‘Damien’: Glen Mazzara on Season 1’s Finale and Season 2 Plans

Damien Season 1 Episode 10
Megalyn E.K. and Bradley James in A&E’s ‘Damien’ (Photo by George Kraychk)
A&E wrapped up the first season of the riveting dramatic series Damien on Monday, May 9, 2016 with an episode that can only be described as brilliant. The finale of season one of Damien worked on so many levels that when executive producer/series creator Glen Mazzara agreed to answer questions about the first season in general and episode 10 in particular it was impossible not to jump at the opportunity to pick his brain for one last time this season. Damien season one was a slow build, not in the pacing of each episode but in the way Mazzara and the writing team allowed the evolution of the titular character, played by Bradley James, to unfold. Damien Thorn was destined to be the Antichrist, however the writers never once took the easy way out when displaying Damien’s humanity and morality.

Speaking to a small group of journalists, Mazzara discussed the detailed research that went into each episode, that hand that emerges from the grave, Simone’s arc over the season, staging the final scenes of episode 10 and how they connect to the final scene of The Omen, and his personal favorite scene from season one’s finale.

Glen Mazzara Interview:

Do you already have season two planned out?

Glen Mazzara: I knew how this was going to lay out for the most part. I knew the emotional journey and I actually have some episodes that I’m very interested in writing, some very specific episodes. What’s been an incredible gift is to have such a talented cast. I really do spend a lot of time thinking about writing for them and what aspect of those characters we want to bring out. I have very specific thoughts about a season two. I know how it starts, I know it ends, I know specific episodes in the middle. This is just me thinking about it when I’m driving around. I haven’t even started working on it with writers. I really hope I get the chance.”

What was the big catalyst for you that you wanted to explore this particular idea?

Glen Mazzara: “I really took very seriously the concept that Damien is an Antichrist. I have spoken about how Christ, Jesus Christ – as opposed to George Christ, but I’m talking about Jesus Christ – he’s fully God and fully human. Damien would have to be, the Antichrist, fully human and fully evil, fully devil. I think that’s very interesting and I wanted that humanity there. I think a lot of people were expecting that he was just going to be some type of demigod, that he was just going to be all evil and committed, and I want to see that struggle because I think a good horror film always keeps the audience guessing as to what’s really going on. Guessing as to what’s real, what’s not real, what’s supernatural, what’s not, and keeps you uncomfortable and in suspense. And so to do that on a TV show, I think the tension comes from within the characters. Certainly you have a lot of storylines, but I needed to have a very complex character to explore.”

The complexity and the human element makes it interesting.

Glen Mazzara: “Thank you. It gives a lot to play with other characters. For example, as Damien is developing his power, learning more, going down a particular path, going through a process of denial, anger, acceptance, all of that stuff, we’ve got all of that covered in the season but he affects other people. Simone [played by Megalyn Echikunwoke]goes through an arc, Amani [played by Omid Abtahi] goes through an arc, Ann Rutledge [played by Barbara Hershey] goes through an arc in which she is, surprisingly, humanized by her experience with Damien. We just think when we meet her, ‘Oh, she’s just going to be a Machiavellian power broker,’ and look at the intricate work that Barbara did throughout the season, in which she has many emotionally compelling, heart-breaking scenes. The show is mercurial by design.”

You are incorporating religion into the show, especially regarding the theme of seven. In the Vatican City scene in the finale, the names of the seven churches that are mentioned in Revelations are surrounding the daggers of Megiddo. What was the thought process in incorporating the religion so seamlessly and how it became the show’s foundation?

Glen Mazzara: “When I first approached this I really thought about Jesus Christ. If Jesus was a carpenter from a backwater town in Galilee, with no power, how does that person start a movement that sweeps through the entire world and is still standing 2,000 years later and has effected billions of people over 2,000 years? That’s amazing. But he starts and he’s powerless, you know? What was interesting about the promise of the Messiah at that time, when people thought the Messiah was going to be a great General that was going to deliver Israel from the Roman Empire, right? So I’m familiar with this; I’m interested in this, I’ve done a lot of reading about this. Now how do you tell that story in a modern way? An Antichrist who has to be seen as a Messiah, I think people would expect him to be an evil Senator or something like that. I said, ‘No, we’re going to come at it from a totally different point of view.’ Some people got it, some people didn’t. I really wanted to explore the meaning of religion. I have this line and I hope we get a season two, and I would write it into the script somewhere. It’s easy for a demagogue to get somebody to kill for them, it’s hard for a Messiah to get people to die for them. You have to love that character to be able to die.

Look at in the finale, Amani is a martyr, possibly – we’re not sure who’s coming out of the grave. He’s willing to give up his life for his friend. That’s really interesting. Look at the conversion of Detective Shay. Look at the look in his eyes. There are these personal moments that are religious. I think what happens a lot of times in Hollywood is people look at religion in a very cynical way, and religion’s important to many, many people and I wanted to really examine that. Sister Greta’s faith when she’s in the grave and she says, ‘I’m not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,’ that’s what – I’m not sure if you were raised Catholic, that’s what Catholics say before the Communion. That’s directly from the Mass.

Damien’s last line is what Jesus supposedly said before he died on the cross. So being raised Catholic, understanding that faith from the inside out, gave me a lot of material that I wanted to examine in a very respectful way. Now, the show is still an entertainment. It’s a horror film in 10 parts. We took that stuff very seriously, but we never looked down at the religious aspects or the religious feelings or thinking of our character. We’re with those characters and I think sometimes on TV those characters are comical, those characters can be two-dimensional. They’re not treated respectfully by writers, let’s say. That was something that was a mandate for this show in the writer’s room right away. We really talked about questions of philosophy and religion, and humanity’s need to find meaning. That’s what we’re really taking on.

Let me just say, we wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining. I find sometimes when shows do handle that it can feel didactic, it can feel preachy. We also had a balance we needed to strike, and fortunately I had a fantastic team of writers that really challenged the material, and we made sure we didn’t fall into any of these traps.”

Along with making it not sound so archaic and not sound so heavy for the viewers, you also created conversations about not just religion, but some of taboo topics including suicide and negligence in veteran care. It’s been set up very tastefully and with the utmost care and respect.

Glen Mazzara: “Well thank you. We spent a lot of time trying to get that done. We wanted the show to feel like it was grounded in this world and we wanted to look at that. I just saw some stuff that was really gratifying on Twitter where people were saying that they…this one person said that they were in a dark place before this show and I think people, they turn to TV for some meaning. They look for entertainment but you can always find meaning in shows and I wanted to say something. I don’t know exactly what I wanted to say or I wanted to say a lot of different things at once, but this wasn’t just slapping this together. We spent a lot of time going on a journey as writers and actors and as directors. We spent a lot of time inhabiting this world and thinking about it. It’s nice that at the end of the season, people are getting that. I don’t know if that was readily apparent at first, but we did our homework.”

If I can ask you about that final scene where Damien turns to the camera, was that in your mind the entire time? How did that come about? What was the decision process behind that particular scene?

Glen Mazzara: “That was very early on. That last scene was designed…it was sketched out, let’s say…before we even sold the show. I knew at the end of the season Damien needed to enter a Faustian bargain. I wanted that process. I wanted season one to be about a guy who’s coming around and he’s going to sacrifice himself to commit evil. That’s just bananas, but that’s what we wanted it to be. The Faustian bargain signed in his blood was something we were always shooting for. We started to develop it. I would say take a look at the end of episode one, he’s alone in a mirror, he’s looking in a mirror. His wound, the 666 is bleeding. Now it’s bleeding at the end of 10. There are shots that are set up 10 episodes before and everything, so we really knew we had to do that.

Then we started thinking about…I don’t remember where it was. It was probably when we had the scripts for the first few episodes and we were thinking about the Faustian bargain for episode six, then we got picked up for 10 and we moved it back and I wrote the script. I think as we started talking about the script and started getting into everything coming together, because when you’re designing this you want to really be sure when you’re getting to that last scene, where’s Shay? Where’s Amani? Where’s Ann? We always knew it was about Simone, we didn’t know where the setting was. As the pieces start falling into place, that was really the final piece of the puzzle. I think that came together in the back half of the season. It came together before the script was written, I believe, but it was just something that we, as horror fans, knew we needed and it made sense.

I love the idea that if this is a show about the devil in some extent, the show is serpentine and it constantly curls around itself and now that you have the last shot of the season, brings you back to the last shot of a movie 40 years ago, that’s just really fun for me as a horror writer. That was a tremendous amount of fun. That’s just one of the things that I think we’ve done on our show that other shows have not done. I think we’ve kind of pushed ourselves in ways. The way we kind of kept re-inventing the show. There were certain things that we did. The idea that we use the clips, the idea that we had a spirit inhabit seven wounded soldiers. I hadn’t seen that in a horror movie. There were a lot of things that we kept throwing in and to be able to curl back around to that final shot, that was something that our show can do that I don’t think any other show can do.”

We see Ann cut 666 in her skin in one of the earlier episodes. If you get a season two are we going to see more of that angle? Is there something more to that?

Glen Mazzara: “Well, actually that cutting was our attempt to examine something that is said in both the Book of Revelation and the original movie. The priest who is killed when the thing falls off the church, when the steeple falls off the top of the church – the lightning rod falls off. The photographer Jennings said he had a 666 on his inner thigh. That was a tricky thing for us as writers because we said, ‘Well, why? I thought Damien has the 666 and wouldn’t the Antichrist be marked with the 666? Why would his follower? And is that priest actually a follower?’ It’s something that was in the original script and as we started talking about it, we saw in the Book of Revelation that it says that his followers will be marked by the 666 as well.

So, that led to this. We wanted to make sure that the audience understood that she was part of this larger conspiracy group that had been around since before his birth. You see in the finale Lyons says, ‘We’ve been around for centuries.’ It’s sort of tying her into that. Now, would we go back and see that type of creepiness? Sure. I think there’s a lot of stuff that we would see in a season two. I think we’re just getting started and I would like to even push further, and there’s characters I have in mind that I’d like to introduce. There’s a whole big story, but Ann Rutledge is obviously… I think the relationship between Ann and Damien is sort of the wicked heart of the show. Yeah, I would certainly examine her worship of Damien, let’s say, or her following of Damien, in depth.”

Was John Lyons in it more for the power and is Ann in it more for Damien, specifically?

Glen Mazzara: “That’s exactly right. His wife, Margot, says that his intent is to lead one of the 10 armies, to wear one of the 10 diadems. She says that in episode seven, so he is looking for power. He is looking for power. Look at what he does, he’s trying to control people, he’s trying to do that. She very much understands Damien’s heart and she realizes that he needs them. She doesn’t know, I’ll be very clear, no one knows exactly how this is going to come around. She said, ‘I can feel we’re on the eve of his ascension,’ but she’s not exactly sure what the miracle is. But she can feel things are progressing to where he will come into his own. She wants that. She, I think, wants to be first among his worshipers. She wants to be, in a sense, if Damien is the Antichrist, she’s a Mother Mary figure. Where she cares about him as you would a son, but she realizes that he belongs to history. He belongs to the world; he belongs to other powers.

I think that she has consistently shown that she’s not in it for her own glory, but only for Damien’s glory, whereas Lyons is more of the player. And what I am happy about in that last episode is he gets outplayed. She is also a master player. One of the things, if I can tell you, one of the things that I give a lot of credit to the writers for is that look at all of the well developed female characters on stage at the end with different points of view, and really affecting action and not just being passive. I feel that this is a show that did a good job on that front, if I could say so myself. I felt like we had tremendous actresses come in and join the cast and then we wrote for them, and we developed story, and they all affected Damien in a different way. I was pleased with the amount of story that was driven by those women. [Laughing] So the idea that John Lyons ends up getting outplayed was very satisfying.”

Damien Season 1 Episode 10
Omid Abtahi and Robin Weigert in ‘Damien’ (Photo by Ben Mark Holzberg)

I thought I was the only one who didn’t know whether that was Amani’s hand coming up out of the grave or not. Are we supposed to be left wondering if that’s his hand and if it is his hand, how does he return? Is there some other hint that was dropped about how he comes back?

Glen Mazzara: “That could be his hand, it could also be Greta’s hand. The worst thing that could happen is that we don’t get a season twoand you don’t get an answer to that question because I promise you… And even though I’m in Hollywood, I do not lie, and I don’t lie to the press. I know whose hand it is and I know exactly what that story is. Not just, ‘Oh, it’s this.’ I know the scenes, I know the episodes, I know what that is. It would be a shame not to write that because I think it’s just bizarre and weird, and whenever I feel like that that usually turns into a good scene. I would like the opportunity to answer those questions, but I do have that figured out.”

If we don’t get a season two are you at least going to tell the viewers? Will we get a Tweet, at least, about what happened?

Glen Mazzara: “I refuse to accept the possibility that I may not get a season two.”

Good answer.

Glen Mazzara: “I’m not going to take that bait. You will find out when there’s a season two, okay?”

Fair enough.

Were the scenes with Simone cleaning Damien’s feet and then her execution and revival purposeful allusions to Jesus Christ?

Glen Mazzara: “Yes, yes. To be very honest, imagine being in my shoes as a showrunner and you write a scene between two characters. Now everyone’s running around, everyone’s trying to find Damien, we’ve got SWAT teams with laser sights and we’ve got dogs and we’ve got magical women, and little girls with their eyes taped shut, and I stop the action to have someone wash somebody’s feet. You could imagine I received notes on that part of the script, and I said, ‘We absolutely have to have it. I need that scene, it is important. It shows that she is a religious player in this story.’ There’s a bit of a Christ figure for her, and very often Christ figures are solely men. But the idea that she would be more compassionate – she doesn’t have an evil side for the most part – she doesn’t really have an evil side, we’ve played her as a force of good, and there’s a lot of evil in this particular episode. Look at the first act break, the execution of the nuns, the mass grave, the being buried alive. There’s a tremendous amount of evil in this. The opening scene with the shootings and the suicide. Tremendous amount of evil. To have that human compassion in the face of all that evil is important. It also gives her the stage, because we know she is worthy, she is a good, she is worthy of Damien’s sacrifice of his soul.

And then I don’t know if you can catch this but she steps forward when Shay raises his gun. She steps forward to save Damien and that’s why she takes the bullet. She sacrifices herself and the bullet hits her and her head snaps back and her blood is on Damien. Then he raises her from the dead. That’s a miracle. That will lead people in the future to see him as a Messiah. He raised the dead. He’s Jesus raising Lazarus, if you will. But she also is resurrected. Well what does that mean for her? I have, I think, an interesting storyline for her moving forward is what does that mean? She was raised and how do people see her?

We don’t do anything straight here. We try to make everything, like I said, serpentine and as complex and as layered as possible. All of that was by design, and if you were to ask me where is Simone seasons from now I have answers for that, too. She’s a very important character for the show.”

Just from learning her last name (Baptiste) it seemed destined that she’d be an integral part of Damien’s path forward.

Glen Mazzara: “She also goes through a process. She’s kind of gaining her voice. Every time she speaks up, people tell her to be quiet. At the end she even has locusts flying out of her mouth. It’s about gaining her voice. But the way we tell stories here on Damien is we don’t follow the rule book, to be honest. To have a character, and she was always described as very significant, but look how we introduce her in episode one. She’s not really driving action. She’s not there. You sort of feel like she’s just a character filling out the cast. No, she was always, always, from before we sold the show, she was always a major character but we just decided to subvert the audience’s expectation and introduce her as sort of an afterthought.

Again, what you expect is not what you’re going to see. It’s always different. It was always by design and I’m not sure that when the show first came out people got that. I’m very, very satisfied that you see that all the answers are there. It’s all, ‘Oh, we’re watching this kind of story.’ It’s come together. I really can’t thank the writers and directors and actors enough, and producers, because people thought I was crazy to try something this intricate.”

Did Shay actually convert or was he just overcome with emotion and dropped to his knees?

Glen Mazzara: “I think that’s a moment of conversion. I’ll give you that. I’m not going to hide that. I think he has witnessed a tremendous amount of supernatural stuff and he I think witnesses something extraordinary and he’s emotionally moved. So, yes, I think he is about to become a disciple.”

(As the interview concluded, Glen pointed out one of his favorite shots in episode 10.)

Glen Mazzara: “Watch as [Shay’s] driving off…I love this shot – I don’t know why I love this shot but it just scares me. He’s driving away and we see the swing is still in motion. The swing swings twice and it’s empty. The third time the girl is on the swing. We never cut to add that girl so watch that. [Laughing] It scared the shit out of me. I think it’s kind of cool. Again, there’s a lot of stuff hidden in there.”