The FX period drama The Americans follows the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C., shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected President. The arranged marriage of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), whose 14-year-old daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) and 11-year-old son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) know nothing about their parents’ true identity, is becoming more genuine, as the escalation of the Cold War makes everything more dangerous.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, executive producers Joe Weisberg (who also created the show) and Joel Fields talked about looking back at Season 1 before setting out on Season 2, their process for taking walking to talk and reflect on the story, how they find the themes of a season, how much nearly dying will continue to affect Elizabeth, how paranoid Philip and Elizabeth will continue to get, how dangerous Paige’s snooping will be for both her and her parents, and how far ahead they have things planned out. Check out our interview with Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields for The Americans Season 2 after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
JOE WEISBERG: In a way, we’re always thinking on two different tracks. We’re thinking, first and foremost, of the emotional story of this marriage and family. As you could see in the first season, when Paige was looking around that laundry room, we wanted to have a very strong emotional story. The first season was so focused on the marriage, the ups and downs, and the separation and coming back. We knew that the two of them were going to be getting along better this season, but there were going to be problems at home with the kids and the family, and working that out with Paige. We knew that was going to be the emotional center of the season, and that we would be starting that at the beginning and carrying that out. But then, the espionage and the spy story is the second track that we’re always working on. We wanted something very intense and powerful going on there, too.
JOEL FIELDS: We did look at the last season, but before we write anything, we spend a lot of time with our writers’ room, who are a great, incredible group of people that we talk and explore with. But before we go into the writers’ room, Joe and I walk. Before we write anything, Joe and I walk. We walk a lot. We walk and we talk and we reflect. At one point, early in the season before we had broken anything, we were walking and talking and we heard a shout from across the street. It was Joe’s wife and daughter, who said, “You looked so serious, I had to scream three times for you.” We really get into our heads when we walk. We knew we didn’t want to do the same season again. We talked a lot about where they would really be going next and what we wanted to explore next, and we wanted to find something that would allow us to explore the next iteration of their relationship through family.
Were there specific themes that you wanted to explore, this season?
FIELDS: We put themes and ideas on a board, but we usually put them on the board after we’ve talked a lot about them. We don’t start with them.
WEISBERG: We don’t start with them. They rise up.
FIELDS: Joe and I bonded a lot, early on, over the psycho-therapist Carl Jung, and Jung talked a lot about the unconscious and it’s role in life and creativity. So, we talk about things a lot, but then we let them sit in our subconscious and see where they take us. Sometimes we try to do things consciously, but other times we just try to trust where the stories and characters are taking us.
WEISBERG: It’s a great feeling when you find the theme that got put in there by your collective unconscious.
FIELDS: When we broke the last two episodes and started writing them, I turned to Joe and said, “Oh, my god, with all of these scenes, every bit of subtext is about all the things we’ve been talking about.” But we didn’t break it saying, “How can we infuse the subtext in this?” It just unfolded because that’s the direction we were headed, and that was the direction we wanted to go.
Will nearly dying continue to affect Elizabeth this season?
WEISBERG: The great thing about Elizabeth is that she will not go through a conscious process of, “Having died, I’m now going to do this.” That’s not who she is. But it’s gonna absolutely affect her and color what she does, and how she thinks about her work and her family. And you will see that.
FIELDS: It will possible affect her more because she didn’t have the conscious process.
WEISBERG: We’re always really pulling back on consciousness for these characters because that’s not who they are. They’re not self-aware people. The kids are more self-aware than they are. A lot of times, the new generation is more self-aware. But the kids, at a very young age, are already more self-aware, particularly Paige, which is interesting. Even Stan is not self-aware, but he’s a little bit more self-aware than Philip and Elizabeth. Not much more self-aware, but a little bit more.
With Philip and Elizabeth’s children actually in jeopardy themselves, will that force Elizabeth to actually deal with her feelings about that, instead of compartmentalizing like she always does?
FIELDS: She’s a very emotionally fortified person, but that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t under there.
WEISBERG: Or that they can’t surprise her, herself.
How paranoid will Philip and Elizabeth get, this season?
FIELDS: That’s something that they have to struggle with. How paranoid can they allow themselves to get? How can they live with this? They have to get used to it, like they’ve gotten used to everything else.
WEISBERG: They can’t pack up and go home. That’s not really an option for them. It’s either that, or they have to find a way to live with it.
FIELDS: It’s what we all experience. It’s an unsure world. Our relationships are unsure. Our health is unsure. The health of our loved ones and our children is unsure. The world affairs are unsure. You have to continue, somehow. It’s just a lot more acute for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.
How much will Paige keep looking for answers, and does she even realize what she’s looking for?
FIELDS: She couldn’t conceive of what the truth is. I think that’s beyond any person’s imagination. But we talk about how all teenagers, at some point, begin to suspect that their parents are frauds. In Paige’s case, she sure is right. But she’s got a lot of growing and exploring to do, which is a challenge for any family, and especially for Philip and Elizabeth, who have so much at stake.
WEISBERG: When I was at the CIA, I was so interested in the idea that parents who are CIA officers lied for years to their kids about what they do. And then, the day comes when they tell them the true, and what a powerful and strange thing that is for the family. But, this is different. Sometimes those kids have no clue, but sometimes they do have a suspicion about what their parents do already. That’s because the covers of those parents are not as strong and intense. By a certain age, a kid might be putting it together because of some suspicion, but some don’t. Philip and Elizabeth’s cover is a completely solid cover that no kid would ever have any reason to go to espionage. They might know that something is fucked up, but the kid would have to be a lunatic to go to KGB spy. Even now, you’d probably go to drug runner, sociopath or serial killer.
FIELDS: You’d go to having a secret other family, or having an affair.
How dangerous will things get for Paige, as she snoops around more? Did walking in on her parents deter her?
FIELDS: Man, I would stay out of there. I wouldn’t even go in my room, after that. I’d just stay out of rooms. I’d knock 50 times on any door, probably until I was 40, after that. I found that very upsetting.
WEISBERG: I thought it was a very loving thing. She should start saving for therapy, right away. It’s not a bell we want to ring, over and over and over again. But, she’s asking questions. It’s dangerous for her, but it’s dangerous for the whole family, given what’s happened. Philip and Elizabeth are in a position where they have to figure out how to stop a child from doing something that’s so dangerous to her, that they can’t explain or convey. What parent of a teenager doesn’t have to deal with that, on same level?
FIELDS: They didn’t know this was going to happen, but it bought them some time. She won’t stop questioning, but she’s not going to barge into that particular room again.
How far ahead do you have things planned out on the show?
WEISBERG: We think a lot about how to end it, but we don’t land on that. We just bounce it around a lot.
The Americans airs on Wednesday nights on FX.