WARNING: The following contains spoilers from the series finale of Flesh and Bone.
Tell us everything you’re feeling about the end of Flesh and Bone.
Starz’s dark ballet drama went out like it came in — dark — but the limited series’ final note was an optimistic one. As Claire (Sarah Hay) sat at her dressing room vanity, processing her star-making turn as the lead in a new ballet, artistic director Paul (Ben Daniels) tried to reclaim his dominance. Running his hand down her chest and across her cheek, Paul asked his new star to tell him everything she was feeling.
What’s in a no? EW spoke with series creator Moira Walley-Beckett about the power of Claire’s answer, the vanquishing of her brother Bryan (Josh Helman), and why at least one of Walley-Beckett’s fellow Breaking Bad scribes is worried about her.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Take me behind that last moment in the finale. What did you want it to accomplish?
MOIRA WALLEY-BECKETT: I wanted to accomplish Claire’s autonomy, her self-sovereignty, her independence. And that’s her epic journey: her search for self and her personal power as a woman and a person. So that’s what I hope for the character, and that’s what I hope people understand.
We saw this playing out through the first season: the balance between trying to find professional success and maintaining your personal agency. How do you see that at work in the ballet world, and do you think it’s possible for Claire to have both?
Absolutely. You know, the ballet world is so complicated, and I think that it’s absolutely possible to have power — to garner respect inside and outside the company as an artist, as a woman, and as a person. For Claire, she had such obstacles when she arrived. She had no sense of her personal strength or what she could ask for, and what she was entitled to as a person and as an artist. I think both for Claire and for dancers, that it’s absolutely possible to be powerful. When you look at some of my favorite dancers — Gillian Murphy, and Stella Radetsky, and Misty Copeland — they are artists, and their value is known.
You have a background in dance. Why did this story in particular stick with you as one you wanted to tell about that environment?
It’s such a ripe, rich world, and there are so many stories to tell. It was a great opportunity for me to tell them, and to tell their story from a distinctly feminine perspective. Claire’s personal obstacles aside, it’s still my journey of sort of showing up weak and valueless and having that narrative perpetuated until I figured out how to deal.
How was the shooting of those final performances? How long did it take?
It was really intense. It took us just under a week. We moved the company to location at SUNY Purchase, which is like an hour and a half outside Manhattan, and we set up shop there. We had a lighting designer in place that was separate from our regular production, because we were lighting for the theater and lighting a stage production. … We had the huge crane shots and special cameras in order to capture the whole proscenium and then worked our way in from there with both ballets. It was grueling. It was grueling for everybody. And super exciting. As weary and fatigued and, in some cases, in pain as some of the dancers were, the work ethic in ballet is so high and so intense that everybody just wordlessly did it one more time, did it one more time, did it one more time. Like, 13 hours later, girls in pointe shoes with swollen feet and bleeding feet, and everybody just did it again.
We see Paul in the wings during that final curtain call looking kind of hesitant. What is he thinking?
[Laughs] Well, that’s the beholder’s share, isn’t it? Because one can suspect all kinds of things. We never find out who put the glass in Claire’s shoe, and there were opportunities for everybody. I put him in there, and what’s easy to say is: He has feelings of envy. He has feelings of excitement. It’s of paramount importance of him that she be brilliant, and he wants to be her and eat her alive at the same time. So all of that is in there. We’ll never know the answer to that question that activates her superpower, as it were: the power of pain.
Shifting gears to Bryan, what made him finally realize after all this time that he needed to walk away from his dynamic with Claire?
Each of the siblings went on their journey of discovery and enlightenment over the course of the eight [episodes], and I think Bryan had a moment, had an epiphany, in her apartment. He heeds the siren call, their codependent call, and he shows up again, because they’re seemingly inextricably tangled, and he has a moment where he realizes that in order to save her he has to cut her free. … She’s already attempting to set herself free. She’s cut off her ponytail, which is his sort of weapon of choice for dominance, and she’s making these forays into her independence. And he makes his, and he chooses to leave. And then, in his moments with Romeo [Damon Herriman], he understands, I think for the first time, that he is the enemy, and that, truly, the purest, most concrete, definite way to leave and to absolve himself of his sins is — as his tattoo represents that he is faithless, he finds faith in that moment.
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Could you tell me more about that tattoo?
It means “infidel” or “faithless,” and our backstory for Bryan is that during his tour in Afghanistan, he did some bad s— and thought some dark thoughts, and, after one of those moments, got that tattoo. And he sort of felt that he could represent it, when really all he wanted was the homing beacon of Claire, and what little he understood of family, to come back to. So he was at war with himself.
What’s going through Romeo’s head when he kills Bryan and carves that tattoo into himself?
For Romeo, in the narrative of his story, he had made Bryan the hero, and over the course of the season, he becomes confused about his role in the story. And Claire almost accidentally — perhaps accidentally, we’ll never know — anoints him on the balcony and gives him a call to arms. Romeo takes it into his head and understands what he needs to do to keep the darkness at bay and to slay the dragon, as it were, and be the hero that Claire has told him that he is, and rescue her. And save everything, I suppose, within the complexities that I won’t get into now with what Romeo is writing about. In the moment after he kills Bryan, in a ceremonial way, in the great tradition of the Native Americans and other ethnicities and peoples who value the thing that they kill and honor it, Romeo carves the tattoo: to honor the kill and to take Bryan with him where he goes.
Was there ever a time when you were worried about handling such a dark and messed-up and delicate subject as Bryan and Claire’s relationship?
I was pretty fearless about how I wanted to explore it. I wasn’t intimidated, and I tried my very best, the writers and I, to handle that topic in a really thoughtful and relevant way. It’s complicated. And the thesis that I was really interested in was the vulnerabilities and the origin stories: Are monsters born or made? … After we’ve, I think, made Bryan the enemy all along and hated him and worried for Claire, we’re thrown into a bit of chaos in episode 6, because it’s possible to feel sympathy for the monster. We come into an understanding of this dysfunctional dynamic and how these children were shaped and pushed and formed into their choices.
I think that sympathy helps Claire in the long run, too, because it helps us to understand her judgment.
Absolutely, yeah, and a lot of research went into the shaping of that particular story and Claire’s obstacles, and her wounding that we see right off the top, and her shame, and her self loathing, and her lack of trust, her secrecy — even the books. The weight of the books as armor and emotional protection at night: These are all documented things for incest survivors. Not books, per se, but weight and shield. So we were pretty careful about it. I wanted to let the viewers have their own opinion on how they felt about it. I didn’t want to say, “This is right; this is wrong,” because it’s complicated, and what I want us to have is sympathy.
Is there an aspect of season or the finale that you’re especially proud of?
I’m so proud of Dakini — so very proud, because the concept for that ballet was scripted. It was in my original concept of showing the journey of a young girl into womanhood, and [choreographer] Ethan Stiefel realized it so beautifully. I don’t think there’s ever before been an original ballet conceived and choreographed and filmed for television in this way, so I am extremely proud of that. And the score was so beautiful, Adam Crystal’s score.
We see so much of the ballet itself. I liked that you were really intentional about showing so much dance.
You know, except for the pilot, where it was necessary to introduce dance and the world of dance and have ballet be a character, in every episode that followed, I never showed dance or employed dance unless it was in service of the story. So we never just cut to the dancing just for the hell of it. It was always in service of the plot. … We were able to show large portions of [Dakini] because it’s actually telling areas of Claire’s story. It was always conceived in harmony with Bryan’s murder. Even in the writers’ room, we talked about it in that way and what aspects we could then intercut with the strange theater of the East River Bandshell, where Romeo and Bryan’s dance was playing out at the same time.
Any other thoughts about the show?
Labor of love, absolutely. Passion project. Most personal work I’ve ever done. It was an incredible journey, and it’s so personal that it was very vulnerable for me to share it when it finally aired.
How has that experience been for you?
I’ve been a bit cloistered about it, really, because I figure — back in the day, a million years ago, Diana Rigg wrote this book about being reviewed called No Turn Unstoned — and I figure the only opinion that has to matter the most to me about my work is mine. And if I believe the good stuff, then I have to believe the bad stuff, too, and that way madness lies. So I’ve stayed away.
Have people in your life talked to you about what they think of the show?
I got the cutest text from Sam Catlin last night, because he’s a bit behind watching the show. He’s one of my Breaking Bad writer pals, and he’s doing Preacher right now for AMC, which is a really dark show, right? So I get this text last night at like 11 p.m., and he’s watching episode 5, and he’s like, “S— on the pillow? What is wrong with you? I knew you were dark, but Jesus.” Everybody’s having a great experience with it, which is awesome, and everybody’s really worried about me.
Do you think Breaking Bad left you all with a taste for writing dark things, or did it find people who were already—
We came into it like that. We showed up dark, and we stayed dark.