The unimaginable happened in The Americans' pitch-perfect Season 3 finale, “March 8, 1983.” Paige (Holly Taylor), the teenage daughter of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), two KGB operatives masquerading as everyday Americans, let her parents’ secret out of the bag.
Earlier in the hour, Elizabeth and Paige traveled to West Germany to visit Elizabeth’s ailing mother. But upon their return to the States, Paige, who recently learned about her parents’ double lives, is upset by the prospect of having to lie to not only Henry, but also to everyone else in her life. Seeking comfort and someone to talk to, Paige calls her pastor.
“They’re liars and they’re trying to turn me into one. They’re not who they say they are. They’re not Americans…They’re Russians,” Paige reveals in a tear-filled phone call to Pastor Tim, breaking the promise she made to her parents just one episode ago.
Joel Fields, who executive-produces The Americans alongside its creator, former CIA officer Joe Weisberg, says there was “almost an inevitability” to Paige’s indiscretion. “Part of it may have grown out of seeing, as we wrote, the level of suffering she was in and how much she was struggling with discovering the truth, which we knew would be intense,” Fields told The Daily Beast.
“I felt sorry for Pastor Tim because, in his inclusion [in the Jennings’s secret], I was like, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen to you next season?’” jokes Rhys in his usual Welsh accent.
The cruel irony of the entire situation is that the trip to West Germany, which prompted Paige’s confession, was meant to bring mother and daughter closer together. Instead, the trip drives them further apart—which Elizabeth clearly fails to see, as she tells Philip later that night that she thinks the trip was good for Paige.
“For Elizabeth, this was an incredible reconnection of these three generations, and for Paige, she was looking in a lot of ways at a bizarre stranger,” says Fields, who penned the episode with Weisberg. Paige tries to tell Elizabeth that she can’t live with these lies, but Elizabeth thinks she’s assuaged Paige’s fears by telling her that everybody lies.
“[Elizabeth’s] a professional at accessing people and unable to see the pain her own daughter is in,” says Fields.
As Paige confesses to Pastor Tim, President Reagan’s infamous speech about the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union—which he delivered in Orlando, Florida, to the National Association of Evangelicals on, you guessed it, March 8, 1983—fills her parents’ bedroom. Reagan’s speech, which casts the Cold War as a moral “struggle between right and wrong and good and evil,” is used to score an episode-ending montage that drives home just how much danger lies in Philip and Elizabeth’s future. Juxtaposing the speech with Paige’s phone call represents another moment in which the international espionage sphere bleeds into the Jennings’s domestic one.
“March 8, 1983” was unlike The Americans’ previous two finales, which featured adrenaline-pumping action and fight sequences. Tonight’s episode was quieter, more reflective, and focused on emotional climaxes. The fight scenes were of an internal nature, especially for Rhys’s Philip, who has spent most of the season dealing with a crisis of conscience. While Elizabeth and Paige were in Europe, Philip was tasked with framing Gene Craft, the FBI’s computer specialist, for planting the bug in Special Agent Gaad’s office to protect Martha (played by Alison Wright, who is noticeably absent from tonight’s episode). He kills Gene and makes his death look like a suicide. “I had no choice…I’m sorry,” reads the suicide note—an obvious instance of Philip projecting his own emotions onto his victim.
“I think ‘I had no choice’ is exactly how Philip feels or how he’s felt for many years,” says Rhys. “He’s in a predicament where he’s desperately trying to defend his children, his family, and in order to do that [he must] do his job as best he can. He’s barely keeping his head above water.”
“The idea that something is not right, that something needs fixing, has been awoken in him, and that’s not something that gets easily reburied,” says Fields.
Philip’s emotional journey in tonight's episode parallels Paige’s, as he too is in desperate need of someone to talk to. This leads him to an EST meeting where he runs into Agent Stan Beeman’s (Noah Emmerich) ex-wife, Sandra (Susan Misner). She proposes both of them try being open and honest with each other, but that’s something Philip can’t do. He does try opening up to Elizabeth about everything he’s been going through, but can’t find the words to articulate what he’s feeling.
“I almost feel like when I do this stuff, if I don’t…I just feel like from now on I need to be able to know what I’m doing better, so I…” says Philip, unable to tell Elizabeth what he actually means.
In crafting this scene, Fields says he and Weisberg told Rhys exactly what Philip would say if he hadn’t been interrupted by the speech. (Fields is reluctant to say what that would have been, since the whole point of the exchange is Philip’s inability to properly communicate.)
“He’s casting about for it because he’s struggling with his own pain and self-discovery at this point,” says Fields.
Rhys added: “It’s very interesting that these are two people in the intelligence community whose sole objective is to glean information from others, and yet the greatest place where they can’t communicate is with each other.”
Elsewhere in tonight’s finale, we saw Stan, with Oleg Burov’s (Costa Ronin) help, finally acquire the evidence he needs to prove that Soviet defector Zinaida Preobrazhenskaya (Svetlana Efremova) is a spy. He went to Gaad with evidence in the hopes of exchanging Zinaida for his gulag-imprisoned, asset-turned-lover Nina (Annet Mahendru). To Stan’s surprise, Gaad tries to fire him for running an off-the-books operation with Oleg, whom he has on tape admitting Zinaida’s role in Soviet espionage. However, the Deputy Attorney General overturns Gaad, and Stan is given a de facto promotion, allowing him to continue running his operation report directly to the administration. Fields says we can definitely expect this to affect Stan and Gaad’s working relationship next season.
With The Americans recently renewed for a fourth season, Fields, Weisberg, and the rest of the writers have already started breaking ground on what’s next. According to Fields, they’re pretty proud of what they have in store, but are keeping that close to the vest for now. Not even Rhys has been told what to expect.