SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s The Man Who Fell To Earth Season 1 finale. That’s all we got.
“Maybe they’re not a bundle of laughs, but they’re not bent on the destruction of all living things either,” Bill Nighy’s Thomas Newton says in tonight’s The Man Who Fell To Earth Season 1 finale of the Cambodian monks that have adopted him so to speak.
That devastation and potential salvation of both the Earth and Anthea, the home planet of Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Faraway propels the Olatunde Osunsanmi-directed “The Man Who Sold The World” entitled episode of the Showtime series, to varying outcomes.
Bringing figuratively everything full circle tonight the Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman created sequel to the David Bowie starring 1976 film from Nicolas Roeg, is also built on a foundation of love. Love across their class definitions between Faraway and Newton, love between Ejiofor’s somewhat Steve Jobs imitating role and Naomie Harris’ Justin Falls and more amidst a geopolitical dash to the bottom by the CIA, high tech and more.
And then there was that Bowie song at the end of the as-yet-not-renewed MWFTE.
To all that, Ejiofor and Trekverse kingpin Kurtzman sat down with me to uncover the mysteries inside the secrets of the Sonya Cassidy, Jimmi Simpson, Rob Delaney, Joana Ribeiro, Annelle Olaleye, Kate Mulgrew, and Clarke Peters co-starring series from CBS Studios in association with Secret Hideout and Timberman/Beverly.
So, to quote Faraway from the stage of the Royal Albert Hall in the season opener and closer, “don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
DEADLINE: So, my first question for both of you, from the finale, from the show: how did we get here?
KURTZMAN: You go first, Chiwetel.
EJIOFOR: (LAUGHS) That’s an Alex question.
KURTZMAN: You know, you always want to look backwards, or at least, the only way I knew how to build this piece in television was to work backwards from where you want to end, and you’d sort of know, okay, this is the feeling I want to have. This is the moment I want to get to, and then, once you know that that’s the right ending, everything reverse engineers itself structurally from that outcome.
DEADLINE: How so?
KURTZMAN: We knew where we wanted to go.
We knew we wanted to have Faraday have to go back to his home planet really on a wing and a prayer. You know, he’s told by Newton, your ship is not big enough. There’s probably no way you’re ever going to be able to bring everybody back, and Faraday in what I think we’ve perceived as the culmination of his true humanity says I know but I’m going to hope for the best and try anyway, which is the opposite of what he would have done at the beginning at the end of the pilot.
So, once you have that in your mind, you can work backwards and okay, I need to get the character to this place and I need to get him on a ship and I need him to leave, and I think we wanted an ending that felt like it closed off the season in a satisfying way but also left open questions that frankly would have been false and too easy to answer. Like, what happens next? You know, you can’t really answer that question for the fate of our planet would feel very fake to me and to Jenny.
DEADLINE: Chiwetel, in that bookended format, how was the journey for you, as both an actor and a producer?
EJIOFOR: I mean, it was fascinating to me. You know, I think that it was always going to be one of the great sort of challenges, and one of the really intriguing parts of this project in its totality was how to take Faraday on this journey, on this arc, and it was something that Alex and I and Jenny worked on all the way through the process of filming really. We spent a lot of time just detailing the specifics of where he is at any given point on the journey, so when you have the complete story, when you have the complete journey, you sort of really understand the trajectory that he’s been on. Where and how he has evolved in this context and where he’s kind of ended up.
But at the same time, he has maintained all the way through his, I guess what you would call his essential nature, that is when he arrives, he is not a newborn. He is an adult being from another planet who has all these experiences. And so, in that way has this consciousness, has this kind of character and he maintains that, but he understands and evolves also in his characteristics what it means it is to be a human being as well. And so, finding that was really the exciting journey for this character, I think.
DEADLINE: In that journey, Alex, nothing’s been made official yet, but is Season 2 on the event horizon?
KURTZMAN: You know, I think that I never like to count my chickens, and honestly, I feel like I want to approach every season of every show in some ways as if it were the last season because I think that the audience needs to feel like the journey that they just spent eight to 10 to 12 episodes on is fulfilling in and of itself.
Do we have a second season in mind? Sure. Sure.
DEADLINE: Are there defined seeds or ships planted in this first run for that second season?
KURTZMAN: Well, I think halfway through the first season, it became clear we wanted a second season. Obviously, the finale sets up a lot of things. Are the aliens coming back? What is that going to look like? If Season 1 was an immigration metaphor, forget about Season 2 when they all show up. That feels like a really compelling area of attack.
DEADLINE: Chiwetel, hearing that, do you feel like, if this was the end, that this was the story you wanted to tell?
EJIOFOR: I would say from my perspective, there was something very whole about it and that was what was immediately exciting. That there was a completeness to it. You know, it wasn’t the sort of structure where you kind of had all of these questions at the end and all sort of held on a cliffhanger and you don’t feel satisfied by the conclusion of it. It felt like as a performer, as an actor and also reading the script, it felt like everything had been answered in an essential way, and it also left room as well. I mean, a very exciting room for the development of the story if it went that way.
DEADLINE: Alex, there’s that resounding line that Faraway says to Bill Nighy’s Newton right near the end, that “love is blind.” With all the rage over the abandonment of the drone class, of which Faraday and his family are from, the survival of the adept class, of which Newton is one, to me at the end, along with the immigration story, the class story, and the environmental disaster story, there is a very, very emotional story here…
KURTZMAN: Look, at the risk of sounding like the cheesiest person on the planet, I think that that’s the thing that is going to save us in the end. I think that’s the position that the show takes, but what I love about the show among the many things that I love about the show is that it’s a love story. But it’s not a love story in the way that you would typically characterize one.
DEADLINE: What do you mean by that?
KURTZMAN: One of the things that was very interesting was that when we were shooting, Chiwetel and I spent every waking minute talking about the nuances of the character, of Faraday, and also the nuances of the other characters and what Faraday meant in the context of that. And when we were shooting the scene where Justin and Faraday say good-bye, it was insane because I think we shot four scenes that day, and Chiwetel said I think what I’m discovering in this moment, even though we had talked about it so much, is that it is not until this moment that you realize that he’s in love with her.
And so, that’s what you’re seeing in that moment is the tragedy of I realize as I’m leaving what this actually is, and I also love my family and I love my wife, which makes this extraordinarily complicated. By the way, if there ever were to be a Season 2, that’s an incredibly interesting story. How do you navigate that, you know, because it’s not like he had an affair. He discovered a side of himself that he never knew really existed and now he has to reconcile that with who he has been, with the identity that he’s understood himself to have his whole life. So, there’s that.
But it’s also a love story between Newton and Faraday. It’s a father, son story there and we’ve actually considered at one point, well, should Faraday be Newton’s child. And then, Jenny and I and John Hlavin came to the conclusion that would have been too obvious. Actually, why don’t we play it as a father, son story but not actually literally have it be a father, son story.
DEADLINE: Chiwetel, let’s talk about the relationship with you and Bill because so many scenes, especially in this finale, especially in the Cambodian monastery, there is so many scenes that the two of you…it’s an overused cliché in television and sometimes in film but this really felt like I was watching theatre. I could imagine this on stage at the Royal Albert Hall with the trappings of the jungle and what have you. What was that like for the two of you because so much of the story comes down to that level of these two beings talking?
EJIOFOR: Yeah. It was incredibly rich experience for me. I mean, Bill first of all, is, you know, an extraordinary actor. I’ve had the privilege of working with Bill on stage as well, so I know just what he brings.
We shot those sequences quite late in the process, in the shooting process, but we had already been rehearsing it months before, six months before or something. We were in a church in London, and we were rehearsing bits of those sequences and those scenes and understanding and sort of getting underneath it.
And so, I knew that all of that was going to be very special. It was going to be very rich. The fact that it boils down to this understanding between these two people, these two beings who are desperately kind of in love with each other in this paternal way, this sort of father and son way, this very rich and complex way where they rely on each other so completely. They have an absolute loyalty to each other as well, and they have the capacity to inflict such pain on each other, you know, that they’re both kind of very held and vulnerable in this moment.
And so, to play those scenes with somebody like Bill is I guess you know immediately that he is going to mine and explore all of the avenues and all of the areas of the story and of these characters and that is just a very rich place to play from. I felt like these characters held in the writing of them so much depth and so much kind of power and history that it was really great to play.
DEADLINE: Different or similar with Naomie and the relationship, on many levels, between your Faraway character and her Justin?
EJIOFOR: I’d say the same thing about Naomie and those scenes of connection, you know, with Naomie and with that entire family unit. But one of the things, just to jump off something Alex was saying, one of the things, the final door in the human kind of experience is love and he uncovers that final kind of emotional door right at the end of the story and yet it’s the key to understanding humanity at all and the totality of it, and it’s exactly as Alex says, the most profound aspect of our collective humanity and the thing that will save us.
DEADLINE: On the note of saving us, one thing I also want to talk about is throughout the series, there’s been the shadow of David Bowie, the Divine David.
Obviously, when you guys announced you were doing the show, some people reacted not so cool as if the 1976 film was to be treated as sacred. Some people reacted with a lot of anticipation, and then, Bill stepping into the role of Newton, the one Bowie played in the original movie. Then every episode having the name of a Bowie song up to the finale’s The Man Who Sold The World, and then, at the end, we have Bowie’s Five Years being played, which suddenly feels like oh, my God, this was the proverb that we never really paid attention to.
After avoiding a Bowie tune for the whole season up until the finale, why did you guys decided to play Five Years for the finale?
KURTZMAN: Again, in the spirit of working backwards, we were like okay, we’re making a show that is also very much about music both in the choices of the source that we used and also in the score So, are we really going to go through this without having a Bowie song? Well, no is the answer.
So, if you’re going to do it, where?
Well, render unto Caesar at the end. That’s the punchline, right. That’s the only way to do it because if we started with a Bowie song, if we put a Bowie song in the pilot, I think people would have been like nope.
DEADLINE: Oh, really?
KURTZMAN: Yeah. absolutely. They would have said no. They didn’t earn that.
Our hope was okay, if you’re with the show, by the time you get to the 10th episode, you see what a love letter the whole series is to David Bowie. Then, at the end, it will feel like an honor, an honoring rather than just sort of a cheap, easy way to put a Bowie song in.
DEADLINE: And Five Years, from Ziggy was the perfect choice …
KURTZMAN: The thing that was interesting was that we’d always conceived it as Space Oddity.
KURTZMAN: In fact, if you replay the ending and start Space Oddity over it, it would time out perfectly and it would be weird because as you’re talking about Major Tom entering the ship and saying good-bye to his family, that’s literally what you’re seeing on camera.
DEADLINE: Like Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz …
KURTZMAN: Yeah, so, for a while, we had the sequence cut to Space Oddity, and then, my instinct said as beautiful and perfect as it is and as manicured as the lyrics are hitting the moments and the perfect timing, it’s also very on the nose and is that really what we want to do.
So, it felt like okay, rather than end it on the easy version, let’s end it on the version that is both uplifting but also a warning. Because again, Jenny and John and I did not want to give easy answers to the question that we’re asking, and even if there is never any more of this, I think it ends us on a note of pay attention. Pay attention because now the choices that we make with what we have are going to determine the difference between us being here in five years or 10 years or whatever or not. And so, it felt like Bowie had the last word, which was important, and he had the right last word.
DEADLINE: In the last word here, what has been the reaction that surprised you the most from the show?
EJIOFOR: It’s always fantastic, I think, when people take a show, a piece of work, an artistic creation totally in the spirit that it is made, you know? I think people have really sort of understood all of the things that we’re talking about today, all of the layering that has gone into this project, you know. All of the layering in terms of the writing, the themes in the story, the performances, the range of acting and the brilliant people leaning on their own experiences and lives in this really interesting way, in this really lived way, to heighten the story and to also root and ground the story.
All of the characters, all of the actors and the kind of core group of this story really did some extraordinary work, but I have loved being part of and seeing but also loved sort of watching in the context of the entire show. We’ve talked about music. We’ve talked about David Bowie and his legacy, a beloved legacy, and a real opportunity to honor one of the greatest figures of our collective lifetimes.
KURTZMAN: I totally echo what Chiwetel is saying. I think that we’ve done enough work in our lives to know that when you do something and you put it out there, you know, oftentimes it can be met with a group of people who say I really liked it and a group of people who say I didn’t get it, and a group of people who say I kind of liked it but I didn’t get these things. I am not a Twitter person. I find it too brutalizing. However, in the case of Man, I did go on Twitter frequently just to see what people were saying. Twitter and TikTok and Instagram just to see what people were saying because this has been such a meaningful and important piece of work for me, and for Jenny, and for John, and Chiwetel. Everybody.
It wasn’t like oh, let’s sort of do this one and move onto the next one. It was like we’re going to live inside this thing in every nook and cranny, in every way we can. We’re going to live and breathe it for the period of time that we do it, and we’re going to put it out into the world with all the love it was made with.
So, I think to see people receive it that way and back to your Bowie thing, there was an absolute universe where people were like this is a travesty. You’ve just desecrated the memory of one of the greatest human beings in the history of time, but what we’re getting is this is an incredible love letter to David Bowie and what a cool way that…I’ve seen so many tweets that are like David Bowie would have been really proud of this. That’s what I’ve been waiting for the whole time because that was the goal.
I hope that he’s looking down from his great starship and feels the same.