Syfy’s “Killjoys” brings its first season to an action-packed close on Aug. 20, with many mysteries still to be resolved in the season finale. The series follows three interplanetary bounty hunters (known as “Killjoys”) who must navigate the thorny political quagmire of competing planets in a far flung galaxy. The sci-fi action-adventure has been one of the summer’s most consistently entertaining surprises, made all the more appealing by the quippy chemistry between its heroine Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen) and her teammates, brothers John (Aaron Ashmore) and D’avin Jaqobis (Luke Macfarlane).
Variety spoke to “Killjoys” creator Michelle Lovretta (who also created Syfy’s long-running and equally female-driven “Lost Girl”) on the appeals of working on genre shows, the “debt” that writers owe female characters, and what’s ahead in the Syfy show’s finale — and prospective second season. Below, Variety also has an exclusive clip from the season finale, titled “Escape Velocity,” which sees one of the Killjoys’ allies arrested for a crime they know he didn’t commit.
I’m so impressed with the world-building on “Killjoys” — what was the genesis of the series?
It’s not the genesis in terms of one particular seed, so much as just where my passions lie… When other kids were outside playing, I was that classic nerdy kid who was inside with the novel that on the front had either a girl with a sword or somebody with a ray gun. My viewing style and reading obsessions tend to take me into the worlds that I like to spend time in, so when I try to create television… invariably it’s a business so there’s a part of you that wants to create something that you think will be made, but I’ve had the gratifying history of just making s–t like, “I’m just gonna pitch something that I’m passionate about and there’s no way in hell you’re gonna do it,” and then I’m hit by this massive stroke of good fortune where they’re like “okay, let’s go on the ride.” I was basically lying around bored like most viewers are, but being a television person I have the privilege of saying, “okay, if there’s nothing on that I wanna watch, what would that be?” and that’s how “Killjoys” came about.
I describe it to people as “Dark Angel” meets “Firefly” — what were your specific inspirations, or the particular themes you were eager to explore?
I’m a kid of the ‘80s so when I was working with the writers early on, I said, “obviously there’s going to be some ‘Alias’ type missions,” just based on what they read of the pilot and the fact that we were gonna have warrants every week, but I said a lot of — and I think the audience is picking up on the retro sensibilities but they’re going more towards ‘90s shows, whereas for me, I loved the hell out “A-Team” and “Riptide” and I wanted some of that no-apologies fun. That’s something we put into the show early on and I think you see it right until the end. Obviously the mythology takes over and things start to get a wee bit tense and dark, so it’s a balance.
Speaking of that balance, one of the most appealing aspects of the show is that it really is fun to watch, even as it grows steadily darker. How do you maintain that each episode?
It’s quite a task to maintain that balance and it’s not something where I ever set out to have a balance… The first season was designed so that we took time at the beginning… if we’re fortunate enough to get multiple seasons, there’s a lot of things going on in The Quad that our Killjoys are not aware of and are an unintended part of, and when we explode all of that, there’s going to be a loss of innocence, and it was very important to me and it was sort of how I pitched the series originally to the networks, that I’m considering this first season the equivalent of the tease of an episode. It’s there to be fun and set up relationships; we use warrants to explore world-building; but in the end I wanna be able to, almost with a sense of nostalgia, look back to those first episodes when all they thought was going on were warrants, and be like “oh, you poor innocent bastards, back when you had fun first and foremost.” I thought that was a necessary approach for us, because as the season goes on we take the training wheels off and open their eyes and the serialization speeds faster and faster.
“Killjoys'” Dutch and “Lost Girl’s” Bo are two of the most fascinating, fully-realized characters who just happen to be women on television, period, and it seems like sci-fi as a genre is a lot more welcoming to complex female characters as opposed to relying on stock wives and girlfriends and damsels in distress. Do you have any theories on why that is?
It’s sort of a double-edged sword; the advantage of genre when it comes to female characters is that you’re working with a heightened reality, and you’re working with something where there is an inherent obligation to suspend your disbelief. So what that allows us to do as storytellers in a great way is, intentionally or otherwise, tell meta stories under the surface and things that people aren’t gonna necessarily want to consciously deal with. You can have fun and exciting stories that are about something a bit more — I think part of that is why you can have characters like a female captain, for instance, because people are suspending their disbelief.
But the disadvantage of that [is], it opens the door, but it also means people who are creating them often don’t take those female characters as seriously; certainly [they didn’t] in the past. They’re there for “let’s have some boobs with our guns,” and I am all for boobs and guns, clearly, if you look at my history, but you have to genuinely believe that this character has the right to be in the position that they’re in, and that all the characters around them support and understand that. I think you can tell the difference when that wasn’t done. So while we have had female characters in sci-fi and fiction that are authoritative or characters in positions of authority, we haven’t always had believable ones. So that’s the debt that we owe as creators of female characters in these worlds — you have to make them interesting, you have to make them likable enough that the audience wants to spend time with them, but you also have to make them layered and believable, otherwise you’ve lost an opportunity to put somebody new in that role.
Genre shows also seem more welcoming to female showrunners — is that coincidence, or do you think there’s something about both the sci-fi genre and the Syfy network that seems more encouraging of female talent?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence and I have to say while I’m thrilled to be part of that, it has also genuinely skewed my perception, I’m sure. I understand the problems within the data but all I have is my personal experience, and I’ve had the great fortune of working with men who have been mentors, and I’m rarely the only woman in the room, but that’s also because I was lucky early on to be put in positions of authority and so I tend to be the one staffing the room. I live in this big, beautiful bubble which I hope never pops.
But it’s true, because I hear from my friends that only work in [procedural shows] — and I’ve been working in genre for 15 years now, back when, certainly in Canada, that was something that was looked upon with derision. So most people wanted to be in the legal and cop shows and I just wanted to shoot myself in the head at the thought. So I’ve heard from people on the other side ever since and it is fairly stark, the difference between the two. I think what it is is that often, particularly when things back in the early days were sold in kind of an industrial model where it was (designed) to sell internationally, the sexiness of women in front of the camera was something that was definitely used as a marketing thing. You’re selling it all over the world — you’ve got guns, you want your sexy ladies in leather, so there’s a certain point where the men behind all of that thought “we should have some women in the room, making the characters a little believable,” and I think that was the start of it.
You mentioned encountering derision when it comes to working in genre — is that still the case? It seems like we still see a resistance to giving sci-fi and fantasy fare any awards recognition, even now.
I think it’s changing, but I have a very clear memory from when I was a teenager of being in a bookstore and being in the sci-fi/fantasy section and first of all being pissed off that they were amalgamated into one section, but looking up and seeing a woman who was in her thirties, and being embarrassed for her, because I thought “oh, when I’m older, I won’t read this.” I think there’s part of that mentality that exists in television viewers still, and there’s been debates on whether it’s false or real, but there has been a reclaiming of nerdism across the board, and a popularization of it. That part is great; it allows us to have more shows, it allows us to have increasingly higher budgets, which is wonderful. But the reality is with a lot of science fiction — unless you’re talking about boys’ toys that are made into movies, and then they’re given the gold ring and anointed as being very serious and they have Things To Say in their nipple outfits — that’s not the case with television yet. “Game of Thrones” is amazing and it’s helped, “Walking Dead” is amazing and it’s helped, but — certainly for me, what I’m hoping to reclaim a little bit with genre is that there’s an inherent lovely silliness about it. That’s something I think your average, slightly more cerebral viewer is not inclined to take seriously. They think of it as childish, and people look at things that are fun and they think fun is lesser, and I think “what the hell? There’s value to pure entertainment,” and genre, first and foremost, wears its entertainment factor on its sleeve.
I’ve got to admit, it’s refreshing to see a platonic friendship between Dutch and Johnny, so that the show doesn’t immediately devolve into a cliched love triangle — was that always a core part of your concept, to subvert that trope?
Yeah. I didn’t have it in me to go that direction. If you’re telling your characters what to do, then you’re having a false start and your characters generally — and this is gonna sound psychotic and artsy — but they genuinely tell you who they are, if you’re listening. Part of it is that the ones I constructed or the ones who came to life weren’t interested in each other, but it’s true that that’s an overused device. But on a personal level, one of the things I will always miss now that “Lost Girl” is finishing is the friendship between Bo and Kenzi, and I think that in a real way, when you’re lying there thinking, “what do I want to see on TV and what do I want to spend my time away from my family working on” I think finding a twist on that friendship but being able to keep some of those elements alive is a real reason that “Killjoys” came to me in the first place.
What appeals to you most about the Dutch and D’avin dynamic, and why did you decide to throw a wrench into it so soon, when you easily could’ve drawn their sexual tension out a lot longer?
Part of it is that I’m more familiar with 13-episode seasons, so things really start going fast, and when we were arcing out where his story was landing and where hers was landing, things kept falling in the same episode. And what I really liked about the dynamic between the two of them is that they’re so dependent upon a feeling of control, and when they do first come together, I don’t think there’s any great intention for it to be some deeply meaningful thing — it’s kind of a hug between soldiers. But what I find very, very valuable about the circumstances and bittersweet romance of it, is that I personally believe — and you see a little bit of it in episode eight — only when they know that [their connection] is scorched earth, it’s only when they are not able to ever have something pure in their origin, that Dutch in particular is able to look at it and see the value and pine for it, because it’s safer. It’s interesting to me that the only thing to her — and to D’avin to a certain degree — that feels like a viable direction for her is something that she can’t have anymore; it’s the idealization of what could have been. And I don’t know that they ever would’ve been brave enough to see that [potential] if there were no obstacles in the way. We gave them something that they realize, only in hindsight when they can’t have it, what it could have been.
I think that what was valuable to me about what happened between them is it’s sort of indelibly etched, it’s in the air around them, and there’s a weight and a subtext — and I’m not talking about the violence, I’m just talking about the idea that they went there, they connected, and then it was all ripped apart and it was neither of their faults. So it’s important to me, because D’avin is a character, as I get to know him and as the audience gets to know him and he’s no longer having to prove himself as just being an alpha solider, there’s a bigger theme that Emily (Andras) wrote in 109 that I adore, when Dutch is in D’avin’s room and it’s a side of him I haven’t seen, where he just seems very off his footing and lovely and vulnerable. Being able to take these sides of each other that we can now only see when they’re in each other’s company is very interesting to me dramatically.
And the other thing that was very interesting about the dynamic was simply, in a very real way, when we started in episode one, Johnny is afraid of what D’avin might do to the team, and he talks about it in 103, and then we see a science-fiction version of it writ large, and then it has a very real, direct change on Johnny’s character as we go on from there: his dynamic with his brother and the really wonderful way it reunites the core, which is Dutch and Johnny, coming back together again. I thought it was important to challenge the team — and they withstand the challenge, obviously, but in different ways, with different costs.
There are still a lot of mysteries to be resolved between D’avin’s memories, Dutch’s past and the political backdrop with these mystery weapons and The Company’s sketchy activities. How much of that are you looking to tie up in the finale versus a series-long arc?
We do conclude D’avin’s mystery this season. That’s not to say that in the second season, in my gestating thoughts for it, that’s not something that has an unexpected twist to it. And I’d say that Khylen and Dutch and the truth behind who he really is and what he really intends, those things ratchet up quite a bit…. But we don’t answer, we leave for future seasons, what the full plan is and her place in it.
We’ve seen flashbacks to Dutch’s past this season, and flashes of D’av’s time in the military, but are we going to go further back into D’av and John’s history any time soon?
There’s a speech in 109 that colors a similar detail in terms of the meeting between John and Dutch, but we’ve spoken first season in the room and my desire remains, if we’re lucky enough to have a season two, to have the history of the Jacqobis brothers. But in particular, I’d like to find a way to be back in that day that Dutch and Johnny meet. So much has come from that, including the entire series, so I’d like to give it its due and I’m a sucker for origin stories. Each of these characters have pretty dramatic ones. For instance, there’s a lot of stuff in John’s history that he doesn’t know, the reason that D’avin got into the army was sort of to protect John and there’s stuff that he can find out. I think complications between siblings is a lovely, ever-evolving thing, but you have to understand the past a little bit more to know the truth of it. We just don’t want to hit everybody with all of that in season one.
The “Killjoys” season one finale airs Friday, Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. on Syfy. You can catch up on the first season via Syfy’s website.