The Americans ended its Season 1 run Wednesday night with a suspenseful, action-packed finale, “The Colonel.” It was a lot easier to watch knowing that the engrossing Cold War drama, which follows KGB spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) living deep undercover near Washington, D.C., and posing as a married couple, has been renewed for Season 2.
Executive producers and writers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, who were very happy to get out of the writers room for a while, spoke with reporters this week about the finale and where the show might go from here:
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF “THE AMERICANS”
On the direction for Season 2: (Fields) “We spend a lot of time talking about next season and what we want to explore. We know that this is a show about marriage — about a marriage and about marriage, relationships and identity. We know that we don’t want to tell the same story next season that we told this season. What we want to explore is the next phase, the next iteration of that. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of thoughts. We don’t know where it’ll end. If you asked us when we were shooting Episode 3 where we were going to go with the rest of the season we would have given you some very clear and firm answers. What we would have told you about Nina (Annet Mahendru) turned out to be exactly where we went. What we would have told you about Philip and Elizabeth grew and changed as the stories unfolded for us, as they led us in other directions.”
On the lack of a traditional season-ending cliffhanger: (Fields) “We really wanted to do something that was set in the spy world but was a character study and was about the people and about relationships and about themes that interested us. What we specifically did not want to try to do was a super-charged ultra cliffhanger escalation where with each episode we had to out-crisis ourselves. Maybe our desire not to do that was just the knowledge that we couldn’t, or couldn’t do it as well as . We purposely wanted to do something that was different to the extent that if there were cliffhangers, they were more of the emotional and character kind. What’s going to happen with this relationship? What is it like, the universal marriage experiences and family experience that we all face, get expressed through this crazy, crazy intensified life and death world that Philip and Elizabeth and Stan and everyone else are in.”
On the effect of the lie on Philip and Elizabeth’s children: (Weisberg) “We think a lot about these kids and what it is to be young kids who have been raised by these parents who are telling such an enormous fundamental lie about who they are and how that’s going to affect the kids over time. I at least like the idea that even though they don’t know anything, there’s some level on which, of course, they know everything, they know it all, and it’s a question of how and when it might bubble to the surface. I don’t think we know yet when and how that will be revealed in the storytelling, but the idea of it coming up to the surface in dribs and drabs, in different horrifying pieces is very appealing as a storyteller, to think about that. You know, I like to talk sometimes about the thing that I found most compelling and fascinating when I worked at the CIA, which is that the families that served abroad together, the parents obviously couldn’t tell their kids, whether it was the mother or father or both, that they worked at the CIA because if you told a young kid that, the young kid would go tell their friends and that would be the end of the assignment. As the kids got older there would be a point eventually where the parents would sit down and have what was known as ‘the talk.’ Maybe the kid would be 13, 14, 15 or whenever the kid was mature enough to keep a secret. It just always seemed so sad and powerful and strange that a kid could sit down at 15 and have their parents say, ‘Listen, we’ve been telling you this huge, huge lie your entire life’ and what that can do to a family. I think different families responded to it very differently.”
(Fields) “Part of the creative appeal and power of what Joe’s created in the show is that there are these personal relationships that are so strong, so interesting and so real, but they also have these great allegorical properties. Paige (Holly Taylor) is this daughter in a fake marriage from this family of spies, but really, you know, in a way all that’s going on in that finale scene in that laundry room is she’s doing what every adolescent does, which is starting to question whether or not her parents are who they really, really said they were, which is something every adolescent goes through and we all can relate to. It’s just that in her case, boy is she right.”
On whether Margo Martindale will return as Claudia: (Fields) We love Claudia and we love Margo Martindale. You know, we know that there’s some pilot that we’ve been told about, some CBS, little startup — I don’t even know that you could call it a network — but the KGB has a very, very long reach and we believe that when given the opportunity, they will return Claudia to her rightful position doing what it is she should be doing.
On setting the show in the early 1980s: (Weisberg) “I remember early on when we were talking about this and design, all the period stuff, I said, ‘You know, the ’80s wasn’t that long ago’ and every person in the room looked at me like I was crazy. Since then I’ve had to back down and admit it was a really, really long time ago.”
(Fields) “At one point in our writers room we mentioned Oliver North and received a blank stare from one of the younger writers on the staff. Blank. Nothing.”
On keeping the story plausible: (Fields) “We know that with every story we break in the writers room we do we have a couple exercises we always do. One is no matter how interesting, exciting the spy story, no matter how high stakes and high octane the twists and turns are, we always stop and say what’s the marriage story? What’s the family story? If it’s not working, if we can’t answer that question, if it’s not moving us, then we move on to something else. I think that’s part of what helps us keep it true and plausible, at least for ourselves. Another thing we do is we invert every story at one point when we’re developing them. At some point we always ask ourselves OK, if these characters were CIA operatives, undercover in Moscow in 1981, would we believe what they’re doing? Would we want them to do what they’re doing? Would they have to do what they’re doing? Would we understand it? If the answer is no to that we move on.”
(Weisberg) “I’m just going to add that when you’re talking a spy story, I think not everybody is going to have the same response to what’s believable and what isn’t. … The test of what you find believable isn’t always 100% reliable. One thing that really caught me off guard was when there were some people who responded to the pilot and said, ‘Well, I have a lot of trouble. I can’t believe that this family lived right across the street from them. That seems absurd. That seems very contrived to me.’ You know, to me, I have lived in Washington and out in these suburbs of Washington. Everybody lives in these condo complexes — CIA, the FBI, people through the foreign embassies, people in foreign embassies are intelligence officers. That just felt totally realistic to me, but it didn’t matter that it felt realistic to me in a way because that was just from my experience. Some viewers without that experience felt that it was not believable to them. I suddenly saw that point later.”
On the casting of Rhys and Russell: (Weisberg) “I’d only been working in television at all for about two years at that point, so even when we were developing the show and even after I’d written a version of the script people would ask that very common Hollywood question of who do you see as the lead. I know you’re supposed to have an answer to that, but I never did. I would always sort of bumble and mumble and say I didn’t know, I didn’t have anybody in my head. I didn’t have much of an idea at all. Then when it was time to actually shoot the pilot and we started thinking about people and looking at lists of people, two things happened. One is that John Landgraf, the president of FX, had a light bulb go off and went, ‘Keri Russell.’ That was pretty much where the idea of Keri Russell came from. With Matthew Rhys, Leslie Feldman, who’s the head of casting at DreamWorks, saw him in a play. That was the original inspiration for casting Matthew.”
Photo: Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/FX