Warning: Spoilers ahead.
How many "whuuuut?!" moments were there in "The Americans" Season 2 finale? So many that, as we chatted with series showrunners Joel Fields and Joseph Weisberg about the intense episode, there was confusion about just which of the finale reveals we were talking about.
But we figured it out and got even more details from the J's on the Jennings, Jared, Nina, Paige, Stan, Oleg, and where we might find these characters and their friends and family (and enemies) in Season 3. One big surprise: Unless you saw them die onscreen, don't assume you know anyone's fate for next season.
If anyone says they saw that twist coming, I think they're lying.
Joseph Weisberg: We were holding our breath all season.
Joel Fields: Exactly, we've been holding it in all season.
How long did you have this planned? Did you know from the beginning of the series that this was a direction you wanted to go in?
Fields: The beginning of the season. Not the beginning of the series, but the beginning of the season we knew, yeah. The minute we broke the story, this was in a way kind of the essential dramatic and emotional endpoint to the story for us. Not because it was some plot twist people wouldn't see coming, although that's nice, but because it reflected and said the things we wanted to say about these characters.
There were hints throughout the season, and even last season, Paige is very curious. She had started to rebel a little, question things. She could be skilled like her parents are in the spy craft. Which came first, that or the idea of her possibly being recruited?
Weisberg: We might've just been talking about two different things, because I think Joel and I were just talking about the Jared thing, and you were talking about the Paige thing. I think the Paige thing and the possibility of where that story could go, the different permutations of that, is something that ... I don't even know exactly when that came up as a possibility. The Jared situation is something we knew from the beginning of this season, just to clarify that.
Well, though they are two separate things, they are very much tied together, too, the already recruited spy offspring and the potential recruit.
Weisberg: Right, right. I was just going to say the question for these parents, about parents and kids, illegals and their kids, and if you choose this very strange profession, the impact that can have on your kids and what it can mean, and how you deal with that, is not just a question for the season, but a question for last season and next season and every season, and everyone who ever is a spy.
The cast and creators talk spies and their kids:
Phillip and Elizabeth have been conflicted about how their kids' childhoods have been so much easier than theirs were. Yet, they know what allowing Paige to be recruited would mean for her. As Phillip said, it could destroy her. So how do they begin to make that decision?
Fields: Good question. I doubt you'll get an answer out of us on that one. But, you know, it also raises another question, which is, "When is childhood over?" Do Americans and Soviets have the same answer to that question? Paige is 15 now. She's gotten a good, long run. Is easier better? Phillip and Elizabeth endured a lot of suffering in their childhoods and had to carry a lot of burden in their childhoods. They sure knew who they were. They had a lot more in terms of a relationship with the truth than their kids do certainly.
But they've seen an example of what can happen to a spy kid, with Jared, how it ultimately destroyed him and his whole family. That certainly has to factor into their decision about Paige, in a major way.
Fields: Yeah, yeah. Bigtime. But which way? That's what's great about these stories, is you can see one person … I certainly see this in my marriage, that two people can look at the exact same story and draw opposite lessons from it, which really is an interesting thing in terms of Season 3 for us and, really, all the coming seasons. Having explored, in the first season, this fake marriage and would it be real, and in the second season, Elizabeth and Phillip's attempt at having a real marriage. Now there's a question of how does one deal with not the little conflict in the marriage, but big differences of ideology. Big differences in how you approach child rearing. Big differences of how you see and experience the world. How do you handle those in the lifelong partnership? How does that go when worldviews clash?
This season's sex scenes felt more intimate, both those between Phillip and Elizabeth and those between Clark and Martha. Were those intended to reflect their attempt to have a real marriage, and with Clark and Martha, to show some of the harsh realities of their jobs?
Weisberg: We had some very explicit conversations with regard to the sex and the violence in the show, actually. We really wanted to explore those scenes in a way that exposed character, and that always was there for a purpose.
Fields: The more intimate and real the relationship is, the harder everything they do in their job is. But it doesn't mean that they're not going to keep doing their job. It doesn't mean that their priorities shift away from their job; it just means that it gets harder. Harder is good for what we're dramatizing.
Cast and crew wonder if there's a future for Martha and Clark:
And there was yet another twist in the finale, the heartbreaking end to the Nina and Stan story. How tough was it to say goodbye to the Nina character?
Fields: Have we said goodbye to the Nina character? Did she die?
Weisberg: We just said, "Bon voyage."
Fields: Her story's not over in our minds.
Weisberg: She's in a very tough circumstance. We wouldn't want to be her. By the way, I don't think there's a deus ex machina coming for her, either.
Weisberg: We can guarantee you this: The first scene of Season 3 is not going to be Nina waking up from a bad dream.
In Season 1, we met Stan as this straightforward, very strong character, committed to his job, his country. This season, a lot of people saw him differently, because he was so consumed by his affair with Nina. What ultimately made him choose his job and country over her? Is it more about loyalty or about this idea of being a hero, like in the FBI comic books he told Henry about?
Fields: That's a question we leave more to the audience. We really set out this season knowing how that story was going to unfold, and if we had any concern about it, it was in making sure that it felt emotionally credible, that Stan actually might betray his country by the end. By the time we got halfway or two-thirds through the season, we felt, how could he do anything other than betray his country for Nina? And we wanted to make sure we explored the subconscious journey he was on in terms of his own soul. That would explain why emotionally he had to make the decision he made in the end, as hard as it was. Don't forget, by the way, that he doesn't know that Nina was playing him. It's nice that he didn't betray his country, but as far as he knows, he's letting the woman he loves possibly go off to die. It's a pretty questionable decision, unless he has a strong instinct he's being played with.
Stan's situation this season provided an interesting juxtaposition. Despite what we know about Phillip and Elizabeth and their work, we see their family and their marriage, and we empathize with them and even root for them. With Stan, it was his relationship with his family, his wife, and what he was doing with his work life that made us question him this season.
Weisberg: When the show started out, there was such a strong sense of these two mirrored marriages across the street from each other and how they'd gone in such different directions so quickly. I think what you said is really interesting, because we had very different reactions from different viewers about Stan, and their sympathy with Stan, that we don't get with Phillip and Elizabeth. For the most part, we get people who really love Phillip and Elizabeth and are surprised by it, because they're the enemy. We get, with Stan, every reaction, from "He's the good guy, and we love him" to "Boy, we really turned on him because he's having an affair." People are all over the map with him.
Fields: Is Stan the victim of higher expectations on the part of the audience? What if the audience really doesn't expect to like Phillip and Elizabeth? They're Soviet superagents here to destroy our way of life. We're surprised to learn that they're human. Gee, look at that, they're human beings. With Stan, he's supposed to be the hero, so when we see him behaving in a human way, how dare he be a human being who makes mistakes and has emotional complexity! He should be a Clint Eastwood hero. Poor Stan! It's too much pressure!
Jared and Larrick were both fantastic, pivotal new characters in Season 2, but obviously their storylines are finished. But what about Costa Ronin's Oleg? There's no reason Oleg won't be around for Season 3, right?
Weisberg: Yeah, well, why not? He didn't get taken away in a car. [Laughs.]
Fields: Things are looking nothing but bright for Costa, or for Oleg.
The way the season ends, do you see it as a potential reboot for Season 3?
Weisberg: I wouldn't call it a reboot. I would call it the ups and downs of marriage, and just as things are really starting to get solid for [Phillip and Elizabeth] and feel good, now they're faced with about as big of a problem as they're going to have to grapple with together, and how are they going to handle that? As we always talk about, even after all these years of marriage, in a sense, they're newlyweds. Are they going to handle it well, are they going to handle it poorly, are they going to survive it as a couple?
Fields: When we began talking about Season 2, we said the one thing we didn't want to do is redo Season 1. We wanted to find a new way to explore these characters and the drama of the show, and I think one of the pleasures of being able to do these sorts of television dramas is that you get the chance each year not to fully reboot in that you're doing a different show, but to not have to redo the last season. I think you're right, that the suggestions at the end of this season are that new things will be explored. And it should be fun.
What are some of the other things you would like to explore going forward? For instance, will we maybe get more of Stan's backstory?
Fields: We're always talking about that question, Stan's backstory, and we're starting to know about it, too. We have these long discussions about when should the Stan backstory get explored more, and for some reason, all three of us, me, Joe and Noah Emmerich, always keep agreeing that we should put it off and put it off. I think it's finally going to end up a Web series. [Laughs.]We wrote one full episodic story that included a presentation of the Stan backstory, and it just became clear that it was very interesting as we wrote it, and too soon to present it.