[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Americans” series finale, including the ending.]
The creators behind “The Americans” have known the ending of the series for four years, but that doesn’t mean they were kept from second-guessing themselves along the way.
“At the very beginning, no, there was no idea of how the show was going to end,” creator Joe Weisberg said in a joint interview. “But when we got somewhere around the end of the first season, beginning of the second season, we suddenly got a very clear sense of the ending of the show. We had no idea if that ending was going to stick; in fact, if you had asked us, we would have told you, ‘Oh, probably it won’t.’ […] But then we got to the end of the show and sure enough that ending was still the one that we liked best.”
“We did our due diligence by running through as many story options as we could in our heads,” co-showrunner and executive producer Joel Fields said. “We test drove almost every ending you could imagine. […] But this was always the ending that felt right.”
FX’s Emmy-winning drama series came to a close Wednesday night after six critically adored seasons and one whopper of an ending. After a tense final season, even by “Americans” standards, not one member of the Jennings family died in the last hour. Instead, the children were separated from their parents; Paige (Holly Taylor) left by choice after Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) chose to leave Henry (Keidrich Sellati) behind when they were forced to flee to Russia by the FBI.
A Tragic Ending Without the Gore
“All of it surprised me,” Russell said in a separate interview. “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.”
“I know for Phillip’s part — [and] I think I speak for Elizabeth — any parent who has had to leave or abandon their children and life as violently and brutally as they had to, whatever the reward of returning home [comes] at the cost of doing that to your children. I think the punishment is lifelong, really. They got out alive […] but I think the cost they paid is enormous.”
Leading up the finale, fans were divided in what they felt was a just ending for these Russian spies. Some felt Philip and Elizabeth had to die for what they did in the name of country, while others wanted their protagonists to escape unscathed.
“I thought the ending was very fair,” Rhys said. “It wasn’t definitive in one way — [they] haven’t gotten killed or caught, [nor did] everyone make it away — [but] there was such a penalty for them to pay. There was such an expensive cost they had to pay for […] their kind of newfound freedom. On one hand they spent their life living a lie. I’m sure the relief from not doing that would be enormous, [but] the cost of not being with your children — and the betrayal and the abandonment of your children — is kind of unfathomable.”
“I think they chose such an emotional way to make them pay,” Russell said. “Yes, one could have died or one could have gone to prison or something, but to take your kids away is pretty hardcore.”
The co-showrunners, who wrote the final episode together, were largely on the same page as their stars.
“I think punishment is a funny word,” Weisberg said. “It rings sort of funny for us, but I think there’s a kind of a tragedy that hangs over the spirit of this show; that it feels like some kind of tragic ending is called for. […] Ultimately the tragedy taking place inside the family felt exactly right to us. […] The loss of the children was, to us, the most powerful and, in a way, the most painful thing that could happen to anybody.”
The ending also left plenty of threads open for interpretation. Philip and Elizabeth are back in Russia, but the fall of the Soviet Union is imminent. Could that open a road for the parents to get back to their kids?
“I think that’s the in the periphery — hope, right?” Russell said. “That we know that [the Soviet Union] will dissolve very soon and that hopefully they as parents will get back there and find their kids and be able to explain [what happened] and start the very long road forward to rebuilding a relationship with them.”
The Fate of the Kids
Henry was basically put under Stan’s care (Noah Emmerich), after a heartfelt confrontation between best friends led to Philip entrusting his son with the FBI agent who let them go. Paige, however, is last seen at Claudia’s (Margo Martindale) old apartment sipping from a bottle of leftover vodka.
“From the very beginning of the show, we thought of Henry as being the most fully American person in this whole family; in a way, he had not really inherited the Russian soul of either of his parents,” Weisberg said. “Whereas Paige it seemed to us was American, but had also gotten her mom and dad’s Russian soul. You can factor that in if you agree with that, which you may or may not, but that seemed to be the story that was told.”
Fields elaborated a bit on Paige’s goodbye, emphasizing the purposeful ambiguity of her final shot.
“The intent is really to put it into the hands and hearts of the viewers,” he said. “It’s not because we’re hiding something there, but it’s because that moment’s not a moment about plot; that’s a moment about where she’s at personally.”
“What extremely dark, tragic, and difficult moments for both of them,” Weisberg said. “Everybody’s got a lot of hurdles in front of them, but who’s to say what they’re going to do with those hurdles?”
Continue reading for why Paige made her choice and which part of the finale proved to be the make-or-break scene of the entire series.