“We don’t like to give away really anything, but probably one thing we’re willing to say is that there’s going to be a resolution,” The Americans executive producer Joel Fields reveals of the upcoming sixth and final season of the acclaimed 1980s-set FX series. With that in mind, tonight’s Season 5 finale sure looks like Pastor Tim is leaving his church in suburban Washington D.C., Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) may be leaving the FBI, and most of the Morozova family is headed back to Moscow. It also looks like Soviet moles Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are staying Stateside for the final season next year.
Having snagged a direct secret line to the CIA’s new head of the Soviet division, the tormented character played by Emmy nominee Matthew Rhys had to tell his spouse played by Keri Russell in tonight’s Season 5 ender that their much-discussed plan to leave the shadows of spycraft after a decade in the U.S. and return to the Soviet Union with their teenage children has been put on ice.
This hitting of the pause button on the boombox comes at the end of a year that has seen the Joe Weisberg-created show introduce a whole new family, new love interests, an encouraged suicide attempt, troubled consciences and an emerging sense of duty and purpose for Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor). With Ronald Reagan coasting to his 1984 re-election and seismic shifts and new openness coming to the Soviet Union and its leadership, the drama is certainly heading toward hitting the hard wall of history –in one way or another.
With that in mind, and on the day that Russell received her own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, I chatted with Weisberg and Fields about tonight’s “The Soviet Division” finale (which they co-wrote), where this season took us, and what we can expect for the sixth and final season. The duo also revealed the toll a life of espionage takes, how so much of Season 5 took place on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and why we will never ever see Donald Trump on The Americans.
DEADLINE: So, after all that anticipation this season, a big CIA catch means Philip and Elizabeth are not heading home to the Soviet Union. So what’s next?
WEISBERG: Still not going home. They still can’t get home. It was so close though, so close. They’re not only not going home, but it sure sounds like Philip is quitting his job — at least his spy job. It sounds like he’s going to work at the travel agency full time.
DEADLINE: Well, I doubt you mean that, but it did seem like you had Keri’s character looking for a reason not to return home, which, of course, is a real turn for her from her contempt for the West that has fueled much of the series.
WEISBERG: We think that she was being sincere in what she told Philip about why she couldn’t go back. Whether she was dying to go back, having second thoughts about going back, whatever it was, it felt to us like that was classical Elizabeth Jennings that when duty calls she had to answer the call. It was certain she couldn’t go home when she and Philip now have their hooks in the new head of the Soviet division at the CIA.
DEADLINE: Which brings us to the sixth and final season for next year. With history catching up to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, will we see Season 6 pick up from the Season 5 events of 1984 or move ahead in time toward a real resolution?
FIELDS: Dominic, you know we don’t like to give away really anything, but probably one thing we’re willing to say is that there’s going to be a resolution. Sometimes people will ask about The Americans. Is it moving slowly? Is anything happening? I think we are all willing to give away that there is something that most people who speak the English language would be willing to call a real ending.
DEADLINE: OK, but over this season you’ve obviously had several plot lines going. We’ve seen Philip and Elizabeth’s other family with Tuan, and we’ve seen a lot from Moscow. What are the seeds you guys are planting with those stories going toward your conclusion in Season 6?
WEISBERG: Again, we don’t want to give away too much because we want next season to feel like a sort of fresh surprise. But people do ask the question a lot how much was this season kind of gearing up for next season, and I think we can say that wasn’t really how we approached this season – honestly.
Now, we did have certain things, primarily in the emotional and psychological development of Philip and Elizabeth, that we were very intent on working through in order to get them as people and as a couple and as a family where they needed to be for next season to take place. But in terms of the overall storyline, that was not really something that occupied us. We really were telling these stories as another season of The American.
DEADLINE: Yes, but this penultimate season is not just another season of The Americans, is it?
WEISBERG: Well, yes, but you know the only thing that I would say is that it’s coming to an end and that’s a very bittersweet thing for us. It’s been a very moving and kind of exciting and exceptional time in our life for us, and it’s hard to be coming to the end. At the same time, it’s been so rewarding, so great, and we’re sort of excited to get to this final chapter as well.
DEADLINE: Are we going to see any new characters introduced in that final chapter?
WEISBERG: Yes, we are.
FIELDS: Oh yeah. For sure.
DEADLINE: And on what side of the Berlin Wall those characters will be?
WEISBERG: Maybe both sides. Who knows?
FIELDS: (laughs) Well, we know, but we’re not talking.
DEADLINE: For a show so authentically drenched in the 1980s, there is one real-life character I’ve always been sure we would see one day on The Americans, a certain Art Of The Deal author who really became known back in the Reagan Era. So why hasn’t Donald Trump appeared on The Americans, even in the background or as an aside?
FIELDS: You know, it’s a funny thing. Had Donald Trump not become such a prominent part of our lives today, he certainly could have appeared in the background of the show (both laugh). Joking aside, that’s exactly the sort of reference we feel we could never make in the show, because it would have a self-conscious link. We feel would take the audience out of the experience of being immersed in the show and yank them back into today, and really isn’t the whole point of watching TV today to not have to think about today?
DEADLINE: So, going into Season 6, we’ll never see Donald Trump on The Americans?
FIELDS: I think as much as we try to prevent spoilers I am confident in saying we won’t. Joe, are you OK with that spoiler?
WEISBERG: I think we can say he’s not going to be in the show. Although, if you print that, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a call from him asking to be in the show.
DEADLINE: Calls from the White House aside, now that Season 5 is over and you are deep at work on Season 6, what has The Americans, the show, been and become for you guys?
WEISBERG: I think we look back at Season 1 obviously wistfully at this point, and we think about how we were telling these very episodic stories. Also for us we were just getting to know the characters at that point. And now five years later we’ve moved to a very different kind of storytelling.
We obviously by even the second season had moved to a much more serialized kind of storytelling. By the fifth season that had gotten almost extreme. Even some people started complaining about it to a certain degree how far we’d drifted from the need to have exciting things happening in each episode or some might even say in this season at all.
DEADLINE: I think anyone would be hard-pressed to say this season hasn’t been exciting, especially in terms of family dynamics.
WEISBERG: Well, yes, but it also feels like we’ve been on such a journey with these characters that we feel like we know them intensely well at this point too. We almost know what they’ll do in any situation and we no longer even tend to feel when we’re breaking stories like we have to do it in a traditional sense. We don’t feel like we have to come up with a story. We feel like we can just think about what would really happen to these characters. So that’s quite a journey and quite a change from the beginning.
DEADLINE: I’ve always felt part of the appeal of the show is that as it plays into this ethos of the Reagan era so uniquely through the characters of these suburbanized Soviet moles. In this finale as you see Paige watching the news reports of Reagan and his ill-timed joke about bombing Russia, that was such a part of the real events and ethos of the ‘80s playing into the story. Give us a sense why you chose to use that clip which is so well known in our culture, but to take it from another perspective.
FIELDS: For us it’s one of the really exciting parts of exploring these characters whenever there’s a chance to see their point of view that’s so different from our own isn’t it? Philip, of course, sees things much more from an American perspective. He understands things more in that way and there’s Paige who’s grown up here and she is suddenly seeing things through her mother’s eyes for the first time. You know it’s always interesting to take the communications of anybody whether it’s a leader, whether it’s a nation, or whether it’s an individual and to see how differently they can be experienced based on where you stand.
DEADLINE: Especially if part of that perspective is high-stakes Cold War spycraft…
WEISBERG: One of the things this show has been exploring from the start is espionage, what espionage is, and what espionage means. What it means to live as a human being, not really this sort of fantasy idea of espionage and we don’t really mean the James Bond version. We mean the real version of espionage, which is still in a lot of people’s mind sort of glamorous. It’s been thought to be something that is essentially vital and important and can save the world or really help their country.
In the drama of The Americans, we wanted to look what the toll espionage takes on people is like. And, if we can assume that for some people that toll is very high, then you can also assume that for some people they’re going to become disillusioned. They’re going to recognize what that toll is both for them personally and also for the nations that use espionage that it’s not really what it seems to be. So one of the dramatic things for this show was exploring that in Philip and in Stan. It’s obviously different for Elizabeth because although the toll is high for her too she is not very consciously aware of it. But the story we’ve been telling about Philip and Stan is both of them becoming in different ways and or consciously aware of what’s happening to them. I’ll say this, in Season 5 I think for both of them, that awareness has sort of reached a new height.
DEADLINE: At the same time as that awareness, and the mirroring in the finale of both men contemplating leaving that life, you’ve had a solidifying of the forced marriage of Philip and Elizabeth into a true and apparently deep love – with jealousies and a real sharing of vows. Was the goal from the beginning of the series always to bring them to that point, with its symbolism and all?
WEISBERG: Believe it or not, that’s a funny question, Dominic. Specifically the goal of getting them married was on the table really in Season 1 and we thought that it was going to happen at the end of Season 1 and it just didn’t feel right at the end. So we figured we’d get to it in Season 2 and by the time we were done realizing it didn’t feel right in Season 2 we sort of abandoned the idea and figured we were done with it. But the show naturally took us to a place where it wanted to happen here towards the end of Season 5.
DEADLINE: Seemed like its intention was a contrast to the disillusionment that pervaded the season from Philip and Stan, to Elizabeth in her own way, Gabriel and Oleg Burov back in Moscow, working for and being investigated by the KGB, no?
WEISBERG: Well, there’s another side to that disillusionment as both Philip and Stan become more aware of and disillusioned by the lies and dishonesty that are necessary in their spy work they also become more open to honesty and integrity in their own personal relationships. So it’s notable that along with that disillusionment on the one hand there’s a resurrection for each of them personally this season. You know, Renee may be a KGB minder or not, but Stan’s having the best relationship he’s ever had. Philip has found a way to get married to the woman he loved this season. None of that would have been possible without that growth.
DEADLINE: When you guys talk about disillusionment of course we’re also seeing this other side of it where you opened a whole new avenue of storytelling with Costa’s character back in Moscow this season. Why did you decide to take that approach so late in the run of the show, and are we finding a mirroring happening on both sides of the Cold War here?
WEISBERG: That was a great surprise for us. Not really the mirroring of disillusionment in Oleg’s character which was planned and sort of consistent with how the show treats these characters and treats espionage. The surprise was more than we ended up having such a long and important story to tell in the Soviet Union. That wasn’t something we’d thought would ever happen.
Oleg very naturally returned to the Soviet Union and we suddenly saw this huge opportunity in a show where most of the named characters whether they’re speaking English or Russian are Russians. You know Stan isn’t but Philip and Elizabeth are and so the show is about Soviets and here we have a chance to go to the Soviet Union. An opportunity to tell a long story about a Soviet character and his family and his work life back there, and we just realized that was something we wanted to do. We wanted that society from the inside.
— Costa Ronin (@CostaRonin) May 30, 2017
DEADLINE: Getting a little inside in our society, in our industry. Both Matthew and Keri were nominated at the Golden Globes this year, both were nominated for Emmys last year ,and Margo won her second Guest Actress award – is it bittersweet to see the show getting such awards recognition so late in its critically acclaimed run?
FIELDS: That’s a tough one to answer. I mean I think in part we think that the awards acclaim really comes in a large part due to the constant course of critical acclaim. When we started we were such a small show with a small but loyal following, and it was the critics who were banging the drum and supporting us all along and that’s really carried the show. Also, what resonates with the audience, I think the thing we most hope is that it resonates on a personal character level. The people can in some way feel vibrations of their marriages and their own family lives through the much more extreme marriage and family of the Jennings, through the work of Keri and Matthew.
— Joel Fields (@joel_fields) May 30, 2017
DEADLINE: As that work, your work, heads towards its final season, Russia is again looming in our political and cultural consciousness. How much of a specter is that for the show and its end?
WEISBERG: We tried to very much work in a bubble where we’re not thinking about the current time or the current government there at all, because we really want to make sure that we’re staying true to a show that’s taking place in the ’80s. So we’re concerned that if we let any motivations that come from current politics or government into it, it might sort of spoil the world that we’ve created in that time.
DEADLINE: But you have to be aware of how the drama of the show reflects to some extent the drama of our own times, at least for viewers?
WEISBERG: Well, I think that we did have a different concern in a way, which is just the show itself through the very beginning was trying to say, “Hey, look America, you tend to have this vision of the Soviet Union as being almost entirely dark and nasty and terrible,” which was said from years and years of only hearing everything that was bad about the place In that sense, The Americans has taken the opposite approach and said here are two KGB officers and they’re not all bad. You can relate to them. You can connect with them. You can see them as full people who might actually like even though they do terrible things and we show people the resident tour. We were able to say these people maybe work against the interest of America, but they can still be honorable and decent people who you can respect.
So in a sense, our job is just to try tell the truth and just show what is, and show real people and honest people grappling with the problems of their society — whether it’s their society or our society doesn’t matter so much.