When we last spoke with Coroner showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell, the series had just premiered to solid numbers and the pair hoped they had a winner on their hands. Now, as the season finale approaches, they know the show is a bona fide hit and are rightfully proud of what the cast and crew accomplished during the first season.
“It’s the kind of show where everyone could really bring their artistry,” says Mitchell, on the line from icy Toronto. “And we call it the Collective—it’s the Coroner Collective. I don’t mean for it to sound cheesy, but it’s really true. It’s this continuum of people, and it’s just been a beautiful process.”
Brebner, enjoying warmer weather in New York, concurred, saying, “I’m happy to have made something that was made in a respectful way, which is actually kind of a huge thing. That feels like a milestone for me to have worked in a way where that was also a priority.”
After last week’s shocking penultimate episode—which flashed up “To Be Continued…” just as Jenny (Serinda Swan) encountered the bloody corpse of former coroner Dr. Peterson (Michael Healey)—we had to get Brebner and Mitchell on the phone to preview Monday’s big season finale, entitled “Bridges,” and provide their closing thoughts on Season 1.
Congratulations on a great first season. I was impressed with the way you were able to mix some big issues, including mental illness and police violence, into the season in such a natural, organic way. Was that hard to achieve?
Morwyn Brebner: I feel like it’s not hard in a sense because I think sometimes people think that tones are mutually exclusive, that a show is serious or a show is funny or whatever. I guess we’re really trying to be in the tone of life, which fluctuates between the two. So I feel like we’ve been able to find a good balance because we’ve kept ourselves open to that balance. I know in terms of the writing in the writer’s room—and also in terms of the beautiful visuals of the show—that we really have tried to be open, to not be set in a mode but to try and allow life into the show in a way that feels like life is. I feel like every show has sort of a range of tones and that you can move within that range and it can feel authentic, and we really have been striving for that.
Adrienne Mitchell: Also what really helps keep things from becoming too didactic or issue orientated is the very specific and personal take the characters have as they move through these scenarios and cases. I mean, the writers, Morwyn and the team, really can come up with it, and Seneca [Aaron], Episode 6 was something he wrote. There was just a very personal take, and he also comes from a West Indian background and could bring that to the story and Donovan McAvoy’s perspective, and I think it just gives it a reality and makes it more organic. That’s the thing, you can’t really separate it from the personal, and when you can’t separate it from the personal, it feels more organic. It doesn’t feel like just putting something on top of a story, the story’s infused with the characters.
And that’s why having a diverse writer’s room is so important, that authentic mix of perspectives.
MB: The diversity of the writer’s room and the diversity of the cast were a huge strength for the show.
One of the season-long storylines has involved the mystery of the black dog and Jenny’s sister. In Episode 7, we learned that the dog may have killed Jenny’s sister … or maybe not. Will this all get explained in the finale?
M: I’m so spoiler averse, I’m going to let Adrienne answer.
A: Stayed tuned and watch Episode 8. I can say we’re going to go back into that world and truth will be revealed.
I like the fact that you’re dealing with Jenny’s clouded memory of the events and then her father, who has dementia, is not really able to clarify the situation. It adds multiple layers to the mystery and demonstrates the unreliability of memory.
AM: That’s exactly it, that’s a very astute observation. That’s exactly what we’re working with. It’s interesting when things from your past are coming up, and your parent who was there, you don’t know if he is a reliable witness or not. The parent is experiencing dementia, so you have no one to confront in a way that you can usually confront. It’s challenging for her.
We also saw more of Gerald Henry Jones in Episode 7. Kudos on casting Rick Roberts in the role. He has kind of a gentle face, but he can also seem really sinister. Did you have him in mind for the part?
MB: Rick Roberts is an actor with incredible range and he’s so good in this part. We did have him in mind, actually, and he did audition, and it was just like a coup de foudre, it was like, he’s the guy.
AM: Yes, we have an amazing casting director, Lisa Parasyn, who understands our aesthetic and is also presenting us with people who are not the usual suspects for any role. It’s almost like this unspoken communication between us where you’re [at first] going, ‘Well, that’s not [who I had in mind],’ and then you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, yes.’ And she knows that we’re the type who will really respond to unusual ideas. So it’s this great bouncing off with her and Morwyn and me, and we get these really exciting casting results.
MB: I feel like Rick brings us a nice layer of nice guy/bad guy and you don’t know in what proportion and you don’t know in what way, and it’s really mysterious.
What can you hint about Jones in the finale? Will McAvoy and Townsend finally take him down?
AM: I can say he comes back, and it will be really compelling. How’s that? It’s an interesting episode because it harkens back to many of the themes that we’ve been building throughout the season. When Morwyn and I started doing this, we really had a desire to treat the whole thing like a feature film, something that’s novelistic and has those elements that run through but also has the cases. Everything is really beautifully intertwined, and I think the last episode will harken back to earlier themes and themes we’re developing in a way that I think will be really poignant and compelling for viewers.
MB: I find it really hard to talk about the show from the outside in a weird way. But I think, from the inside, the finale feels mysterious and correct and exciting and unexpected in the ways that we had hoped it would be.
You also surprised me by bringing back Dr. Peterson, and more, almost making me like him.
MB: Well, we love him as a foil to Jenny. We felt that they brought out interesting things in each other and he was such an interesting person to pair with her in really kind of a little bottle moment. He managed to really get inside her psychology and needle at her at a way that would bring stuff out. We really just loved them together, and that’s why we brought him back.
AM: And life is like this, you know? You can have a certain perspective on somebody, and it may not be the fulsome experience of that person. I love that the situation arises where these two have to show a different side of themselves to each other, and in doing that, they have a new appreciation for each other. And I think that’s really the way life is on some level.
MB: It is completely the way life is. I feel like you know people in different ways and people are themselves in different ways depending on the moment and circumstance. And there is an empathy and a sadness beneath him that’s really evident, and I think that Jenny sees as well. He’s also a person who is unable to overcome a barrier to his full expression of good self, and Jenny has a barrier in her that she is unable to overcome. They’re two people wrestling with that and trying to see each other as individuals over that divide of their own various limitations in the moment. And they do kind of find a sort of synergy together for a while—until it falls apart.
And, boy, did it fall apart. The episode ended with poor dead Dr. Peterson and the second cliffhanger of the season. What does his death mean for Jenny in the finale?
MB: All I can say is that it’s a satisfying ride and I hope that people will feel that it’s a satisfying ride.
AM: It’s going to be a really interesting journey, and things are going to hit you in a really unexpected way. It’s a great season end.
Looking back over the first season, what makes you the proudest?
AM: Wow, that’s a good question. I’m most proud of the creative collaboration between Morwyn, myself, and the team to realize the kind of hybrid way of telling a story, where there’s a really unique balance between personal and case with kind of a quirky sense of humour, yet it was done in a very cinematic way. Before shooting, there was a lot of discussion about tone and how to make it unified, because we’ve got weird bits of humour, we’ve got the personal, we’ve got the case, and there was—not inside our ranks, but outside of our ranks—there was nervousness that we were spending too much time on the personal stories and the personal stories might feel too outside what was happening in the case. But we all felt pretty strongly and stuck to our guns that it was going to work and that it was organic. And, you never know, but I think because Morwyn and I and the team were able to execute this vision, it all just gelled—and it works. It works. Some people might look at this and say, ‘Well, is [the outcome] that unique?’ But it is very unique in terms of all the elements.
We decided when we got together that we weren’t going to get into a rut and keep doing the same thing, we were going to move and shift and change the way human beings do. And I’m just so proud of my work with Morwyn, so proud to have worked with her to bring all of that into a really beautiful alchemy. As a director, I’ve never been more able to execute my vision visually, through my [director of photography] Samy [Inayeh ] and Elisa [Suave], the production designer. To actually be able to achieve that in a ridiculous timeframe and a Canadian TV budget? I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.
MB: I’m very proud of everyone’s work on the show. Everyone worked on it with incredible commitment, and everyone was an artist and brought their artistry to it on every level of the show. I’m proud to have made this show, and I’m proud that it was truly collaborative. And I’m proud to have made something that feels inclusive and diverse, proud to have made something that feels in the tone of life, and I’m so happy to have worked with Adrienne.
Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.