[SPOILERS for The Americans series finale.]
After the final episode of The Americans, fans will be talking about what ultimately happened to Philip and Elizabeth Jennings after decades working as deep cover Soviet spies. The question of punishment has come up time and again with this series. Like many great shows during the Golden Age of television, the series asks viewers to wrestle with the morality of what the protagonists are engaged in. In this case, it’s a lot of espionage and no small amount of murder.
But does that necessarily mean that the series finale needs to be some sort of moral reckoning for the Jenningses, which for many people means meeting some violent end by which justice is served? The actual end of the series sees Philip and Elizabeth return to the Soviet Union, now separated from their children, Henry and Paige, both of whom are left (or chose) to fend for themselves (though Henry will most like have Stan as a surrogate father). There’s no question it’s an emotionally violent end to the series, but will bloodthirsty fans think it goes far enough?
During a conference call with several media outlets, Weisberg and Fields discussed the idea of punishment, and their approach to it, with regard to their characters and the series finale. Fields said:
“…I think we'd say we're here to explore the characters. And try to lay out the best drama for them. And we'll leave it to the audience to decide whether this was punishment enough or satisfying enough. That's really one of the exciting things about getting to the end for us... on the one hand, there's been an increase of obsessive creative control, but it's funny.”
For Weisberg, the idea of punishment is part and parcel with the show being a tragedy. For him the show’s tragedy is in the dissolution of the Jennings’ family and that Philip and Elizabeth lose their children and must return to a place that is radically different from the one they left all those years ago. Weisberg said:
“I think punishment is a funny word. It rings sort of funny for us, I think. But I think the idea of, you know, there being a kind of a tragedy that hangs over the spirit of this show. And that it feels like some sort of tragedy is -- or some kind of tragic ending is called for, some kind of toll is something that we probably felt. And, you know, to us the question is how does that -- how big is that tragedy going to be and where does it live? And does it live in, sort of, the emotional world? Or does it have to live in some sort of very direct type of death or something like that? And we explored that and thought about that a lot.
And ultimately the tragedy taking place inside the family felt exactly right to us. So the fact that they lose their children just resonated more deeply with us. That they are going on with their lives but with the loss of the children was to us the most powerful, and in a way, the most painful thing that could happen to anybody.”
Of course, it will be up to the audience to decide just how to interpret the level of tragedy seen in the series finale. It’s an intense and intimate climax to an anxiety-riddled series, but nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how audiences react to how it all plays out.
The Americans seasons 1 - 5 are available to stream on Amazon Prime, season 6 is available to stream with the FX Now app.