To say “The Americans” has been a critical darling since its inception would be an understatement. The adoration that’s flowed, from those writing about the FX drama to those making it, has been so unrelenting there are parody articles devoted entirely to the subsect of TV culture.
So when the penultimate entry in the now Emmy-nominated series began to receive some critical backlash, it felt like the world had gone topsy-turvy. Or, to steal a fateful joke from the latest season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”:
But showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Wesiberg are taking it all in stride.
“You gotta take your lumps,” Weisberg said during a recent conference call. “We said at the end of last season that this season was going to be slower than usual, but we were thinking about 15 percent slower than usual, and some of the critics and fans seem to be thinking it’s closer to 80 percent slower. That wasn’t quite our intention.”
Fields remembered getting a phone call from FX Networks President John Landgraf mid-way through the season. “He said, ‘Rather than story propulsion, you found emotional propulsion — emotional velocity.'”
“This season we were trying to take the gas pedal off some of the spy missions and focus more on some of the relationship dynamics and family stories,” Weisberg said. “We’re hoping that when it’s seen in the context of the overall show, once the series is over, that people might feel differently, since we know where it’s all going. But maybe they won’t.”
The showrunning duo also said fans can expect changes for the final 10 episodes, though they laughed off the idea their show would ever “accelerate.”
“What we can promise is that the pace should feel different next season because we want every season to feel different,” Fields said. “That’s something we set out to do at the beginning of each [season] during our creative processes.”
“It will definitely have a different feeling and pace than this past season and hopefully all the other seasons, as well,” he said.
Fields said they’re “in the process of refining” the final 10 episodes, but they’ve all already been written and the actual ending hemmed close to what they’d always planned.
“To our surprise, it’s very similar to what we set out to do,” Fields said. “It’s really just been different iterations of the same ending.”
Meanwhile, in Season 5, the finale showed Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) making a difficult decision. The two effectively ended their professional partnership (or, at least, put it on pause), with Elizabeth recommending Philip take a step back from work for a while so he could get himself back to a healthy emotional state.
For as surprising — and dangerous — as this decision was, it was emotionally grounded in an event from a few episodes prior. The two cemented their romantic bond when Philip arranged an authentic Russian wedding for the American-wed couple, and the showrunners said they mainly came up with that idea after they’d determined the finale’s conclusion.
“We had a rough sketch of the ending, and then [the wedding] dropped in place from there,” Fields said.
“We knew that we had the ending and we needed to work toward that in a number of different ways,” Weisberg said.
One such way was built into the storyline that found Philip and Elizabeth considering to leave America and return to Russia, a drastic choice they actually began to execute. Many viewers doubted they would be able to pull it off without permanently damaging their family (the parents did not plan to tell the children), so much so that there was speculation as to whether Philip and Elizabeth truly believed they could go through with it.
Fields said that was a question they wrestled with during every scene. They would ask themselves, “What is the story [Philip and Elizabeth are] overtly telling themselves, and how much are they deluding themselves into believing?”
“We tried to have as many layers in there as possible, and if you look at those scenes and we were successful, you’ll be able to see many of those dynamics at play.”
“I think they both want to go home,” Weisberg said. “I think they both want that.”
We’ll find out if they can make it happen next year, when the final season of “The Americans” debuts. How fast or slow it happens is up to them.