The sixth and final season of the FX series will bring to an end the much heralded story of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington, D.C., during the Reagan administration. The arranged marriage of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) has started to take on real meaning, but it is hard to deal with matters of the heart when there is so much life and death surrounding the pair.
The pressure has become even more intense as they have revealed their true identities to their teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor). These elements have given Russell one of the most complicated and satisfying roles to play in her career, which dates back to 1992.
“As a woman, these kind of characters are just rare,” Russell, 42, said. “For Elizabeth, it’s more than just being single-minded. To me, it’s such a feminist role. She is unwavering about other people’s feelings when it comes to accomplishing her ultimate goal.
“It’s so fun to get to be that person. She’s incredible strong, sexy and good at what she does. I can always justify the things she’s doing.”
Russell pauses, laughs and adds that every season there has been a moment when Elizabeth has gone to such extremes to do her duty that even she thinks it is time for Elizabeth to die. Russell's glad the producers have been able to change her mind. She won't say if that's the fate waiting for Elizabeth at the end of the 10-episode final season.
The final season opener starts with three years having passed. Henry’s in boarding school while Paige is in college and doing a little espionage work. It’s Russian cultural immersion time for Paige, as she learns from her mother and grandmother how life is in the Soviet Union. This calm moment is just before a major storm.
Executive producer and writer Joel Fields explains the time jump was dictated by the characters and two major political figures. The show was original set in the early ‘80s because of Ronald Reagan, and that’s when the Cold War was at its fiercest.
“The time jump came about because as we looked at what we wanted to do with the end of the show, Gorbachev was such an important figure, and we knew would trigger so much for Philip and Elizabeth and the other characters, so that’s what really took us there,” Fields said. “And, then, the other piece of the time jump was that Season 5 ended with Philip and Elizabeth in a very particular place with some very big decisions about their marriage and family, and the time jump allowed us to see how incremental changes over time impact a marriage in a big way when we came back.
All of the emotional, political, sociological, parental and physical demands of the role have been draining, but Russell has never complained about the toll the role has taken.
“It’s a very rewarding job and been so well received. We have been lucky to be part of something that is considered to be so cool. People seem to get it,” Russell says. “This is a good one.”
One of the reasons Russell will miss the character is it’s so different than anything else she's played. Her career is loaded with good-natured or likable characters, from “Felicity” to “Running Wilde.” Every element of Elizabeth — from the dark eyeliner she wears to the stark way she combs her hair — is designed to give the character the tone of a wild beast just waiting to break free.
All this has made Russell feel very grown-up in terms of her acting career, and that is going to make it hard to find another role as fulfilling. Part of that has been the increase in recent seasons of Elizabeth’s connection to her daughter, which now includes the spying elements. Now, instead of just being fiercely protective of her daughter because Elizabeth is a mom, there's the added degree of being comrades in a very dangerous line of work.
“This show has been such an intellectual, slow-burn show that speaks to me. It has ruined me a little,” Russell said.
Russell is very selective when talking about the final episode, saying only she's very happy with the way the writers and producers were able to maintain the tone of the series. The timing was right for her.
“It was absolutely the right time to end it,” Russell said. “It’s still enjoyable and still interesting to me. Anything beyond that would make me start to think whether these characters would really do that. Episodes seven, eight, nine and 10 are so good. Everything is so ramped up and that makes it exciting after all this time.
“I had no idea from the beginning that the experience that it would turn into. I know we're set in this 1980s spy show, but it’s truly one of my favorite marriage stories, couched in this Cold War spy world. And I think it's just really sparse, interesting storytelling. It's been a great ride.”
10 p.m./9 p.m. Central Wednesday, FX
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