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Why the Characters in 'The Americans' Are 'All Good Guys,' Even When They're Killing People

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire January 14, 2014 at 9:51PM

FX's series about a pair of KGB spies living undercover as a married American couple in a D.C. suburb in the 1980s got off to a very strong start last year.
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Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in 'The Americans'
Craig Blankenhorn/FX Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in 'The Americans'

FX's series about a pair of KGB spies living undercover as a married American couple in a D.C. suburb in the 1980s got off to a very strong start last year. With the series returning for a second season on February 26th, co-showrunners and executive producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg were joined by cast members Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell and Noah Emmerich at the TCA winter press tour today.

Season two of the show turns toward the home of Elizabeth (Russell) and Philip (Rhys) Jennings, with a focus on their two children and the consequences the Jennings' secret lives could have on them. "We saw the first season very much as the marriage between this couple and the ups and downs and the shifts and the terrible struggle they were having to see if they would stay together or not," said Weisberg. "But after that, there’s a sense they’re going to be more solid and more together and the problems are going to come from the kids, and Paige in particular, so we’re going to see how this family tries to struggle and hold it together during this season."

"I think they’re all good guys."

That said, the Jennings' marriage is still very complicated, particularly since the course of their work often involves sex or fake relationships with targets -- Philip even ended up wedding his informant Martha Hanson (Alison Wright). "There is kind of a freedom" in the way those types of scenes are about getting something from someone rather than romance, said Russell. "You have these two people who are evolving as a couple," added Rhys, "and all of a sudden these layers of complexity are added as they now have to figure out another marriage, the honey trapping -- it becomes layer upon layer, which makes it incredibly interesting dynamics between the two."

That marriage to Martha also promises to be complicated in unexpected ways. "I think we were always intrigued by the crazy, insane idea that this "one more fake marriage" -- could it be good for Martha?" admitted Weisberg. "Is there a possibility that relationship could go in a direction where it could build her self esteem and be good for her while it was this insane, cruel thing that could be happening to her?" Fields continued that "now that Philip and Elizabeth are embarking, for the first time in a way, in a real marriage, to explore Philip in this fake marriage seems very intriguing to us. It’s been fun to explore."

The show's morality will remain in shades of gray in the new season. Defending Elizabeth's killing of an innocent man in season one, Fields said "it’s cold and dark, but from our point of view, that’s in the context of fighting a war. It wasn’t the act of a sociopath." "I think they’re all good guys," Emmerich mused of the characters. "One of the great opportunities the show affords is seeing people as human beings first and political, socioeconomic agendas second. In a good way, it’s an uncomfortable position to be in, knowing who you empathize with, who you’re rooting for. Here’s this couple that are working to bring down the United States of America, and we’re rooting for them, not because of their political agenda, but because of their humanity, because of their hearts, of their souls that we feel connected to. It's constantly challenging us because some of the actions that these characters take are so difficult to digest or to accept."

Check out all our coverage of the Winter 2014 TCA press tour.

This article is related to: Television, TV News, The Americans, FX, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Joe Weisberg





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