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This Life showrunner Joseph Kay takes us on a ‘Joyride’

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 207, “Joyride.”

As we approach the final three episodes of This Life‘s impressive second season, several storylines are coming to a head. In Sunday’s new episode, “Joyride,” written by showrunner Joseph Kay, David’s (Louis Ferreira) two lives are converging in uncomfortable ways, Oliver (Kristopher Turner) is battling mental health issues, Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) is discovering her sham marriage may not be a sham, and Emma (Stephanie Janusauskas) is dealing with her unexpected feelings for Miranda (Devery Jacobs). And don’t forget about Natalie (Torri Higginson), who–after reeling from the news that she is in partial remission–is learning how to be someone other than a cancer patient or the wife someone left behind.

“We realized that it might be scary for her to have to live, to be able to beat cancer and to have to reevaluate the way her marriage ended,” Kay says of the decision to write some ambiguity into Natalie’s terminal diagnosis.

Taking a break from editing the sound on This Life‘s upcoming Season 2 finale, Kay discusses this week’s major plot points and tells us what to expect as the season winds down.

A couple of weeks ago, we found out Natalie’s cancer is in partial remission. What was your motivation for giving her a reprieve, however temporary it might be?
Joseph Kay: The more we thought about Natalie–you know, she has this sort of existential crisis, ‘I might die,’ and that comes with all these inherent stakes–but the more that we dug into the character of Natalie, and tried to find what makes her tick, and tried to find the complexity, we realized that a really interesting thing to ask Natalie is, ‘What if I live?’

Her sister calls her in the very first episode of the show and says, “You’ve wasted your life,” and that’s the same day that she gets her diagnosis, and we sort of realized that maybe she has [wasted her life] . . . And it’s all wrapped up in her past and the choices that she’s made, and we get to that point in Episode 206 where they tell her that she’s always hid behind everything, and we sort of came to that on our own in understanding this character. We realized that it might be scary for her to have to live, to be able to beat cancer and to have to reevaluate the way her marriage ended, to see it as less black and white, and that she really had spent her whole life only focusing on the kids. What would that mean for her if she survived?

In this week’s episode, we see David torn between his responsibilities to Natalie and Romy and his second family, Kate and Jesse. Is he sincere in his efforts to be a father to both families? 
We really wanted to let the audience see it from his perspective, and this ongoing attempt to humanize him and to try to deconstruct Natalie’s simpler version of how their marriage ended and the kind of person David was. I think he wants to try, but trying is hard. So I think, as a fan of David’s, that he’s not lying when he says he wants to try, but I think he’s also aware of his limitations as a human being. He knows that he has to let people down sometimes. I believe, or believed when we were writing it, that he wants to try, but the trying is not going to be easy. I hope that when we see it from his perspective people are seeing him as a complicated person and a complicated situation in which there is no easy way to please everybody. In fact, it’s impossible. We don’t know if he’s going to make the right decision, but I think we’ve seen him wanting to try.

After David misses Romy’s dinner, she sneaks into his house and leaves him some of her work. Why did she do that?
She wants him to notice her. She’s the one who brought him back here, and she’s the one of everybody who tried to give him a chance at the beginning of this season, and she’s smart enough to know that she can’t trust him, but she wants somebody to notice her. She’s really torn between wanting this secret life where she’s out there sort of proving herself based on her skills on her own, and also being this little kid who wants her dad to notice her and be impressed with what she’s able to do.

So we have the scene where her mentor of her job says to her, “Why are you doing this? Why do you care what anyone thinks when all that really matters is what you think, or maybe the one or two people who care about you?” And she wants him to be one of those people. I think she’s trying to drag him in a more profound way into her life. And, for whatever reason, she doesn’t feel that she can just come clean with her mom about this stuff.

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Emma has been struggling with her identity all season, and there are scenes in “Joyride” that suggest that struggle includes her sexuality. Is that an accurate interpretation?  
Yeah, I think we were interested in the idea of Emma not quite knowing who she is in every sense of the word. She takes a job and starts lying about who she is and manufacturing another home life for herself, partially because her home life is kind of grim in a way, but also because she doesn’t quite know who she is. So she is the kind of person we think who is a little bit malleable in terms of her own identity. She’s kind of like an open book, and she wants very much to be liked, and so we’re interested in the idea of Emma’s fluid approach to maybe her own sexuality being in line with her blank slate personality. Her sister even, in Season 1, is accusing her of not knowing [who she is]. There’s a void, she says, where her personality should be. In contrast to Romy, who so clearly knows who she is, Emma just doesn’t really know who she is. So, yeah, you’re right, the suggestiveness of that scene asks, ‘Does Emma like this girl?’

And we want to see Emma explore that, and I think it’s a surprise to her. It’s not something that she thought was going to happen. I think it’s in context with her ongoing struggle with who she is. And it was a surprise to us to. I think like with the Natalie thing that I mentioned, when we thought back on Emma’s Season 1 relationship with this boy, she didn’t seem comfortable with that either. She felt as though it was something that she was supposed to want, and she liked him in some sense, but, to us, she didn’t seem comfortable. She wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. So we just felt as it was evolving and, as it was really important to her to have Miranda’s affection or respect or whatever, that that in Emma went from being something as simple as, ‘Oh, this girl’s kind of cool, and I want her to like me,’ to ‘No, I really want her to like me,’ and that she’s surprised by it. We wanted to see where it went.

Oliver continued to spiral out of control, and we learned he might be bipolar. Why did you want to tackle that issue?
Actually, there’s a reference at the end of Season 1, in the episode in which Oliver goes home and sort deals with his boyfriend who died and he sees his therapist. And he’s ready to go back home, and all he’s taking is this one belonging, and his therapist actually says in that scene that she’s worried that he’s hypermanic again, and he says no. I just think, in digging into Oliver, he’s a guy who hovers in his life between depression and sort of the opposite and the choices he’s made to cut himself off from his family.

I also think that mental illness is generally underrepresented on television and, when we wrote that scene last year, it just made sense. It sort of filled in a blank with the character that maybe we didn’t know was happening. We knew he was depressive, but it just made sense for us, and we didn’t want to back away from it, which we could have done, because it was a really, really small reference, and most people didn’t even notice. But it just felt like who he was, and we wanted to find a way to access it. And then the whole issue of Oliver being a creative person who thinks he has to harness some of his mania to be a prolific creative person, I think is worth exploring.

During her immigration interview, Maggie seemed to realize she has feelings for Raza. Does this mean their sham marriage could end up being real? 
It means that Maggie has to face that she actually has feelings in a situation that she thought was purely transactional, and we asked her this season to maybe take a look at why she’s so generally dismissive of people feeling things for each other, and we really wanted to make a situation where that sort of attachment might sneak up on her and see how she deals with it. So, yeah, from Maggie’s side, it turns out that she likes him. And that’s a simple device, but with Maggie–who’s so unpredictable when it comes to relationships and affections–that was just really kind of exciting. We went into the season knowing that she seemed kind of like Teflon, emotionally, and we wanted to make her not.

I’ve really enjoyed Hamza Haq as Raza this season. 
He’s good! We also think he’s great. We looked everywhere for that character, because we wanted whoever played him to be authentic, and we auditioned in London, we auditioned all over, and we cast a guy who lived in Montreal. And he brought himself into the part in a big way, his own background, parts of his own family, and I think he did a really nice job.

What can you tease about the finale three episodes of the season? 
Just that we’re all really excited about them. There’s a momentum to the end of this season that I think begins in Episode 206 and generally carries through. I’m thinking 209 and 210 are some of the strongest episodes we’ve done. Big stuff happens, and we’re looking forward to seeing how everybody reacts to it.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

A.R. Wilson

A.R. Wilson

A.R. Wilson has been interviewing actors, writers and musicians for over 20 years. In addition to TV-Eh, her work has appeared in Curve, ROCKRGRL, Sound On Sight and Digital Journal. A native of Detroit, she grew up watching Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant on CBC, which led to a lifelong love of Canadian television. Her perpetual New Year's resolution is to become fluent in French.
A.R. Wilson
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