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Farewell to The Americans, with some explanations of why it played out the way it did -- and whether there might be more


It’s back in the USSR for Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. FX photo

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And they all lived somberly ever after.

Rather than physical death or even incarceration, the principal characters of FX’s The Americans were left dying on the inside at the close of Wednesday night’s series finale.

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys) are back in the USSR and wondering what might befall them.

Their children, Paige and Henry (Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sallati), remain in the USA with the knowledge they may never see their parents again.

FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the dogged Lt. Philip Gerard of The Americans, is left with the guilt of letting his quarry escape while also wondering whether his new wife, Renee (Karen Pittman), could be a Soviet spy.

And what about Philip’s tragically duped informant, Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), who was smuggled off to the Soviet Union before the feds could apprehend her? Did she in fact adopt that orphaned girl she seemed to take an interest in during a cameo earlier in the sixth and final season?

All of this seems to cry out for a continuation someday. But for now, the principal executive producers of The Americans, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, say they have no intention to revisit these characters. As Fields put it during a pre-finale teleconference with TV writers, “It’s nice to be able to turn it over. And not have any more to do with it.”

But, with Roseanne notwithstanding, we’re in times of a reboot/revival mania. So your friendly content provider tried to reopen the door at the end of the interview session. Can Fields and Weisberg emphatically say The Americans is over and out?

“We feel it’s done,” Weisberg said.

OK. But what if FX came calling five years down the road with an enticing offer to continue The Americans in some form?

“Oh, you’re going to be just throwing this quote in our faces five years from now, aren’t you?” Fields rejoined before adding, “In all seriousness, I really don’t think so. It really feels like this one wants to be fully told at this point. It feels like that kind of a story. It does seem like the story is over to us.”

Fields and Weisberg said they had no idea how The Americans would conclude until near the end of Season One. At that point, “we suddenly got a very clear sense of the ending of the show,” Weisberg said.

But with an uncertain number of seasons and storylines in the show’s future, “odds are (that) any ending you thought you were going to tell is going to end up being changed by all the things that came in between,” he said. “Then we got to the end of the show and sure enough, that ending was still the one we liked best.”

Still, how exactly would they get there? In that respect, the prolonged parking garage confrontation between Stan, Philip, Elizabeth and Paige had to play just right, in the producers’ view. Because otherwise, “the whole ending of the show didn’t work,” Weisberg said. So they kept revisiting it, rewriting it. “It took a long time to get there,” Weisberg said.

Early in the scene, Stan pulls a gun on the three Jennings and orders them to “lie down on the ground, all of you.” He then tells them unequivocally, “It’s over.”

But Philip preys on his friendship with Stan, who by happenstance also was his neighbor throughout the series. He also lies about having never killed anyone while in the U.S. “We had a job to do,” he pleads. And in the end that job entailed saving Mikhail Gorbachev from the KGB, which wanted to overthrow him. He invites Stan to shoot him if that would resolve matters. Philip otherwise is emphatic about the three of them driving off rather than giving themselves up.

Stan relents, and it likely will be debated at length whether this was a believable or wise creative move on the part of the producers. Bonnie and Clyde eventually got their comeuppance, as did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But did viewers have the same rooting interest in Philip and Elizabeth, who left dozens of dead bodies in the interest of what they perceived as a greater Communist cause?

Asked why Stan ultimately yielded and let the Jennings drive off, Weisberg said the producers have “taken a pretty tough line that we don’t want to answer that one, because we think that’s one that people are going to come up with a lot of different answers on their own.”

But then he elaborated: “At the end of the day, that friendship (between Philip and Stan) was a real friendship. And there’s no question about it. Through all the layers of bullshit and lying and manipulation and everything else, it’s hard to argue that these two men didn’t love each other . . . One of the challenges in writing that scene was taking everything these two men would have to say to each other and figuring out which of those things would have to come out -- and in what order.”

Elizabeth and Philip eventually make it back to the USSR while daughter Paige secretly hops off of the train they were sharing before it heads out of the U.S. toward Montreal. She is last seen sipping vodka at the former residence of veteran Soviet spy Claudia (Margo Martindale), who had been helping to tutor her.

“We’ll leave it to the audience to decide whether this was punishment enough or satisfying enough,” Fields said.

Weisberg prefers the word “tragedy.” And in his view, “the tragedy taking place inside the family felt exactly right to us. The fact that they lose their children just resonated more deeply with us (as the) most powerful and in a way the most painful thing that could happen to anybody.”

The final scene of The Americans otherwise plays beautifully.

Philip and Elizabeth get through a final Soviet checkpoint before asking the driver of their car to pull over. They emerge and then gaze at a skyline in the distance. It’s been a while.

“They’ll be OK,” Elizabeth says of Paige and Henry.

“They’ll remember us,” Philip replies. “They’re not kids anymore. We raised them.”

“Yes,” she says.

Still, Philip says, “It feels strange.”

“We’ll get used to it,” Elizabeth assures him, shifting to their native Russian language.

And that’s the way it’s left -- even if there’s so much more to say. But for now, Dosvedanya.

Postscript: The Americans was not a ratings hit for FX, but did become the network’s most acclaimed series, at least by TV critics. But it has won just two Emmy awards in its first five seasons, both for Martindale in the guest actress category. The Americans is in some stellar company, though. HBO’s The Wire never won a single Emmy while NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street didn’t get a single Best Drama Series nomination and won just one acting Emmy, for series regular Andre Braugher.

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