SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the two-hour first season finale of “The Passage” that aired Mar. 11.
The season finale of “The Passage,” adapted by Liz Heldens from Justin Cronin’s trilogy of novels, paid off a promise set up at the very start of the source material: It jumped forward to 2116 to see what the world looked like 100 years after the virals broke out of Project Noah and ended the world.
“Jumping 100 years in the future and all of the questions that raises is one of the better cliffhangers of my career,” Heldens tells Variety. “It just seemed like such a huge, game-changing reset.”
Heldens acknowledges that such a drastic change also allows for re-piloting in a way. But because the moment came at the tail end of the episode and lasted only for one scene of Amy (Saniyya Sidney), barely aged at all thanks to Project Noah’s virus flowing through her veins, heading to the Colony, Heldens wanted to offer the audience just a peek at what could come to be should the show get renewed.
“For the people who read the book and love the book, which I count myself one of, we wanted to show the wall of the Colony,” she says. “We wanted to really send that signal, but also you’ll notice it’s kind of in silhouette; you don’t see too much detail. We wanted to really allow ourselves time to get with our production designer and really make that wall look the way we wanted to look for Season 2.”
More important than the world Amy had inherited, though, Heldens wanted to focus on who the girl was in 2116.
“I remember the little girl at the fair and then…to see her with those braids and she looks just so ferocious and brave, that to me is what, when I watch the last episode, gives me chills. She is completely a warrior now,” Heldens says.
Fox aired the last two episodes of the first season of “The Passage,” entitled “Stay in the Light” and the apt “Last Lesson,” back-to-back on Mar. 11. Heldens says as she and her writers’ room broke story for the season, they operated under the impression that they would “probably” run this way but didn’t allow themselves to assume the scheduling plans they had made would turn out to be definite. However, she was happy to see the plan they made stuck because “they really are a good one-two punch.”
While the first of these two episodes were focused on characters such as Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Lila (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Amy escaping Project Noah as the virals also broke out of their boxes to begin their takeover of the world, the season finale pushed the story forward in time in two distinct but extremely significant ways.
The 100-year time jump was the biggest, but first, the show flashed forward a much shorter amount of time as key characters watched 11 major areas in the United States fall to individual viral reign as each of the convicts-turned-immortal supernatural beings went home and began to feed.
“We were following the epidemic at kind of a global level through [Lacey and Lear] because they fall in with the World Health Center, so they’re seeing how the world is reacting to the crisis,” Heldens says. “Then when we’re with Richards we’re at a local level — he’s in Las Vegas with Babcock. … And then of course with Wolgast and Amy.”
Heldens admits she didn’t expect to follow so many characters during this time period, since she still considers Wolgast and Amy the “beating heart” of the story and because the time they spent in the book after escaping Project Noah was “a lot of people’s favorite section in the book.” Heldens calls the scenes in which Wolgast is preparing Amy for the days when he won’t be around for her “some of the most beautiful work we’ve done all year.”
One such scene includes Wolgast braiding Amy’s hair as she finally admits to him the full extent of her new abilities. “When you’re a parent you just want your kids to tell you things and when your kid comes to you with something important like that it’s really important to just not freak out and just gently encourage the conversation,” Heldens says, noting that a lot of this first season was about parenting to her. She and Gosselaar discussed how in these moments of confessing something, it can be less pressure for the person doing the confessing if he or she doesn’t have to look at the person he or she is talking to.
“I knew I wanted the scene to be one where they were looking in one direction, and then I was like oh obviously he has to braid her hair,” she says. That was the last really intimate conversation that they were going to have for 100 years so we wanted to make it really great.”
Heldens wanted to separate Wolgast and Amy before the end of the episode, and in thinking about what would make her run away from the one person who has been a protector and parental figure to her, she came up with Amy having to give into her viral desires and drain those who were threatening Wolgast’s life.
“What is the thing that happens that is so terrible she can’t face him again? That’s how we approached setting up her dilemma at the end and why she runs away,” Heldens says.
After one of the local men up by the cabin was bit, Wolgast went outside to mercy kill him but managed to get bit instead. The action happened off-screen because Heldens feels “what you don’t see is scarier.” The other locals planned to kill him before he could fully turn, but Amy couldn’t let him go. Similarly, here, the action mostly happened off-camera as well, but for a moment when Amy’s eyes started to glow.
“The idea is she only gave in when the person she loves the most in the world was threatened,” Heldens explains. “We’re on Amy’s face when he gets attacked and you hear that growl, and we’re on his face when she attacks. In Season 2 we’re playing she’s got one foot in one world and one foot in the other one, and she is basically a product of her mother and her relationship with Wolgast. She is making her world better, but it is always going to be a struggle with her.”
After Amy took out who she deemed a threat to Wolgast, she injected him with her own blood and wrote him a letter explaining why she did what she did and why she left. While giving him her blood won’t give him the psychic abilities she has, Heldens confirms, it does tie them together more officially than before. That is also why Amy says she believes she would know if Wolgast was dead, even 100 years later.
While Wolgast is absent from Cronin’s version of the story from pretty early on, Heldens admits she feels “this show is Wolgast and Amy” and therefore did not want to adapt his demise identically. “I just think people connect to TV by characters — that’s how you live and die by the show: because you love the characters. And so we always knew we wanted to find a way to bring him back,” she says.
Heldens also wrote ways for characters such as Clark Richards (Vincent Piazza) and Jonas Lear (Henry Ian Cusick) to survive. For Richards, she allowed him to be Shauna Babcock’s (Brianne Howey) “one person” — connected to her through blood after he allowed her to save him when he was dying outside Project Noah. “They are linked; that is ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ over there,” she says.
For Lear, “there was something really great to us about him starting the episode wanting to kill himself and ending the episode by giving himself a virus that may make him live forever,” she says.
And even Lila has a greater shot at survival because she got the virus that Nichole Sykes (Caroline Chikezie) was working on, which slows her aging and makes her not one of the virals but instead one of the “super people.”
However, Heldens points out that even though her team took great pains to “look at who it would make sense to keep alive,” the 100-year time jump comes after bombs were dropped, “so even if you are superhuman, that doesn’t mean you can survive bombs dropping,” she says. “We wanted it to be a big question mark of who is going to come back and who is not going to come back. Season 2 is going to be a lot about people trying to find one another again.”
Structurally, if the show sees a renewal, the second season may be a bit different than the first, as well. Although Heldens often utilized a flashback structure to offer additional insight into characters’ motivations and says she is still “committed to using” flashbacks should they serve the story, now that the action is set in the Colony, it’s a different kind of tension.
“Now we’re fighting for our lives; now we have virals attacking us; now the Colony is running out of batteries,” she says of the conflict of Season 2. “There are very urgent present-tense problems, and so I do like the idea of really making a season more about the present-tense action because we have a ton of story to tell there.”