The fifth season of The Americans was less universally beloved than the four before it, at times seeming more concerned with setting up stories for the FX drama’s final year than in telling satisfying stories in this one. I reviewed the finale here, and I interviewed showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields about the different storytelling approach they took this time around, coming up just as soon as I want to be a geisha girl…
When we spoke this time last year about the two-season renewal, Joe said, “We realized we had this very full story we wanted to tell in season 5, which meant that the ending we had, we weren’t ready to start telling it, that’s when we realized it was 6.” Now that we’ve seen it all, what would you say that the story that you wanted to tell in this season was?
Weisberg: We wanted to tell a story about how Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage got closer and closer and more committed than it’s ever been, and as that was happening, how Elizabeth for the first time started yearning to go home, just as Philip, after all the problems he’s been having, started to really hit the breaking point where he couldn’t go on in certain aspects of his job. So those two things came together: these two people who are now involved and getting along better than they’ve ever been, are able to, through those two currents, actually decide to quit and go home together. And then how the rug is pulled out from them, partly from external circumstances and partly by how Elizabeth’s dedication and steadfastness, her patriotism, makes it impossible for her to follow through on that, and see how the marriage copes with that.
Because you knew that you had this other season in pocket, and that it was going to be the last season, did you find yourselves plotting out this year any differently knowing, “Okay, well this is something we can pay off next year?”
Fields: Not really. I think if it only had the one season, we would have had to do an entirely different story. I’m not sure how we would have got it done, but it wasn’t a matter of using this year to set anything up as much as it was having the room to tell this story in this way at this time.
Weisberg: And have them go through the things that we were just talking about, which emotionally puts them in place for what we will see happen next season.
Fields: Emotional setup.
It’s a year with a lot of anti-climaxes. Mischa comes to America, but Gabriel heads him off at the pass before he gets to see his father. Philip and Elizabeth are going to go home, and at the last second they can’t. We don’t know yet what’s going to happen with Oleg. Stan’s girlfriend is maybe a spy, but we have no confirmation yet. It feels like in other seasons you have maybe tried to pay a little more off within the context of that season than you have this year. Would you agree with that or not?