The following contains major spoilers for The Nevers episode 6.
“Six is an extraordinary episode,” Donnelly (who plays Amalia True) told Den of Geek prior to the series premiere. “It provides a lot of the answers to the questions that the audience might have. It seemed like a very natural cut-off point.”
Whether episode 6, titled “True”, is a natural cut-off point remains to be seen. Due to the coronavirus pandemic suspending production, the show’s 10-episode first season order was shortened to six and “Part 2” (containing six more episodes) is set to arrive at a later date. It’s hard to argue though that episode 6 is anything but extraordinary.
“True” doesn’t merely provide some answers to long-running Nevers questions – it basically upends the premise of the entire show. It turns out that creator Joss Whedon’s initial vision for The Nevers wasn’t merely Victorian ladies with supernatural powers, but that of a much larger story about the human race on the edge of collapse and a dimension-hopping alien species intent on helping us.
Whedon departed the project during the production delay so when the show returns it will be up to new showrunner Philippa Goslett to shepherd this bold new vision. To get ready for that, Den of Geek spoke with Donnelly about the many revelations of episode 6 and what the future of The Nevers entails.
For those looking for a more complete rundown of just what happened in this truly wild episode, check out our explainer over here. But here Donnelly does an admirable job of unwinding “True’s” many twists.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Den of Geek: I participated in the press day interviews before the season premiered. Now I’m wondering what was that press day experience like on your end? People ask you “So what’s your show about? What’s going on?” And then you just kind of have to sit back and lie!
Laura Donnelly: It’s the most frustrating thing ever. I wanted to go into some details but honestly it felt like I could say nothing without unraveling an entire six-episode arc. People would ask me “How did you research to get into the role?” I can’t say that I researched what it might be like to train in the army, what combat would be like with PTSD, things like that. So I’m left going, “Oh, I just read some books on what it’s like in Victorian times.” It made me sound like a really lame researcher.
You mentioned back in those pre-air interviews that when you first had the meeting for this show, Joss gave you kind of the “whole picture.” Was this episode what that meeting was referring to? And what was your reaction like when you first heard it all?
Well, it was obviously then that I realized I was not dealing with Victorian X-Men. (That meeting) introduced the idea of having an entire backstory of somebody who has been through so much and then gets thrown into this situation and has to deal with it. I just knew that that was going to be such a deep dive into this character and that there was going to be so much to be able to explore with it. Then it was bringing in the elements of how the show is relevant to today, not just in an allegorical sense, but literally – how they are trying to go back in time to make sure that humans do better.
I couldn’t believe that a mind or a show could hold that much. And I knew that I had to be a part of it. What blew me away about (episode) six was that I didn’t know the details, how the story would be told and everything. Now I just can’t believe that with this single hour of television, they managed to tell all of these separate stories with such beauty and nuance. And not just with a ton of exposition, but instead, showing these things in the most clear way possible and that you find out so much in such a short period of time.
Definitely. The first chapter in this episode is really filled with futuristic sci-fi jargon and there is very, very little expository dialogue. Maybe this is a non-sequitur, but have you ever seen the movie Primer? It kind of reminded me of that in that sense.
It’s a time travel movie made by Shane Carruth a while back (Editor’s Note: 2004). And all of the dialogue is just complete jargon that only an expert in theoretical physics would understand for basically the whole runtime, but the audience is still able to pick up what’s happening for the most part. This episode just reminded me of that.
Yeah. I love it for that. I love it for the fact that it rewards intensive viewing. It’s not the show that you can watch while you’re scrolling on your phone. If you are willing to just buy into that, you realize that on first watch you get the important information: the Galanthi are an alien race that are here to help humanity from itself, and that Stripe is Amalia. Then everything after that the more passion you bring to watching it, the more you get out of it.
I finished my first re-watch right before this interview and I think I finally understand just now how and why Stripe got sent back in time by the Galanthi. Because things are too far gone now. The Galanthi are finally going to really help and their version of really helping is just “We’ve got to go back. Humanity needs a fresh start.”
Yeah! I loved that there were things that I realized from watching it that I hadn’t picked up in the reading of the script. When they suddenly realize that the portal is an exit one and not an entrance one, that makes Knitter (Ellora Torchia) in that moment lose all hope. But what you come to realize is that that is not a moment of despair actually. You realize that the reason that they had an exit portal was because they had a plan and they weren’t coming back. You see that with the Victorian artifacts in the room. In fact, this plan was brought together with the scientists. They were working on that together. That was only something that I caught from watching it.
What was it like watching Claudia Black play your character?
I thought she did a really, really beautiful job. It was strange for me because I wanted them to shoot that before I shot my Stripe stuff, so that I would have a lot more to go on to replicate when I first land in the asylum. But it just couldn’t work out that way and they had to shoot all of Claudia and the future stuff after I’d already shot in the asylum. I went in and watched a lot of their rehearsals and got some video footage of their rehearsals and stuff so I had a good idea of what it was that she was doing with that, but it was just amazing to watch the whole thing put together. It’s like the final piece of a puzzle that I didn’t even have any say in. I was just kind of glad really that it matched up to what I had in my head, because I’d been having to make a lot of guesses when it came to playing Stripe in the asylum.
It occurs to me now that for five episodes you’ve been playing a woman with a North American accent doing an old-timey Victorian British accent. What was that process like?
It allowed a little freedom actually because, on her part, it’s a learned accent. I didn’t have to be hugely strict about the rules of what would be particularly Victorian. I allowed myself to bring a little more modernity to how she would phrase something. I kind of hoped that people would pick up on the idea that Amalia seemed, in some indistinguishable way, slightly anachronistic. I also then kind of hoped that there would even be the odd person going, “Oh, well her accent’s slipped there, she got it wrong there” or whatever, because I kind of felt once you then see episode six, they’d see why.
When you think of the character in your head, what name comes to mind first: Molly, Zephyr, Amalia, or Stripe?
Amalia, actually, but the second one that would come would be Stripe. It’s funny, “Zephyr” is the last one I think of and I think that that is probably true of Amalia as well in that it is so far pushed down. It is so far into her past for so many different reasons. It would be too painful to have all of the implications that the Zephyr name carries in the forefront of her mind. In her soldier way of being, she just needs to constantly move forward.
Again, back before the season premiered when I spoke to you and Ann (Skelly), my first question was about characters’ names and how they were a little odd. Perhaps that was a bit prescient because in the far flung future names are sacred. What was your impression of that concept and why do you think names have become sacred?
I wonder if it’s just the idea that it’s the only little bit of recognizable humanity left for them. I think that people will always find a way of making something sacred. You need what is sacred to you at times when things are most difficult. You’re looking at a human race that doesn’t even have real food. Everything is engineered and they can’t even breathe the air outside. The sacred can be very important in moments of deep, deep despair like that. A name is something that everybody can have, and a name is something that everybody can therefore keep for themselves.
At the same time, it also speaks to the idea that everybody then is involved in that war on one side or the other. It doesn’t seem to me that you’ve got the army and then you’ve got citizens. It seems to me like everybody at that point in humanity as they’re coming towards the end is on one side or the other and is fighting. That means that everybody is being called by their rank, and so Stripe is known as Stripe That also makes a name more sacred because it’s the part of you that isn’t involved in this war. It’s the last vestige of true humanity that you might have left.
Any updates on the production process for part 2? I believe last time you had yet to see any scripts.
I’ve had lots of conversations with (new showrunner) Philippa Goslett and with Ilene (Landress), our producer but I have as yet not read a script. I’m just waiting, but I’m in prep. I know enough about the next couple of episodes to know what fights I need to learn and things like that.
I cannot imagine being in Philippa’s shoes right now. Showrunner changes happen all the time but this is one of the more unusual narrative circumstances to fall into, I think.
Absolutely. I mean, the show is wild, but I think that, whatever else happened, we were so fortunate that episode six became this very natural break point in the story for obvious reasons. So much has been wrapped up. I feel like the world is built and the characters are established, you know. It really could go pretty much anywhere from here and it just needs somebody’s brilliant imagination to do that.
Now that the real plot behind the curtain was revealed, does the name “The Nevers” have any more added significance?
Not that I’m aware of, no. I think the only thing that I have to go on about the name is something that Joss said several years back about the idea that these people never should have existed. They’re anomalies or even the more pejorative term – abominations.
Do you think future seasons and storylines of the show will take things past Victorian England and inch closer to that dystopian present?
I mean, I would love for it to. It makes sense to me that it started in Victorian times because that was a key moment of change in so many different ways in how the world communicates. There are kind of several revolutions going on at once, technological being one of the main ones. But it would be really interesting then to see how that progresses, and the issues at hand get dealt with, depending on the social aspects of different countries or different decades. The key to all of that is can you find a really cool way of doing it? Because my head isn’t able to come up with that. Whatever keeps the storyline the most interesting, keeps the characters true to themselves, and doesn’t jump the shark, I’m well up for.
The Nevers season 1 part 2 is awaiting a release date at HBO.