big, big word. It may be hard to know yet.
Has Paige made her decision, then? Faith over family?
FIELDS: I would say in this show, as in life, nothing’s over til it’s over. In terms of finality, it happened. In terms of what happens after, we’ll see next season.
I truly thought, when Paige took her mother and grandmother’s hands, that we didn’t have to worry about her allegiance anymore.
WEISBERG: Yeah, that was looking good for ten seconds, right?
If Paige hadn’t gone to Europe, do you think she would have still confessed to Pastor Tim?
WEISBERG: That’s a fascinating question. Paige was in such a difficult place anyway, and having so much trouble anyway. It’s hard to imagine her having been on a path where those things were about to get better. It seems that that trip did backfire and made everything come to a head sooner rather than later, but who knows? If she hadn’t gone, maybe something would have turned around, but I don’t see anything in the story that was about to turn her around.
FIELDS: If you listen to the specifics of what she says on the phone, really what she says is, I’m in so much pain, and that pain was there with or without a trip to west Germany. Elizabeth hoped—and thought—that it was more of a salve than it was, but that pain’s there.
A colleague has convinced me that there’s more to Pastor Tim than we know. We didn’t see Pastor Tim’s reaction during the phone call. Any sneaky reason why not?
FIELDS: He had just gotten out of the shower. He was naked. We couldn’t show that. But, to be honest, that was primarily a cinematic storytelling choice. That was a feeling that the power of it would be diminished by seeing the other side of that call.
What does seeing Elizabeth’s mother do for her moving forward? Could it erase the damage of what Lois Smith’s character said to her?
WEISBERG: Interesting that you connect those!
FIELDS: I don’t think that’s erasable. Those are separate things! But it’s interesting that after a season that started with her folding a body into a suitcase and involved her being told she’s evil by Lois Smith, that the final moment is her hearing Ronald Reagan accuse her of being part of an evil empire and looking at Philip with the sense that this in an way validates everything that they’ve been doing. And everything she has to do.
What was Philip trying to say? I’ve toiled over that scene a dozen times, but can’t seem to figure out how to read it.
WEISBERG: You’re in our sweet spot! If he had known how to finish that sentence, he would have finished it. We tried to really build in those pauses where she was giving him time to finish, and he couldn’t get to the end of that sentence. The first, most important thing is that he himself didn’t know how to get to the end of it. He wasn’t holding it back. He is not yet at a place where he knows what he’s trying to say, and that’s one of the most important things there. He’s really struggling there. He knows something’s wrong. He knows he needs something more. And he doesn’t himself know what it is.
March 8, 1983 is of course the episode’s title as well as the date of Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. The show has not often related to specific events in the outside world, which makes this one feel so significant. How does the placement here, given what Elizabeth and Philip have both just experienced, differ from your original vision of where you were going to use this speech?
FIELDS: We always hoped and planned to use it at the end of this season, although those things often change for us along the way, and this didn’t. I would say, where the individual characters were and how it was used … boy, it unfolded kind of perfectly and dropped into place.
WEISBERG: The amusing thing is, Joel and I both grew up around it and remember the actual speech, but the lines itself are really the things of legend. When we went to actually watch it, there was something a little bit tepid about it. It’s not really delivered with the kind of anger that you might expect that the words themselves convey. There’s a lot of other stuff in the speech that’s a lot more powerful, and we actually considered leaving out the part where he says “evil empire” because it was delivered in such a calm way! We’re like, well, we can’t do that. We can’t do the “evil empire” speech and not have him say the words. It was surprising to watch Reagan’s delivery of it though.
The placement is interesting because it comes at a time when Elizabeth is reaffirming her commitment to the mission just as Philip seems to be cracking. Are those the two sides of the coin we’re flipping here as we head into season four?
WEISBERG: For Philip, there’s a big crack in his emotional life that really questions if any political cause is really where his focus is. But for Elizabeth, it’s a reaffirmation to what she’s committed to all the time. She’s right to be committed to it! You’ve got a guy on the TV making this wild, dangerous accusation, where the person she thinks of as the devil is talking in a crazy way, this man with his finger on the nuclear trigger.
Why the decision to not show Martha’s reaction to Clark last week?
FIELDS: The truth is, I don’t think we were really thinking that we were not showing her reaction. We play that huge moment at the end of episode 12, which for a while, we had planned to do in episode 13. But we just decided that it would resonate more powerfully inside its own episode rather than trying to jam it in as part of the soup of the finale. The pieces of that story that continue into the finale—Philip committing a murder for her and setting this guy up to take the fall for her crime to allow her to continue to go forward—how she handles all that will be the stuff to jump into in season four.
Stan’s devolution from the big threat next door to a completely broken man has been fascinating. Is he officially on the upswing?
WEISBERG: Very much so. If you look at what happened to Stan last season, it was such a rough road. I really hate the phrase “hit bottom,” because it’s such a cliché that’s lost its power, but certainly Stan went through terrible times and suffered emotionally in a lot of ways. The question that presented itself for us is how is he going to climb out of that hole? We wanted it to not be sudden, fast, and unrealistic, but we wanted to see this man, this FBI agent start to climb up out in a way that feels real and true.
What is his big question going into season 4?
WEISBERG: It remains the question of how does this man put himself back together. Is it going to be through his job? His personal life? Through both? Is one going to lead the way? To a certain degree, we know the answer, but I’m not going to tell you!
What should viewers be asking ourselves during the hiatus between seasons?
WEISBERG: I think of that closing montage, and I look at Philip and Elizabeth. He’s sitting there, almost with his head in his hands. He’s just been at EST with Sandra opening up. He can see himself evolving at this rapid rate where he’s asking questions that he’s never asked before about what’s going on inside of him, which is a very beautiful thing to see a human being do, but it’s a tremendous threat to him and to his job and his marriage. It’s both dangerous and also wonderful at the same time.
You see him bring that back home and he can’t quite connect with his wife over it, so I’m curious to see what’s going to happen to the marriage. At the same time, she was there listening. She wanted to connect but he couldn’t’ say what he needed to say. And she, of course, is the one who’s true to the mission. There’s Reagan on the TV, screaming about the evil empire. How is she going to manage to fight the fight that needs to be fought? And is he going to be there at her side, or isn’t he going to be?
At the same time, you see Henry across the street with Stan, who is another great, great danger to them. What’s going to happen with that relationship? Is their son going to prove to be a threat to them? Is Stan? And their daughter is right there, breaking down in certain ways as they’re still on this route of recruiting her. There’s a level of these stories happening simultaneously around this family, and they’re all cracking. They’re all the things to watch out for.