By Summer Delaney
Russia. The United States. Spies. Intrigue. It all feels as relevant now as it did in 1984, the year the fifth season of FX’s popular show “The Americans” takes place. Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga sat down with executive producers and writers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, as well as stars Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor and Costa Ronin to talk about the latest season and the current state of U.S.-Russia relations.
Set during the tense final years of the Cold War, the show follows undercover KGB agents Peter and Elizabeth Jennings, who balance completing dangerous missions for the Soviet Union while raising a family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Though the series can be called historical fiction, “The Americans” is inspired in part by Weisberg’s time as a CIA officer.
“When I was young, I thought it would be a great idea to sort of do my part to win the Cold War,” Weisberg said. “I thought of the Soviet Union as an evil empire. … Joining the CIA seemed like a great place to go to do my part to fight that battle. None of that really worked out [from] a personal point of view. Instead I ended up seeing the world in a much more complex way — not so black-and-white.”
In 2013, when the series premiered, Weisberg thought it would be a good time to go back to the 1980s and examine the complex lives of U.S. intelligence officers and Russian spies and diplomats. But neither Weisberg nor Fields had predicted the relevance of U.S.-Russia relations in 2017. For example, the show’s recent New York Times online ad appeared over a headline titled “Sessions Recuses Himself on Russia Inquiry.”
“The truth is, this is now the fifth season of the show, and the fifth time that the network has taken over the New York Times,” said Fields. “You’d go to the New York Times online and it would all be Cyrillic, and it would look like it was hacked by the Soviets and it would all diffuse into an ad for ‘The Americans,’ and that would diffuse into regular headlines of the New York Times. It just so happens that in Season 5 the headlines it diffused into seemed to be a continuation of the promotion of the show.”
Another story that has been front-page news: the response by the intelligence community, specifically FBI Director James Comey, to Russia’s influence in the election. Emmerich, who plays FBI agent and Jennings neighbor Stan Beeman, finds the coverage surprising.
“A lot of the news stories have touched on the rigorous job of the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI and how quiet and unrecognized and unappreciated publicly those agents are,” said Emmerich. “They live pretty lonely lives, as I think we’ve accurately reflected in our show, so it’s been interesting to see the Counterintelligence Division come to the forefront of the news to some degree.”
As the show enters its final two seasons, Weisberg and Fields are putting the plot’s emphasis on the Jennings’ family drama, specifically daughter Paige (Taylor), who grapples with the consequences of finding out the truth about her parents’ profession.
“It’s definitely a really complicated character, and when I first started this show people would say, ‘How did you relate to Paige?’ — you know, because not everyone can say they found out that their parents were spies,” said Taylor. “She’s a human, and everyone has growing up through adolescence and in their household find out more things about their parents and their family, and there’s some things they find out they don’t like, and this is just a case where all of that is at an extreme level.”
As the show enters its final chapters, “The Americans” aims to tackle that “not so black-and-white” question of bad vs. good and nationality vs. humanity.
“At the end of the day we are all humans,” said Ronin, who plays Oleg Burov, a former Soviet agent who worked at the Russian Embassy in Washington and forms a bond with Agent Beeman. “We are driven by the same fears and the same loves and the same ambitions and the same desires, whatever language we speak.”
And as for current events, the creators want viewers to continue seeing the show as a period piece, noting that the plot will not change based on what is happening in the U.S. and Russia today.
“The show always had political ideas and social political ideas behind it,” said Weinberg. “But who cares? Nobody ever cared about that. People care about the drama, and the characters, and the story and the love story and who’s going to kill who and who’s going to survive and what’s going to happen— the things that you would expect to hook people.”
“The Americans” is on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.