Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell play Russian spies in the series, implanted in a small, suburban community as a husband and a wife who have integrated so well they even have two children together to seem like your all-American couple. But though they kick around the soccer ball with their son and pierce their daughter's ears by night, by day they are poisoning hostages and planting bugs in officials' offices to get intel back to their mother country.
"When you're with them, the hope is you'll root for them, too. It's a show about marriage, and the marriage is an allegory for a show about international relations, and the international relations are an allegory for the relationship," series creator and executive producer Joel Fields said earlier today at FX's TCA tour.
Obviously, we all know how the Cold War actually ends, and though Russell joked that the show will "rewrite history," in truth it is only playing with perception of importance in history. Weisberg shared that a discussion in the writers' room has been whether or not Philip and Elizabeth-- or the FBI other half of the show-- will act in ways that stop a quote-unquote regular war.
But regardless, "relating to the enemy" is a touchy subject, and series executive producer Joe Weisberg admitted that you couldn't do a similar series set in Al-Qaeda today. Thirty years has past from the Cold War, and that kind of time and distance allows the audience to be less sensitive about sympathizing with history's labeled "bad guys."
"We talk a lot about the question of values, and part of what we're trying to explore-- it's easy to talk about rooting for the Soviet or the Americans in terms of trying to destroy each other. There's no question repressive socialism failed in the Soviet Union, other places around the world, but unbridled [capitalism has left a lot to be desired, too]. That's one of our struggles in the writer's room," Fields said.
"America is really a character-- the makeup of America, and what it would look like for these characters," Weisberg added.
Additionally, the distance from the real events is allowing the producers to play with the events in general. They will mix and match some that they make up completely but pose as possibly true events and the very real, very headline-grabbers of our actual history.
"We've got the real events like the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan...We've got that to deal with," Weisberg said. "Their whole job is being in the United States to do jobs like that, and can they do it?"
The Americans is a relationship drama at its core, set in a higher concept, and higher action, world, and Fields added that the big question of the series-- certainly more than whether or not Elizabeth and Philip will be successful in their individual missions-- is whether or not they will make it as a "real" couple. They were put together, but emotions muddied the job over time.
"I think we would very much like for both Elizabeth and Philip to have a happy, healthy marriage...but they're going to have a lot of ups and downs," Weisberg said.
Immediately, one of those issues that arises is the fact that Philip is starting to consider pulling out of the long-term mission completely and wondering what life would be like if they just were able to be a family. But additionally, both characters have skills they cannot pull out on a moment's notice or they risk revealing themselves. Restraint is going to be a key factor for them, and that comes into play with revealing who they really are to their kids.
"The parents keep it a secret from the kids until they reach either an age or a maturity that the parents feel the kids can be trusted with the secret," Weisberg said, referencing his own past as the CIA and how it informs the show he is helping create now.
"The CIA could also be brought into the show down the line."
The oldest child in The Americans could arguably be of the age to be sat down and given "the talk" about who her parents really are and what they do. The question, then, is if these kids have been raised all along with subtle anti-American seeding, as well as whether or not Philip and Elizabeth have a plan for their children to follow in their footsteps.
As Weisberg pointed out, Philip and Elizabeth's cover would never withstand CIA background checks to join the organization and take it down from within, but their kids' covers would.
"Thanks for giving away season ten!" Fields said to Weisberg.
But before we get there, Weisberg also pointed out that the idea of one spy questioning loyalty is not uncommon, nor would it have to deliver a finite change for the show.
"The reality is they could at one point flip, but then they'd flip back. They become double agents, triple agents, and [don't] know who they were working for in the end. Where is your commitment? To each other? To your nation? To your family?"
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