The Americans has ended. I reviewed the series finale here, and I had a long discussion with showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields about the choices they made in the finale, coming up just as soon as I go home from college for a stomachache…
You’ve told the story before about how you came up with the ending to the show on one of your walks together, but when was this and what do you remember about that conversation that made you realize, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do’?
Weisberg: Joel and I are in a furious dispute about it, because Joel thinks it was the end of season one, I think it was the beginning of season two. But we do agree that we were out on a walk, dreaming up ends to the series. And we came up with pretty much this ending, but we didn’t really know which kid it was going to be (who stayed behind). And we also didn’t really in our heart of hearts necessarily even think this ending would stick. Because we had so much that was going to happen between then and now. And the way we work, everything changes all the time. So it was a pretty big surprise to us when we got to the final season and realized this was still the way we wanted to end the story. And we did our due diligence and we ran every single possible other ending of the show through our brains to see if there was a better one, but this was still the one that we loved the best and seemed to be the most natural and true ending of this story. And then ultimately, what we discovered also was that it really only worked if it was both kids who stayed behind. That was, I think, the final surprise for us.
Well, can you tell me what some of those other scenarios were that you mulled and then dismissed?
Fields: I think we both feel like we don’t want to. That those either are obviously or are best left unsaid. But you can probably imagine them. We wanted to make sure that we explored, pitched out, sort of in our heads anyway, and on our walks, tried to write all the other versions of it. And this is the one that kept pulling us back. And asking us to refine it and explore it.
The show doesn’t end with Philip and Elizabeth dead or arrested, and they get to go home, albeit without the kids. What was it about this particular set of circumstances that felt right to you as the way to end the show?
Weisberg: There’s a true story about a couple of illegals, I think from the ’50s or ’60s, who at the end of their assignment came home with their 10-year-old boy, who they had raised in France. And when they landed at the airport in Moscow was the first time they told their son who they really were. He didn’t speak a word of Russian. As far as he knew, he was French. And he was 10 years old and his world fell apart at that moment. And so did the parents’. Their whole family was destroyed. And it was interesting when we heard that true story, because you realized the way that family was ruined without anybody being killed or anybody being arrested. It was very much emotionally true to our series. We didn’t think that we’d model our ending after that. But we understood an ending like that was kind of close in spirit to what our show was about. An ending that really had things landing in the emotional realm of the family’s story could be as devastating as any kind of story where somebody got killed or arrested. And in a certain way, more devastating. Because everybody’s living on to kind of meet their fate.
Was it important that the story end with Philip and Elizabeth together wherever they were?
Fields: Well it must’ve been important in the that that’s how it ended, but certainly fate could have dealt them a different hand. But it seemed like this was the right brew of romantic tragedy for these characters.
I assumed Stan was dead as soon as he walked into that garage without calling it in first. He doesn’t die, but what happens to him in those ten minutes is arguably worse than if they had just shot him somehow. How did you come up with that particular end for Stan and the fact that Stan would let them go?