"The exploration of trust and the extent to which we're willing to open ourselves up to the people closest to us is at the heart of the show," co-showrunner Joel Fields tells Yahoo TV. "That's going to be explored through the family dynamic, this season, much as it was explored through the marriage, last."
And the trust theme will play out through every character on the show: Elizabeth and Philip, who continue to build their marriage, even as their jobs require them to engage in sex with other people (and a fake marriage in Philip's case); their children, especially teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), who is growing ever more suspicious that her parents have some big secrets; and the Jennings's FBI agent neighbor, Stan (Noah Emmerich), who's juggling his own job duties, a crumbling marriage, and an affair with his double-crossing Soviet mole.
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Fields and his co-showrunner, Joe Weisberg, a former CIA officer who created the series (and still has to get his scripts cleared by the CIA), talked to Yahoo TV about how realistic the Jennings family dilemmas are, how they focus on creating realistic characters rather than heroic ones, and the show's subtle references to the '80s.
In Season 1, you were focusing on the Jennings's marriage and how it became a real marriage. Season 2 focuses much more on the family. In real life, in situations where undercover spies have children, what is that relationship like? Are they expected to prioritize their job, "the cause," above their children?
Joe Weisberg: In the real CIA families, much as in the Jennings family, you can't tell your young kids what you do. A young kid would be very likely to go to school, and tell their friends. That's what a 5-year-old would do, and even a 10-year-old. You might think a 10-year-old is mature enough to keep that secret, but there's a pretty good chance he or she would tell their best friend, and a pretty good chance that the 10-year-old's best friend would tell their parents or some other kid. You're really put in the position where you, essentially, in order to do this job, have to lie to your kids. I don't think people necessarily think of that in terms of putting the job in front of the family. I think it's more thought of in terms of how to do the job, and how to make it work with the family.
There are things you have to do, and choices you have to make in that regard are very painful. Another choice that we see a lot at the CIA is people have to work very difficult hours, do a lot of traveling, and do things that can be very hard on the family, but that's not any different than a lot of tough jobs. The thing that is different is the lying. Having to lie to kids and then, potentially, if one chooses to and one feels that one can trust their kids to keep a secret at a certain age, sitting down and saying to the kids, "We've been lying to you all these years. Here's the truth."
A lot of families do that, but you hear a lot of stories from kids who grew up with parents in the CIA, where the parents either never told them or only told them when they were adults or only told them when the parents were dying. There are a lot of versions of this story. They're all very emotional, moving, and upsetting in various ways.
Paige's curiosities, her suspicions about her parents and what secrets they might be keeping, began at the end of last season. Given who her parents are, it's not surprising that she would have this great intuition, but she could also cause some real problems for the family if her snooping continues …
Weisberg: We talk about this all the time. A lot of teenagers, they have awareness about the things that are wrong in their families, because most families have various things wrong in them, but it's so specific in her family. Of course, she would never have any idea that that's what it is. She's hitting on something, but she has no way to know what. Will she be able to unravel exactly what it is, will she go completely down the wrong avenue, but with the right instinct, or will her parents subvert her? There are so many different ways it can go. As I was saying about the CIA families, they're all upsetting but fascinating paths that it can go down.
Joel Fields: None of the ways it could go is particularly healthy for a family dynamic.
Weisberg: The job precludes healthy.
The Jennings aren't the only ones with complicated home lives. … Stan has really fallen deeply into his affair with Nina. What's his arc, his theme, for Season 2? We're a little worried about him.
Weisberg: You're right, he's having a tough time, there's no question about it, and he doesn't know how tough of a time he's having. There's no question that he's fallen into something very, very difficult. On the other hand, Stan's a tough character in his own right, with a lot of resources, a lot of capabilities, and a lot of brilliance. We'll see where he goes. I don't know if Stan is somebody who, at the end of the day, can ultimately be outwitted, but maybe. I find something always fascinating about watching him go down this rabbit hole. A lot of that is what Noah brings to the character. It's just so compelling to watch him in this emotional place, where he's both in love, but maybe there's some unconscious part of him that's wary. It's just a great thing to watch.
Fields: One of the fun things about the show is we don't really worry about protecting the characters as heroes. We worry about portraying them as people. For better or for worse.
All of the signs of the '80s are still there — the clothes, the hair, the cars, the pop culture — but it doesn't jump out as much as it did in Season 1. Is it because a lot of us grew up in the '80s, and it just doesn't feel that far removed, or do you think it's more because we know these characters much better at this point, we're invested in them, so we're noticing their surroundings less?
Weisberg: We just made such a conscious decision, early on, about how we were going to treat the '80s, which was with a light touch. We weren't going to ever be going out of our way, thinking in terms of, "We have to put the '80s here and put the '80s there." We were more concerned with just telling the story. Wherever the '80s came up naturally, because there was a place for it, that's where we would focus on it.
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This all, in a way, started with our wardrobe department. We didn't want to dress the people in a way that screamed '80s. We wanted to dress people the way that we remember most people really dressing. Of course, back in the '80s, there were some people who wore those giant padded shoulders and things like that, so once in a while, we'd want to see that. I remember myself and all my friends … we dressed in a more normal way. We try not to hit it in a way that's going to jump out at you every second of the show. Hopefully, that's made it easier to get subsumed in the story and feel that it's real. Then when sometimes you hear the music or see the little period detail, it blends in. And, in reality, in 1982, people weren't wearing all off-the-rack designer clothes from 1982. They were wearing stuff from the '70s. They were driving cars from the '70s. They were driving their old clunkers from the '60s. We really tried to do a slice of what real life would be, rather than a heightened vision of exactly what that year in time would be.
Fields: We like your reference that you grew up during that period. Joe and I really chafe at people referring to this as a period show. It really doesn't seem like a period show to us. It just seems like that time we went to high school.
"The Americans" Season 2 premieres Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. on FX.