'Complications' Boss on the Bloody Finale, Organized Crime Ties in Possible Season 2

"That’s not the same John that started the season," creator and showrunner Matt Nix tells THR about the season one finale.
Daniel McFadden/USA Network

[Warning: This post contains spoilers from the season one finale of Complications, “Critical Condition.”]

Dr. John Ellison (Jason O'Mara) finally convinced the two gangs to make peace in the season finale of Complications. But it came at a price. After realizing that it was Det. Holden (Brent Sexton), who had kicked off the entire gang war by stealing the drug stash for his own self-serving interests, the two faced off in the facility where Antoine was. John shot and killed Holden, but only after Holden had killed Darius (Chris Chalk), who had come to John's aide despite their differences.

"The good guys’ victories don’t come cheap," series creator Matt Nix tells The Hollywood Reporter. "When you don’t have the force of law backing you up, when you’re just out there trying to solve a problem on your own, no matter how hard you hit someone, unless they’re dead, they can get up and hit you back."

The finale tied up a lot of loose ends, but in the final moments showed John getting a call from a mysterious person asking him about the cancer center he destroyed. So who was calling John? What do they want? And what comes next now that the gangs have made peace? Nix talked to THR about all that and more.

Why did you decide that that Darius had to die?

People don’t just go in and solve the problem and everybody’s happy and they go home and the good guys win and the bad guys lose and that’s that. For me, anyway, it felt right that at the moment that I loved Darius the most, when he was at his most heroic and was closest to John, and where I think John felt that way as well, where he realized, this guy isn’t who I thought he was. He’s an ally. He’s all of these things. At the moment where John is realizing that, he loses him, and that felt right to me in terms of giving the victory at the end a cost in some real dramatic way. That said though, I thought the crew was going to kill me because everybody loves Chris Chalk so much. I was in the makeup trailer and they were like, "What are you doing? No!"

Obviously, that was a huge twist about Holden. How long did you know that things would play out that way? How did you decide on that twist?

That we really knew from the beginning. A lot of it came out of the theme of the season – this idea that John goes into a situation that looks very much like one thing; that he thinks he has his head around and then realizes that the causes of this thing go much deeper. In a lot of ways, he was wrong about his initial diagnosis of this problem. So in playing out the analogy between this situation and the disease, we thought of this season almost like it’s a very long version of a medical show played out in Atlanta. The source of this problem not only isn’t what I thought it was, it actually comes from my world, the world that I come from and that I associate myself with. The source of this problem is not over there. It’s over here with the stuff that I know.

How do you think that’s going to change John’s perspective?

He had the veil lifted from his eyes, and so going forward, I think he has a better understanding that any situation that explodes from the violence is going to have much deeper causes and much deeper roots than it might appear from the surface. Practically speaking, where the finale lands puts him into an interesting relationship to the Atlanta police in that he now solidly has an enemy within the Atlanta police, but he has an enemy that he can’t really make a move against without exposing himself. Part of the thought in the finale was where he realizes, “Well, the best solution to a problem is not always to simply go to the authorities and announce there’s a problem.” Also, this is someone who’s come through this crucible and been tested and is now stronger for it and has acquired certain skills and certain ways of looking at the world and so the next challenge to come along is something that he can really grapple with in a new way.

How do you see that relationship with the police that he now has playing out in a possible season two?

As a doctor, you want to help patients. You want to ease pain. You want to prevent violence and help people. Once you decide that it’s acceptable to cross a line and go out into the world and do that, not in a medical context, it’s pretty hard to put that genie in the bottle. You’ve already basically decided that this is morally acceptable and something that you can do, so how do you decide, I’m willing to do it for this person, but I’m not willing to do it for this person, even though I’m now better at it. Even though I’m now much more equipped than I was the first time? … Once Batman’s put on the cape and gone out into the city to fight crime, how does he stop being Batman without constantly observing situations and knowing, I could simply put on the suit and deal with this problem?

Thinking about his situation, vis-a-vis the police, he knows by the end of the season, 'They can’t really make a move against me because they’re going to expose themselves, or the guy that I know in the police can’t really make the move against me because he’d expose himself,' which is certainly not the way John was thinking at the beginning of the season. That’s not the same John that started the season. But, moving forward, then you get into questions like, if he can’t move against you, can you make him do something? Does he become an ally? Does he become, if not an ally, at least somebody that you can call upon and coerce into doing things? Because certainly if you get busted, he gets busted along with you. That relationship could be very interesting.

The finale ends on an interesting note when John gets that phone call about the cancer center. What can you say about who that voice is on the other end of the phone? Who is he with? What does he want?

That’s the mystery going into the next season, but one of the things that is most fun about doing the show is that the problems don’t have to be close-ended. The truth is, people have ongoing interests. They wake up the next day. They don’t think of themselves as the bad guys. They have businesses to run and interests to protect and so this idea of a corrupt cancer center – those places really exist, it’s a problem. Recently there was the bust of the doctor who was prescribing cancer medication to people who didn’t have cancer just because it lined his pockets. These places are all over, and they are almost by definition, organized crime. Not organized crime in the sense of the Mafia necessarily, although occasionally they are, but you can’t run a corrupt cancer center and have arrangements in house and protect yourself without having an organization. If one of your outfits blows up, you’re going to have the resources to figure out who did it; you’re going want to settle accounts. At the same time, if you find out it’s a doctor, well, that could be useful. I think it sets up all sorts of interesting possibilities.

It sounds like, whoever this new threat is and this new voice, it will be a huge shift from whom John went up against in season one.

The voice is Jay Karnes. We had him on Burn Notice, he was obviously terrific as Dutch on The Shield. And yes, it’s a very different world. … The character of Wes this season was John's entrée into the cancer clinic. He’s a spoiled rich kid, and that world is certainly dangerous and certainly violent, but it’s a very different thing than the world of street gangs. We talked to gang experts and people who work really closely to gangs, there’s a certain amount of self-serving activity that’s just for profit or for the love of destruction, but a lot of it actually is pro-socially motivated. There’s an underserved community that needs a de facto police force, an underserved community that needs an income source, that needs jobs, that needs something for everybody to do.

When you look at the world of people scamming Medicare or people running corrupt cancer clinics that's a different class of criminal and in a lot of ways, morally worse, because these are people with a lot of other options. These are people who have advanced degrees. These are people who, rather than try my trade legitimately, and make a very good salary, I’m going to actively hurt people and make a ton of money. If you’re balancing the moral books between a gang and somebody who’s injecting people who don’t have cancer with cancer medication, I’ll go with the guy who’s taking care of his housing project.

The two gangs in the end were finally able to make peace in the finale. How many of those characters and of those two worlds will we see in season two?

He has a different relationship with them now. They’re not getting brunch together on Sundays, but he knows who they are, they know who he is, they know that ultimately he was trying to resolve things and trying to take care of people. … I think that those are resources he can call on later. The idea is also not to do, like, 'Yeah, forget about season one. All those relationships are gone.' All those relationships carry forward, including the new relationship he has with his wife. Samantha now knows things and she has her own resources. While she’s not enthusiastic about John getting into trouble, she is certainly a mama bear when it comes to protecting her family, and as a lawyer, she has skills of her own, and one of the things I want to do, should we be so fortunate to get a season two, is be able to show a new side of Samantha and really get deeper into Gretchen’s backstory and all of those things.

John and his wife made a lot of progress in that last episode. What do you think it was about these two people that brought them back together and made John able to move past her infidelity?

They have both suffered this terrible wound and they’ve dealt with it. They’ve both dealt with it in fundamentally unproductive ways. Like John by shutting down and trying to pretend that nothing's happened and not expressing his feelings, and Samantha by turning somewhere else for the comfort that she needs. From a relationship perspective, this season was about reopening that old wound and cleaning out the mess that’s in there and sewing it back up. It will definitely leave a scar but it’s no longer a festering, infected open wound.

I also think John is furious with her but at the same time, he’s a good person. He’s looking at his own behavior and realizing it would be the height of hypocrisy to say, "You dealt with your anger and rage and disappointment and mourning in an unproductive way, whereas I simply got involved in a gang war and nearly got us all killed." He realizes that, if they’re going to move on as a family, he needs to be with them.

Finally, what is the latest that you’ve heard from USA about a possible season two? How confident are you feeling?

It’s a little hard for everybody in cable right now to know what’s up and what’s down. The world has changed so much, but one thing we’ve demonstrated is we have an audience that comes back every week. … It’s just so hard to get attention and what I would want to do is take the audience base that we have now and really reach out and aggressively go after more viewers who maybe didn’t see season one, and because, as I say, I think the big strength of the show is that people who are in are in.  A number of people are watching the show whether it’s live or live plus seven or live plus three, it’s remained remarkably consistent since episode one.