“Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over.” The haunting lyrics from that hit 1986 song by Crowded House played during the opening montage of the first episode of Season 6 of “The Americans” earlier this spring.
And now, comrades, the 1980s Cold War-era drama centering on two KGB spies played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is in fact over.
Rhys and Russell, both nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards in lead acting categories last year, watched the final episode last night at an FYC event at the Television Academy’s Saban Theater in North Hollywood along with cast and producers including Joe Weisberg, Joel Fields, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Margo Martindale, Keidrich Sellati, Brandon J. Dirden and Chris Long. A panel moderated by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton was conducted after the screening.
FX stipulated that anything written about the finale be embargoed until 11:32 p.m. last night after the airing of the 90-minute episode, the denouement of the six-season-long saga focusing on the often brutal undercover spycraft perpetrated by Elizabeth and Philip Jennings while raising their kids, Paige and Henry, in a Washington, D.C.-area suburb.
Russell said viewing the finale would be the first time she’s watched the show in many years. Rhys admitted that if he never wears another wig in his life, it’ll be too soon.
Warning: There are multiple spoilers revealed in the following interviews with Russell and Rhys, who are a married couple off-screen as well. The interviews were conducted last week during separate conference calls with a group of television reporters.
The conversations have been edited for length and clarity.
What have you enjoyed the most about your journey from Season 1 to Season 6?
Matthew Rhys: I thought it was executing this writing. You know, I’ve never encountered a show of this calibre where the kind of layering of the writing and indeed the character has been so textured, really. So the challenges that came with this part and kind of landing in a real believable place have always been large and varied. So I’ll miss the day-to-day challenges of this part, which were tenfold daily.
Keri Russell: Oh, the story arc. I mean I loved it. For me to get a chance to play what feels to me as a woman — this true character — and see out the full arc and the full story of it. When a lot of times the female part is like the doting wife or the comforting wife, it feels incredibly satisfying to begin this process six years ago with what we did and then to end here. I mean … I just relished it. It was a real treat to get to do this job.
When you first got the script for the finale, what elements surprised you — or perhaps shocked you the most?
Russell: I had no idea that they would pick such an emotional route of devastation with the kids. I did not see the Henry aspect coming at all and that was just devastating to me. We were talking to [director] Tommy Schlamme about it and he was saying, because he read it pretty early on, and I thought he said this thing that made so much sense, which is you’re watching this couple go through the series and you’re rooting for them but you want them to pay in some way for what they’ve done and they chose the most painful way for them to pay. They … took their kids away and it’s something I could not have seen coming at all. They’ve already lost Henry and you can’t imagine that they would take Paige too and she chooses to stay behind and you’re just like, whoa. As a parent, as a mother, it was just like too much, too much.
Rhys: It did surprise me but I kind of loved it. You know I think what the boys [Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields] do so well is present these at times very open-ended questions to the audience. And, you know, they led us down the path so far that Paige was going to come with us and then that about-turn on the train. I think it’s just such a U-turn, kind of a violent U-turn. But it’s not for shock reasons. It’s always incredibly well justified, as well as our moments with Paige where you kind of — it gives the audience, I think, enough to go, “Well, you know, she can go in any number of directions now.” She can continue her work, quit, look after Henry. There’s so many variables kind of presented to you in that moment and in a very poignant way — and I don’t think there’d be anything other than vodka in Claudia’s apartment.
Did Philip and Elizabeth in the end get what they deserved rather than what they wanted?
Rhys: For Philip’s part, and I think I speak for Elizabeth also, because indeed any parent who has had to leave and abandon their children and life and so violently and brutally as they had to is paying an enormous cost. Whatever the reward of returning home is at the cost of doing that to your children. I think the punishment is lifelong, really.
What do you think is the state of the Elizabeth/Philip relationship at the end of the show and how has having to flee to the Soviet Union affected the relationship?
Rhys: It’s sort of interesting because in what is left, you don’t know really how it will work out. Ultimately they’re the only allies each other has, in that they each have someone else who understands this incredible journey they’ve been on. Therefore they do need each other in that respect. You know I always harken back to the third episode of the first season when Philip wanted to defect. And I think that to me was kind of brought back in those moments where I’m sure he could have gone, where we could be in a very cushy witness protection program at this moment where the kids are doing OK, as opposed to this.
So I think it’s a tragic ending, for all intents and purposes, because I think the cost of what they had to do with their children in order to get out alive is so taxing.
Russell: I mean, it’s pretty devastating what the loss of children would do to a marriage. But interestingly, Joe and Joel were always sort of — when we were talking about this scene, about those end moments, I think what they wanted to convey, which was hard at times, was no matter what, we’re going to have each other. We’ve come this far together and we’re going to get each other through this. And I think that’s what they really wanted. And ultimately it was this story of this marriage, of this relationship. So I think that is their hope, that they will pull each other through this moment.
And then we obviously know in today’s age that the Berlin Wall does fall and communism doesn’t win the West and the hope is that in a couple of years they’ll go back and try to repair and find the kids. But that’s the only saving grace I have as a parent, as a fan of the show, is to think, “Oh but you know, it’s all going to change in a couple of years and they can go back and find them.” But yes, I think those would be a couple of pretty bleak years.
When you look back over the run of the series, what do you see as the key turning points for Elizabeth’s character?
Russell: Well, I mean, there’s been so many. Oh God. It’s been six years. But I was talking recently about the marriage and we were discussing the idea of, they were saying, “Do you think Elizabeth sort of leaving the system and going rogue and going off on her own was in a way choosing Philip and the relationship?” And I would argue that they were inching along toward that … the whole way. You know, they were always sort of taking steps away from the center and getting married in private and telling each other secrets they weren’t supposed to tell, and that bond was getting much stronger and the level of intimacy much more than just the average operational relationship.
So what are the huge arc scenes? There have been so many but that’s what I have sort of loved about getting a chance to play this character is she started somewhere so specific and I’ve really had a chance to maintain a lot of that integrity. Elizabeth got to stay Elizabeth for such a long time she didn’t have to be good or she didn’t have to fit in or she didn’t have to get soft. And she did have a reckoning of some sort in herself but I loved that she stayed the way she was for so long.
What is the number one hardest thing about saying goodbye to Philip?
Rhys: I suppose it’s the amount of plates you have to keep spinning in the air. I’ve never played a part whereby you have so many things going on at the same time. Since finishing “The Americans” and reading a number of scripts you kind of go, “Well that’s great but what else is happening to that character?” And I’ve realized, especially in the earlier seasons, they had so many things to contend with and kind of landing that in a place, that was a real challenge, I thought. So I’ve enjoyed the kind of enormity of his undertaking massively and that’ll be the hardest thing to say goodbye to.
You and Matthew Rhys are so great together. What is a favorite memory of working with him and what are you going to miss most about working with him?
Russell: Well, many things, but I would definitely say just having a professional partner like that. He’s fun to work with because he’s so good. It’s sort of like playing tennis with someone — you’re only as good as your partner, as the person who’s your opponent. And he’s fun because he’s good. So I will definitely miss that. And just the intimacy you have with someone that you’re so familiar with. It’s easy, and hard I guess in some ways too, but I will miss that. And he’s so funny. We had a lot of fun together. So I think it’s time for it to end before we kill each other.