In Season 3 of THE AMERICANS, FX Wednesdays at 10 PM, it’s still the early 1980s. Teenager Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor), who has spent her entire life feeling that her parents are far too secretive, has just confronted them. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) finally tell their older child the truth – that they’re KGB agents who’ve been in the U.S. to get operation since before Paige was born. Younger child Henry (Kiedrich Sellati) is simply lonely.
Paige thinks this is the biggest bombshell that her parents could have dropped, but she doesn’t know the half of it. Elizabeth and Philip have been arguing over whether to tell Paige anyway, because Elizabeth thinks Paige should get the opportunity to serve the KGB herself. Then there’s some of what Philip and Elizabeth have to do in the name of getting information – not only do they kill people, but Philip, in his identity as “Clark,” is actually married to FBI employee Martha (Alison Wright) and is being forced to court the underaged Kimberly (Julia Garner) in order to monitor her U.S. government honcho father.
Things aren’t much better across the street, where FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), unaware of Philip and Elizabeth’s real identities, is trying to think of a way to rescue his KGB lover Nina (Annet Mahendru) from the Russians.
THE AMERICANS, renewed for a fourth season, was created by Joe Weisberg, who was a real-life CIA agent back in the 1990s. He and fellow executive producer Joel Fields serve as show runners on the series.
AX: Does Elizabeth view the possibility of recruiting Paige into the KGB the way someone from an American military family might think, “Well, we’re Navy SEALs, and she should have the opportunity to be a Navy SEAL”?
JOE WEISBERG: I’ve said that a hundred times. Nobody judges a guy when he wants to have his son join the military. That’s the most accepted thing in America, that a father is proud to have a son who’s also proud to join the military. Some people think, “Well, that’s not great,” but mostly, that’s completely accepted in this society. She wants her daughter to be of service.
AX: Also, it seems like Elizabeth genuinely believes what she’s saying when she talks about trying to make the world a better, more peaceful place through what she and Philip are doing …
WEISBERG: That’s right. That is the ambition, the goal. Also very high-minded.
AX: Since some of the audience doesn’t seem to understand how Elizabeth views the situation, do you ever feel like you want to be any more didactic about that aspect of the show, just so people understand what you’re talking about?
WEISBERG: Well, I feel like, yes, but no. Because you can’t. You’d kill it. And I also feel in a way it’s part of Elizabeth’s character, I don’t mean as a television character, I mean as part of who she is, to be misunderstood, that she’s not in the world. In the television world she inhabits, it’s part of who she is, it’s her cross to bear to be misunderstood a little bit. So I think it’s okay.
AX: She holds these things to be self-evident, so when people don’t get it, she thinks they’re being perverse?
WEISBERG: Exactly. And she’s behind enemy lines. But then when her husband doesn’t get it, that hurts more, because he’s supposed to get it. And so it’s in synch with that if there’s a portion of the audience that doesn’t understand her.
AX: What do you think Philip actually thinks of Martha?
WEISBERG: I think he probably, A, has probably a very realistic and similar assessment of her, more than any of us would have, but B, I think that she’s been very good to him and that he’s developed real feelings for her. I don’t mean that he’s madly in love with her, but I think he’s developed real feelings. She’s been very good to him, taken care of him, comforted him, and he’s been bad to her. And I think he’s come to really care for her.
AX: Is he sort of like a boss who treats his secretary very badly?
WEISBERG: By badly, do you mean has an affair with his secretary?
AX: Well, who lies to her and knows that he’s not treating her with respect, but is aware that she deserves respect.
WEISBERG: It’s weird. I think it’s much worse than that, really, on the one hand. But on the other hand, when I think of a boss like that, why are they doing it? They’re just jerks. He’s doing this for a reason. And he’s got more of a conscience than that boss, and he has real feelings that that boss doesn’t have. So it’s worse and better, or worse and different.
AX: Are Philip and Elizabeth concerned about what Henry knows or doesn’t know, or do they just think he’s too young?
WEISBERG: He’s too young. He hasn’t shown any signs, suspicion.
AX: Well, he’s shown signs of acting out with the breaking into the neighbors’ house …
WEISBERG: Well, that’s true, but they’re too preoccupied and how big a deal is that [acting out], really? That could be any kid. And they don’t know about the bottle that he did in the first season.
AX: With Annet Mahendru’s character Nina, when Nina got in trouble, did you think of a plot for her and then think, “Oh, good, we can keep her,” or did you think, “We really want to keep her, how do we do it?”
WEISBERG: The story came. If the story had been that she disappeared, she would have disappeared.
AX: Can Stan stay in the show if he finds out that Elizabeth and Philip are KGB?
WEISBERG: We could come up with endless stories where he did or didn’t know and stay.
AX: How are you enjoying playing with the 80s technology?
JOEL FIELDS: This year, we’re going to have the first mobile phone. We’re going to have one of those handheld Mattel electronic phones – remember, with the blinking LED? We’ve got some other good stuff, too, this year. Sony Walkman, of course, you’ve got those orange headphones – “Just listen to this,” [Philip] says, and he puts it on [Kimberly’s] ears.
AX: What would you most like people to know about THE AMERICANS Season 3?
WEISBERG: It’s a very tense marriage this season. If you’re interested in marriage.
This interview was conducted at FX’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at Pasadena’s Langham-Huntington Hotel.
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Article: THE AMERICANS: Showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields Talk Season 3 – exclusive interview