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How will Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) get out of this one?
USA Network’s recently renewed Graceland concludes its freshman run with a finale that picks up after Briggs disappears for parts unknown. The season closer also marks the reveal of drug boss Jangles, which comes as the house divides between Briggs and Mike (Aaron Tveit).
“There will definitely be some firm lines drawn at the end of this finale, but at the same time, certain lines get blurred,” creator-showrunner Jeff Eastin tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There is an interesting grey area that the characters go in. They start to realize Briggs’ journey has affected their own.”
In a chat with THR, Eastin previews the final episode of the season, his sophomore season plans and the season’s biggest surprises.
First of all, congratulations on the renewal. Do you have thoughts on where you see season two going?
Oh yeah. I had several meetings with USA to discuss season two, so I’ve got a pretty good idea where we’re headed.
The season has been building up to the finale, with everyone circling Briggs. As you were plotting out the season, did anything change in terms of how you envisioned the journey?
This was pretty much how it was planned from the beginning. The overall [arc] was what I initially conceived and pitched to USA, so we had a pretty good idea. The interesting thing about Graceland compared to White Collar is this is a much more serialized show, and going into it, I had some specific ideas in terms of Briggs’ arc, for example: why he goes on this particular journey. We’ve already learned a fair amount about the death of the girl he loved, his heroin addiction. That stuff was all laid out to USA, and to their credit, they said, “Go for it.” When you think USA Network, you don’t necessarily think heroin addiction. I was a little worried when I pitched it, but they were very receptive. The destination is the journey on Graceland. [We get] so much deeper into character dynamics. In my original pilot script Daniel [Sunjata]’s voice was not close to the Paul Briggs I had originally envisioned, but when Daniel came in to the audition, he blew everyone away. I turned Briggs in the show to match Daniel’s voice. I actually like this Paul Briggs better.
Production on Graceland finished prior to the June 6 debut. Were there specific developments or plot points during the season that you wished you could have latched on to or done more with after seeing how viewers reacted?
Yeah, that’s what season two is for, too. When I did season one of White Collar, I had the advantage — or disadvantage, depending on how you looked at it — of being able to see reaction to the show prior to wrapping the season, and on Graceland, I couldn’t do that. But so far, the fan reaction has been exceptionally good. One thing I’m excited about is [that Graceland is] actually gaining viewership — it’s trending up — which is hopefully a good indication people are telling their friends about it or something. Most of the fan reaction has been what we’ve predicted. The best part has been to see the twists that we’ve embedded in the show — for example that Briggs is Odin — that people are really [responding to]. Watching the Graceland TV Twitter feed, I can see the “Oh my god!”s or that a lot of people can’t breathe, which is great.
What are you looking to expand on for the second season?
[There are] some things we’ll play up more in season two, just because they had good reactions. For instance, episode three really focused on life in the house and that unique relationship they have. That’s something I think, in retrospect, I wish we had done more of this season. We’re going to adjust to that. That’s been the biggest thing, to see that people really did react well to that interaction between the roommates. It was something we hoped for but we’ll do more of that in season two.
So we may see more group interactions instead of the gang on their separate missions?
Yeah, it’s a lot more life in the house as opposed to the Mike-Bello case, which takes a lot of time, and the stuff that happens outside the house. One thing that’s unique about this show is everybody has trouble with their roommates but not everybody’s roommates are licensed to carry a gun.
The partnership between Mike and Paige (Serinda Swan) played a significant role in the latter half of the season. Was that something that naturally evolved as filming went on?
That was one that did naturally evolve. Some of it was seeing that Aaron and Serinda had a good, flirty relationship on set. Some of it was intentional, though. In the beginning, we set up the relationship between Charlie and Mike, then we threw in the episode where Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) and Briggs hook up; that was very calculated. That is a scary thing though. White Collar still wins in terms of fan fiction, but I’ve seen quite a bit of fan fiction directed at Graceland. The Mike-Charlie ‘ship seems to be very popular and after that it shifted pretty quickly to Mike and Paige, which was nice to see. Beyond doing the cool DEA/FBI/Customs stuff, we wanted to focus on the relationships between the characters, so the Mike-Paige relationship came out of that.
So you do pay attention to the ‘shipping communities?
I had heard of fan fiction but I never saw the extent that people went to. (Laughs.) Somebody on Twitter sent me a link to some of the better White Collar fan fiction, and once in a while, I’ll check it out and see what people are saying. It’s really fascinating to me and it’s an interesting subculture that arises on a lot of these shows. In my opinion, if you have people who are [taking part], you’ve made it. (Laughs.)
What should we expect in the season finale?
The finale is a culmination of everything that we’ve led up to this point. As far as Briggs’ journey goes, it comes full circle. It’s clear now that his journey has been to draw out Jangles, the guy who had burned down the house and killed the woman Briggs was in love with, and kill him. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “You set out for revenge, dig two graves.” That’s what inspired this entire season, at least for me, in terms of Briggs’ driven desire for revenge. That revenge energy that he’s putting out into the universe is really starting to affect the people around him.
Mike has seen a lot over the course of the season. How does his story wrap up Thursday?
To compare it to Star Wars, Mike’s [journey has been] a little bit like the Jedi journey. The student has become the master. He starts out as a newbie and he learns from Briggs, and what Mike has really given up in his pursuit of Briggs is his innocence. As he pursues Briggs, the way he catches him is by becoming Briggs, and that’s something he begins to reflect on this year and becomes a fairly heavy theme in season two: Mike realizing to the extent that he’s changed over his time at Graceland.
Is Briggs ultimately a good guy?
In my mind, Briggs has always been a good guy. He’s sort of what he is, which is somebody whose heart is in the right place and means to do the right thing but his desire to do the right thing gets lost in the method that he [uses]. To me, that’s the more interesting thing about Briggs. Ultimately, it’s up to each person who’s watching the show [to decide] if Briggs is good or bad. But I do know his heart is in the right place; his desire is never to do evil.
What can you say about the final image or moment in Thursday’s closer?
Compared to some of the more intense cliffhangers this season, this last moment is on a deeper character level and is probably more subtle than some of the ones we’ve done this season. It’s not as loud.
Graceland wraps up season one on Thursday at 10 p.m. on USA.
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