SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details of tonight’s A Million Little Things Season 1 finale
“We did every single thing we could do to downplay it and make sure it was authentic,” says A Million Little Things creator DJ Nash, speaking of the role that the terrible events of September 11, 2001 played in tonight’s Season 1 finale of the ABC drama.
In the tightly constructed and flashback filled “Goodbye” episode, we learned much more about the true identity of the illusive Barbara Morgan and Drea de Matteo’s Mrs. Nelson coming out of the shadows of the past. We also dug deeper into the events forging the inner turmoil that Jon Dixon (Ron Livingston) keep secret in the years leading up to his suicide at the beginning of the show.
Jon was supposed to be on American Airlines Flight 11 out of Logan Airport on the morning of that September day 18 years ago. The Livingston character missed the fatal flight because of a last-minute errand. But his old college roommate Dave was on board, and perished when the plane struck the World Trade Center soon afterwards.
Barbara Morgan was not having a relationship with Jon, but was the wife of Dave, and she was pregnant when he was killed. It was a pregnancy that saw her raise her son with the Rhys Coiro-played Mitch, with the Chandler Riggs-portrayed boy never knowing who his real father was.
Of course, this being AMLT, there were revelations of all sorts to be had on the Nash-penned finale among friends and family, old and new, like Riggs’ recently introduced PJ.
Revelations certainly were poised at the very end of tonight’s ever-twisting episode when the David Giuntoli-portrayed Eddie Saville sat down with Grace Park’s Katherine Kim and said, “I promise you, no more lies, so there’s something I need to tell you.” Leaving it dangling if Eddie will reveal to Grace that he is the father of the baby that Jon’s widow Delilah (Stéphanie Szostak) is birthing, AMLT took a traditional Big 4 cliffhanger approach on Thursday. At the same time, the series that started with the searing pain of a suicide stayed true to the hard truths that are rarely seen on network TV and that have fueled its first year.
In that vein, Nash spoke with me about the Season 1 finale and the decision to link it to the terrors and loss of 9/11. Additionally, the EP unfolded the potential revelation of that curbside conversation between Park and Giuntoli’s estranged couple, where the Boston-set series will go in the recently confirmed Season 2 of the net’s third- highest-rated show. Nash also revealed how A Million Little Things has evolved in one very significant way for him.
DEADLINE: Why did you decide to connect the show to the terror and loss of 9/11 for tonight’s finale?
NASH: I don’t expect everyone to think we got it right, but it is such a part of our history. Having lived in Boston and live in New York, it’s a part of our story. It’s been 18 years and I don’t want people to forget.
I think when it came to telling this story and Jon losing a friend, I was aware that people would have lost people they love in those buildings. I didn’t want to make it at all feel like we were trying to sensationalize something that happened. In the pilot, this family loses their innocence but their father takes his life, the husband takes his life, the friend takes his life. On 9/11, I think we are a country lost our innocence.
I’ve talked about it with my writers, I’ve talked about it with the actors, with my director, with my producers. I’ve talked about it with Standards and Practices at the network, which you usually think of as a group of people who get you not to say swear words, about what is appropriate.
DEADLINE: And how was that reached?
NASH: We decided to underplay it. To never say September 11, but we show it on the front of a newspaper, the actual front of the Boston Globe. We say Flight 11, we have Barbara say it. We went to Logan Airport, we have a photographer take a picture of the Gate. We did every single thing we could do to downplay it and make sure it was authentic.
Throughout the season as I’ve tackled subjects like depression, suicide and cancer, the most important thing for me was to have them feel authentic. As I’m telling fictional stories in our show, there are people watching who went through these things. I’m not trying to tell everyone’s story, but I want to be true to what someone might go through.
DEADLINE: Did you feel in the final edit that you achieved that?
NASH: There’s someone at ABC who has been working with our show all season who lost a friend on 9/11. She reached out to talk to me about how she felt moved and felt we had gotten it right.
DEADLINE: Was this the way you wanted to end this season from the beginning?
NASH: When I first gave the script to the network to read when it was a pilot, one of the really smart notes I got was, ‘Is there a way to evoke Jon at the end of the pilot again?’ So I went home and I was thinking of different ways, one of which is what we landed on, which was to have Rome (Romany Malco) play the video of Jon in the elevator and having Jon’s voice be the voice-over to the last act of the pilot. I was also thinking that maybe the gang could get caught at O’Hare on the Gate 7. What if, as we’re telling that story, we find out that the four of them missed a flight before, and it was Flight 11?
I talked about that with my other producer. But we both felt it would overtake the whole pilot. So I put that in my pocket and didn’t really do anything with it.
DEADLINE: So, how did it come out?
NASH: On the first day with the writers, as I got together with them and told them everything I knew about the show, one of the questions I got was, “What was the thing that broke Jon?’ So, I told them the story of what if he was supposed to be on the flight and didn’t make it. I also spoke with our consultant, who I work with very closely and who helped us with Rome’s depression and Jon’s suicide story. She said it’s completely consistent, the idea of survivor guilt, and how he may have known Barbara and how it became like a hot stove he couldn’t touch anymore.
DEADLINE: Is 9/11 therefore the answer to Jon’s suicide, the survivor’s guilt?
NASH: It’s really important for me and for the writers to have to have the audience know that as much as we were following the mystery of Season 1 and why did Jon do this, that’s not the answer. That’s the day that he broke, because it’s a bunch of stones stacked upon each other. So, I don’t want the audience to leave the season feeling that’s why Jon did it, because he did make the flight and because he lost someone. I think there were many people who didn’t make it on a flight that day, who had very different outcomes.
— A Million Little Things (@AMillionABC) March 1, 2019
DEADLINE: Speaking of different outcomes, that conversation between Katherine and Eddie in the final minutes was not where I saw this going. After all you packed in the finale and this season, why did you go there?
NASH: Grace Park is such an incredible actor and I have loved this season where we have put her in impossible situations. So, I knew I wanted to end the season by putting her in another impossible situation.
NASH: Our show lives in these card flips where, just where you think you know a person or a situation, we flip it. In the pilot, you think that Rome is going to take his life, but it’s Jon who does. Or that Eddie’s having an affair with the guitar student’s mom, but its actually Delilah. In a similar way, we started the season with Katherine and how you think she is so controlling. But very quickly in the season, we flipped the card and we see her side of things as this working mother trying to succeed in both worlds, and we root for her.
DEADLINE: But isn’t this a flip too far?
NASH: OK, Eddie is all but home, and they are committed to trying to make this work. But before Eddie can come back inside that house, he knows that their success in the past couple of months is because they have been honest with each other. So, he realizes before he comes inside that house he has to be truthful. And the thing about it is, the thing he is telling her is stuff from the past. It’s not like he just got someone pregnant. So there is an impossible situation that we’re putting Katherine in.
DEADLINE: How so?
NASH: Is she not going to give this thing the try that she was going to give because of stuff that happened before? Because all he’s done is be honest. So, I love the way we are leaving that.
Thank you Ron Livingston, @mistergiuntoli, Grace Park, @allisonemiller, @christinamoses, @JamesRoday, @TeamRomany, @stephshortstak, Tristan Byon, @greene_lizzy, @OfficialChanceH. You all are amazing on camera and off. Thanks for making us writers look good. #amillionlittlethings
— DJ Nash (@heydjnash) March 1, 2019
DEADLINE: So, in a finale of secrets and riches, so to speak, where does that go in Season 2?
NASH: I’ll say this, the morning that we shoot that scene for the finale, I went to the actors and I handed them the rest of the scene…
DEADLINE: You mean where it picks up in Season 2?
NASH: Yes. I said, ‘I haven’t shown this to the network yet. But we’re going to shot the whole scene because we’re here.’
So we shot the rest of the scene.
I will say, the two of them are fantastic in it. As wonderful as they are individually, together there is something so special. I’m so excited to carry that story next year and to see us watch what she is going to do and how she is going to handle this impossible situation.
DEADLINE: With that, and with the renewal of earlier this month, how has A Million Little Things changed for you over its first season?
NASH: Well, I think the pilot was me telling a story that I thought was my story. Yet, in hearing from the other writers and more recently hearing, as I did in the last 24 hours, from a family that lost their son to suicide, and hearing from a woman who lost her best friend on 9/11, I think, while I started thinking I was telling my story, what I’ve realized is we’re telling our story, and there is something universal about this.
What has been so rewarding for me is learning how the viewers and everyone invested in the show feels that there is a part of themselves being seen.