(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Part 1 finale of the first season of HBO’s “The Nevers.”)
The first half of the debut season of the Joss Whedon-created HBO series “The Nevers” came to a close Sunday with an episode that gave viewers answers to some of the biggest questions they’ve been asking about Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) and their “mission” for the Touched society in Victorian London. But with so much information given in just an hour of television, TheWrap needed Donnelly and Skelly’s help to unpack it all.
See below for our Q&A with “The Nevers” stars Donnelly and Skelly about the finale’s big reveals, including Amalia’s origins as “Stripe” (a soldier from the future played by Claudia Black), the nature of her relationship with the Galanthi, what she did to betray Sarah, and her decision to tell Penance her real, true name (Zephyr Alexis Navine). Skelly and Donnelly also teases what’s to come in Part 2 of Season 1, which new showrunner Philippa Goslett is currently working on with the other “Nevers” writers.
TheWrap: What did you think of the beginning of the finale, when we’re suddenly thrown into the future and see the wasteland Earth has become, where we meet “Stripe” (Claudia Black) — a soldier in the Planetary Defense Coalition, who comes across other members of the PDC who are fighting the Free Life army (a faction that is anti-Galanthi) and looking for the last remaining Galanthi?
Laura Donnelly: Much like the viewers of Episode 6, I think I read about the first 10 pages of Episode 6, going, “Ah, they’ve sent me the wrong script.” I had a rough idea of where it was going and what I’m what it was doing. Obviously, I had a fair amount of prep to get started on. So I was given an idea of all that was going to involve so I could get started before we had official scripts. But what I just couldn’t believe was how much information and just clearing up of everything that it managed to do, without a ton of exposition. Just showing the stories in such a coherent way that answers every question that you have as a viewer up to that point. And yet you still feel like you’re being immersed in this beautifully told story with these wonderful characters, most of whom in this episode you’ve never even met before. And and it kind of blew my mind that that was just an hour of television. That that’s possible.
Ann Skelly: Yeah. The really cool things as well, actually, just when you said that, is that nothing is hidden all along the way. It’s actually all the information is there. That’s why it’s so interesting that when you go back and watch it, you’re like, “Oh my God, they said this the whole time.” And it’s just amazing.
TheWrap: Going back and watching the first five episode again, there are so many hints now as to Amalia, a.k.a. Stripe, being from the future — what were your favorites?
LD: She says when I’m from, instead of where I’m from. And I love that the writers weren’t spending their time trying to find ways of having conversations where that stuff was hidden from the audience. It was just conversations had between characters, as they would exist when you’re not trying to explain to an audience, when you’re not trying to spoon feed the audience information. It’s just like, of course Amalia and Penance are not going to stand at the bottom of stairs and say, “You know, so I can’t believe how many funerals you must have been to in the future where you’re from.” You know, there’s just no need for people to talk like that. So I love the faith in the audience that the writers had from the beginning to just allow these characters to be and to know what they know and communicate that in a very natural way. And just at the same time, that did allow these hints to be dropped. But it didn’t feel to me like it was some kind of big mystery or like a kind of whodunit, you have to figure it out. It’s like, no, you will have to explained to your time, it’s just this is their lives going on.
TheWrap: When Amalia finally meets the Galanthi at the end of the episode, she has a vision with so many scenes in it, including one of a woman who tells her she will need to “forget” this part. Who is that?
AS: Should I say who that girl is? It’s Myrtle. It’s Myrtle in the future, Older Myrtle. I was excited Joss entrusted me to even know who she was, that little sneaky bit.
TheWrap: The closing scene has Amalia/Stripe reveal her true name, Zephyr Alexis Navine, to Penance for the first time, a thing we know people in the future hold most sacred. What was the significance of that scene to you?
AS: It’s such an important moment when Amalia tells Penance her name, her actual, sacred name. Especially when we see from the future, her in her original form — it’s so hard to even timeline my words — but she is quite a hardened person. She’s a soldier who has just been through it all, has severe PTSD. She’s just kind of going through it and has just finally given up and is ready to be done with that world. And as the Galanthi is gone, the final bit of hope is gone. And one thing I love about the character that Laura plays, and what I think parents love so much about Amalia is the ability to get up and do it again, even if it’s like in the form of a reluctant heroine, or if it looks like she’s just getting drunk and beating up lads and getting off with everyone, it’s like all of her little coping mechanisms. But the fact is, the heart is there and the capability to try is there. And I just can’t believe a person could have that in them. And that’s tremendous. It’s more than survival, it’s not just for survival, because we see that this person has tried to end their own life. And so it’s so much more than their own survival, it is for some kind of greater good, I think. Sorry, I’m just projecting onto Amalia now, but that’s what Penance sees. And I’m kind of amazed by it and I shed tears over it. And it is a beautiful moment. I think when Amalia is touched by the Galanthi, is affected by the Galanthi, and she is falling back and she sees all the little glimpses of the future, is that she’s basking in that kind of, I suppose, aura or what effect that the Galanthi has on someone, that expansion of empathy or compassion or whatever it is, some kind of inside knowledge, some kind of contentedness of spirit, I don’t know. But to have Penance recognize that and to have them share that moment, it feels like one of those softer moments that is a grand relief. And also there’s a lot to go from, I suppose. I love Penance and Amalia’s relationship, I love exploring all the potentials and the fact that the friendship can just go deeper and deeper and deeper and expand further off that.
LD: I agree with all of that. So I only wanted to say that I think it does really tell us something about just the state of mind that Amalia is in at this moment. It the first glimpse, I think, we’ve seen– you said the word hope, Ann, and I think that that’s it. I don’t think Amalia has been purposely keeping her name from Penance. I think she has told Penance everything that she feels like she would. And it maybe has never even occurred to her before this moment that she is keeping her real name from Penance. And it’s just that she has been cracked open this little bit more from this experience with the Galanthi, and that suddenly it occurs to her that she can tell Penance this sacred thing. I think that it speaks to the first time we see Amalia really with any true level of hope, even though it’s an Amalia level, it still has all of its caveats attached. But she is somebody who is always just moving forward. The only way through is forward. And it’s not about looking at the past. It’s not about even bothering to think back through anything that she’s experienced or how that might impact right now. She’s only ever in right now or the future. And that’s her way of being in order to be a soldier. And that’s the way she copes and gets through this. And so, suddenly, we just see a moment where she settles and has a moment to just crack open and become that touch more earthed and optimistic and hopefully. How long it will last, I don’t know.
TheWrap: When exactly is Stripe’s storyline taking place in the future?
LD: It was always talked about roughly 100 years into our future.
TheWrap: Stripe is transported into the past by the Galanthi and put into Amalia True’s body just at the moment they were both committing suicide. She then gets the “turn” of being able to see into the future. Why do you think she got that power?
LD: You start getting the idea throughout these six episodes that a lot of the people who have turns, the turns somehow relate to who they already were. Penance was already curious about the workings of things and therefore, that develops into this knowledge of electricity and harnessing of it. You know, Horatio, obviously being a doctor, Mary being a singer, all of those things. And so it really is that idea that Stripe had rather severe PTSD, as a result of decades of combat. And so her turn then in the end, it just reversed that. She instead just gets these flashes into the near future, instead of experiences of the past. But what you see there in that huge rippling at the end after she’s met the Galanthi is that you get a convergence of the two. You get some of her flashbacks, some of her flash-forwards. So it’ll be interesting for me to see what happens with her ripplings from here, because I just have a feeling that Amalia’s, possibly even everybody’s– and I don’t know this, this is just pure conjecture — that that whole way of being, turns and all the rest, may start developing in some way because the Galanthi is here and present. I don’t know.
TheWrap: In that vision that Amalia has from the Galanthi, she hears someone say at one point, “You didn’t think you were the only one who hitched a ride?” What can you tell me about that line and who said it?
LD: I can’t tell you anything about that. (Laughs).
TheWrap: Why do you think the Galanthi picked Amalia True, a.k.a. Molly, a widow who was committing suicide at the time the Galanthi came back to Victorian London, to house Stripe?
LD: I wonder– the Galanthi being an inherently empathic being and wanting to improve humanity, I wonder if it was naturally drawn/sought out a person who was committing suicide in that moment. Somebody who is having a horrible life and in some way of making up for that, wouldn’t have gone for a body of somebody who has just accidentally walked out in front of a tram or something like that. I don’t know. But I wonder if there is a connection there. It didn’t really occur to me before, other than the idea that Molly is– In my mind, Stripe could have landed in anybody’s body, really, as Amalia says, “Why on earth this body? It’s actually not up to task.” Thanks, writers. But if you were looking for a soldier to go forward in that world, you perhaps wouldn’t have chosen that body. And so perhaps you could have ended up in any body that was just the most recently vacated one at the moment that the spores arrived down. It could be as straightforward as that. But the great thing about this is any of this can be explored in coming episodes because there are still questions that are open.
TheWrap: In Amalia’s backstory, we learn that she was in the asylum with Sarah, who later becomes Maladie, and shares her secrets about the Galanthi and the future with her. We then find out Maladie became the person she is today after being tortured by Dr. Hague with experiments he would have performed on Amalia — had she not lied and told him Sarah was the one who believed in all of those things, not her. What were your thoughts on what Amalia did to Sarah and how she was possibly able to “forget” it? And what does Penance think of what Amalia did to Sarah?
AS: Amalia obviously hasn’t informed Penance of that part of her backstory up until we see the moment earlier in the season, that, “Oh, there’s a lot I’ll need to find out, but let’s just be alive right now.” And it’s so funny to me play past the moments that we see them explain that. And it’s so interesting as actor to get to be like, all right, so the character still loves her and thinks she’s just as wonderful. Like, what’s in that? I think what’s in that is why Penance and Amalia work so well and why I think Penance is such a lovely, lovely, incredible friend and person, is that you can see past all the things she needs to forgive her for. She can see past all the things she needs to get over. And she sees it as an opportunity to understand someone who’s very complicated and who has operated life in a way that maybe Penance herself, with the moral guidance of her faith, how differently she would have probably taken the route. And how Penance wouldn’t be the probable one to take on the mission, as Amalia is leading as a soldier with a soldier’s mindset. So I think it just emphasizes that the collaboration in the mission, not just as friends, but as colleagues, in a way, is that Penance’s eye is on the journey and then Amalia’s overall mission inside of the mission. And it’s really funny as well how that moment that we don’t see where Amalia is explaining to Penance what happened with Sara, why Maladie is and who’s fault and what’s to blame and what’s the situation at hand. And we see that then, in a way without actually seeing it, in the way that their roads diverged in Episode 5. And then the fact that they both fail without each other. And that’s interesting just because I go, how could they have done both? And yeah, I don’t know. Also, with Maladie still being alive and neither of them knowing. I think that, yeah, that will be very interesting in the next six episodes because, she’s been a focus of the orphanage and the focus of a lot of people. Now she’s out of the picture. It’ll be very interesting, I think, what kind of leeway that gives Maladie and what Amy Manson will do next.
LD: In terms of Amalia forgetting what she’s done, I wonder how much of that is true at any given point that she’s saying that. Because she says to Penance on the bed, you know, I have to tell you this thing — what exactly is she going to tell her? Because in the next part, she is telling Horatio, I barely remember her. And how much of it for Amalia is convenient forgetting? And I think that she absolutely has to do that as a soldier. She’s learned to do that. It’s probably her gut instinct at this stage with her decades in warfare, that in order to be able to do all the things that she has had to do in her life, you would need to forget. And then, of course, that is what results in PTSD, is memories that you are unable to process in that moment, getting put somewhere else in the brain so that the body and the brain can actually handle it in that moment. But obviously that lid kept very tightly on that will start leaking out in places. And I think that it’s interesting because what we’re seeing in Episode 6 is an informative flashback for the audience for storytelling point of view. But that’s not necessarily what Amalia’s going through, as she’s going through the Galanthi cave. She comes out and greets the Galanthi. And she’s able to talk about “Knitter.” So she is allowing herself these memories that just, perhaps, up until this point she has purposely just kept pushing down in a way that she’s very good at this stage in her life. But I suspect both things can be true. I think she can forget and she can be fully aware of all at the same time. Like when Massen says to Amalia, or implies to Amalia in Episode 4, that imply she must have known what was going to happen to Mary. How could she know? And Amalia doesn’t answer that and doesn’t tell anybody else about it. And just puts that away. And I think she puts it away because, again, those two things can be true. There can be one version of her that is trying to protect Mary, is hopeful for her, needs her to bring the Touched together. But there’s another part of her that knows that even in death, Mary would be useful in that sense. And so the soldier and her, I think, just allows her to be two things at one in one go.
TheWrap: We finally have a real idea of what the “mission” is, which is to try to right the wrongs that led to the dark future Stripe comes from. Why do you think they are so set on trying to accomplish this thing, that as Penance says, they will never actually know they have fixed?
AS: For Penance, I know, and this is something that I feel like the show taught me and helped me with the grand existential problem of existing. It’s the opposite of Charles Bukowski, his whole thing was like, don’t try. It’s like, no, the important thing is to try and nothing else. And sometimes I think humanity feels quite relentlessly disappointing, like, how does this keep happening? Why are we still in the same cycles? That feels like even today I’m so disheartened by it. But there’s this incredible light and energy from the fact that anyone would still try, like the fact that people have been still trying and they’ve always tried. And there’s something so uplifting about that. And even if everything still goes to s–t, which, you know, maybe it will, there’s some kind of slight inevitability of that, I don’t think humanity will ever band together. But there is an incredible proof of a soul or a grander thing than all of us, in the fact that there is the try and facing the relentless disappointment with relentless caring anyway. So for Penance, the mission can be just that. And that’s something that she’s not depressed about, because it is a very depressing futile, slightly, future. And I feel that, I felt that in my bones myself. So I feel like that is Penance’s mission.
LD: I like that, there’s a possibility that in order for their mission to succeed, you don’t need to turn the entire world to be on your side for the essentially “good” side to win. It just needs to be most people. Just like 51% of people need to agree with you. Just as long as they kind of start things off in the right direction, then there is that hope. And that is still, of course, what people are doing every day today. I love that even Penance’s line there, which I find to be really heart-wrenching and quite devastating all at the same time is that it immediately asks the question of us today, as the audience, well, is it working? What can we do differently now? So that is the one line that I think really turns the whole conversation back on the audience today. And I love that. In terms of answering your other question about the process of kind of discovering the mission, it really is mostly what you see that happens. First of all, obviously, it’s seeing Horatio’s turn. She doesn’t know people are going to have turns, because that’s not how the Galanthi manifests its enlightenment in the future. So she has to start just piecing these things together. And that’s just realizing that, OK, on this particular date, the date that she knows she came into this particular world, is when these things started happening. So she knows that it’s something to do with the Galanthi and she knows, that in its essence, the Galanthi is good and wants to help humanity. So at that point, all she can think is, well, I have been dropped here, I’m a soldier and the Galanthi is good and wants to save humanity. And of course, she can remember back to the Victorian artifacts that she found in that room. So she will have had time to mull on that as well. And that’s really all the information that she has. So she just has to know that, OK, so the spores are a Galanthi plan and the overall Galanthi plan is one of good. So I just kind of have to follow that trail and see where on earth it leads me. And that’s really all she’s doing when we first meet her in Episode 1. And so it’s just this waiting for information to come. I’m just trying to keep everybody safe, try and follow breadcrumbs that don’t even look like breadcrumbs. And that’s why this message that comes from the Galanthi at the end of Episode 4 is so important because, suddenly she has something to go on. But there’s still a lot to learn.
TheWrap: What is Lavinia’s part in all of this?
LD: She’s more complicated than a straightforward villain or a straightforward goody — as most of the characters in this are. But I think that the clues are there, as to what her reasons are. But I don’t think that it’s ever stated clearly enough for me to feel like I can go ahead and talk about it.
AS: I feel like she definitely seems like some kind of isolated figure who is defensive of the Touched, but it seems like she’s working on her own logic. Is she being manipulated by Hague? I don’t know. There seems like something slightly romantic between them and I actually don’t know the storyline. So just as a viewer, it surprises me what they do between them in scenes. But I don’t actually know what Lavinia’s thing is. I do feel like she’s operating on her own logic, whatever that is, and whatever we find out in 7-12, the next half of Season 1, I feel like there’s further explanations of a lot of characters that are set up in the first six episodes, that will then be elaborated further on this. I suppose that’s how TV works. (Laughs)
LD: I think she’s conflicted, which is why the storyline, what we’ve got on her so far, seems conflicted itself, is because she is a conflicted person. I don’t think that she has a kind of master plan. She’s dealing with something entirely new to her as well. She’s trying to find out what this is. And so I think what you pick up on in the first six episodes is that she does seem to be in one way for the Touched and in one way against this whole being. But that not that in itself is a conflict. And therefore, that is why we are not quite clear as to why she’s the way she is.