Holy mother of caftan-covered cliffhangers!
Mistresses‘ Season 3 (and possibly series) finale ended with a heartbreaking death; a sweet (and mutual) declaration of love (without any running-through-the-airport ridiculousness); the strong suggestion of an impending suicide attempt; the introduction of a reality TV crew; and — yes, we’re saving the “whoa, Nelly!” for last — a startlingly creepy reveal of Luca Raines’ actual killer.
To recap, Karen said a tearful, thankful goodbye to her erstwhile lover Vivian — who, before she succumbed to sepsis of the liver, made a deeply touching video introducing herself to Karen’s yet-to-be-born baby (conceived during their lovemaking with Vivian’s hubby Alec). April finally realized her feelings for Marc — much to her own surprise and amusement — and then got her happy ending when her boarder/co-parent showed up at her doorstep just as she was headed to the airport to stop him from getting on a plane to Machu Picchu.
Calista, meanwhile, tried to convince Joss that she’d confessed to Luca’s murder as an act of true friendship. But Joss’ rebuke sent the designer in search of a long coil of rope, with which she clearly intended to end her life.
Troubled by Calista’s insistence that she wasn’t responsible for sending gift baskets and texts from her cell, Joss went down the “Who’s the real killer?” rabbit hole — even as she packed to head to Europe for a 12-month stint alongside Harry, who landed a gig for a new Food Network travel series alongside celeb chef Rocco DiSpirito. That unlikely journey brought her to the Raines mansion — where a Calista-like figure (who digs rock music and sketching gowns via computer) emerged from the eerie shadows, pointed a gun at Joss, and hissed, “Where you goin’, lovely?”
Shall we all scream in unison? (Ummm… yes!) “WILSON!”
Indeed, Calista’s assistant/boy toy had borrowed his bosslady’s gauzy garb — and outfitted himself with a busted-ass wig — but that may be as much as we’ll ever know, since that’s where our season (and possibly the entire addictive summer sudser) faded to black.
Below, showrunners Rina Mimoun and K.J. Steinberg discuss the show’s operatic, campy conclusion (and the risk of ending on a cliffhanger), reveal an alternate ending they shot for Karen’s arc, explain why Jennifer Espoisto’s outré Calista is a one-season kind of character and speculate on the likelihood of a Season 4 pickup by ABC.
TVLINE | OK, let’s jump right in: Did you conceive the character of Wilson knowing he would turn out to be bats–t crazy?
K.J. Steinberg: [Laughs] Yes! Yes!
Rina Mimoun: [Laughs] Yes! Completely.
K.J. Steinberg: There are deleted scenes from this season we decided against airing because we thought they’d tip viewers off too much.
TVLINE | Oh really? Can you give me an example?
Rina Mimoun: We had a scene in Season 11 where Calista was getting ready for the Diane Sawyer interview that never was. Wilson was trying to help Calista emotionally prepare. It was actually a good scene — and a way to show there was someone left who genuinely cared about Calista, but it was also just creepy. That might have been us imbuing it with creepiness — since we knew what was coming — but for the audience, it would’ve completely tipped them off.
TVLINE | So just to be clear, as you sat down to plan Season 3, you envisioned a murder, you envisioned Calista’s assistant/boytoy would be the killer. It wasn’t story that evolved as you were writing? Because that was a crazy twist — right down to the Calista mumu!
Rina Mimoun: [Laughs raucously] It was crazy!
K.J. Steinberg: The only thing that came out of the organic process of the writers’ room was deciding how we were going to find out. And the Dressed to Kill [Wilson in drag] moment. Everything else was architected from very early on.
Rina Mimoun: We knew that we wanted a murder because it felt like the show had danced around it — even in Season 1 with Tom’s death. And we knew we needed something big and juicy. Because we loved April’s story, but it was really grounded. And even Karen’s storyline — while she’s always a hot mess — wasn’t in this vein. We needed something big to go off so that we could play all of the women on a slightly operatic scale.
TVLINE | I love the Dressed to Kill reference, but I also thought it was a little Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs…
K.J. Steinberg: The music we chose was very Buffalo Bill — to give you that same feeling, “Something’s going on in the basement!”
TVLINE | We end Season 3 with a gun pointed menacingly at Joss — who everyone loves. Considering you have not been renewed for Season 4, that’s a little bit of a tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon with no net. Did you consider softening the conclusion — letting her dial 911 or having Harry or someone on their way to the mansion? Or did you feel like part of Mistresses’ appeal is ending the season with a gasp-inducing twist?
K.J. Steinberg: We definitely talked about softening the ending, but that wouldn’t have solved the dilemma. Even if she got to the 911 call, or if Harry decided not to get on that plane and follow her GPS, it would still be a level of unsatisfying. So we decided to just commit to our style of storytelling and cliffhangering and hope for a Season 4. If we had known it was our last season, I think we would have chosen a different way to close it out.
Rina Mimoun: For sure. If we knew it was our last season I think we would have made this the penultimate episode and allowed ourselves to wrap up all the storylines. K.J. and I aren’t just soap writers, we’re soap fans. I loved seeing how Parenthood and Friday Night Lights and Six Feet Under ended. It’s so gratifying knowing when you know you’re writing your series finale. In our case, it’s always a little harder because we’re never quite sure.
TVLINE | I feel like you were saying, “I dare you, ABC. I dare you not to give us a Season 4.”
K.J. Steinberg: [Laughs] Well, if we’d tied it all up in a bow, it might’ve been incentive for them not to pick us up.
TVLINE | We’re like five questions in and we haven’t even gotten to the image of Calista in her cell, with a rope, contemplating suicide. That is what she was doing, yes? There’s no other way to read that — like, say, she was planning an elaborate prison break using a pulley system, right?
K.J. Steinberg: Whether or not she’ll go through with it, she intends to commit suicide. That’s how low she is.
TVLINE | When I realized what she was doing, part of me thought, “No, Calista is too much of a fighter. And she knows that the real killer hasn’t even been found. This doesn’t make sense.” But then going back to the scene two episodes ago where Joss points out that all of Calista’s friends are on her payroll, I could sort of see how she could wind up at such a despondent place. Even her lawyer Patty is all “Bye, Felicia” the minute she’s off the payroll.
Rina Mimoun: Part of what made us feel like this could be Calista’s last story was that Jennifer Esposito really had this lovely broken-bird quality about her by the end of the season. Yunjin [Kim] was the first one to [verbalize] that. The scene where Karen tells off Calista, she was expecting Jennifer to do the scene a certain way and to fight back, but she made it so inward. And it hearkens back to when we first meet Calista, on the floor of the bathroom with a martini, crying. She is a fighter, but she’s a sad character, too. There’s a sympathy you can feel for this woman.
K.J. Steinberg: Exactly. While being a fighter — as well as larger-than-life, eccentric and grandiose — she led a very deluded life. And all of the fantasies were shattered for her in the last arc. She believed she loved Joss and Joss loved her. She believed Luca was a human being underneath it all. And she believed she had people to rally around her, to take the stand for her. And all of those things fell away, leaving her nothing but the jumpsuit on her back. That was a truth she could not live with. The money’s gone. Everything’s gone.
TVLINE | In a potential Season 4, is Calista in the mix with Joss, let alone Karen and April? Can you conceive that in any way?
Rina Mimoun: We would love to invite Jennifer back for as many episodes as she’s willing or able to do, but this was a one-year character for us — at the level she’s playing this year. I mean, we were blown away by her performance, and she brings a certain sparkle, but if we’re lucky enough to get a fourth season, we might just want to find a whole different woman to inject into our foursome. We don’t want to start with so much baggage for all the other women to get through.
TVLINE | I’m glad you say that. I liked where you went — but the exposition it would take to get April or Karen to sit across from Calista at brunch would take three episodes.
Rina Mimoun: Exactly! I just don’t see her at coffee talk.
TVLINE | I felt like in Season 1 we had Elizabeth Grey with the vodka and the gun bringing us to the borderline of camp, and that didn’t really happen in Season 2. The whole Wilson reveal and the murder arc, to me, brought us back into that territory. Was that something you deliberately tried to achieve — going a little over the top?
K.J. Steinberg: With Season 3, we earned a right to make a little more noise, and we felt it would be really fun. With Savi’s exit, there was a hole to fill. As we said to you before Episode 1, we didn’t want to just replace a character, but we wanted to bring a whole new world to our world. With that came the money and the grandiosity, the fashion and a different moral universe, a whole new set of rules. It served us really well, and our actors and our audience had a lot of fun with that shakeup.
TVLINE | No disrespect to anyone, but I didn’t think about Savi once during the entire Season 3 finale.
Rina Mimoun: Yay! That’s the highest compliment we could get.
TVLINE | You told me at the end of Season 2 that Alyssa Milano’s pregnancy caused you to pull back on some darker ideas for Savi’s character. Did any of those get recycled in the Joss-Calista murder plot?
Rina Mimoun: They were completely unrelated. We did have a whole arc planned out last year for Savi, related to the Zack character, and you kept sniffing it out. We were so bummed out. “Yes, Michael, you’re onto something, but we can’t do it!” [Laughs.] We couldn’t recycle any of it though.
TVLINE | Karen and Vivian’s goodbye was so moving — and Yunjin Kim and Sonja Bennett are so so good in this episode — I wondered if you ever thought, “Maybe we should give our polyamorous blonde a reprieve and let her live!”
K.J. Steinberg: We always knew that she was going to die. And as we watched this woman live on our show, God, we just loved her so much.
Rina Mimoun: Yunjin [Kim] begged us not to kill her!
K.J. Steinberg: She’s such a gorgeous human being. She’s so real and so grounded, so positive and hopeful, and we really struggled with it. But we’d architected this tragedy that was going to lead Karen to a journey she’d have to take alone. And there was no turning back from that. I cried when I wrote those scenes, and I cried even harder when I watched them. It was a love story that we hadn’t done before — and a beautiful story of friendship.
TVLINE | Do Karen and Alec have any future together beyond a co-parenting situation?
Rina Mimoun: Well, I feel like they do! [Laughs.]
K.J. Steinberg: They have a deliciously flawed one. Vivian was what made them work. Karen and Alex had an animal attraction, but the spiritual connection was definitely fostered by Vivian. But now they’re going to be inextricably linked by a baby. How are they going to deal with that? That’ll be a great opportunity for some storytelling.
TVLINE | It was an interesting choice to have Karen alone in the car in that final scene. We don’t see Alec come to her. Their parting is somewhat unemotional…
Rina Mimoun: We definitely argued about that. That choice was right down to the finish line.
K.J. Steinberg: We shot it both ways. We shot it where Alec returns to the car — and they sit and have this Graduate moment.
Rina Mimoun: Exactly! There was a definite Graduate moment of “Oh, now what?” It implied it was the two of them working it out together. There was a concern about, “Is it too sad to leave Karen alone? Like, ‘Poor freakin’ Karen can’t catch a break!'” But we were allso moved by Yunjin’s performance. It wasn’t victim-y — it was really strong. And at the end of the day, this started with her and it ends with her. If Alec finds his way back into her life, that’s a fun story to tell. Ed Quinn is a wonderful actor and a joy to be around — so we’d be super lucky.
TVLINE | And their chemistry is super hot.
Rina Mimoun: Yes it is! [Laughs.] Super hot!
TVLINE | Speaking of hot chemisty, Marc shows up to see April in a different shade of Henley this week — grey instead of pink… but I just need to thank you for not having a chichéd scene where she chases him down at the airport.
K.J. Steinberg: We wanted an equal balance of one being drawn to the other.
Rina Mimoun: It’s Steve and Miranda on the bridge. I’m just realizing I’m obsessed with that [Sex and the City] moment! [Laughs.] But it does say something when both people are vulnerable.K.J. Steinberg: And they’re both active. It speaks to their connectedness.
TVLINE | Plus, him coming to the door tells us he’s an adult, too. He’s not going to fly off to some remote location and bury his feelings.
K.J. Steinberg: Exactly! He might try to drag her to Burning Man next year, but that’s an argument for Season 4, Episode 6. [Laughs.]
TVLINE | Was the April-Marc mutual admission of their feelings a nod that — should this be a series finale — somebody gets a truly happy ending?
Rina Mimoun: We usually end with two “holy s–t!” cliffhangers, and at least one of our girls gets some kind of a bowtie. And if anyone has deserved one, it’s April. But while it’s a happy ending, there’s drama and conflict and interesting stuff between them, so we’re not screwing ourselves over if we do get a Season 4.
K.J. Steinberg: There was this quality of a Peter Pan under her nose the whole time that she didn’t even realize she needed. We wanted to put someone who irritated her in the mix, to bring out the comedy that Rochelle [Aytes] does so well.
Rina Mimoun: We definitely always have a hope and a wish for something, but on shows like this, it’s so much about chemistry. It’s a crazy character to wind up in her house, so that’s fun, but had the chemistry not burst off the screen, we had an escape route with Daniel.
TVLINE | OK, so now the question on everyone’s mind: Season 4. If you had to put odds on it… what’s your guess?
Rina Mimoun: Oh, God.
K.J. Steinberg: There are no odds. The Odds Gods don’t speak to us. They have been very quiet.
Rina Mimoun: I don’t think we’re dead in the water. But I don’t know that we’re not. [Laughs.] We haven’t gotten any strong indications of a renewal… but they haven’t told us it’s over.
K.J. Steinberg: There has been some poking around and interest. I really believe the decision has not yet been made. We aren’t privy to what they have in development or what their needs will be.
Rina Mimoun: I think the drop-dead date is sometime in October? I know it’s a while. We had no idea the Vancouver thing was coming [at this time last year] — and that was contingent on our pickup. K.J. is right. They know what they want. They’re up there in the scheduling universe, and we’ll either fit in or we won’t.