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With or Without You: The Oral History of the ‘Americans’ Finale

In 2018, the Cold War spy drama delivered one of the most shocking and fascinating conclusions in modern TV history. Five years later, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, other cast members, and the creators take us through the making of the episode—and all the sleights of hand and twists of fate.

FX/Ringer illustration

Hey, you may have heard, but Succession is ending this week. (And so are Barry and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, by the way.) To mark the occasion, we’re looking at the very idea of TV finales themselves this week: how to get them right, how to pick the perfect song for them, and why they may matter less in the streaming era. And naturally, we’re ranking them. Check back all week to help us celebrate—we like to think of it more like an Irish wake than a funeral.

Before opening the script for the final episode of The Americans, Keri Russell needed a drink. Over a big glass of wine at the bar of a fancy restaurant, she read every page and cried.

At the same time, Matthew Rhys was poring over the screenplay on a train to Washington, D.C. He also shed tears. “I just remember this woman went, ‘Are you OK?’” he says. “And I was like, ‘I’m not sure.’”

Learning the fates of undercover KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, whom Rhys and Russell had been playing for six seasons, understandably overwhelmed them. Early in the ’80s spy drama’s run, their on-screen romance became a real-life one. How the series ended was very important to them.

To the costars and partners, what showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields came up with was perfect. “I couldn’t quite believe what they’d managed because I was so fearful,” Rhys says. “I kind of almost didn’t want to read it, ’cause I was like, ‘There’s no way you can land this jumbo jet.’”

There are moments when the D.C.-set show that Weisberg created feels as huge as a 747. After all, its protagonists believe that they have a hand in changing the course of history. But all the geopolitical intrigue—fueled by mysterious figures, spycraft, and violent missions—is really a backdrop for something more intensely meaningful: domestic life. “Although there was an element of the show that was about history and the Cold War and the world,” Weisberg says, “the show was always a story about a family.”

And the only way to end the show was to focus on the titular family. The Americans series finale, which aired on FX five years ago this month, is a small story with big stakes. With their covers finally blown, Philip and Elizabeth are forced to flee the country where they’ve spent almost all of their Soviet government–arranged marriage. Their escape from the United States is nail-bitingly perilous, emotionally fraught, and downright shocking—without a single bullet flying.

“One of the things about the show that I love most was this intimacy: its humanity,” says Noah Emmerich, who plays FBI agent Stan Beeman, Philip’s best friend and his eventual pursuer. “It’s focused on relationships wrapped inside this pretty paper of intrigue and espionage and murder and mayhem.”

Because Weisberg and Fields stuck to that formula, the 1987-set “START” is widely considered one of the best television finales of the 21st century. For that, the couple at the center of it will always be thankful.

“The spy world and the theatrics only served the intimacy of the marriage,” Russell says. “I love that the end catered to that, because I feel like that is, at its heart, the story they were really trying to tell.”

Part 1: “Straight-Out Brutal”

While making Season 2 of The Americans, Weisberg and Fields first thought of the idea for the show’s ending. But when it finally came time for the finale, even they were shocked that their potential climax still held up. As for the cast and crew, the reveal of what would happen to the main characters—Philip; Elizabeth; their two teenage children, spy trainee Paige and innocent Henry; and Stan, who’s finally on to them and may or may not unwittingly be married to a Russian operative—left them gobsmacked. In the end, the spy plots fall away, and the Jennings scramble to try to evade the FBI and make it to the Canadian border. In the process, they decide to leave their son behind.

Joe Weisberg (creator, showrunner, and writer): We never thought we’d use that ending. We thought that by the time we got there in three or four years, we would’ve branched this way, or this would happen to Philip, or that would’ve happened to Henry, and we’d just be in a completely different space.

Joel Fields (showrunner and writer): We were simultaneously very obsessive planners on the show, and we kept this scene-by-scene, story line–by–story line, character-by-character detailed bible that we built out and out and out. We called it the “master document,” and it had that ending there.

Weisberg: We were shocked when we found that that was still a workable ending.

Keri Russell (Elizabeth Jennings): So emotionally devastating. It really shocked me.

Matthew Rhys (Philip Jennings): She was texting me, going, “Text me when you read it. Text me!”

Chris Long (director): The finale for a director is a gift. I mean, it was Joel and Joe’s gift to me and to themselves, of course. I remember the guys said, “Oh, it’s coming out.” And I didn’t ask for any headlines or anything, and I read it on a plane. I was sitting in the aisle row, and I was reading it, and everybody else seemed to be vaguely asleep or not paying attention. I was just so choked up. And kindly, the flight attendant came by with a tissue. And I was like, “Oh, Jesus, thank you. So sorry about that.” I didn’t realize that anybody had seen me.

Noah Emmerich (Stan Beeman): I just read it, and I didn’t skip ahead to see my stuff. I wanted to really experience the story in real time, and it just swept me up.

Holly Taylor (Paige Jennings): I was blown away. I loved it. I recently watched The Sopranos for the first time. And I know that’s a controversial ending, where it doesn’t button things up but leaves it open a little bit. And I think The Americans did it similarly. And I love that kind of ending.

Laurie Holden (Renee Beeman): So much was left open-ended. And that was glorious because it has kept the world of The Americans alive for the audience.

Keidrich Sellati (Henry Jennings): I couldn’t even comprehend it. I read it, and I sat there staring at it for 15 minutes, and then I reread it because I was like, “No way. What?” I guess I’m a crier. I started bawling.

Russell: As soon as you sort of say, “We’re gonna leave Henry,” I think everything just starts unraveling from there.

Long: The end of that finale has 15 minutes with no words. There are no words. They get on a train, and the guy says, “Passport, please.” But apart from that, there are no meaningful words. And it was just so powerful and emotional.

Taylor: Those quiet moments were when the show was at its best, really, and so relatable and just harrowing. So it was nice to end on that note.

Margo Martindale (KGB handler Claudia): What makes that show great is Joe and Joel. Extraordinary writers. Fearless. Staying true to their own voice and not letting it be anything but the way it should be. Meaning, not sapping it up, not putting a bow on it. It’s all just straight-out brutal. I thought it was probably one of the greatest endings to a show I’ve seen, because it didn’t go out with a bang. It went out quietly.

Emmerich: I thought it was true to its nature. It didn’t reach for pyrotechnics. I thought the fact that they reached inside the heart was more interesting than reaching outside.

Brandon J. Dirden (Stan’s FBI partner, Dennis Aderholt): The Js were so tight-lipped about everything, but I was convinced I was going to have an epic death. And I was like, “Yes, my first on-screen epic death!” And it didn’t happen. But that disappointment was, of course, quickly replaced with a satisfaction that I didn’t know was possible.

Costa Ronin (Oleg Burov): We always had table reads. When we finished reading and it said, “the end,” I think that’s when it had that heavy feeling on the soul and on the heart. Everybody clapped and looked each other in the eye, and we understood. I don’t think there was anything that needed to be said.

Part 2: “You Become Superman”

The tensest moments in the Americans finale come early on, when Stan tracks down and confronts the Jenningses in a parking garage. Deeply wounded by the betrayal of his longtime neighbors, the angry, gun-pointing G-man tells Philip, his supposed buddy, “You made my life a joke.” The confrontation leads to an excruciating conversation, in which Philip reveals his and Elizabeth’s true identities and even says that his friend’s wife, Renee, may be a spy. Reeling, Stan ends up letting the fugitives go. Emmerich, whose performance is both raw and restrained, says that preparing for the scene made him feel like an athlete getting ready to play the biggest game of his life.

Emmerich: There are games, and then there’s the Super Bowl. And it felt like this was our Super Bowl. This was the scene that mattered more than any scene we’d ever shot, maybe more than any scene I’ve ever shot in my career, just because of the amount of buildup to it and the audience anticipation and the expectation of it.

Long: I think it was 11 pages.

Emmerich: Which is extremely long, for even a film, without really anywhere to cut. I mean, it was a set piece. So you started it, and you jumped in, and you had to go.

Weisberg: If it didn’t work, we were fucked. We would’ve had a bad finale. And that meant that it had to be written right, and it had to be directed right, and it had to be acted right. And it didn’t feel like there was much margin for error. Joel and I remember joking about how many times we rewrote it. I think we rewrote it 40 times, which we never did for anything. At least for me, the first 30 times, we were pretty nervous about if we were going to get it. It wasn’t clear that we could make it work.

Long: We did a lot of work before we got to the underground garage in read-throughs, and we had a rehearsal process. So we got to air everything out between us, between the Js, and between the actors. I chose a place that really had some air to it, because we were going to be in some stinky underground parking lot. I knew that that was going to suck the life out of everybody.

Fields: One thing I remember about watching that scene was that Chris Long had been pacing around this garage. And then we watched as he shot the scene in this very simple, emotional way. You could just see how it would’ve been so tempting to show one’s hand as a director in that scene. Instead, he made this very bold choice to just let those characters stand there and be who they were. And it was so right and so effective.

Weisberg: I remember that whole thing being pretty anxiety-producing, because after six seasons, the particular central conflict was all going to come down to the three of them talking their way out of it. Which is maybe in the spirit of the show but not what people expect at the end of an espionage drama.

Ronin: This is what the show is about. It’s built on those quiet moments. There are a lot of shows out there with people running around with guns, being spies. Great. But that’s not what their life is like. They, at some point, are done running around with guns, and they have to come home, deal with their kids and homework and laundry and their own lives and their own intimacy and their own relationships.

Rhys: I was so scared of that scene, because it’s a behemoth, you know? It was such a beast.

Taylor: Matthew and Noah, I feel like, had just monologue after monologue. And they came right to the rehearsal knowing it extremely well, being able to play around with it. They’re both so professional. So it was no surprise but still very impressive nonetheless. I kind of just had to stand there and make sure that I wasn’t getting lost in their performance.

Emmerich: I had a slipped disk in my back. Before I got the script, I was like, “I wonder what this finale’s going to be.” And I was having trouble standing for prolonged periods of time. I could sit no problem. I could walk no problem. But standing still was the most painful thing for me to do. And then I got the script, and I didn’t even notice the stage directions. But I’m like, “Wow, this is an incredible scene. Holy shit. Ten pages.” And then I was like, “Wait a second.” I realized I’m standing the entire scene. I had a brief meltdown over how that was going to feel, but it worked out.

Long: He played the scene of his life in such extreme pain. Maybe that helped it. Maybe in that constant aggravation, that constant kneeling, he found something inside him to play it.

Emmerich: That was probably a healthy distraction, a place to park my anxiety and nerves. Am I going to be able to stand still for 10 minutes? Oh yes, I had a lot of pain in my back that day. But in any performance, once you’re going, you become Superman in some way. You’re not in touch with your pain or your hunger.

Rhys: Noah’s so fucking good.

Emmerich: The thing with Stan is that he’s an FBI agent, so he has a game face. But if it’s too strong a game face, it’s not that interesting for the audience. You want to see the person inside. So finding that balance was one of the challenges of the role.

Rhys: The line that always struck me was, “We had a job to do,” and I think it resonates in Stan. And at that moment, he sort of understands. Not forgives. But he understands.

Long: When you’ve gone through such an emotional journey like that with somebody over so many years and you are so close to them, it’s all a no-win situation. So it’s how you accept your no-win. One of the lines that gave me goosebumps was when [Philip] says, “I think Renee might be one of us.” It’s his gift back. It’s his parting “I love you, brother.” And the way Matthew delivers it is so fucking great.

Holden: He doesn’t want Stan to be hurt any more than he already has. That’s why he warns him about his suspicions about Renee.

Rhys: How do you land that tonally in a real way where you can believe Stan will let them go? Just the brass spine on [Weisberg and Fields], you know, to kind of go, “All right, we’re gonna have that conversation.”

Weisberg: Why [does Stan] let them go? It was a testament to Noah and his own brilliant acting that there’s no answer to that question that’s obvious. You don’t want that. We want people to ask that question, and we’re not going to give them the answer, in part because we don’t have an answer. It’s not that we didn’t consider all of those things, but our decision as writers was not to say, “It’s this or this or this.”

Emmerich: I do believe that there was real friendship there: a true, authentic friendship. I believe there was true love there, whatever that means. I think I was really pleased that the writers chose to emphasize, in that moment, Stan’s heart over his head. I think his heart won out over his head to some degree. I think his head was completely scrambled. I mean, it was just an omelet up there. But in the end, when there are seconds ticking and there’s not really a higher brain function to figure out what the right thing to do is here, it’s just such a wash of feeling.

Long: Laurie Holden never knew whether she was a spy or not. And it absolutely drove her mad. She’s just like, “Just tell me. Just tell me.” And I would say, “We don’t really know. That’s the next episode, which we’re never getting to. So we don’t really know if you are or you’re not.”

Holden: When I signed on, I was champing at the bit to know what Renee’s intentions were.

Long: It’s important because Stan doesn’t know. So when we shot the bit where Stan comes in, he looks at her and he hugs her, and then she’s just left staring at the FBI guys clearing out the Jenningses’ home. We did it three or four times. And Laurie was great about it. I go, “OK, now we’re going to try one where you are [a spy]. Now we’re going to try one where you’re not.” I could tell that the process was helping Laurie, but really, you couldn’t tell. Emotionally, she was going there for herself. I don’t even remember which take we used.

Emmerich: That’s a big one people want to know. “Was she? Wasn’t she?”

Weisberg: They say, “Was Renee a spy?” And they get the same exact answer, which isn’t even “We’re not telling.” It’s “We don’t know.”

Part 3: “Quintessential American Culture”

After leaving the garage, the Jenningses drive from D.C. toward Rouses Point, New York, where they plan to board a train to Montreal. But first, there’s some business to take care of. With “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits as background music, they stop to bury evidence of their old lives, put on their final wig-enhanced disguises, and find a pay phone to call Henry, who’s at boarding school. Then, they have their last American meal at the only place they possibly could: McDonald’s.

Taylor: For the last season, I was so excited thinking that I would get to wear wigs all the time. And I showed up to my first disguise test, and they were like, “That’s not what it’s going to be for you. We’ll maybe put you in a pair of glasses.” And I was like, “Are you kidding?” And then the last episode, I finally got to wear a wig, and I was just humbled so fast.

Rhys: By the end, there was a lot of joking about what we’d do to the wig box. Years after, on other jobs, I was like, “I will not wear a wig.”

Russell: I feel like now, a ton of people and a ton of shows have wigs all of a sudden. But it was sort of more novel back then. What it allowed was awesome.

Rhys: The hair department was true to the period. When you saw what the CIA was actually doing with wigs, oh my gosh. Back in the ’80s, they looked like Ronald McDonald.

Russell: Like a Bozo the Clown wig.

Rhys: In fairness, wigs are only used in distance. They’re never meant to be used in intimate situations. But it was ingenious for the time we had to shoot. Which was always nothing. With the limited resources they had, they pulled off a miracle.

Taylor: It was a really good first experience for me to watch Matthew and Keri just be so hardworking and professional and unbelievably kind and funny despite the drama of the show. One of the last scenes that we did was when we were on the phone, all calling Henry to say goodbye without him knowing it. And that was literally 3 in the morning in New York. And a blizzard just started out of nowhere. And we’d already shot some of the scene outside with no snow. So now continuity is messed up. But as always, they were just both so professional, so accommodating toward the crew and whatever we needed to get done. And they’re like, “We’re here to do this.” Never messing up and so positive, never complaining.

Sellati: I remember asking everybody on set that day—script supervisors, writers, directors, executives—“Do you guys want me to be suspicious at all?” And they were like, “Maybe.” And I was like, “OK.” So we did it a couple of times. And a couple of times, I did a little “What’s really going on here?” type of thing.

Long: And that was the part in the script that made me weep the first time, really. That really cracked me up when I first read it in the script.

Sellati: Even now, I don’t want to cry about it.

Ronin: It was interesting that their last meal was McDonald’s.

Dirden: McDonald’s was such a staple and was such a hallmark of American identity. It was the first real American restaurant to be franchised internationally. It was so symbolic of everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with America.

Ronin: I remember going to McDonald’s in Moscow when it opened up. There was this massive line. McDonald’s was always this representation of what America was.

Long: McDonald’s was late in England. We had our own version of McDonald’s called Wimpy, which was disgusting. I went to Paris when I was 15, so 45 years ago. And I had my first McDonald’s in Paris. I remember being like, “This is incredible.”

Rhys: I remember it coming to Cardiff. The U.K. has this exotic fixation with America. We’re raised on the television, raised on the film. So for McDonald’s to come to Cardiff, it was like, “Oh, my.” I couldn’t wait to get in for so long. And then when we finally did, you feel like, “I’m in Grease. I feel like Danny Zuko.”

Fields: A period McDonald’s is hard to find. Some of it had to be digitally created.

Long: The Js had their hearts set on it for obvious reasons. It took an act of God to get it done, the clearing process of going through McDonald’s, because they’re not a company that wants any negative publicity. And they don’t really lend their name to anything. The way that we got them on the hook in the end was just that it’s American. It is the quintessential American culture.

Fields: They have an archivist there, and they said, “You’re welcome to use McDonald’s, but it’s very important that you be accurate.”

Long: They made sure, by the way, that we had all of the correct wrappers. McDonald’s provided all that. They were like, “No, we’re going to bring it for you. Don’t worry.” And they did. We didn’t have to make it. They brought it all because they wanted it to be absolutely precise. There was no other choice for us. When [Philip] looks at the family eating their McDonald’s, that’s the life he’s never going to have.

As Philip walks into the Upstate McDonald’s, which is actually in Staten Island, U2’s “With or Without You” begins playing. For a show fond of using relatively deep cuts from artists like Peter Gabriel and Yazoo, it was a boldly broad needle drop. The melancholy love song, a no. 1 hit off The Joshua Tree in 1987, sets the rest of the episode in motion.

Weisberg: A lot of times you’re searching, searching for a song that works, and you can’t find one. We had a couple that we liked. So in a way, that’s a much harder choice.

Long: We tried “American Pie” in there for a long time.

Fields: We had a very strict calendar as to when things took place, and I think we looked at each other, and one of us said, “Wait a second. When was Joshua Tree released?” And they looked it up, and we were good, and we said, “Let’s try ‘With or Without You.’”

Russell: What’s so successful about their music is it’s so emotional. It’s so strong and emotional. I love that they chose that song for the end.

Long: Now it’s in there, you can’t imagine anything else.

Emmerich: That changed the song forever for me, weirdly. That song is now that scene.

Rhys: I remember when Chris said, “We’ve got ‘With or Without You,’” I was slightly concerned in the same way that you look at the family at McDonald’s. That can be read as a little too on the nose. But when I saw and heard it the first time, I was like, “Oh my God.”

Part 4: “A Heart-in-Throat Experience”

In the show’s logistically challenging climactic scene, filmed on a real commuter railcar in Westchester County, the Jenningses sit apart, in silence, bound for Canada before they ultimately head to Russia. Their disguises and fake passports help them evade the authorities, but any relief is short-lived. As Bono’s “With or Without You” wail kicks in, Elizabeth notices that her daughter is standing on the train platform—ensuring that Paige won’t join her parents on the trip to their homeland. In that shocking moment, it’s unclear whether they’ll ever see each other again.

Fields: We knew what we wanted to happen structurally, plot-wise, emotionally there, but when we decided to write it, I think we called Chris, and we said, “Chris, there’s an airport option, a train option, a plane option, a bus option.” And he really helped us come to the train, I think. So it really, at that point, was very much a collaboration with him as a director.

Long: We had the train for one day on a Sunday, and I was told that we had the train, and we had 2 miles of track that were ours. So we were like, “Great.” So we go forth 2 miles, go back 2 miles, and just reset. What they didn’t tell me was that we needed some sort of train signal person’s permission to move the train. And so this single person obviously had a real job, a very important job of controlling the train lines. But we would take 20, 30 minutes every time we wanted to move this train.

Weisberg: That’s a very high degree of difficulty for something that important.

Russell: The stakes are really high, and you want it to be good, and you care. We cared about that show so much.

Rhys: I just remember we were getting late and losing light.

Long: I was absolutely losing it because there were so, so, so many important beats. And I just remember Keri and Matthew being just so brilliant.

Russell: I’m not one of those actors who’s like, “Here I come. I can do it.” I have to really trust everyone in my space. And because of the train, we had to shoot on a Sunday. And so we didn’t have our normal sound people, and I was struggling. Because, you know, it’s like someone in your space who you don’t know, who doesn’t know your space. And I was like, “Dude, I can’t. This is hard.”

Taylor: It was moving so fast you didn’t even have time to digest that this is such a big goodbye.

Long: They get on the train, [officers] check the IDs, and then Paige gets off onto the platform.

Taylor: She is an American first and foremost. That’s how she was raised. It’s what she knows. And that’s such a traumatizing thing to find out that your parents aren’t who you think they are. [You’re] not feeling fully embraced or supported by these two parents for most of your life, and now you’re going to abandon everything to start a new life with them? That was probably a scary thought.

Rhys: The reaction of seeing Paige, Chris said, “Listen, I’m really sorry, but you’ve got one take at this.”

Long: It’s such a heart-in-throat experience for me. You had to capture, obviously, that incredible moment where she gets off and where Keri gets up and looks out.

Russell: I was thinking about how I felt when I read it. It’s the most painful thing.

Emmerich: The hand on the window. I literally now just got goosebumps just thinking about it.

Taylor: It just hits you.

Weisberg: As the show went on, Joel and I got better at writing stuff that didn’t need words, in part because that played into the ability that actors have, which is to convey things without being saddled with words.

Long: For seasons, basically, she never breaks her cover in public, which she did. She gets up, and then Matthew comes and sits next to her.

Rhys: That, to me, was the beauty of the finale with regards to Elizabeth: It was such payback. For all the ice and steel you’d seen for so many seasons, you saw the humanity, you saw the cracks, you saw it all.

Russell: You are the most devastated you’re going to be, but you’re trying so hard to keep it in.

Rhys (to Russell): You do this thing where you go from surprise to beyond that. Like the grief of it hits you. And then in a very Elizabeth way, there’s resolve and understanding very quickly. This massive little journey in seconds in your face is incredible.

Long: I saw it, and I knew we had it. And I was like, “Oh my God. We got it. That’s amazing.” And then the next day, when I saw it in dailies, I was like, “Oh, not only do we have it, we really have it.”

Fields: Keri always nailed it. She really did. And boy did she there.

Long: That’s all Keri. She doesn’t need any direction for that sort of emotional connection to her daughter. That’s all her.

Russell: To think of losing a kid is just so painful. That they’re choosing to not [join you], it’s so hard-core.

Rhys: It’s the story everyone can relate to. You can’t really relate to being a spy. But losing a child?

Part 5: “Karmic Payback”

During the flight to Europe, Elizabeth dreams about former lover Gregory Thomas, a civil rights activist she’d recruited to her cause. Then, she snaps back to reality. Paige has returned to D.C., where she’s seen at Claudia’s empty apartment pouring a shot of vodka. Stan consoles an upset Henry, whom he’ll be looking after now. Without their children, the Jenningses cross the Soviet border without incident.

As Tchaikovsky plays, KGB Rezident Arkady Zotov drives them to Moscow. But before getting there, Philip has the officer pull over by a bridge overlooking the city. As they’re staring into the distance, they reminisce about what their lives would’ve been like if they hadn’t become spies. “Feels strange,” Philip eventually says in English. Elizabeth replies, in Russian, “We’ll get used to it.” Fittingly, they’re at once together and alone.

Ronin: One of the most powerful moments in the finale was when they’re being driven back. Elizabeth has her head on Philip’s shoulder, and they’re asleep. I think, finally, they’re able to be themselves and relax and fall asleep, and they’re together in this image of peace. Peace they didn’t have for 20 years.

Weisberg: They were standing on the bridge, a married couple who had done crazy things and been through crazy things and were still together. I remember [FX chairman] John Landgraf saying, “As you guys think about this, really, there has to be some karmic payback. A happy ending would just dramatically be kind of a disaster.” I think people like the ending because it balances those two things: the disaster of losing the kids and them staying together.

Long: We went to Russia to shoot. And we shot [background footage] when we were there. We couldn’t risk taking Keri and Matthew to Russia. We went in on the down-low, basically. And we took Costa because he had a Russian passport. And we went in, and we didn’t go in as shooting The Americans. We went in with an incredible Russian production company called Bazelevs, who helped us. We shot as if we were doing a commercial.

To get a visa for an American TV show is impossible. Now, you wouldn’t get it. But even in those days, it was impossible. So when they did the final scene, it was literally a fan blowing wind on them from here. There’s a bloke with a fan blowing wind on them. And then there’s a big green screen here where Russia was going to be.

Russell: I don’t think it had quite hit me that we were doing the end.

Long: The pair of them had this just unbelievable ability to pull themselves into the scenes at the height of our mayhem, which is just incredible. And that final scene, done on some soundstage, no reality whatsoever, fake snow.

Russell (to Rhys): I had been really sick. I got walking pneumonia. So I had to miss work for a few days. We got on set, and then I started really coughing. And I had this weird kind of high, where you’re sick—maybe I had medicine. I remember looking over, and you were crying. I said, “I should not cry.” I just remember being really upset that it was all ending.

Fields: Each season when you’re making a television show, it never ends. Even as you’re filming your last episode, you’re editing, you’re mixing, you’re getting all the prior episodes ready, but you’re also thinking about the next season. So the only time that’s not the case is when you’re doing the final season. So it was incredibly emotional.

Long: I watched the cut [that] Daniel Valverde, the editor, had put together, and I just put my head in my hands, and I just fucking cried because I just knew we’d done something really special. It was such a relief because it was such a responsibility to land the plane.

Rhys (to Russell): It was a job [where] I met you, and we’d had [our son] Sam by then. I was like, “Oh my God, this job has changed my life.” The resonance of what that job forever will be for me wasn’t lost on me.

Emmerich: The heart of it and soul of it is really about family, about relationships.

Weisberg: Through all of that, the marriage lasted.

Taylor: I started the show the same exact time I started high school, and then I graduated high school with the show, and I started college. So it followed Paige’s journey pretty closely. But I remember it being a whirlwind because we had so much going on. I think I thought I was going to be so much more emotional than I was. It’s maybe just starting to catch up to me the past couple years. Wow, that’s really over. And then you hear it’s been five years; it seems even more dramatic.

Sellati: It definitely does blow me away still, five years later.

Derek Luke (Gregory Thomas): I think it was an intersection of creativity from the acting, the writing, the directing, [and] the two Js. I think that I’m blessed to work consistently in the industry, but sometimes, you just have those experiences, and you say, “Wow, this is a game changer.”

Alison Wright (Martha Hanson): When Season 6 came out, I avoided watching it, kept putting it off, not really sure why, until I realized I didn’t want to face the truth that it was over. If I never saw the ending, then maybe I could believe that whole world was still alive somehow.

Holden: Wherever I go, I have been continually asked the same question. It’s never stopped. I could be at the dentist. I could be walking down the street, at a dinner party, in a coffee shop. People have continually come up to me and asked if Renee is a spy. What I find wildly entertaining is how everyone says, “Oh, but you can tell me.” I won’t tell anybody.

Dirden: When people do recognize me, they talk about the finale. The most common thing I get is, “That was just the perfect way to end the show.” They say, “I’m satisfied.” And sometimes they’ll say, “Yeah, I wonder what Paige is doing now.”

Rhys: We used to joke a lot about what they were doing. That Paige would go back and find Henry and look after him. Or Philip and Elizabeth are both alcoholics in a small apartment in Russia, but they just wear their medals every day. And he leaves the apartment, saying, “I’m just gonna go and clean the Camaro.” And she’s like, “You don’t have the Camaro.”

Russell: I couldn’t have imagined the way Joe and Joel were gonna end the story. I don’t even have thoughts of where Elizabeth is because I couldn’t imagine something as good as they already imagined. Although, I have been getting a lot of people talking about this new show I’m doing, The Diplomat. They’re like, “Is this just like a long burn, and then we’re gonna find out it’s really Elizabeth?”

These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity. Rhys and Russell spoke to The Ringer together.

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