Post Mortems
The Americans Season 5 Finale Philip Elizabeth

The Americans Bosses on the Finale's Tragic Twist, Season 5's Slow Burn and the Show's Ultimate Endgame

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Tuesday’s Season 5 finale of The Americans. Proceed with caution, comrades.

Just when Philip and Elizabeth think they’re out… the Center pulls them back in.

The Americans‘ Season 5 finale shattered the Russian spies’ dreams of returning to the motherland: Kimberly’s CIA dad got promoted to head of the Soviet division, making her an invaluable asset for Philip to hold onto, meaning the Jennings couldn’t abandon their post. Plus, Paige toughened up to the point where she could walk through that scary parking lot by herself at night, and Stan’s girlfriend Renee pushed him to stay with the FBI… in suspicious fashion. (Is she a Russian agent after all?)

To decipher all the spy games, TVLine reached out to executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, who co-wrote the finale together. Read on for their take on the finale’s pivotal twist, the criticism of Season 5’s slow pace (“we were not intending it to be molasses”), why they chose the Elton John classic “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” for a key montage — and a hint about how Philip and Elizabeth’s journey will end next season.

TVLINE | Philip and Elizabeth were on the verge of going back to Russia, but Kimberly’s dad’s promotion changed their plans. Are they basically trapped in this life now, and how is Philip going to respond to this, knowing how disenchanted he’s become?
JOE WEISBERG | “Trapped” is an interesting word. It does feel like they’re trapped, but they’re trapped because Elizabeth is so steadfast, and so much of a patriot. At the end of the day, she just can’t go home when they have access to an official who can get them the best intelligence the KGB has ever gotten. So it’s a funny way of being trapped. They’re trapped by her integrity, and her devotion to her cause.

I think you get one piece of how Philip’s going to react to that right in that final scene when, instead of getting pissed at her or demanding she change, he accepts it, and is compassionate and loving and kind with her, instead of some negative reaction. But how it’s going to affect him over time is something we’re going to have to wait and find out. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see.

The Americans Season 5 Keri Russell ElizabethTVLINE | In that scene, Elizabeth says to Philip, “I don’t want to see you like this anymore.” She’s so good at bottling up her emotions, but she does really love Philip — and that love could affect their mission, right?
JOEL FIELDS | Well, it is affecting their mission, because she’s making this big offer at the end [for him to stop spying full-time]. That’s a big change in their mission, and in their lives. Here, you have her utter devotion to the cause finding a way to exist with what has become her utter devotion to her husband and her marriage. She’s torn in the sense that there’s a struggle in her, but she’s looking for a way to survive as an individual, and not suppress who she is, but also have a genuine marriage in which she acknowledges that her husband has to be true to who he is. If that’s not a statement about the experience of marriage, I don’t know what is.

TVLINE | Elizabeth’s always been the hardliner of the two. But a couple weeks back, after that mission where they killed Natalie and her husband in Boston, she was ready to go home. Why was that a turning point for her?
WEISBERG | There are a lot of different interpretations of that. We’ve been reading what people have been writing about it, and seeing that people took it different ways. For us, on the hardliner question: We didn’t see her having too much trouble killing Natalie. That was a Nazi collaborator who killed hundreds and hundreds of young Red Army soldiers during World War II. And Elizabeth doesn’t really believe in change or redemption that would make it hard to kill a person who’d done that. To us, what Elizabeth was so struck by and frustrated by was that Philip was now at a point where he couldn’t even kill that person! And at that point, it’s like, “F–k it. Let’s just go home.” And also in the context of all the struggles they’ve had, the yearning for home you’ve seen her having over the past season… it’s not like she, out of the blue, came up with “Let’s go home.” She had a strong pull towards home that she had, in a sense, been fighting.

The Americans Season 5 Finale PaigeTVLINE | What’s Paige’s state of mind at the end of this season? She felt confident enough to walk through that parking lot alone, and she seems to be viewing Reagan with a critical eye, as her parents do.
FIELDS | Yeah, her mom in particular, but it is her parents to a substantial degree. She’s been, more than anything, integrated into the family, especially the three-person family that Henry’s less a part of. A lot of her worldview comes from that, even given the differences between Philip and Elizabeth.

TVLINE | Your show has always been a slow burn, and maybe this season has been a slower burn than others…
WEISBERG | [Laughs] It isn’t even burning anymore! Just warm embers.

TVLINE | Some fans have complained about the lack of action this season. Is this just a case of: You knew you had two seasons to wrap things up, and you wanted to spend this season putting your chess pieces in place for the endgame? 
FIELDS | I really don’t think that’s the case. For better or for worse, this is the way we wanted to tell this story this year. We wanted to focus more on these particular character dynamics. In Season 4, we had a lot of story pieces that had taken time to grow and were ready to be harvested. And that created a level of propulsion at certain points in the season. We knew we wanted this season to feel different as it unspooled, as we want all the seasons to feel. So this really wasn’t the case of us wanting to do set-up things as much as it was just the reality of: This is how the story wanted to be told this season.

WEISBERG | I think also, for all those fans or critics who are saying it’s so slow this season that they’re ready to blow their brains out… I don’t think we perceive it as slow as they do. For us, it’s just a different feeling about it. I’m not saying they’re wrong! Everybody feels the way they do about it. But our perception doesn’t quite sync up. We were not intending it to be molasses.

The Americans Season 5 Finale Stan ReneeTVLINE | In the finale, we also saw Renee try to talk Stan into staying with the FBI. Is he starting to get suspicious of her? And will Laurie Holden be back next season?
WEISBERG | [Laughs] No comment on the latter. Nice try! But on the former, we don’t particularly think so. Stan would have no more reason to be suspicious of the woman he’s dating than he does the neighbors across the street.

TVLINE | I really liked the Elton John song you used in the finale… but it’s not an ’80s song. Was that one you had stashed in your back pocket for a big scene like that montage?
FIELDS | Our rule is: We just don’t use any songs that were released after the episode took place. But anything earlier is fair game. And we are both big Elton John fans, and we tried many times over the years to use Elton John. The problem is, the songs are so wonderful and powerful that they tended to take over any sequence. You sort of stopped watching the show and started listening to the genius that is Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Then this sequence came along, and we were having trouble finding a song for it. We had something in there that was almost working, but not working, and we thought about using score. There was a day where we picked about ten songs to listen to, and Chris Long, our producing director, said they were down to five, but there were really only two to consider, and one he really loved. And as soon as we heard it, we knew this was the song.

TVLINE | Finally, the end of the series is coming up next season. Is the ending something you’ve had in mind from the beginning, or has it evolved over the past five seasons?
WEISBERG | It’s funny, because almost every idea we’ve ever had evolved, and evolved considerably. But in this case, the idea for the ending was, I think, something we came up with in Year 2 of the show… and we’re actually using it! At this point, I think it’s safe to say we’re using it. It could still change, but I don’t think it will. It was always an idea that had a couple of variations, and we toggled back and forth between the variations. But it’s still the same fundamental idea. It’s been a real surprise to us that it’s stuck this long.

Alright, comrades, it’s your turn: Grade the finale, and Season 5 of The Americans as a whole, in the polls below. Then hit the comments with your post-finale thoughts.    

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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19 Comments
  1. Jason says:

    I really want them to reach the point of the Soviet Collapse, but I don’t know how that will be possible unless they employ some time jumps. As far as the show moving too slowly, I liked it just fine. They’re doing a lot of ground work and getting all of these threads in place, but it’s never less than compelling. Of course, I’m used to watching older movies and tv shows as much as modern ones, so I don’t mind a more methodical pace. I guess people’s attention spans aren’t what they used to be.

  2. Jessica says:

    I really want to see the Jennings get away and live happily, but also have Stan find out because I want to see the look on Stan’s face to find out! But from an American patriot position, I suppose they should be caught and maybe even killed themselves. But no matter what they decide to do with Elizabeth and Philip, I really want to see the look on Stan’s face from finding out that couple they were looking for a couple seasons ago were his neighbors!

  3. Lynn says:

    This season has been so slow I have a hard time not falling asleep…. compounded by the fact that I am too slow to get the implications of certain events that it seems I am assumed to understand.
    I really needed a recap of every episode but didn’t realize there were any at first. I would have had a chance to not fall so far behind the learning curve and would have gotten so much more out of the entire series.
    I didn’t even realize that one of the sex scenes was specifically 69 position until i read about it! I guess it flipped by too quickly (I don’t grasp details of a visual as quickly as some people who can describe practically everything they saw from just a glance!)
    I liked the pace of the first 4 seasons so much better.
    One last thing that might have ruined things for me was that somewhere I read that this was the last season so I spent the entire finale ancy and waiting for a huge event or revelation to drop but none ever came… made it anticlimatic. Ugh

  4. JBC says:

    Enjoyed this season very much. Loved seeing the follow up of Martha in Russia. I hope she adopts the little girl. Hope young Mischa comes to visit and meet his Dad, after meeting his Uncle and family. Sounds like Stans new lady is a spy from statement she gave to him when he said he wanted out of CI. Would also love for Stan to find out about his good friends being spies. I hope Henry gets to go to boarding school with Chris. Would be nice to see Paige get back with Matthew. Also wouldn’t mind an ending with Henry finding out about his parents and turning them in to Stan,. Great season, Great show. Well Done!!

  5. Jessica says:

    Oh, I would love to see Philip reunited with Mischa and Martha too next season!

  6. Fan says:

    I loved the slow burn. The pace was great. I know I was good with the violent after that season with the packing of the body. LOL
    I think this was good to build the characters up for the upcoming (sniff, sniff) final season. I think that they will realize they need Henry at school to continue what is obviously going to be a busy season. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Martha too who they look like they were going to get her a child, something she wanted. Will she see “Clark” again? Then there is the stories with the son and Stan’s girlfriend. There is going to be so much going on next season I think people will wish for this season’s slow pace.

  7. drhenning says:

    I wonder if Henry will go away just to get him out of the way as the actor starts to grow a beard… :) I do wonder if it’s realistic how Henry got a full scholarship since parents would have had to submit financial disclosures and all.. In any event.. looking forward to seeing how this terrific series is brought to an end..

    • The Beach says:

      The whole Henry story line was very weak. So Mom and Dad are out of the blue going to move to the Soviet Union, America’s biggest enemy, and take their smart, All-American kid with them. What were they planning to do, hog tie him and force him to live in probably that last place on earth Henry would want to be? Philip and Elizabeth usually have everything planned down to the minutest detail. This is so against type for them that it’s completely unbelievable and a serious misstep in the writing.

  8. Rob says:

    I see the series finale dealing with the end of the Soviet Union but at the very end of the series (The last few minutes) what would be interesting is the restart of the same type of program in Russia. I know that now it is all about cyber warfare but imagine a new batch of Russian sleeper agents posing as Americans in the 21st century and stealing secrets once again the old fashioned way.

  9. TDXI says:

    “Stan’s girlfriend Renee pushed him to stay with the CIA”

    < That's good considering he works for the FBI.

  10. Mediocre finale for a great season.

  11. Cat says:

    The whole Paige story arc has been a drag…can we PLEASE get rid of her???? She’s a whiny bore who apparently never had any friends at school or participated in any school activities.

  12. Kay James says:

    I found this season exceptionally good because of the in-depth delving into the psychology of Philip and Elizabeth. I don’t have a need for constant action as some others feel was missing this season. I love The Americans precisely because it’s so smart and not action-driven. The whole concept of the psychology of lying and pretending while attempting to lead one’s life is exciting enough and so original, and this is the beauty of this series.

  13. laurenejsmith says:

    Going back to Season 2 – Elizabeth says she fears surrender. She is learning to surrender herself to another while not losing herself. Elizabeth says in describing how her husband looked after her while she was sick that she wanted to show him how much she loved him and look after him. They are now properly married – spiritually if not yet registered legally.

    I want to see them gradually evolve into being a couple surrendering to their relationship but keeping true to themselves. The USSR is dissolving and the mission too needs to dissolve with Elizabeth finally surrendering to her marriage and realising being true to herself does not mean proping up a regime which is showing itself as corrupt and falling apart.

    They should both retire – move to near Henry’s school, let Henry go to that school and Paige nearby university engaged in doing good works (recall Elizabeth’s walk with Paige discussing another life as a doctor in 3rd world). A nice finish would be a scene of the family in 2010 with grandchildren in a reunion with Stan and his grandchildren with the news of the 2010 unmasking of the illegals the topic. Stan talking about his pursuits from the 1980s and the ones he never found. He supposes they went back to Russia but who knows – he then looks at Elizabeth and Philip who look amazed (innocently) and look back at him. You are left torn as to whether he knows or is just reminiscing.

    Elizabeth and Philip have surrendered to themselves and their family becoming open and honest with each other in the safe space they have created within their marriage.

    We are left wondering if they are still here and still next door as we do not know the secrets of anyone else’s marriage.

  14. Cas Hilliard says:

    The season as well as the show runs slowly because it takes time to develop characters, which is the hallmark of a great show with great writing. Both Philip and Elizabeth are true patriots, However, Philips has a conscious and is slowly seeing the wisdom of not blindly following orders. They are doing no more than what our operatives were doing in Russia. They should be allowed to either defect, or go back to Russia. Stan should find out that he has been best friends with Russian spies. Yes, his new girlfriend is an operative. Hence, the reason why she is pushing him to stay.
    Overall, great job to the writers for not “getting stupid” with the writing like others once they know a show is ending.

  15. Martha Bianco says:

    I just love this show so much and am really bummed it’s ending. There is nothing else quite as fascinating on network tv! Certain elements frustrate me, though, things that don’t sit with me as believable. Henry’s sudden emergence as a brainiac is one. The two leads’ apparent readiness to give up all things bourgeois American, when their memories of the USSR are pretty bleak. And why keep following Oleg & Martha in Russia? I mean, interesting, yes, but those story lines didn’t go anywhere. I’m hoping such things are to set things up for next season, which I truly wish weren’t the last!

  16. Susie Graeber says:

    To add to earlier comments, I feel sorry for their kids, especially Paige. There is never any emotion or physical contact to show affection. We all need that as human beings. They are supposed to be portraying the normal American family.

  17. Pink says:

    The one thing we’ve learned about Stan is that he is compromised by his empathy and connection with others. We saw that in earlier seasons when he tried to save Nina and at times with others whom he interrogated to get to bigger fish. I think the end game is Stan, while feeling betrayed by the Jennings, will also respect that they were doing the exact same thing he was and he will help them escape. The Stan/Jennings relationship has been the ultimate slow burn over all of the season, it has to come to a head at some point.