Post Mortems

Mistresses EP Talks Shocking Season 2 Finale: 'Soap Operas Live and Die on Unforgivable Acts'

It was never K.J. Steinberg’s plan to upset fans with the quadruple cliffhanger of Mistresses‘ explosive Season 2 finale.

But if ABC fails to order a third season of its steamy (and very much on-the-bubble) Monday-night soap, the executive producer has a philosophical outlook that she hopes can help calm the nerves of fans reeling from the series’ half-detonated bombshells, including: Joss succumbing to her desires and tackling chiseled ex-brother-in-law Harry on the beach (all with sweet fiancé Scott waiting for her to come down the aisle); Joss’ sister Savi quickly approaching the sexy “surfbort” moment; Karen’s doctor calling to tell her she was HIV-negative (but that he had other news to drop); and April walking in just as daughter Lucy learned, via the local news, that her presumed-dead dad had been alive for years — and had this time been gunned down (for real) in a drug-related killing.

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“We would never have written this to be an ending to the series,” Steinberg explains. “We architected it for a Season 3. And we have hope that we will get one so we can continue to tell these stories and play out these dramas.”

That said, “if we have the misfortune of not getting [renewed], we still feel that we’ve told some great stories this season and ended the series on some great, great questions,” she continues. “Ultimately, these women’s lives go on — and the complications keep tracing back to every action they’ve taken since the pilot. That feeling and that train keep moving. If it ends here, it would be very, very sad for us. But if I had known that it would end here, I don’t think I would have ended it any other way.”

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Steinberg (who wrote the Season 2 finale script) says she’s expecting ABC to weigh in on Mistresses‘ fate — be it a pickup or a cancellation — by Sept. 30. Until then, TVLine is happy to provide a forum to address the decisions that went down in the writers’ room, the birth of a verrrrry intense/awkward family triangle, and the seeds that have been planted for Season 3… if and when it resumes.

TVLINE | OK, we have to start with that ending: Joss and Harry locked in a passionate embrace on the beach, Savi heading down the stairs toward the ocean, and — bam! — that’s all she wrote. You do accept the fact that you’re evil for leaving us there, yes?
Evil in the best possible way, right? [Laughs]

TVLINE | [Laughs] Did you guys always know that the season was going to end with Harry and Joss in that embrace?
We always knew they were going to end up there. We just didn’t know how we were going to tell the story in the finale — whether it was going to be the final, beautiful image or whether it was going to be in the middle, or even open the episode.

TVLINE | Leading up to the climax, so to speak, we had Joss in the restaurant telling Harry they couldn’t be friends anymore. That had to be the most heartbreaking scene of the entire series. I was like, “Grab me a tissue.” Just brutal.
I’m so glad it was. Wasn’t Jes Macallan brilliant? She’s such a wonderful actress and she and Brett have a real profound connection as actors. To me, that scene is what the series is about. That was a woman looking at a huge potential betrayal right in the face and saying, “I choose not to be tempted. I choose the less passionate option because it’s the right thing to do.” And you see how pained she was in doing so.

TVLINE | Did you feel like you needed that scene to be able to get people who were on Team Scott to understand the depth of Joss’s conundrum? Did she have to make the “right” choice first before she could be with Harry?
I don’t think it was to get the audience on board. We thought it was honestly what Joss Carver would go through. She’s always been a deeply feeling woman. And despite her loose sexual morals, she’s always been a great sister and a great friend and a good person. So that scene just reflected what we felt would be the organic journey for her — a journey that eventually led to her grabbing him and kissing him.

TVLINE | Let’s talk about that, though. How did she go from the restaurant scene — literally closing the door on their connection — to completely surrendering at the engagement party/surprise wedding?
The whole season for Joss and Harry has been about the sublimation of their true feelings. Their feelings for one another have been in their subconscious and popping up to the surface at different times for both of them. So, when she shows up at the Malibu house, she’s thinking, “We’re going to be engaged for a year. I’ll have time to work out my conflict. I’ll push Harry aside. I’ll recommit to Scott. I will focus on my love for Scott.” Because she really does love him. I mean, it is a viable choice.

But when the gauntlet is thrown down by Scott and suddenly the [surprise] wedding is upon her and she’s in the dress and she can’t breathe — she puts it all together, she realizes, ” I don’t have time to grow to embrace this as my first choice, as my true love.” And then she asks Savi the question that she really does in her heart know the answer to, which is, “Who told Scott about the record player?” She knew it was Harry and that meant to her that Harry knows her better than anyone in the world.

TVLINE | I loved that call back to the record player, because it was one of those nagging things: Scott pushing for a wedding so quickly when there was so much he didn’t know about Joss.
Right. When we met Joss in the pilot she was a person who abhorred monogamy. And here she is at the end of Season 2 in a wedding gown. And no matter how much we grow as people, and we do hopefully, you know that fast-track [wedding] goes against everything that she believed in and everything that she was just two years ago. It was too much, too fast and too antithetical to who she used to be.

TVLINE | I’m sure a core group of fans were pulling for Joss and Harry, but there had to be at least an equal amount who will look at the finale and say, “This is an unforgivable betrayal of her sister. You cannot under any circumstance go and explore romantic feelings for your ex-brother-in-law, especially only a year after their marriage dissolved.” How would you respond to that? How much debate was there in the writer’s room regarding what this says about Joss and Harry as people?
Soap operas live and die on unforgivable acts. And I think that we have to embrace that controversy. There were definitely fights in the writer’s room. There were writers who wanted them to get together in Episode 6. And I was like, “I can’t even…I can’t.” I could hardly get my mind around Episode 13.

I was probably the most squeamish in the room about it. And those people who say it’s unforgivable and can’t get behind what Joss did, that’s totally valid. The other side is valid too. How long does it take for people to forgive after a betrayal or a transgression? And how does that path to forgiveness happen? That’s what I think is the interesting part and that’s going to be the dramatic part to watch — if the forgiveness thing ever happens. And God knows if Joss will ever forgive herself.

TVLINE | Of course, you just had to have Savi coming down the steps to the beach while this hookup was happening. [Laughs] I’ve been not-so-secretly on board with Joss and Harry as a couple all year, but as I saw Savi approaching, I was literally screaming at the screen, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no!” I know the wedding gown is beyond saving now that it’s been rolled around in the sand, but could this destroy the sisterhood between Joss and Savi, too?
It could. It remains to be seen. We’re not saying that just because you’re in love makes betrayal OK. We’re saying it makes it risky and complicated and has the potential to cause a lot of pain. But at the same time Savi has been all over the place. She threw Harry away in the most humiliating and heartless of ways. She hasn’t looked back. She betrayed Dom. She has shown herself to be a lost soul when it comes to matters of the heart. And so in a way you can understand how Joss thought her sister was really done — really, really done. And it’s not like she’s sleeping with her sister’s husband. She’s sleeping with the man who her sister discarded.

TVLINE | OK, so moving on to another one of our major characters: We know Karen is HIV-negative, but is she pregnant?
Maybe. I cannot tell you that.

TVLINE | It certainly felt like you were hinting that, with her doctor saying, “but there’s something else…” Plus, in terms of her character growth, she’s been looking for a love connection with men for two seasons — and it seemed to me like she was undergoing the dawning realization in that final conversation with Anna that there’s a different kind of love. Choosing to stay in LA with her friends, too, rather than following a man to Boston was another realization of romantic love not being the only option. And maybe that’s what can save Karen in the end. Am I reading too much into all it?
That’s so, so insightful. That is what we were going for — her realization by the end that there are other kinds of love and, in fact, that she was a mother to Anna. She not only derived meaning from that, but that realization saved her own life. She was looking pretty suicidal in that moment [before Anna called from Korea]. She was really throwing in the towel and thinking this is her lot in life — death and pain — with not much to live for. And then that phone call came in.

TVLINE | In a lot of ways, Karen has been a total hot mess for two seasons — making some of the worst decisions imaginable. If there’s a nSeason 3, can she continue in trainwreck mode? Or do you think she has to evolve into someone a little more down-to-earth and grounded?
There will always be a part of Karen that is a little bit of a mess, but she has evolved. And we really do believe that she has passed the point of consciously bad decision-making. By quitting her job [as a psychiatrist], she has shed one of the things that caused her a lot of pain in her life. She was living in the wrong skin. And now that she’s shed that layer, she’s going to see her life a lot more clearly and make decisions that are more in line with her journey toward actual happiness. Whatever news her doctor had for her on the end of that phone call, though, is going to make that a tough road to hoe. But I think at the end of it, she will see the light.

ROCHELLE AYTES, RICKY WHITTLETVLINE | April’s resolution felt the most completed. Paul is dead, and that drama is done. Were you planning right from the beginning of the season that Lucy would learn the truth about her dad before it was all said and done?
We’ve been architecting since last season that Lucy would find out the truth. We wanted to wait until the actress was old enough to handle the story. And we thought it made sense to have her be into her teen years, when life was already a clusterf–k hormonally, to tell that drama. We also thought that watching her react to that news as a teenager would live on our show more appropriately. So we’re looking forward in Season 3 to what that’s going to look like. Of all the love relationships on this show, [April and Lucy] is the purest. Her daughter always comes before any man, and therefore this heartbreak of all the heartbreaks she’s experienced is going to be the biggest one of the series for her.

TVLINE | Is there any way April can continue on with Daniel given Lucy’s discovery?
Well, Ricky Whittle is on The 100 [on The CW]. [Laughs] So, it really depends. I mean, from a storytelling point of view, given that he is in bed with the men responsible for driving Paul to his death —because you know Olivos would not have killed Paul if Paul hadn’t been in cahoots with the FBI — it’s going to be hard for Daniel to get back in the good graces of Lucy. In her mind, for all intents and purposes, [he’s] going to be one of reasons why her father is dead for the second time.

TVLINE | I was a little surprised that you guys had that final sex scene in the cabin between April and Daniel — with Lucy asleep in the bedroom. But then I was like, “If this is the swan song for the two sexiest people on television — quite possibly ever…”
They really are the most beautiful, beautiful couple. They give Brangelina a run for their money. But I wasn’t thinking of that. Lucy was asleep. Parents know how deeply their kids sleep. And what was happening was that storyline was really all about the role-playing of family, and of Daniel and April’s couplehood. They were trapped in this bubble where only the three of them existed. And the missing piece to that, of course, was the intimacy and the lovemaking, which was April saying to him “I forgive you. I want this life. I want to be with you and I want you to be in mine and Lucy’s life as my partner and as her father.” And that’s what she expected to happen before Lucy saw the news.

TVLINE | As devastating as the news of Paul having been alive — and now being truly dead — will be for Lucy, I can’t help but feel like Savi learning about Joss and Harry will be somehow worse. You had told me previously that there were some dark elements of Savi’s Season 2 story arc that you had to abandon because of Alyssa Milano’s pregnancy. Was there an idea of going back and exploring some of those issues with her in Season 3, and of using this bombshell revelation to set that off?
Yes. And let me just say if and when Savi finds out, it will destroy her. But that’s if and when.

TVLINE | It stresses me out thinking about what Joss and Harry’s decision will do to the core relationship of the four women.
Yes. Watching how the women are going to navigate it in terms of their friendship is going to be the centerpiece of Season 3, if we get one, because as you know Karen is armed with the knowledge that no one else has at this point.

TVLINE | Right. And knowing how April has this sort of moral hard line, I can see that creating tension between her and Joss.
Maybe — or maybe April’s world has been so upended that she’ll surprise us. Maybe Savi will expect her to be rabidly on her side and see it her way, and maybe she won’t. I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.

What did you think of the Mistresses Season 2 finale? Which cliffhanger has you most anxious? Sound off in the comments!