On the FX series The Americans, now in its fourth season, the repercussions of Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip’s (Matthew Rhys) big revelation to their teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), are still being felt. Although they ultimately have her best interests at heart, the secret KGB agents must still insure that their cover identities remain protected, or everyone’s life could be at risk.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, executive producer/writer Joel Fields talked about why this was such an exciting season to write, what’s next for the Jennings’ family, how Paige will be handling things, dangerous consequences of the big reveal, the threat of a bio-weapon, that Stan (Noah Emmerich) will be on more solid footing, Nina’s (Annet Mahendru) surprising journey, balancing the family dynamics with the missions, and the series endgame. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: The first couple episodes of Season 4 are great, and I’m very curious and excited to see where this season goes next.
JOEL FIELDS: Thank you! This was a really exciting season for me and Joe [Weisberg] because we ended last season with such momentum. Each year, we’ve tried to do the same show, but in a different way to keep it interesting for us. Sometimes at the beginning of a season, we have to walk and think about where we’re starting and what we’re going to be doing. But this year, all we had to do was keep going. That was really fun for us.
You got to a moment last season, with Paige finding out about her parents, that viewers had been waiting to see. What’s next for this family?
FIELDS: As always, the biggest issues to us are the personal ones. We have the opportunity to explore, through those bigger issues and through those magnified circumstances, what we hope are relatable marriage, family, parenting and identity stories. That’s always where the excitement is, for us. At the same time, the bio-weapon stuff is scary. We talked a lot about what the big spy story would be this season, and of course, there are a lot of stories about the nuclear threat that was so powerful at the time, but this was more of a secret story and a hidden history. The chance to have our characters participating in it seemed exciting to us. Of course, there are thematic things to explore about viruses, and it’s also just terrifying. There’s something scary about that threat that you can’t see, that could be out there, at any moment.
How did you end up deciding how you wanted to handle the reveal to Paige?
FIELDS: It had been talked about since the beginning, and we knew it was coming, but we didn’t know exactly how. It was something that lived on our writers’ board, in different places. It was at the end of Season 3, at the end of Season 2, and at the beginning of Season 3. One place it never lived was Episode 10. As Joe and I were breaking the season, there are certain things we have in our heads that stay the same, and there are other things that morph and grow, along the way. The fun is that we never know which. And that was one where, as the season was unfolding, it came to us. One of the fun things we did was that Joe and I disappeared for a few days and wrote that story, and then delivered it to our writers without telling them what was coming, so we got them to be the first audience on that episode. That was a fun first move on that process. It was a long process, working on that episode, but it was a lot of fun.
How will that change Paige, as a character?
FIELDS: One thing that has been really fun about it is that it’s an opportunity to explore what it is to be a teenager and what it is to raise a teenager, but in a way that’s so specific. We hope it’s relatable. Everybody has to go through that separation, and everybody goes through disillusionment with their parents, and then a reacquaintance with their parents, and their own sense of their responsibility to family and their individuation. But for Paige, and for her parents, the stakes are enormous. There’s also the reality of having been lied to, her whole life, and having known it, on some level. There’s a lot for her to explore, and a lot for her parents to manage.
Can Paige even have a real relationship with her parents, at this point, or is there too much tension there?
FIELDS: It’s just like raising a teenager, but there’s the question of those things being magnified. We only get one mother and one father, and those relationships are primal and important. We all struggle with questions of identity, questions of trust, how we present ourselves and who we really are. It’s just that when our secrets are betrayed, they’re little secrets that are secrets of the heart, and those are emotionally challenging. For these characters, they’re life-and-death.
What can we expect from the fact that Paige has shared this secret with her pastor? Will that have dangerous consequences?
FIELDS: It’s pretty dangerous. The consequences will be very challenging. One of the exciting things for us, creatively, has been that there is so much dramatic momentum and so much urgency in the crises for these characters that the question has become finding room to explore all of them, dramatically.
Stan seems to be a bit all over the place, at this point. Has he reached his breaking point?
FIELDS: I actually think he’s turned a corner and he’s getting on more and more solid footing. Even though there’s that moment where he cracks and gets angry with Philip, to me, it’s understandable emotionally because it’s hard to go through a divorce. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so the idea that his friend is out there talking to his wife, or ex-wife, without telling him is a betrayal, of sorts. Emotionally, that’s tough. I also think he’s a very good investigator. Even though he doesn’t get it consciously, when he says that you’re lying, there’s some truth there. It’s just not about what he thinks. So, I actually think, as messy as it seems, he’s getting on more and more solid footing, and that’s going to be dangerous for everybody around him.
What can you say about Nina and what she’s going through, this season?
FIELDS: I can say that you can expect to see some stuff from that. I think what’s excited us most about where that character has gone is that there’s a spiritual story being told for her, and a character transformation that’s surprising and rich. She had a cycle that kept repeating itself, in its own way. The question is, will she break that cycle, and when she does, what will the consequences be to her, personally and spiritually.
How do you find the right balance with this show, between the family dynamics and the missions?
FIELDS: The way we do it is that it’s really all about the emotional story. Of course, there’s a mission, but those missions have become more and more a part of the fuel that drives the personal stories. In the first season, they were close-ended, episodic missions. Now, we don’t even really think about the beginning, middle and end of the episodic mission. We just see what’s dramatic. The discussions we sometimes have are, “Is the audience going to follow this spy story?” Ultimately, where we land is, if it makes sense to our characters and the characters follow it, than that’s okay. We’re not going to go out of the way to be expository or try to draw a picture for the audience because, strangely, it’s not the important story to us. We want it to be exciting, but what’s important is the personal story. So, if it makes sense to our characters and it makes sense to us, we hope the audience will follow it.
Now that you’re in Season 4, do you have to start thinking about the endgame in a more concrete way, or are you still trying to be as fluid with it as you possibly can?
FIELDS: From the beginning, Joe and I have talked about the endpoint, with a lot of concrete ideas, but knowing that any of that may shift, as we go along. I think it’s safe to say that, if a TV series is a big three-act story, this fourth season will close the second act of that and will lead us into our third and final act. How long that goes is really a question for us, creatively. The network is very supportive and has made it clear that it’s not a question of business, it’s a question of creativity.
Do you feel like you have a good idea for where these characters will end up, or are you trying to take the journey as it comes?
FIELDS: Both. We have a good idea, and we’ll take the journey as it comes. That’s the fun part.
The Americans airs on Wednesday nights on FX.