Defying Gravity creator James Parriott discusses how Defying Gravity would have continued on, had the show lived to see more seasons.
One of the things that kills me anytime a show I love doesn’t get picked up for additional seasons — or is flat-out canceled mid-season — is dangling storylines. Being that I’m into sci-fi shows, enduring long story arcs is pretty commonplace. So, when word came that Defying Gravity was not only not getting a second season, but it wouldn’t be airing the final handful of episodes in the U.S., it was par for the course. But dammit, I wanted to know what was going to happen next!
Via powerful, mystical, magical items that I won’t reveal here, for fear the secret will fall into the wrong hands, I was able to watch the final episodes of the first and only season of Defying Gravity. Ivey’s already written about them, the final episode having aired on Canada’s CTV and SPACE channels last weekend. Unlike another sci-fi show that was cut short soon — the U.S. version of Life on Mars — Defying Gravity wasn’t allowed to wrap up its story. In fact, even if it had the time to prepare for it, there’s just no way it could wrap everything up in one season. The season only got better in the latter episodes, which makes the show being gone all the more disappointing.
Still, I had to know how the show was meant to end. If there was truly no hope that the show would get picked up somewhere else, I had to jump at a chance to find out what was going to happen next. So, I went straight to the source and contacted the show’s creator, James Parriott, to get a reading from the next book from the Defying Gravity bible. And, lordy, did he read.
First of all, let’s get the basics out of the way. Parriott confirmed to me that the actors have all been released and the sets have been destroyed, so the show is “pretty much dead” — no real hope now of seeing the show get the CPR it needs to continue on into another season or a wrap-up movie.
So, why did the show not do better in the first place, if it’s as good as I say? As Parriott explained, the show wasn’t officially picked up by ABC until a mere three weeks before the first episode aired, virtually giving them no time to market the show properly. By that time, all ad space they needed for the show to get the awareness it needed was spoken for.
Getting back to what I said about a show “bible,” Parriott said that in order to sell the show, he had to have the show worked out, and he does indeed have a bible for it. In fact, he has the first three years of the show all worked out, along with how it would ultimately end. Because Parriott has what he said is “a tremendous respect for science fiction and its fans,” he didn’t want to string viewers along too long without anything significant to reveal, which is why Beta was revealed in episode nine and not somewhere in season two; he wasn’t about to leave us with “a big hole in the ground” at the finale. Lost fans know what he’s talking about.
Speaking of Lost, here’s a fun bit he had to say about the show and how it relates to how he went into putting Defying Gravity together:
“I love the show [Lost], and Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse]. I did a lot with Grey’s Anatomy during the first couple of years of Grey’s, and that first year of Grey’s was the first year of Lost, and I did a lot of dinners with ABC buyers with those two guys and Shonda Rhimes from Grey’s. Carlton is a really bright and funny guy, and he gets up, and the first question out of the foreign buyers’ mouths is ‘where’s it going to go? Do you know where it’s going to go?’, and he said ‘I haven’t a clue.’ And then he sits down across from me at the dinner table, and I remember saying ‘Damon, come on, that’s bullshit, right? I mean, you know where it’s going to go.’ And he says, ‘Jim, I haven’t a clue. I’m four episodes out; that’s all I know.’
“And I just thought to myself, y’know, that’s really dangerous. And then when I got into doing this show, I said I don’t want to do that; I don’t want to be in that position. First of all, I’d have ulcers if I did that, which would just be crazy, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. So I went in pretty much knowing where it was going to go.”
I’ve often said that having the “Grey’s Anatomy” tag on this show really hurt it. Sci-fi fans ran for the hills when they saw it was going to be Grey’s-in-space, so it never took off. So, I asked Parriott about that.
“First of all, ABC literally bought the show three weeks before it aired. ABC, I think, in their own way, were trying to kill it. They had been planning to buy the show all summer long, so they had us on a hook. But they wouldn’t commit, wouldn’t commit, wouldn’t commit. While they weren’t committing, they were cutting trailers and were preparing to launch, but they weren’t telling anybody. And then they finally committed three weeks before launch.”
Essentially, the only people who saw the promos were the 1.5 million viewers through ABC’s summer schedule.
“[Having the Grey’s Anatomy tag] probably hurt the show ultimately. But in terms of trying to sell the show, as sort of a quick pitch … for the buyers, it had to be ‘look, it’s a show in space, but it’s not a space show. This is a space show that’s going to attract women.’ That seemed to be the easiest thing to do. In fact, I don’t think we ever really coined the phrase that it’s Grey’s in space; someone had just said that and we said ‘OK.’”
So why wasn’t the show pitched instead to Syfy? Couldn’t the show have shined there and gotten the attention it needed and deserved? “You know, it could have. But we were always trying to create a network show and not a cable show. So if you go out and just say “we’re sci-fi,” the networks sort of balk at that. They want to know it’s bigger and the potential audience is broader than a sci-fi audience. However, when it became clear that ABC wasn’t going to give us a big summer launch and not be promoted as well as we wanted, I was encouraging the studio not to sell it and go to Syfy. And in fact they did go to them, but they did it too late and after we already aired two episodes. I said, ‘would you guys buy this if we pulled it from ABC and give it to you for free on rerun and buy us into a second season?’ But then you’ve already aired and you’re taking the wind out of Syfy’s sails, because they can’t promote it as ‘their’ show. And Mark Stern [Syfy Exec VP of Original Content] was very interested in it, but once it aired on ABC you lose your caché. And you’re done. But we could have survived on Syfy and done many seasons.
If it had been an ABC developed show, believe me, we would have been promoted and been put into a better time slot.”
Now, let’s get into the answers to some of the unanswered questions from the show. First of all, Parriott won’t yet reveal to me the ending of the show, as he’s still holding onto hopes that something will come out of left field and cause it to be revived again, in one for or another. If, in six months, the show doesn’t see the light of day again, then we may get our answer. (UPDATE: Here are the answers.)
Let’s go over the characters Parriott and I discussed:
Nadia — She had quite the odd hallucinations, didn’t she? Who was that man she kept seeing, and why did he look so much like Nadia? As Parriott revealed to me, some fans of the show got it right in their guess that she was, in fact, a hermaphrodite when she was born. The choice was made for her when she was 11, by her parents, which sex she’d ultimately become. So that man we’re seeing is actually what Nadia would have been, had they chosen to raise her — or him — as a man.
Now, here’s the wild kicker. All those DNA changes that are happening with the crew, caused by Beta and the other artifacts? Well, they would eventually wind up causing Nadia to gradually turn into a man.
Parrriott also said that it was planned for Nadia to really have a more significant presence in season two. “If you see the way we wrote her, she sort of had that male sexuality about her, that ‘fuck ‘em and forget ‘em’ mentality. So we wanted to write her sort of as a male character in a female body.”
Donner & Zoe – Probably already guessed or assumed by many, but Donner’s reversed vasectomy was part of the DNA change brought upon by Beta. Eventually, toward the very end of the series, the true reason for that happening would be revealed, when Zoe becomes pregnant again on the trip. So yes, even Zoe’s hysterectomy would be “reversed” in order for that to happen.
“They were all going to be tested. The idea was that they all had points in their lives that, if they could do them all again, then they would have chosen a different path. Beta — the ‘fractal objects’ — were going to put them up against those same situations and stand them up to themselves again, give them a chance to make another decision.”
Wass — I asked what the Wassenfelder character’s significance was going to turn out to be, since, for the most part, he only seemed to serve as the comic relief for the show. “Dylan [Taylor] sort of has that different gear that we had to exploit, which is sort of that funny gear. And he had a relationship with Paula Garcés the first time we put them together, and we just though that was a relationship we have to mine. That wasn’t the initial plan, but Wass was going to have something like Pervasive Developmental Disorder [similar to Autism] and have a great fear of people touching him and having contact with other people. He was going to become a weirder guy. One reason I didn’t have hallucinations for him was because I didn’t have any for him worked out yet!”
Arnel Poe — “Yeah, people guessed pretty early on that it’s Arnel’s leg loss that gets Zoe back into the program. At the beginning of the second season, she’s going to be at home, has a job teaching college, she’s going to have another romance, she’s going to have washed her hands of the whole thing. Donner’s going to be going nuts. They’re going to be doing the survival training for the mission and Arnel was going to lose a leg, and Zoe would be called back.”
Jen — Was she mistakenly put on the mission? Why can’t she see the fractal objects? “No, she was correctly put on the mission. And she can’t see [the objects] because, if you look back at when she was in the isolation tanks, she has a fear of abandonment. Jen seems to always need a man, and she’s very needy that way because she was abandoned as a child. And what the fractal objects were doing was she was going to become extraordinarily lonely in season two, and the bunny was going to fuck up the ship and she was going to have to kill that bunny. That’s her thing she was going to have to overcome, that incredible loneliness.”
Eve — “In season two and season three, and leading into Mars, Eve was going to discover that the flashback she has of Mars, where Ted is yelling ‘go go go’, she’s going to realize that on top of his helmet there it says ‘Antares’ — so she was actually seeing the future. And she’s going to realize she has to go to Mars.”
Rollie — “Rollie was going to be in jail for his [driving incident] and have to be pulled out and take Eve [to Mars]. And they were going to go up in one of the resupply vessels to Mars.”
Goss — “Goss would not be the bad guy in the end. Goss would find out that he’s been being duped a little bit, and that it’s bigger than all of them.”
Beta and the other “fractal objects” — “I was never going to define what they were. I think that’s one of the themes about the whole show, is the theology of it. Is it God? Is it not God? Is it alien? What is the Universe? I do believe in a greater being, a greater thing, and this fractal thing is really an amazing thing. I was reading in The New Yorker how stock market swings follow Pi, the fractal equation. And that’s sort of a scary thing, that it just moves. You can plot the right dips and curves [of the market] that it does indeed move fractally, and that just blows me away. There’s just tons of stuff we don’t know.”
- They would eventually get all of the fractal objects during the course of the show.
- Arnel, Trevor, Ajay and Claire would have been behind the “true” mission being revealed to the world, eventually. The three would be forced to work with Trevor in a sort-of underground initiative and ally with him when they see that he’s right in that something larger is being hidden. We would find out that Goss is hiding a larger agenda, and then there’s an even larger agenda that even Goss is unaware of.
- The state of the world — the planet Earth itself — would have been revealed. “We didn’t have the budget to do it the first season — it was struggle enough just to get the ship up and running and do the shows with the quality that we had. We were going to reveal the world at large and, y’know, it’s kinda a fucked up place.”
- On that note, I mentioned the scene where Wass says he “could sleep through World War IV,” and Parriott had no idea what I was talking about. He said he’d been through the shows “eight million times” and never remembered seeing that. When I told him the episode and scene (episode 11, Wass at the isolation chambers), he said it must have been another case of Dylan Taylor ad-libbing again, and he totally missed it.
- “There was horrific stuff we didn’t show that happened on Mars. Sharon and Walker had actually lived a couple of weeks in the habitat on the planet. Half of season three would probably have taken place on Mars or in orbit around Mars, but we hadn’t worked out fully what exactly they were going to find on Mars. But we did talk in the writers’ room about possibly having the two still alive when they arrived.”
Well, there you have it. As for the remaining episodes not shown yet in the U.S., Parriott tells me not to expect them on network television, though you will see them appear on Hulu and/or iTunes. The full set of episodes should arrive on Blu-ray next January.
I really want to thank Mr. Parriott for taking the time to talking to me and revealing so much of what many fans were wondering about this show. If only we’d get that sort of resolution with every other killed series. See me again next spring when I try to pry the show bible from Parriott’s hands to find out the rest of the details yet to be revealed.
(UPDATE: The final chapter in how Defying Gravity is here, as again revealed by James Parriott.)