[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Americans” series finale, “START.”]
The ending to “The Americans” is meant to invite questions; more to the point, it’s meant to invite the audience to provide answers themselves. The open-ended conclusion to so many stories in FX’s top-tier drama series are deliberate and fitting, as creator Joe Weisberg and co-showrunner Joel Fields purposefully crafted the series finale to provide emotional closure instead of hard-and-fast answers.
But that’s not going to stop people from asking.
At the ATX Festival Sunday afternoon, the cast and creators gathered for a panel discussion about the finale. Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Brandon J. Dirden, director and executive producer Chris Long, as well as the two men known around set as the J’s, sat down and dug into the nitty gritty details of that pivotal last hour.
Below, are the highlights — including some intriguing clarifications and speculations made by the men and women who made the series — but be warned: Just because they think this is what happens (or happened), that doesn’t mean you have to, as well (especially if you prefer a happy ending).
On the Final Scene
Moderator and Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman asked Matthew Rhys straight-out if he felt Philip was happy to be back in Russia, and the Welsh actor gave an equally candid response.
“No,” Rhys said, sporting a scraggly beard and a long-sleeved denim shirt (an unseasonably warm — but very professional — look for the 97-degree day). “In Episode 1, Season 1, [Philip] said ‘Let’s defect.’ From that day, he knew there’s a very loud clock ticking on this one, and he’d like to save our children. He did like America. In regard to the children, it decimated him.”
Rhys, Russell, and the writers have spoken before about how brutal the ending was for Philip and Elizabeth when seen from a parent’s perspective. That being said, Rhys said his character had it the worst.
“I left a failing travel dealership — and a new suit! — so I think Philip’s sacrifice is far greater than Elizabeth’s,” Rhys said.
On Stan + Renee
Emmerich, who directed an episode in each of the past three seasons (aside from Season 6), had a very good answer when first pressed about what happens to Stan in the finale.
“I’m always hesitant to hear what actors say about their characters motivations,” he said, adding that everyone watching has just as valid an opinion about what happens next because everything the actors and writers have done is already onscreen. “[We’re speculating] on the same thing. Hopefully what I felt is communicated through the work, […] and I leave the words to these guys.”
That being said, he did have an opinion about one of Philip’s last words to Stan — his warning about Renee possibly being a Russian spy.
“If you think about it logically, that’s treason for Philip to do,” Emmerich said. “He’s maybe costing [Renee, a Russian agent] her life for Stan’s sake, and I interpret that as a great act of love and respect.”
Later, Emmerich went a bit further.
“It’s hard for me to imagine Stan letting that lie,” he said, answering whether or not Stan ever confronts Renee about her potential secret. “He’s pretty shattered in that moment […] but it’s pretty hard for him to leave that alone.”
“I say never trust a woman who goes to bed in full make-up with her hair done,” Rhys said, with a laugh.
As for the garage confrontation between Stan and the Jennings overall, Russell admitted that Elizabeth “probably had a few thoughts” about killing Stan before he let them go, and Rhys said most of what Philip says is the truth.
“I think for the most part, he’s being honest with him,” Rhys said. “In Philip’s mind, his mandate is to get them out of the garage, but for the most part I played it as honest and sincere.”
On Paige’s Future
The panel began with a screening of the train scene from the finale, so it’s fitting that the actor behind Paige had some news to share.
“I think she’s out,” Taylor said about Paige’s future with the KGB. “I don’t know though. I won’t say that’s what happens in the movie, but I don’t think so.”
She was joking about the potential film, but Taylor did say she believe that Paige was done with the spy life.
“I think for that whole last episode, my priority is what’s going to happen to Henry,” she said. “I think I knew Stan was the most bulletproof way for someone to protect Henry.”
Taylor has said in the past that she believes Paige got off the train because of her loyalty to her brother.
On What Philip Meant By “My Life was the Joke”
During the audience Q&A, one fan asked why Elizabeth wasn’t offended when Philip said, “My life was the joke,” instead of Stan’s.
“I actually do think that Philip was being completely honest in that moment,” Russell said. “Their marriage is a little less sensitive than others, in some ways, so I don’t think she’s going to go home and cry about that one.”
Russell was referring to some of the extremes brought up earlier in the panel — like Philip and Elizabeth’s mission-based affairs — but that line meant more to her, too.
“In a way, I think what they had, no one else has,” she said. “They know each other like no one else knows each other. […] So I think that glue supersedes ‘my life is a joke.’ She understands that he wanted to get out of his life, and she supported that.”
Rhys, however, had a different interpretation.
“I’m sorry you misheard,” he said. “What I said was, ‘My wife is a joke.'”
Though Rhys was kidding, much of the final few seasons were spent watching Philip decide to quit his job as a spy, and the final season showed mounting tensions between the couple — especially given that Elizabeth’s workload doubled when Philip dropped out. Still, Russell said there was never a lack of support. This couple stuck together.
On the Series as a Metaphor
To that end, Rhys and Russell were asked what the show meant to them, given that they ended up following in their characters’ footsteps and getting married in real life.
“It really is my most favorite relationship story,” Russell said (who notably took part in a “Felcity” reunion panel just a few hours earlier). “I think what Joel and Joe are able to create within a spy world, being able to push and pull all the jealousies; you’re not just worrying your husband is looking at someone at work, he’s literally fucking them — and marrying them!” she said.
“It was such an interesting metaphor for marriage, and I found that so satisfying to read as a story.”
Rhys said he agreed with everything his wife said.
“It was a relationship under a microscope,” he said. “It was magnified times a hundred. […] The way [Philip and Elizabeth] arrived, the way things were set up, was so incredibly interesting. They presented a number of ticking bombs to work through in a relationship, and it was so interesting to play. It was so rich. It was a real steak dinner every night.”
The ATX TV Festival runs in Austin, TX from June 7 – 10. For more information, visit the official website.