[SPOILERS for The Americans series finale.]
The Americans co-showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields discuss those unforgettable paintings seen throughout the final season and why one of them appeared again in Elizabeth’s enigmatic dream in the final episode. Throughout the final season of the series, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) has been exposed to some eerie paintings by a dying artist named Erica (Miram Shor), and seemed particularly moved by one in particular. That painting was gifted to Elizabeth’s alias (a bespectacled nurse with a charming perm), and although it was destroyed, it made an posthumous appearance in a bizarre but telling dream sequence that offered an unfiltered look into Elizabeth’s subconscious.
The show’s use of real-life artist Alyssa Monks’ haunting paintings throughout the show’s last 10-episode season afforded the show a chance to explore Elizabeth’s thought process throughout what would be her final mission in the United States. One of the paintings also made for a chilling centerpiece to a dream Elizabeth has that helps tie together the character’s arc throughout the entire series, from her anxiety over having children as part of her cover to her relationship with Gregory (Derek Luke) to finally coming to love and accept Philip as her real-life husband.
As Weisberg and Fields explained during a conference call with various media outlets, the meaning behind the paintings and the dream are partially intended to be left to the audience to decide, but they also offered their take on what it may signify, particularly with regard to Elizabeth’s arc in the final season. Weisberg said that art was something Elizabeth hadn’t really considered evaluating before, and she was sort of inadvertently exposed to it, almost through osmosis, given her time spent with Erica and her work:
“Elizabeth was somebody who had been brought up… [with] essentially very little exposure to art other than, sort of, socialist realism. And.. her whole idea of art was, you know, going to be essentially dismissive. It's only purpose of art was really to serve a political function to the degree that she really thought about it at all.
So the question was what kind art was going to, kind of penetrate into her soul, kind of, against her will and without her even realizing it was happening? And that's what we imagine happening as she was stuck in that room for hours and hours, often with Erica asleep staring at these pictures. What could… have this effect on her without her realizing it. And we felt that all those incredible paintings of Alyssa's, which were so beautiful and so dark and so powerful, would just make her feel things, again, without her necessarily even knowing it was happening.
And in a way that painting was a particularly penetrating and powerful one. I don't know that we want to say all the reasons we felt that would be a particularly powerful one for Elizabeth. We like to, sort of, leave that up to the audiences' imagination. But we felt that that was the one that she would keep coming back to and back to again and again. And then, of course, not even consciously choose it, but have her eye keep being drawn back to it until Erica's husband told her to just go ahead and take it.”
As far as the dream sequence is concerned Fields admits those sort of things aren’t usually the The Americans’ cup of tea, given the risks involved. Nevertheless, the gifted piece, the appearance of Gregory, and a painting of Henry and Paige are nevertheless some powerful images that explain a lot about Elizabeth’s state of mind:
“We were both looking for a way to move forward through time there. But also to expose everything we could about what Elizabeth was feeling. And we really struggle with dream sequences. We tend not to do them because they're just so tricky and they have such a high probability of going wrong.
But there just seemed to be so much in her subconscious there. And this seemed like a great way to put it together and shake it up and just let it all be. Everything from the fact that this whole season had been one in which her soul had been stirred by art in unexpected ways. She certainly had never thought about the fact that her first true love had been an art collector who loved and had an understanding for art that she also couldn't relate to back then. Everything from that to the fact that the -- that moment that she had talked about in the first season was the moment that she was starting a family. And now here she was leaving them behind. And looking across the aisle at this man who had over all these seasons truly become her husband.”
The Americans seasons 1 - 5 are available to stream on Amazon Prime, season 6 is available to stream with the FX Now app.