The Americans: Matthew Rhys Talks Series Finale and Saying Goodbye to Phillip Jennings

Interviews, Pinned, The Americans

The time has come to say goodbye to The Americans. Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings pulled up stakes and started their road back to Russia after Phillip was found out. The series finale The Americans Season 6 Episode 10, “START,” brings their story to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

Series star Matthew Rhys, who plays Phillip Jennings, recently held a conference call with reporters where he broke down the shocking finale twists, and what he thinks Phillip’s future looks like.

START” picks up where The Americans Season 6 Episode 9, “Jennings, Elizabeth,” left off.  Phillip and Elizabeth are ready to start traveling back to Russia, but before they can go, there has to be a big payoff for the six years they spent living next door to FBI agent, Stan Beeman, played by Noah Emmerich.

Stan confronts the Jennings’ in the parking gage as Phillip, Elizabeth, and Paige are about to make their escape. In a long scene with lots of monologues, the secrets come pouring out. Rhys remembers shooting the scene.

“It was a marathon because obviously, we shot a number of angles on it that we don’t usually for The Americans.  We don’t usually spend that amount of time rehearsing it but we did get to on that one,” said Rhys.

THE AMERICANS — “Harvest” — Season 6, Episode 7 (Airs Wednesday, May 9, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: (l-r) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

“The pieces fell into place much easier than usual. The other thing I think on scenes, like [this is] that is actors tend to turn up, you know when there’s a kind of a bit of a mountain to climb they turn up with all their gear ready to go.  So we all turned up, ready to take a bite out of a steak that was that scene,” he remembered. 

Phillip appeals to Stan’s human nature, even going as far as to mention EST, a group that both Phillip and Stan belonged to. Phillip says that he wishes Stan had kept coming because if Stan had, he’d know what to do in that moment.

“In that moment, the primal instinct is to defend your family, to protect your family. And therefore you need to get them out of that parking garage.  So you will do anything that allows you to do that. So, by appealing to Stan’s human nature, he’s going I wish you could see this bigger picture,” said Rhys.

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THE AMERICANS — “Urban Transport Planning” — CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

The scene also questioned the intentions of Renee, Stan’s girlfriend, who Phillip believe to be a KGB operative. While Rhys doesn’t believe that Renee is a spy he does have some final thoughts on their friendship and what Phillip may have been trying to accomplish.

“I said, ultimately. I think Phillip and Stan, in another world, would have loved having him as a best friend.”

“Stan was his only friend, in this world — kind of world of pretense that he lived in. Stan was the only friend he’d ever had and, you know, just the irony of everything else that came with it,” Rhys noted. “So there’s genuine concern for [Stan] there, and I just think he couldn’t leave it unsaid.”

THE AMERICANS — “Start” — CR: Jeffrey Neira/FX

One of the most heart-breaking scenes for Rhys to film in the finale was the scene in the phone booth where Phillip and Elizabeth call Henry at school to say goodbye, having decided to leave him in the United States while Phillip and Elizabeth leave with Paige.

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As a new father, it came very easily to kind of put [myself] in that situation and go, ‘I can’t even fathom doing this to my own son.’ I still just think about [it] as one of the most heart-breaking moments of our show,” said Rhys. 

But a few scenes later, Paige also takes a turn and decides to stay as well, quietly getting off the train, and watching as it pulls away with her parents. Rhys says that the revelation surprised him, especially since there was no hint as to Paige’s intentions leading up to that decision.

“It did surprise me but I kind of loved it. I think what the boys do so well is kind of present these, at times, very open-ended questions to the audience. And I think that was one of them. And, you know, they led us down the path so far that Paige was going to come with us and then that about-turn on the train I think it’s just such a U-turn, kind of a violent U-turn,” Rhys reflected.

“It gives the audience enough to go well, [there’s] any number of things she can go in any number of directions now.  She can continue her work, look after Henry. There’s so many variables kind of presented to you in that moment and in a very poignant way.”

THE AMERICANS — “Harvest” — Season 6, Episode 7 (Airs Wednesday, May 9, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Still, some wonder if Paige would have stayed with them if they’d taken Henry as well, but Rhys thinks Paige may have stayed behind for Henry.

“I think possibly she stayed just out of a feeling and a fear that she needed to be there to protect him because she’d been through it, the great revelation and she kind of knew how hard that was,” Rhys reflected. “For him to be so shell-shocked by that news, and that escape, I think out of a feeling of being the only person in the world who could understand his position she would have stayed to kind of protect him.”

The show could have ended several ways, but in the end, the Jennings are all alive but separated with Phillip and Elizabeth in Moscow away from the kids. Rhys likes the ending but acknowledges that it comes with a price. 

“I thought the ending was very fair. I think they pitched it beautifully in that there were so many elements to it, it wasn’t definitive in one way with, you know, I hadn’t been killed or caught and everyone made it away. There was so much happening, there was such – I don’t know what word I’m looking for, the penalty for them to pay,” Rhys said.  

“There was such an expensive cost they had to pay for the price of their kind of newfound freedom. You know on one hand they spent their life living a lie.  I’m sure the relief from not doing that would be enormous, [but] the cost of not being with your children and the betrayal and the abandonment of your children is kind of unfathomable.” 

THE AMERICANS — “Urban Transport Planning” — CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

In the end, The Americans has always been about the marriage of these two spies and their family together. Seeing Elizabeth and Phillip alone on a bridge in Moscow may be heart-breaking, but it speaks to the heart of the series, and it still leaves room for imagination.

“It’s sort of interesting because [where it’s] left you don’t know really how it will work out. Ultimately they’re the only allies each other [have in] that they [have] someone else who understands this incredible journey they’ve been on, therefore they do need each other in that respect,” Rhys stated.

Rhys also remembered an early episode where Phillip wanted to give up being a spy.

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“I always harken back to the third episode of the first season when Phillip wanted to defect,” he said. “That was kind of brought back in those moments where I’m sure he could have gone, ‘you know, what we could be in a very cushy witness protection program at this moment where the kids are doing okay as opposed to this,’” he mused.

When the Soviet Union finally dissolves, there might be the chance for the kids to reunite, but Rhys points out what makes the loss that much more painful.

THE AMERICANS — “The Summit” — Season 6, Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, May 16, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

“That could be true but, unfortunately, they don’t know that at the moment which makes the pain that much more present,” said Rhys.

On a lighter note, Rhys did imagine what it would be like for Phillip to run into Martha who has been living in Russia.

“That’s the joke right, you know, an uncomfortable moment in the supermarket where the three of them all meet again and go: ‘Oh hi.’  ‘What are you getting?’ ‘Oh, we’re getting the same, you know.’ That’s the comedy spinoff version,” he joked.

While it feels like The Americans has reached its natural end there are a few things that Rhys will miss about the series and playing Phillip Jennings.

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“I’ve never encountered a show of this caliber with this kind of layering in the writing, and indeed the character’s been so textured really,” Rhys reflected. “So the challenges that came with this part and kind of landing in a real believable place has always been large and varied.  So I’ll miss the day-to-day challenges of this part which were tenfold daily.”

Rhys has been looking for his next project now that The Americans has wrapped, but this show will be a tough act to follow, in part because of how three-dimensional these characters were.

“I suppose it’s the amount of plates you have to keep spinning in the air.  But I’ve never – what I mean by that is I’ve never played a part where you have so many things going on at the same time that since finishing The Americans and reading a number of scripts you kind of go well that’s great but what else is happening to that character,” he said.

”And I’ve realized, especially in the earlier seasons, like, they had so many things to contend with, and kind of landing that in a place that was real was a real challenge I thought. So I’ve enjoyed the kind of enormity of his undertaking, massively, and that’ll be the hardest thing to say goodbye to.”

One thing that Rhys won’t miss, is the wigs.

“If I never wear another wig in my life it’ll be too soon,” Rhys declared.

What did you think of the series finale of The Americans? Were you satisfied with the Stan confrontation? Let us know in the comments below!

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Lauren Busser is a senior writer at Tell-Tale TV. Her work has also appeared on Bitch Media and The Hartford Courant. She has also been a dog sitter, worked front end at a bakery, and helped out in a kindergarten classroom. She learned to knit when she was five-years-old and thus, can now complete sweaters at a superhuman speed. She’s currently nursing a novel she’s been making slow progress on for the last six years.

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