‘The American’s EPs Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields on the Show’s Endgame and Reclaiming the “Slow Burn”

     March 7, 2017

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Since its debut, the FX series The Americans has consistently been one of the best dramas on television, with compelling storytelling, expert acting performances, and a family drama at its center that just keeps getting more intense. As the arranged marriage of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) grows more and more real, passionate and genuine, the personal toll becomes more and more impossible. And with Paige (Holly Taylor) pushing her parents to open up to her, Henry (Keidrich Sellati) becomes the odd man out, in a family consumed with secrets.

During this chat with Collider, showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields talked about being in denial about how soon the series will be ending, being confident in their decision to do two more seasons (Seasons 5 and 6), knowing the endgame for the Jennings family, what they’re most excited about with Season 5, reclaiming the phrase “slow burn,” whether Philip and Elizabeth might be romanticizing what it would be like if they returned to the Soviet Union, what’s in store for Paige and Henry, where Stan (Noah Emmerich) fits in, new characters, and what’s next for Oleg (Costa Ronin).

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Image via FX

Collider: Have you gotten to the point where you’re feeling nostalgic and trying to preserve every moment of the remaining seasons and episodes, since you know the end is coming and even when it’s coming?

JOEL FIELDS: No, we’re in utter denial! But the sense of reality is now starting to creep in, as we start to talk about Season 6.

JOE WEISBERG: I think I just turned that corner. I’ll do that thing where I walk into the kitchen and I’m like, “Oh, the grapefruit!” Just in the last week, I’ve gotten very sentimental. 

You’ve told me before that it was during Season 4 that you guys decided two more seasons would be a good length of time to finish this story in. At any point during Season 5, have you questioned that decision and wondered if you might need more or less, or have you just solidified the fact that two seasons is a good length to finish this story in?

WEISBERG: We’ve just felt really good about that decision, from the beginning. We had the feeling that we had a lot of story let to tell, and that we could tell it in two seasons. We were really deciding between one and two seasons. We weren’t deciding between one and three or four seasons. We wanted to wrap it up in one season or two, and we just knew one was going to be too tight. As we broke out this season, it came easily. Everything felt great and we could see how it was going to blend into next season, so we have not had any real doubts. That being said and our personalities being what they are, we’re not doubters anyway. We’d have to screw it up pretty good to think, “We really made the wrong decision.” 

FIELDS: It has definitely felt right. Individually, we may be doubters, but collectively, we seem to be okay.

As you were working on Season 5, how much were you also working on and thinking about Season 6?

FIELDS: We’re now at a place where we’re turning a corner on that, as well. We were really focused on Season 5. The extent that we thought about Season 6 was just for the purpose of making a really great Season 5. Now that we’re a few weeks passed finishing the last couple of scripts, and we’re editing Episodes 8 and 9 and prepping 12 and 13, we’ve started to talk more practically about Season 6.

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Image via FX

Are you guys at the point where you’re pretty confident that you know what the endgame is for the Jennings family, or are you still not quite there yet?

WEISBERG: We’ve known that for a long time, with three different variations, which are just variations of the same thing. As we get closer and closer to it, we’re down to one or two variations, instead of three. We always say that we can always change our minds, but I think we’re getting closer and closer to thinking that we’re not going to change our minds.  

What are you most excited about with Season 5?

FIELDS: What’s exciting about this season is that, having paid off so many stories last season, we had a lot of new story real estate. This was able to feel like its own somewhat different story for us. That’s an exciting thing to do in Season 5 of a show.

When you introduce stuff now, do you have to worry about how much space it’s going to need for you to tell a new story, since you don’t have that much space left to tell stories in?

WEISBERG: Yeah, we were talking around the other day, thinking about Season 6, and that was one of the exact issues that we were dealing with. The end is near. 

People have used the phrase “slow burn” quite a bit, when it comes to this show. Do you embrace that, and have you always embraced that?

WEISBERG: We’ve reclaimed the phrase “slow burn.” We’ve embraced it. Basically, we think the biggest compliment anyone can ever give the show is to say it’s a slow burn. Who wants to be a fast burn? That’s horrible! 

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Image via FX

Will this season feel different from previous seasons, being the penultimate season, or will it just feel like the next step in this story?

FIELDS: It will feel like both. Emotionally, for us, it feels different because we’re facing the end of this story that we love. But as storytellers, we are just telling the story that we’ve had in our minds for quite some time. We’re working from a document we created during Seasons 2 and 3, and that we refined, along the way. In a good way, there’s an inevitably to some of the story points, for us.

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