Don’t assume that Calista Raines is a one-season-and-done character for ABC’s Mistresses.
Sure, this week’s installment found Jennifer Esposito’s alter ego continuing to lie about Joss’ role in the death of her cheating spouse Luca — as Joss languished in a jail cell! — but executive producers K.J. Steinberg and Rina Mimoun caution against assuming the former BFFs’ bond has suffered irreparable damage.
“Just wait for Episodes 12 and 13,” urges Steinberg, with a chuckle. “You can’t draw conclusions yet. Nothing’s ever too crazy for Mistresses!”
Confronting the suggestion that Calista could take Joss, Karen and April to Bora Bora for a month to kick off Season 4 — as a way to ensure all is forgiven — Mimoun sounds game. “They should do that the kind of trip that our Sex and the City ladies did, and then it’ll all come full circle!”
TVLine caught up with the showrunners to get some intel on how the Luca Raines murder mystery might wrap, determine whether a “Baby on Board” bumper sticker will lead to less juicy storylines for Karen and (of course) explore whether they treated the Season 3 finale as a possible series finale (or if they optimistically wrote it assuming there’d be a Season 4).
TVLINE | We’ve got two episodes left of Season 2 — and Joss is still in jail. This is not funny anymore.
Rina Mimoun | No. It’s dead serious. But it really helps our wardrobe budget. [Laughs] Stick Jes [Macallan] in coveralls for five episodes. That’s a lot of money that we saved right there.
K.J. Steinberg | But we promise you [in the end], the story will be satisfying, and liberation will be sweet.
TVLINE | Our readers have been betting on Wilson or Eva as the real killer. Did you guys know whodunnit from the moment you conceived of a murder plot?
K.J. Steinberg | Yes.
TVLINE | Are fan theories correct? Is it one of those two?
Rina Mimoun | Right now, it could be anybody. Calista is still very much in the mix. What I’ve really loved reading and hearing through [reader] comments is how everyone was so on board with Calista and Joss’s friendship in the beginning, and now they’re really mad, as they should be, and really questioning this woman’s sanity, as they should be. There are a whole bunch of possibilities, but we’re hoping that the ending is exciting to people.
TVLINE | And Calista has not proven to be a reliable narrator of the facts. So when she tells her lawyer, “It wasn’t me backing out of the driveway…”
Rina Mimoun | What Jennifer Esposito has really done so wonderfully is being incredibly convincing every step of the way. Now, by this point in the season, you need to rewind and go, “wait a minute. I’ve seen what a good liar she is. Now I know she can lie. How long ago did she start lying?”
TVLINE | There’s a real sense of entitled celebrity culture about Calista — for example she feels Joss betrayed her by simply telling the truth to the police.
K.J. Steinberg | Calista has her own moral universe, and she acts within that universe. From her point of view, Joss is an impediment at this point. She was a dear friend, and some of us would say the friendship was very real. There are also viewers who would say maybe it was calculated the whole time. But as Rina says, the actress plays every moment truthfully. We all know narcissistic people who, at any given moment, they’re the center of the universe, and their point of view is the real and only narrative. In that sense, Calista believes whatever she’s saying at any given point.
Rina Mimoun | And I think you’re right, that the money is at play here. It’s something we talked about when we were conceiving the character. Our show is obviously very ‘blue skies,’ and we tell a very pretty picture of L.A., where there’s always a certain amount of wealth involved. That’s maybe a bit fabricated and fantasy-like, but with Calista, we really wanted to explore exactly what you said. The celebrity culture of L.A. where things are elevated and the money is so much greater than we could possibly imagine or understand. That does warp people, and it does affect and skew their sense of reality and morality, and that is for sure what we were trying to get with Calista. Her home, her outfits, everything about her just drips this money, which is a big part of the character.
TVLINE | I also thought it was really risky to put Joss in jail, because in a lot of ways, she’s the dynamic heart of the show, of the fun of the show, and now she’s been stuck in a cell for several episodes. Did that worry you at all — isolating her from the rest of the characters and having her in this drab setting?
K.J. Steinberg | We definitely talked about it a lot, but we think that Jes Macallan has been incredible to watch. She’s always been great, but this storyline has challenged her and exposed the depth of her talent. That has made it worth it, and once we took this turn, we had to lean into it. You don’t get accused of murder and then everything’s rosy the next day. In order for the stakes to have been real for our characters — and to be worth it to put the character in this position in the first place — we needed to see it through. Also, it’s a great way to keep the separation between Harry and Joss, and to test the strength of their relationship, to show folks the trope of building up the longing between two people.
TVLINE | It’s a nice moment in this week’s episode when Harry finally gets to visit Joss in jail. We haven’t gotten a lot of payoff for that romantic pairing since the beach scene at the end of Season 2. Was it fun to allow those two to finally sit across from each other and not be fighting?
Rina Mimoun | Yes. So much.
K.J. Steinberg | We are so done with them fighting. We’re so done.
Rina Mimoun | From year one, they’ve had this really wonderful, natural chemistry, that when they find each other on screen, it’s just so much fun to watch.
K.J. Steinberg | And it feels so meant to be.
TVLINE | As romantic as the moment was, Harry also used it to plant seeds of doubt about Joss’ lawyer. Should we be worried that David is inept? He seems okay to me.
Rina Mimoun | I wouldn’t be too worried. What the problem is… now I’ll get really in the nitty gritty. We were all, as a writers room, obsessed with Serial when it came out, and we were tracking that case and just going, “Oh my God!” It’s unbelievable how crazy the justice system is. It’s less about the lawyer and more about how Joss really got herself into this insane situation in a way that actually never felt impossible to us. K.J. and I, that was the most important thing, that it had to feel like this could really happen.
K.J. Steinberg | We were just exploring the notion that once anybody gets attached to a narrative, all you do is look for stuff to support that narrative. It’s a very common human process, not only in the justice system, but for all of us every day. We have our points of view, and then we accrue evidence to support those points of view all day long. We wanted to expose and explore just how dangerous it is when that happens to the justice system — and how common it is.
TVLINE | Speaking of crazy narratives, let’s talk about Karen. This week, she finally comes out and says that three people in a romantic relationship is too many. As you were writing Episodes 11, 12, 13… was there anyone on staff still pushing for the idea that a “throuple” could work?
K.J. Steinberg | People do survive in them for a long time, and people do find true love in them for a while. They’re not all disasters from the beginning, and we thought exploring the nuances of it and the complications of it was really, really interesting. But I think we all agree that, ultimately, human jealousy, and possessiveness, and the inequity of feeling for one [member] of the throuple will always be dangerous and hurtful.
Rina Mimoun | I’m not ready to say that there aren’t polyamorous people out there who haven’t figured out how to make it work, but I don’t know that part of the world very well. What we do know is our Karen, and we know all the dangers of her particular life story. She is certainly not one who can handle that level of relationship. So I think we knew that about her, but wanted to explore it.
TVLINE | I haven’t been able to shake this feeling… it even preceded Karen and Alec having sex in the supply closet. But even when they were in a platonic mode, I felt like those two had a certain heat to their connection — and a residual guilt about it. Now that Vivian is sick again, is this somehow going to come back to — or come down to — Alec and Karen?
K.J. Steinberg | Very good question, Michael Slezak.
Rina Mimoun | You’re exactly right. The whole way through, they were the two people who felt the most concerned about how to go forward with the relationship — and whether this relationship could work. It was really Vivian who was the one who was all gangbusters, but Karen and Alec both had their doubts on separate sides. We always felt Vivian was the one, in a way, that they both loved the most, but Karen and Alec are very similar, and so it gives us good possibilities for the future.
TVLINE | I also have to ask… Karen has been our crazy-compelling hot mess for three seasons. Drunken bar hookups, three-way sexytimes, sleeping with a married man and after his death, with his son. Now, she’s pregnant, and I wonder, do you wonder if a baby will ruin the fun of Karen? Or did you figure that after three seasons, maybe she needed some kind of balancing force in her life, some kind of unconditional love?
K.J. Steinberg | It’s more the latter. There are only so many times she can get up to bat and say, “I’m looking for redemption this season.” She’s been through hell. She’s pushed the boundaries, and it’s not to say that someone with a baby can’t misbehave, can’t push the boundaries, because it will add to the complexity of the stakes for her. But we did feel that Karen has been such an isolated character, and although she is an integral part of the foursome and this year, the threesome, she still has that sense of isolation and privateness that the others don’t have. The connection and the softness that [a baby] will bring out in her will be really great for her character.
TVLINE | Speaking of having kids without sacrificing mischief — we have April, and it feels like this week she finally had this realization of “Who’s this guy under my roof — and should I be thinking about him romantically?” Then again, Marc is the brother of the Florida swamp skank who April’s presumed-dead husband began a secret life with — not to mention the uncle of her daughter’s illegitimate secret half-brother. It’s kind of crazy. Do you just put that aside and focus on the obvious chemistry, or were there discussions about whether that crossed a line you didn’t want to explore?
K.J. Steinberg | I never had a moment of hesitation, honestly.
Rina Mimoun | Rob Mayes came into the show with this amazing burst of puppy-dog love and energy, and the second the two of them got on screen, we were like, “Oh, they’re just adorable!” It was a very similar feeling that we had to Joss and Harry in Season 1, where they’re just really good together, and theirs is a relationship that you could explore forever. They remind me very much of the Miranda and Steve storyline on Sex and the City, but on a different axis. I love figuring out how to tell those kinds of relationships.
TVLINE | I loved the discussion of “good on paper” — because Blair seemed great on paper, but felt like a non-starter almost from the minute they got together — even though I know you guys were planting seeds making us feel that way.
K.J. Steinberg | After seasons of April feeling duped by childish men, she was looking for a stable guy in a suit — responsible, authoritative — and she was looking for some relief from all the responsibility for a while. That’s a really natural instinct for someone who’s been a single mom having dealt with a lot of betrayal. But we loved watching her go through the realization that he was a cardboard cutout, that you can’t ask for chemistry if it’s not there. You can’t demand that it be there, and it takes her in the complete opposite direction from the man-child that Mark is. It makes him the guy who’s standing right behind her all the time — and she can’t see him because she doesn’t think she’s looking for someone like that.
TVLINE | The end of April and Blair’s romance culminates with April slapping Lucy. Was there any debate about whether to go there? They’ve been a very sweet relationship the first two seasons, but this year, there’s been a lot of torturous mother-teenager drama. It’s not a shock as a viewer, but for April, it is.
Rina Mimoun | There was a lot of back and forth about it. But this is another piece of Blair that came in… he’s this person who’s telling you that a certain kind of parenting is OK. Right after April does it, he’s supportive of her, which, on the one side of things, you could say, “Wow, what a guy.” He’s trying to make her feel better in this horrible point in her life. But at the same time, there’s this dynamic that Blair was creating, and April just lost herself. What’s really interesting is that almost every writer in the room, to various degrees, had been hit by their parents. You know, we’re all at an age where it was not uncommon. I was hit. There were some people in our room that were hit repeatedly. But as parents in the room, none of us have ever done it. So, it was a very big jolt — because of the very special relationship April has with her daughter — but it also finally woke them both up. “Hey, we are not okay. We need help.” It takes them to a new place, which is, again, something that will hopefully launch us into future seasons.
TVLINE | On that note, how likely are you to be picked up for Season 4? Do you get any sense at all from the network?
Rina Mimoun | We have no idea.
K.J. Steinberg | No idea.
Rina Mimoun | I mean, the reality is the move to Thursday night hurt us a little bit in terms of our live numbers, but our DVR numbers have been really strong. But we haven’t heard. We don’t know anything.
K.J. Steinberg | We’re the last to know, Slezak!
Rina Mimoun | We’re the last to know. We were the last to know we were going to [move production to] Vancouver. We’re the last to know if we’re coming back, but it keeps us on our toes.
TVLINE | When you wrote the Season 3 finale, did you treat it as a series finale — just in case?
K.J. Steinberg | We didn’t. The way that the room works and the way our schedule works, it was so long ago that we mapped it out, and we just wanted to write with the hope for a future. Plus, we’re never one to do our season enders with anything tied up in a box. You know us.
TVLINE | You told me last year — when you were in the same state of uncertainty — these lives will go on anyway at whatever point the series ends.
K.J. Steinberg | It’ll be a very tantalizing ending. Again, some story arcs will be satisfied and somewhat closed, and some things will be very cliffhanger-y.
TVLINE | Oh, the word cliffhanger makes me anxious.
K.J. Steinberg | Right. In a way that you will be so angry if you don’t get a Season 4. That’s all I’m saying.
Rina Mimoun | We’d be angry, too. We certainly wouldn’t want to leave our characters like that.
K.J. Steinberg | If we don’t get renewed, Rina and I will write Episode 1 of Season 4, then act it out in our own little Web series for you all.
TVLINE | We’ll post it on TVLine. That’d be perfect. Can you say whose cliffhanger will be the most painful?
K.J. Steinberg | Joss’.
TVLINE | Oh my God. Noooooo.
K.J. Steinberg | Yeah. That’s all I’m saying. [Laughs] Sorry!