Santa Clarita Diet‘s Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) try their best to deal with their new lifestyle for 10 episodes, but the two finally break in the zombie comedy’s season 1 finale: Sheila becomes recklessly violent toward Joel, a sign that she’s reached a dangerous level in her undead development, and Joel is a bit too honest with a psychiatrist after getting arrested. The final minutes see Sheila chained up in her basement to prevent herself from hurting anyone and Joel getting dragged away, presumably to be hospitalized.
“We wanted to keep ratcheting things up and we knew we wanted to end on a fun cliffhanger to get us into a second season,” creator Victor Fresco tells EW. “Through the course of the season, their lives are slowly going more and more off the rails, and then we leave them at this place where their lives have gone off the rails.”
This is especially true for Joel, who goes from sneakily smoking pot in his car for a little excitement to helping his wife murder humans for food in a matter of days.
“He’s kind of at an exhausted and peaceful place where he can just share his feelings with a stranger,” Fresco says of Joel’s interaction with the psychiatrist. “He sort of has stopped fighting it and has accepted how his life has gotten so crazy, and now he’s just opening up. In some ways, he’s coming to this conclusion as he’s talking that he may have been the dead one, and maybe he’s more alive than he’s been. That’s a neat thought he’s having at the time, which he’s also marveling at.”
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Olyphant agrees that the turn of events has “woken them up,” adding that “within the sandbox that we’re playing,” Sheila’s status as an undead cannibal is a positive. “It’s the best thing that’s happened to them in years,” he continues. “It’s asked him to rethink his marriage, his life, what he wants, what he’s been up to. To some degree, it’s creating a midlife crisis of sorts in the best way.”
His character’s newfound joie de vivre might wear off soon, though, given how quickly Sheila’s deteriorating. “She’s going to always be undead,” Fresco says. “She’s not going to grow her toe back, and her eye’s not going to regenerate, and so the object is to stop symptoms before they get worse. She’s starting to lose control.”
Luckily, their teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), is working on stopping her mom’s symptoms from worsening with Dr. Wolf’s (Porta de Rossi) guidance. “She was also living kind of a boring, suburban life, and now this has been handed to her, this situation which she was appalled by. Kids are affected in ways you can never anticipate,” Fresco says. And for Abby, that means she’s taken on the responsibility of babysitting her parents, in a way. “She’s an alpha girl. She can take control, and she’s smart, and she’s fearless, and she wants to save her mom. She’s going to step up in a big way.”
Whether stepping up can do anything to stop Sheila from becoming a full-on zombie is still to be determined; the show has yet to be renewed for a second season, though Fresco is already thinking of what another set of episodes would look like. “With any family, crazy situations can be introduced any day, and the strength of the family will determine how they react to those situations, which is where we’ll find our characters,” he teases.
The first season of Santa Clarita Diet is now streaming on Netflix. Read more from Fresco on how the show came together and what Barrymore is actually eating in those feasting scenes here.