‘The Regime’ Creator Breaks Down That ‘Unsettling’ Finale — and Why He Nixed an Alternate ‘Happy Ending’

Will Tracy explains the HBO limited series’ haunting final scene, what really happened to Elena’s son and the significance of Agnes’ fate

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Matthias Schoenaerts and Kate Winslet in "The Regime" finale (HBO)

Note: The following story contains spoilers from “The Regime” finale.

Despite hinging closer and closer towards a civil war, “The Regime” concluded exactly where it started — in the thick of a growing authoritative regime with no end in sight.

The finale of “The Regime” picks up following the siege of the castle by the Westgate rebels, which leaves Agnes (Andrea Riseborough) presumably dead while Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet) and Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts) escape on foot. After their getaway driver betrays their location, Elena is propositioned by her former political allies and adversaries, including cabinet member Laskin (Danny Webb) — who is subsequently shot — and mogul Emil Bartos (Stanley Townsend), who arranges a deal to restore Elena’s power … by working with the U.S.

Despite her reluctance to work with the U.S. and Senator Judith Holt (Martha Plimpton), Elena agrees to welcome in American involvement in the country’s cobalt mining in exchange for them quashing the formidable resistance. By the end of the finale, Elena is back in front of her adoring fans as chancellor — this time, in a thick, protective barrier.

“The analogy I often use is pressing the reset button on the Nintendo — you’re just right back to the start again, right back to the old relationship,” creator Will Tracy told TheWrap of the show’s conclusion. “Sometimes, these foreign policy goals and outcomes tend to be cyclical and you’re right back where you started again, because that’s the arrangement that works. It’s always the arrangement that works.”

Elena’s decision comes with a price, though, as she must turn her back on Zubak, betraying him just hours after she said she never would as he is shot and killed ahead of securing her deal with the U.S.

“She tried to change the arrangement, it didn’t work, and the hegemonic powers that be decided, ‘How about we go back to how it was,’” Tracy said. “Because all she really cares about is self-preservation and survival, she’s, in some ways, happy to go back to that relationship, but it means destroying any chance she ever had of change or self-actualization, or whatever she had going with Zubak.”

While Tracy admitted the ending is “unsettling,” it’s a more honest conclusion to the political drama than his alternative “happy ending.”

“I had an other ending before — a more traditionally, in some ways, happy ending in that [Elena] might get her just desserts and she would be apprehended,” Tracy teased. “There might be some sort of public show trial or something quickly run through whatever the justice system of this new regime would be, and that she would be hanged in the town square by the rebels.”

However, that hopeful conclusion felt “less interesting and also less realistic” to Tracy when examining how populist leaders like Elena “tend to actually hang onto power.”

Below, Tracy discusses that haunting final scene, what happened to Elena’s son and the meaning of Agnes’ fate.

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Matthias Schoenaerts and Kate Winslet in “The Regime.” (HBO)

TheWrap: That last shot of Herbert is especially striking. Can audiences assume Elena might glorify Herbert in the same manner she glorified her father?

Will Tracy: He’s become the new voice in her head — the new person that she tells herself the new story through … she can go down there, and the mask falls because she knows that he knows who she really is. That was her father, and now it’s this person. That might be a healthier voice in her head, but I imagine the guilt is always going to, in some way, weigh on her and she will never acknowledge that guilt until she’s down there in that room alone with him.

We don’t find out what happened to Elena’s son. Is he alive or dead, and does Elena care?

We leave that kind of unknown. I’ll leave it up to the viewer, what they think might have happened to old Oskar, poor kid.

I was really rooting for Agnes to get out of there. Why choose to kill her off?

Sometimes you have to have a chip of ice in your heart when you’re writing these things. And even when it comes to characters who, as a writer, you feel great affection for, which I do for that character, I don’t think she was ever getting out of that place. I think in some ways she was like the carpeting, she was like the plumbing — she was installed in that place, and you were never gonna rip her out of there. As much as she wanted to be ripped out of that place, she can’t be.

Overall, what do you hope audiences take away from the series?

I try not to be in the business of trying to hope that they take away anything. I’m not trying to necessarily change anyone’s mind about how the world works or anything politically. I just hope they find it to be an interesting story that is partly of interest because it might resemble the world and how it works in a way that they recognize.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All episodes of “The Regime” are now streaming on Max.

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