TV
12/07/2012 11:00 pm ET

'Hunted' Finale: Creator Frank Spotnitz Spills Sam's Secrets And Talks About What's Next

Cinemax's "Hunted" was of 2012's most compelling new series, and if your reaction to its season finale was anything like mine, you have a lot of questions.

As I said in my initial review of the corporate-espionage drama, "Hunted" was an assured, restrained and compelling story that gave its cast -- especially a roster of tremendous supporting actors (including a couple of "Game of Thrones" cast members) -- deliciously ambiguous roles.

It was worrying when the BBC, which co-produced the show with Cinemax, announced that it was no longer going to fund future seasons of "Hunted," but Cinemax has said the show will go on. In some form or another, Sam Hunter will return to the network, which is good news.

"These past few weeks have been quite a roller coaster ride, but HBO has been amazing and I'm really excited about where we're going. I don't think you'll be disappointed," creator Frank Spotnitz told me via email the day Cinemax announced that it would keep Sam Hunter (Melissa George) in play.

Once you read this post-finale interview with Spotnitz (whom I also interviewed here, you'll know just how good it is that Sam's work isn't done -- but I'll let Spotnitz get into those specifics below. All in all, though I enjoyed the show's first season, I must admit that Friday's season finale left me a bit frustrated. (Don't read on unless you've seen the "Hunted" finale.)

All season long, we saw flashbacks to Sam's repressed childhood memories of her mother's murder and her own abduction. How was her mother connected to Hourglass? Why did she die? How is Sam's family connected to Hourglass and why did she end up working for a company that did business with the shadowy consortium? Who was the man with part of a finger missing? Who was the so-called "Blank-Faced Man," the scary guy with the terrifying eye syringe? What about that ending, in which Sam appeared to die, only to resurface later with a baby daughter?

I expected to have some questions as Season 1 came to a close -- and of course, the season finale satisfyingly wrapped up a number of storylines -- but I didn't quite expect to have quite as many questions as I did after the finale aired. Still, I'm very glad I watched "Hunted" -- overall, its atmosphere, aesthetics and storytelling were very pleasing -- and I definitely plan to watch whatever Spotnitz, George and the rest of the creative team come up with next.

As for all my questions, I put them to "Hunted" creator Frank Spotnitz, who he gamely answered them below. We also discussed his research into the world of corporate espionage, the morality of multinationals and the nature of privacy in the digital age, among other things. This interview, which was conducted before the Cinemax renewal was announced, has been edited and slightly condensed.

In the finale, Sam remembered some things about her mother and about her abduction. When will we find that out? Is that something that you plan to tease out over time in a second season?
Well, knock wood, in Season 2, you're going to get everything. It’s all going to come out. As you can probably tell, it seems like in Episode 1, there’s a mole. Well, we know who the mole was by Episode 3. I’m trying to subvert some expectations [about the pace of reveals,] and things come a lot faster than you might think they’d come. And so the question of who tried to kill Sam and why will be answered much sooner than you think, if there is a Season 2, and then it goes on from there. Obviously I always ask new questions if I answer old ones.

Oh, good. There was so much attention paid to those flashbacks, so I guess I was prepared to find out more than we did. But all we know now is that there’s a man with part of his finger missing connected to Polyhedrus. Is that going to be where the story goes?
Yeah, that’s exactly it. That’s her clue -- the man with his finger missing. He was there when she was abducted, and then she sees a man with his finger missing in the newspaper, with his hand on the back of Hector Stokes, the chairman of Polyhedrus. And that’s a pretty solid lead for her, so we’ll go from there.

So she only really remembered that there was a man with a missing finger? When I watched the finale, I thought she might have remembered a whole array of stuff. But what you're saying is that she just has that clue for now? Is that where it stands?
That’s right. [All season long] she kept flashing back to the trauma of her abduction, seeing her mother murdered. And then finally, prodded by Aidan and under the influence of the poison that Jack Turner and Bingham were feeding her, she did remember other stuff that was too painful for her to remember: Trying to escape and then being stopped by that man. We’re calling him the Fingerless Man. And so that memory is a huge opening for her that she’ll pursue next year.

Just to kind of step back and look at the whole structure of the series, I just want to sort of make sure I understand this in my mind. Sam's mother was murdered and that’s related to these Hourglass events that occurred when she was a child -- the events that the murdered MI-6 guy was tracking.
Exactly.

Then later in life, Sam becomes an intelligence operative, and she goes to work for Byzantium. Do these powerful Hourglass people only become aware of her existence when she’s working on that Tangier op? How is it that ...
Yeah, "Why now?" -- that's interesting.

Yeah, why now? I guess that’s what I’m asking.
Yeah, and that’s another question that she can’t answer until she figures out who’s behind the attempt to kill her. But that is another question that she’ll answer next year. And again, sooner than you might think.

And the whole idea that she ended up working for the people who were behind the plot to kill her mother and abduct her -- I mean, I guess on the one hand you can say that’s a coincidence, but on the other hand, maybe she was driven to become a certain sort of person who takes risks and looks for answers. Am I formulating that right in terms of how those things came together?
Yeah, although I don’t think it’s a coincidence. And I’m trying to figure out how to answer this without spoiling what’s coming, but it all makes sense. I can’t really answer the question without telling you what the answer next year is… [But] there's something there.

Okay. One thing I guess I had an issue with, when it comes to the finale, is the Blank-Faced Man [played by Scott Handy]. If we don’t know who he is, isn’t he a little bit of a deus ex machina?
Yeah, we haven’t revealed who his employer is. And his employer is obviously not the Fingerless Man. It is not the person employing the woman that was sent to kill Sam. And clearly, from that last scene with Keel in the restaurant, [we know he] is not trying to kill Sam. He wanted custody of Sam. And so the threat he made to Keel was, "Give me Sam Hunter or I will reveal the contents of this case, which will be devastating to your client, Polyhedrus, because this case proves they played a role in killing 600 villagers to get the dam."

Keel obviously didn’t turn over Sam, and that's where the story picks up next year. What has the Blank-Faced Man done, and who does he work for? And he’s interested in saving Sam rather than killing her.

He is so creepy, and he was so great.
Yeah. I was imagining somebody almost featureless, really unusual-looking. And I thought we’d probably find an actor and then give him prosthetics or something.

And then Scott came in and his face, his features are so striking and he’s so drawn to the character. He walked in [to the audition and] he’d thought about it so deeply. He started talking about this character who would catch a butterfly and be very, very gentle about it, and then slowly pull off the butterfly’s wings, and watch it as it struggled, and examine its distress with no emotion.

He really had this take on the character from the beginning. And he walked out, and I just looked at the director and the produce was like, “Well, how lucky is that?” I thought he was fantastic and just we got so lucky to find him.

He had such presence. And as a viewer, you didn’t really know what his agenda was for a long time, and that’s what made it creepy. And I thought it was a good twist to have him actually be a good guy and not just this malevolent presence. As you said, he brings this ambiguity to the role -- what is he willing to do? That’s scary.
Yeah, you have to have a real appetite for twists and density of plot, because so many things keep changing episode by episode. And the understanding of who the characters are and what they want, I mean, it changes a lot. It’s really densely plotted. More densely plotted than anything I’ve ever done before. And I think some people love that and other people are kind of frustrated by it because it does demand your attention.

Well, I think that’s one of the benefits of it. I think other shows in this arena are kind of hampered by the fact that serialization is harder to do, on a broadcast-network level -- they end up having to water that down, or they get tripped up by trying to do mission-of-the-week mixed with mythology. What you get is a lot of lighter or action-oriented episodes, or very close-ended weekly spy stories, or just confusion, like the later seasons of "Alias." So I actually thought that the eight-episode, serialized structure of "Hunted" worked. But part of me was like, "I wish there was a ninth episode that started off the next season." Was that ever a temptation for you?
Well, we sort of flirted with the idea of putting something online that kind of teases where we’re going next year. But honestly, we haven’t landed on how far we should go.

For Season 2, would any of the Season 1 cast come back? I mean obviously things weren’t looking great for Keel.
A lot of them would could back. A lot of the Byzantium people would be the same. It’s just the operation [that would change], it would not be the Turners, obviously, it would be something else.

I hope that Keel receives a magical cure.
I know, I love [Stephen Dillane] so much. I think he’s such a good actor.

Just actually going into some of those twists and turns, did Zoe betray Sam in the end?
No. It’s meant to be ambiguous when she says, "How shit is this?" on the bridge. You can’t tell at that moment. Wait a minute, did she set it up or she commiserating with [Sam in] the situation? You really don’t know for sure the way the show ends, how many people were in on the rescue of Sam and the faking her death on the bridge. But I will tell you now that when you come back next year, you realize that they were all aware of it. And that that’s why Keel says to Deacon Crane in his office, “I want to put an end to this, but I need your help.”

Okay. I assumed that Crane and Keel were in on bridge plot, but Zoe -- she was part of faking Sam's death too?
Yeah, she told Byzantium that she was being blackmailed, which is how Crane knew to go to the bridge and fake Sam’s assassination. There was no way he could have been in position unless Zoe had been in on it.

One thing I also wondered about was that Sam was kind of out of commission for a fair amount of the finale. And given that she had been so proactive for so much of the season, I just wondered about that choice and where that came from.
Yeah, and that was the other sort of intuitive choice. Because you’d expect bigger fights and more [confrontations]. And I thought, no, I want to close in on this house -- and she’s trapped. And it really worked, I think, because it allowed wrap up all the other plots. And I think if you were to analyze Episode 8 structurally, it’s one revelation after another, after another, after another. It’s just all these things going off and they all pay off. Storylines that have been going, most of them since Episode 1.

We couldn’t have done that if Sam was running around. And it was having her in this mortal peril in that house, and requiring Aidan in particular to come to her rescue, that allowed us to wrap up all those narratives in one hour. It moves fast. That’s how it felt to me that last hour, because there’s so much being tied up.

Yeah, I guess it’s certainly not “Hunted’s” fault, but there’s something that I’ve noticed -- sometimes when stories with a female protagonist kind of get to the endgame, they kind of take the female protagonist and put her to one side for a while. And I know that’s not your fault, that’s just something that happens with some regularity, though it’s not universal by any stretch of the imagination.
What I was conscious of was not wanting her to be rescued by the man in the end. She really does save herself. She does get out of the bathtub by herself, kills Jack Turner, and then she succumbs to the poison. So it’s really after Jack has been killed that Aidan shows up and was able to give her the injection.

Her having a daughter, that was kind of a big reveal. And obviously that’s the kind of thing that you probably only could reveal right at the end. When did that become part of your thinking? And I am curious to know when Melissa knew as well.
She knew from the beginning, because if you go back and look at Episode 1, you’ll see that after she gets coffee, she stops on the sidewalk and there’s [a woman with a baby]. That’s her nanny and her baby. And we wanted to hide it in plain sight for the audience, because I didn’t want people to think, “Oh, so at the last minute they decided that she did have a baby.” And I went, “No, it was there from the very beginning.” And that’s why she was gone for a year, because a year is a long time to be gone. If you trace it back in your head you [now] realize, "Okay, so she got shot in Tangier, but the reason she didn’t resurface is that she didn’t lose the baby and she waited until she could bring it to term."

And then, once she was situated and recovered, then she went back to work. And that’s part of why she’s still in training when we find her a year later. She wasn’t just recovering from the shooting. It requires you to go back and play [the season] all in your head again.

Right. Does she go back to find out who tried to kill her in order to neutralize that threat for her and her daughter -- for the future, essentially?
That’s exactly right. And when you think about it, she is a little girl who saw her mother murdered. And so if you think about Sam being a mother and the prospect of being murdered and leaving her daughter behind, it’d be especially relevant for somebody like her who had lived through that.

Having said that, she’s now this one person against this grand multi-national threat.
Yeah, it’s a little overwhelming.

How do you not make it, though, a situation where it’s so overwhelming, where the odds are so hugely against her? Couldn’t they just take her out at any time?
Well, I think it’s sort of the same thing as “The X-Files” conspiracy, in a way. It is this giant conspiracy, but within the conspiracy, there are human beings who have conflicting agendas. And sometimes their agendas are selfish. Sometimes they’re not pursuing the company line.

And so I think Season 2 is going to be about really understanding the politics of who wants to kill Sam and why, and how it relates to the murder of her mother and her own kidnapping. And that’ll erase the coincidence here, because you’ll see how it all makes sense that it’s happening now. And yeah, it's meant to feel like a trap that she can’t escape, but that doesn’t mean that it is.

As long as she’s working for Byzantium clients, is she somewhat protected? I mean she can sort of gather intel from the inside for herself, but if she’s also furthering their agenda while she does these jobs, maybe it’s not worth it to them to kill her at that point? Is it the smarter play for her?
That’s a good question. And I think that’s an argument somebody could make to Sam, but I don’t know that Sam would trust that answer. To me, that’s part of why I love this situation, that she works for a private-security contractor. Because the opportunities for paranoia and distrust are endless.

And the hardest thing about plotting this show, honestly, was not the density of the plot, it was that each character has a different understanding of what’s going on. They all have different sets of information, and so every episode has things change. Hopefully for the viewer that part’s not hard to track, but for us as the writers that was really challenging.

Well, I thought it was really interesting to set it in this world of private espionage. Because aside from all that, you have your agenda as an employee, and you have your agenda as a human being. And those are really in conflict for each one of those characters, it seems.
Yeah. That’s the world we live in now. I mean, so many of us are working for huge corporations, and we don’t really have all the information about what’s going on in this corporation that we serve.

Yeah, I definitely thought there was this element to it that’s kind of a metaphor for corporate life. We’re all part of this vast endeavor, but we’re one little corner of it, and God only knows what’s happening anywhere else.
That’s absolutely what I had in my head.

Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the viewers, but also it scared me, because I’m like,"This is real." This is really happening. I mean, spies who are smuggling state secrets seem almost romantic by comparison. This world seems far more cutthroat and ruthless. Are you up at night over the research that you do?
Well, you’re absolutely right. That’s what I thought. I thought this is stuff, obviously Hourglass is fictitious...

So you say.
Yeah. [Laughs.] There could be some version of it, but the idea that there are a handful of huge multinational corporations that are, in fact, more powerful than any government, that are influencing our lives, and that are acquiring whatever information they want through whatever means they require -- I don’t think that’s farfetched at all. I think it’s something that people should be thinking about.

It has changed the way I look at the world. I can’t go on Facebook now without being aware that if somebody wanted to find out about you -- all of us have sort of willingly surrendered our privacy. And if somebody wanted to find out about you, if that should ever happen, it would be so easy. Not just because of Facebook but credit cards, health records and your GPS device. Everything is accessible now, and that was one of the most frightening things. This one woman came in who is a private security operative now, she used to be an MI-6 agent, and she showed me in five minutes she could find out everything about me. In five minutes.

I mean, the idea that we have privacy -- it's kind of an illusion. I mean, we might have it, as long as no one’s interested in us. If someone with resources becomes interested, then it goes away, I think.
Yes, that’s exactly right. And we’ve surrendered it willingly because it’s convenient not to have any privacy. Our lives are made easier by not having any privacy. But it’s scary. And hopefully it will never be a problem, but you’ve got to think, somebody’s interested. If they saw a way to make money off of exploiting your lack of privacy, they would, and they will.

I love "Homeland," but I sit there and think, the backstop there, the comforting framing, in a way, is that various people in that story believe they have something to gain -- something other than than monetary gain or career advancement. There’s something else at play, at least in their minds -- some kind of loyalty or some ideology and belief system that they’re working for. But the world of "Hunted" is not that. The only ideology is corporate spreadsheets.
That’s right. And I think that’s the world we live in. I mean, the world has been outsourced, privatized and downsized, and this is the new reality.

What did you think of the "Hunted" finale?

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