‘Beacon 23’ Showrunner Talks Season Finale, Teases What [SPOILER]’s Critical Injury Means

Glen Mazzara shares where the show’s going in Season 2 — and potentially beyond

Lena Headey (R) in "Beacon 23"
Marc Menchaca (L) as Keir and Lena Headey (R) as Aster in "Beacon 23" (Rafy Winterfeld/Boat Rocker/MGM+)

The first season of sci-fi thriller “Beacon 23,” starring Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”) and Stephan James (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), reached its conclusion Sunday with MGM+ dropping the eight-episode season’s final two installments. Showrunner Glen Mazzara spoke with TheWrap to break down the first season’s arc, where the show’s heading in Season 2 (officially confirmed Monday, coming in April 2024) and more.

The following contains SPOILERS for the finale of Season 1.

Lena Headey’s Aster suffered what appears to be a fatal injury in the Season 1 finale, when cultist Keir (Marc Menchaca) shot her with a concussive gun that knocked her back. Her head hit a railing and she fell, eyes open, apparently dead — though this is science fiction, so audiences will have to wait to see what comes next.

“There are obviously forces beyond her control, that have been affecting her — as she learns, they’ve been affecting her her entire life,” Mazzara teased, speaking about Aster’s arc and where she ends up by the end of the finale. In the episode, we see sequences that seem to show a more fulfilled version of Aster connecting with herself as a child, but the symbolism of those scenes remains unclear.

Fans shouldn’t expect it to get easily undone by a common sci-fi trope, according to Mazzara.

“One of the things we don’t do in this show is we don’t do time loops. We don’t do people going back in time, and then we just have to take action to make sure we don’t mess up the timestream or something like that,” Mazzara said. “Time changes people. And that moment, that current moment is all they really have.”

The series is based on a book by author Hugh Howey, who also wrote the science fiction series that Apple TV+’s more high-profile “Silo” is based on. “Beacon 23” originally came together as a series of short stories, before becoming the novel that inspired this series.

As far as next season, Mazzara promises more of a dive into artificial intelligence — and ultimately, answers to the mysteries laid out by the series.

“We do have a Season 2, we have plans for more seasons. Hopefully we get to tell that story,” Mazzara said. “The show does add up, does have an answer, the show does have a meaning. We’re not just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. That’s not true. There is a plan.”

He offered up a bit of what they’re exploring in the already-filmed Season 2.

“As we continue to explore our characters, we continue to explore issues of trauma, and isolation, and connection. And of course, AI — we expand our conversation about AI in a very, very, very interesting way, moving forward,” Mazzara said.

Viewers will also be getting to see new cultures that haven’t been part of the groups the inhabitants of Beacon 23 have faced thus far.

“We then expand the world to include different cultures, different parts of this world we haven’t seen before,” Mazzara said. “All still rooted around the beacon itself, but we do end up learning more about other beacon keepers, other beacons, how they work both in the present and the past.”

He also believes there’s plenty of story left to tell in this world beyond next season.

Read on for more from Mazzara about the show’s themes and where it’s going next season.

Aster’s character arc and apparent death

TheWrap: How you would describe the arc Aster takes over the season, leading to the assassination attempt against her in the closing moments of the finale?

Glen Mazzara: This journey is one of self-discovery. And there are obviously forces beyond her control, that have been affecting her — as she learns, they’ve been affecting her her entire life.

She’s trying to find meaning. We’ve played that character as a bit of a rebel, she’s a bit of a thief. She’s a rogue, and she’s looking for something, and she ends up on this place. She’s not sure why she ends up on Beacon 23.

And then she makes a personal connection with Halan, which starts to give some meaning to her life. And then she finds out, “Oh, this is a bit of a homecoming.”

We worked hard to make sure that the arc was about the character craving and then finding meaning in it for her life.

Aster and Halan

Stephan James as Halan in “Beacon 23” (Rafy Winterfeld/Boat Rocker/MGM+)

TheWrap: The novel this comes from is so much about isolation. That’s certainly a big theme in the show, but there’s an allowance to create more interpersonal interaction and conflict, bringing in other characters. How do you find that balance?

Mazzara: These are people who are given to self-sabotage. So they drive away other people there, they face trauma. And they have their own pain. They’re not sure how to heal themselves. They’re self-destructive.

Those people then are able, because they’re suffering trauma there, Aster and Halan end up feeling compassion for the other person. So they try to heal the other person, establish a connection — and they end up, in a sense, healing themselves.

I think Halan and Aster are better people after meeting each other. Even if there’s conflict, they’re better together than they are alone.

TheWrap: You’ve said that TV is about watching “cool people” doing “cool s–t,” every week. How do you feel you captured that with these characters? What were you hoping that people are going to connect to and find cool about these characters, this world and the things they’re doing?

Mazzara: Obviously, the show does have a high action quotient. But I think it’s also about them trying to figure out who they are.

I do think one of the things that really attracted me to the show was Lena [Headey] — you know, those are her tats, her hair looks great, she looks very different than the Cersei that we’ve known on “Game of Thrones.” And I just love that she was just playing this interesting, complex, broken character. It was something I hadn’t seen.

I think Stephan is playing the same thing. Stephan is playing the action hero, but he’s also incredibly vulnerable. He gives very emotional performances. He has a sense of humor, which isn’t just at someone else’s expense, usually — his humor is self-deprecating, so there’s a vulnerability to these characters.

So, to me, it’s not always about the action. The action is, of course, interesting and thrilling, and is an important part of the show. But the fact that it’s really rooted in these characters, that there’s a lot of layers to explore, I thought that was important.

Making viewers feel Beacon 23’s isolation

TheWrap: The show kept coming back to the motif of a photograph of a lighthouse keeper. What do you think that image ultimately meant for Aster at the end, and over the first season?

Mazzara: To be honest, I think it’s about that she is isolated. She feels alone.

She feels that she has some center of strength, and everything around her is swirling chaotically and out of control. And she’s fighting hard not to be swallowed up by the chaos around her.

TheWrap: “Beacon 23” author Hugh Howey lived on a boat, and it makes sense with “Beacon 23” and “Silo” in the way their journeys are like ships at sea in these isolate, contained environments. How are you bringing that tone with you on the show?

Mazzara: That was one of the things that I really felt that we wanted to really embrace, the lighthouse aspect of it.

A lot of the sound design plays in waves. We have several scenes in which it plays as if there’s a storm outside. I wanted there to be a physicality to the surroundings of the station, so that it doesn’t just feel like it was isolated in space and nothing was going around.

If you look at the map, when they track the dark matter — which is the reason for the beacon — that looks like a weather map. That is part of the idea, that we’re in a lighthouse. The maritime theme was very, very important to me.

A lot of the stuff I’m referring to was done in post. And I supervised post for both seasons. And I constantly went, we want this to feel like waves, and we want this to feel like there’s an ocean. What would it feel like, if you were in a lighthouse?

And obviously, that was working itself into the DNA of the station, the spiral staircase. But the physicality of the world, to feel that we were out in the middle of the ocean, was something that was really what we put in — the sound, the music, the visual effects.

How Beacon 23 reflects the chaos of the pandemic and post-2016 politics

TheWrap: The lighthouse keeper from that portrait has said that he didn’t know this wave was coming. Was there a sense of surprise as those waves hit for these characters?

Mazzara: I’ve felt that our characters were more afraid that they could be swept away by any motion at any moment. I didn’t really ever experience a sense of pride that they were still standing — I felt they were terrified.

Every character in the show, to me is always sort of terrified that this is going to be swept away. That’s the fear of their own mortality, because given the incomprehensible expanse of space, they could just be swept away in an instant.

They live literally on the edge of the razor. So I wanted to really have that sense of horror, but it makes them kind of cling to each other, as we would if a storm was coming. I felt like that was something that we, a lot of us have just gone through with the pandemic, and I felt like that was relevant to these characters.

TheWrap: Watching the show, one thing that jumped out looking at the credits was seeing “Deep Space Nine” showrunner Ira Steven Behr’s name. What do you feel that the show took from that inspiration? It’s a very different kind of space station than Deep Space Nine.

Mazzara: Oh, listen, I’m a fan of Ira’s. I’m a fan of “Deep Space Nine.” I mean, “Deep Space Nine” was actually tied to the whole Star Trek mythology, and a huge part of that was you had a lot of characters having a reason to go to the station.

In ours, we’re playing all of the chaos, we are trying to play our beacon as an outpost on the edge of the galaxy. So a lot of the action is happening elsewhere. We’re just getting secondhand news. And I think that plays.

What’s interesting to me about that is our characters are trying to make sense of their world. There’s something that, given the state of the world today, I find — between the pandemic, war, the economy, the politics and broken politics, a lot of the conversations we’ve all had over the past six, eight years has been: ‘What’s going on? Can you believe this? Is this really happening?’

Right? It’s not just, ‘What do you think about this?’ It’s about, we’re asking each other, ‘Does this make sense to you?’

That’s what the news is, that’s written into the show. And I think that’s a fresh angle, because that was not something that was relevant to “Deep Space Nine,” as far as I remember. That was more about, they knew who the players were. And they were trying to figure out what the story was.

This is more of, our folks are just trying to understand a chaotic world around them. They’re trying to find their own meaning, and they’re trying to make sense of the world. So I think that’s a personal experience, that all of the writers and actors and directors had — we just put that on screen.

Artificial intelligence

Natasha Mumba as Harmony in “Beacon 23” (Rafy Winterfeld/Boat Rocker/MGM+)

TheWrap: Speaking of the relevancy of the show, even though it was shot over the pandemic, there are so many topical themes — artificial intelligence, war. How did you feel watching the show, in some ways, become more relevant?

Glen Mazzara: I’m very pleased with that, because we did try very hard to not just explore common sci-fi tropes. We did want to have a fresh take. When I started the show, I wasn’t really interested in artificial intelligence. It just wasn’t something that interested me.

We started writing it, I started learning more about it. And then obviously, the issues came to the forefront of the whole strike in the industry. And I’m very glad, very proud of the things we said. Because I think what we explored in this season and hopefully future seasons, I think we’re saying something, we’re adding to the conversation — I don’t think we’re just repeating what other people have already said.

Fighting against using science fiction tropes

TheWrap: You’ve done a lot of work in genre, but not specifically science fiction. How do you think that affected your approach, coming to this in a different way?

Mazzara: I have always been a science fiction fan, since I was a kid. I read a lot of science fiction, I watch a lot of science fiction, I just haven’t worked on a science fiction show.

But I would say, I believe I’m well-versed in the tropes. And one of the things that I always tried to do in any of my works, is I tried to push the boundaries, I tried to not just hit the mark of what’s come before. I do try to expand the genre a little bit.

So when I signed on to do “Beacon 23,” which was created by Zak Penn, I was excited about this. Because originally my take on it was, it was a thriller set in space, and I hadn’t really seen that before.

And then there were these underlying issues like AI, there were strong characters at the height of that. So I felt like I had the opportunity to come in and play, and say something different.

One of the things that I think has become a very common trope in science fiction is the idea of galactic war. I feel like that’s become a staple. We don’t have that in this show right now.

And so it’s not just one side against another. So right away, that was a fresh take that was more centered on big, chaotic events swirling around our characters, but it’s really about our characters and their personal stories.

Making characters’ choices matter and letting them change

Marc Menchaca as Keir on “Beacon 23” (Rafy Winterfeld/Boat Rocker/MGM+)

TheWrap: You have these cultists on the show. And you have themes of terrorism, which is obviously relevant to this moment. In the arc of one of the cultists, Keir, he goes from trying to blow the station up to having a whole different, almost helpful presence when we get to the finale. What led to that evolution?

Mazzara: Our characters change. And a lot of times in genre, people represent types. And they may just have motivations change, because of events happening to them. But they may not have internal change.

That’s something that we worked hard on. It’s part of the nature of serialized storytelling, that characters can change. And so if this guy, that character of Keir, went and sat in a prison for 10 years, he’s going to be changed. He’s going to question himself.

And we see people change a lot — a lot of our characters actually change. You know, in the middle of a scene, people all of a sudden say, “Oh, well, if that’s true, then I need to be doing this. And what does that mean for me? And what does that mean for my role in this story, and what does that mean for who I am?”

That felt very real. And that was part of what I see in Hugh’s writing, what I saw in Zak’s original approach. I felt like that was just part of the DNA of the show.

One of the things we don’t do in this show is we don’t do time loops. We don’t do people going back in time, and then we just have to take action to make sure we don’t mess up the timestream or something like that. That’s a very typical science fiction trope.

We don’t do that at all. We have people. Time changes people. And that moment, that current moment is all they really have.

Season 2 — and beyond

TheWrap: You’ve said before that Lena Headey made a choice in a scene that helped to inspire a whole new story. Being at the finale, is there anything else you can share about that choice or what it inspired?

Mazzara: The scene that I thought was very interesting was in the second episode, where Halan jumps over a counter and is pretending to hit her — he’s putting on a show for the home invaders, the Wreckers, who have infiltrated the place. And she is really fighting for her life.

Now, he’s not hitting her. He’s miming that, but she is really fighting for her life there. She is really sort of about a control. And I thought that was very interesting.

So I wanted to know more about that character. I wanted to know more about her backstory. And that generated a story for us. I won’t say where that story comes — obviously, I’m implying it. But that was an inspiring choice for us. Because I needed to know what drove that character to do that.

TheWrap: A lot of the humor early in the show comes from the interactions with artificial intelligence Bart. And then also with some of the flashbacks we see the fanciful, opera-loving previous beacon keeper. Since you look to be moving away from those characters as the series goes on, how do you plan to keep the tone light when you’re giving characters those moments of relief?

Mazzara: One of the things that I really enjoyed in the show is there’s a weirdness to this show. And it’s surprising in a lot of ways. And in a way that, we put together a Season 1 to keep the audience guessing.

It’s been interesting to see — a lot of the feedback online is the audience saying, “I’m confused by this show, because I don’t understand where it’s going.” That’s by design. We don’t want you to know where the show is going.

Genre fans want to know where the show is going, right? They both want to know and be surprised by where it’s going.

We do have a Season 2, we have plans for more seasons. Hopefully we get to tell that story. The show will always be surprising. The show will always pull the rug out from under you.

The minute you think you understand what’s happening on the show, we’ll throw a curveball — and that is by design, because we know the sci-fi tropes very well. And now we’re getting to play with them. And we’re getting to subvert the audience’s expectations. That is part of the nature of the show.

The show does add up, does have an answer, the show does have a meaning. We’re not just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. That’s not true. There is a plan for the show.

But in a way, to constantly surprise the audience, we keep bringing in interesting characters, shifting different parts, shifting into different timelines, different perspectives. It’s a playful show, and we trust the audience to go along with us.

TheWrap: You shot the first two seasons back to back. Do you feel that Season 2 ties things off, or sets up more of a narrative going forward? Do you feel there is more space for another life for the show after Season 2?

Mazzara: I definitely do. I have it in my head. It’s exciting. It hasn’t been done before.

I would love for the show to continue for multiple seasons. Because I think there’s a story I really want to tell, or continue to tell. And I just hope we get the opportunity.

I hope fans enjoy these finale episodes, I hope that they enjoy Season 2 at some point. And I hope that people who haven’t watched the show go back and watch it, and catch up on everything.

But I really feel like there’s a there’s a lot more story to tell in this world.

TheWrap: Is there anything you’d like to tease fans with about what you’re looking to explore going forward?

Mazzara: As we continue to explore our characters, we continue to explore issues of trauma, and isolation, and connection. And of course, AI — we expand our conversation about AI in a very, very, very interesting way, moving forward.

And one of the things is that we then expand the world to include different cultures, different parts of this world we haven’t seen before. All still rooted around the beacon itself, but we do end up learning more about, other beacon keepers, other beacons, how they work both in the present and the past. But we also introduce some, I think, very interesting cultures.

The show was a joy to work on. It was just a great cast, a great group, a great crew, a great post team. And we like with any show, you learn more about the material as you go on, you improve as you go on. And I just think future seasons, we learn more about the world of Beacon 23. And I think we push into it and explore it in a very exciting way.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. All eight episodes of Season 1 are available for streaming now on MGM+.

Comments

One response to “‘Beacon 23’ Showrunner Talks Season Finale, Teases What [SPOILER]’s Critical Injury Means”

  1. Max Avatar
    Max

    I think rocks are the remnants of the Monolith (2001: A Space Odyssey), the guider of human evolution. Once it shattered, humanity declined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.