By Ruth Kinane
December 16, 2018 at 09:00 PM EST
17 Years
Credit: CBS
  • TV Show

It’s been an exhausting few months for Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) since God sent him a friend request and he subsequently started running around New York City trying to help strangers in need. But in the God Friended Me midseason finale, the tables were turned as Miles himself became the one in need of some overdue healing.

Having lost his mother early in his life after she — wait for it — survived cancer just to be killed in a collision with a drunk driver on the way home from the hospital (!!), Miles has been holding on to a heck of a lot of pain for 17 years. Indeed, the cruel twist of fate is the reason he stopped believing in God and became an atheist in the first place. In Sunday’s episode, Miles was finally brought face to face with the man who killed his mother, and though it didn’t change his religious viewpoint, he did have to reconsider his hard line on zero forgiveness.

We caught up with executive producers Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt as well as the show’s star, Brandon Micheal Hall, to take a deep dive into the emotional midseason finale and tease what’s to come after the break.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In this episode we see Miles having to confront his own pain rather than facilitate someone else’s healing when he comes across the man, Charles Cole [played by David Hoflin], who killed his mom. Was that always the intention for this point in the season?
STEVEN LILIEN: We knew early on that we wanted to shoot for the midseason finale to bring Miles face to face with his biggest fear, so yes, that was always the plan, to bring him in front of Charles Cole and see if he could move past that and have it feel like the God account has a larger plan for Miles. Everything that was happening was for a reason, and we wanted that to culminate in our winter finale so then we could continue to build on that and explore the mythology in back half of the season.

Brandon, how did you prepare for such an emotional episode for Miles?
BRANDON MICHEAL HALL: The good thing about working on this show is that Bryan and Steven have created this theme line with Miles. The story is so strong that every episode I’m constantly being reminded of the fact that I’ve lost my mom. There’s always some kind of connection with the God account to it. This is the episode where I get to confront the gentleman who killed my mom. Getting into that headspace is really just paying attention to every script and saying, “Okay, here’s how I’m getting closer to meeting this guy, and this is how Miles feels about it.” Giving second chances isn’t the easiest thing to do, but to know that there are a lot of people out there who have been through the same kind of trauma and knowing that we’re telling that type of story, I knew I had to do it well.

Miles gets pretty worked up in during that confrontation with Charles. How did you approach that scene to ensure his anger came across as justified?
BRYAN WYNBRANDT: I think there was sort of a therapeutic quality to that scene for Miles. These are things he always wanted to say, things he wanted to get off his chest. I think for that moment his anger towards Charles — and just towards what happened, that his mom had beaten cancer and then died like that — had been such a thinking point for him on so many levels. In the pilot he tells Cara that’s why he doesn’t believe in God: He couldn’t believe in a divine force that would allow something like that to happen. Then Charles is sitting in front of him and he’s wanted to say that for a long time, that he robbed her of the life she deserved. It felt real. It felt like something Miles needed to say.

Miles’ relationship with his dad, Arthur [Joe Morton], has come along way over the course of the season, and that scene where they discuss forgiveness is so powerful. Where does their reconciliation go from here?
WYNBRANDT: We always wanted to use this first season as a journey for Miles to heal the relationship that was fractured between him and his father. We really feel like we’ve done it in a really organic way in these first 11 episodes, and we don’t want to just do the TV thing and just create conflict because, “Oh they got together and now we have to break them back apart.” We don’t want to do that right away, and if there is something that comes up, it doesn’t even have to be about faith. They’ve found a common ground, a language they can discuss, and have a good relationship and foundation to build upon. You want to keep that moving forward. You can see it too in the performances: The characters hug each other and are happy to see each other. When they saw each other in the pilot, Miles could barely stay in that room, he had so much stuff to deal with towards his father.

LILIEN: I think the important part was using episodes 10 and 11 to really move the Miles-Arthur story and push towards that moment. It felt like Miles was seeing his father as the Reverend and thought his forgiveness was about his faith, but Arthur was saying, “It’s not about my faith, it’s about how you move on from tragedy so it doesn’t eat you up from inside.” It’s a reminder that you’re still in touch with all this pain, that you can’t see the emotion and the heart that your mom would’ve wanted you to live your life by. He’s illustrating that separation of Arthur the Reverend and Arthur the father in that moment. That’s what is critical for Miles to see.

WYNBRANDT: And Joe’s just incredible. He brings such a depth to Arthur. Every piece of dialogue we give him, he carves out and makes deeper than we even originally imagined. With that scene in particular, he says it’s something his wife would’ve wanted, but more importantly he says it’s what he needed. He wanted to remember his wife with a smile, and that was an important thing to reiterate to Miles because he knows that his son has not been able to do that.

HALL: Joe’s character has been able to move on because he’s able to forgive Charles Cole, but I wasn’t and I’m still holding onto that anger, and rightfully so. It’s exactly that cruel trick that allowed Miles to be an atheist; it changed his life, a complete 180. For Miles, he’s troubled with the idea of having to help this guy — why should he? He doesn’t deserve Miles’ help, but the bigger picture is that the more you’re able to talk about it, the more you’re able to forgive and let it go. So there’s a lot of letting go for Miles in these last few episodes. Going forward, Miles and Arthur are still going to respect each other’s very separate beliefs, and I think that push-and-pull is going to continue for the rest of the season. It keeps it authentic.

Brandon, how much do you learn on a daily basis just working with someone of the caliber of Joe Morton?
HALL: Working with Joe is like going into a training center. It’s like Rocky and Creed. He’s a legend, and he comes in prepared and knows exactly what’s going on. He’s one of those actors who can translate the colorful gravitas from stage and make it just as real on screen. I’m always watching him. I know he’s always going to come prepared, so I just need to bring as much heat as he is.

The other major relationship fans are ready to see develop further is between Miles and Cara [Violett Beane]. She gave up a promotion in this episode so she could continue to work on the God account and spend time with Miles. How does that play out going forward? Any regrets or repercussions?
I do think that part of that decision clearly, subconsciously, was Miles, and I think we’re not going to shy away from her and Miles’ relationship. She broke up with Eli and Miles is still with Mia, but there’s something happening there that will help set the stage for Miles and Cara in the back half of the season.

HALL: Most of the time it’s me and Violett doing a lot of scenes together, so we’ve been able to naturally build a relationship with each other, and it translates on screen and that’s why it works so well. You can look into her green eyes and fall into a freaking time warp. It’s really great to be able to work across from someone so natural. We’re on the same page [about their characters’ romance]. We’re like, “No, not yet. It’s not time.” We’ve got you to keep you guys coming back for six seasons. It’s going to be worth the wait, I promise.

In that last scene, we find out that Priya’s involvement is a lot greater than she initially let on. It feels like whoever or whatever is behind the God account is about to get a whole lot bigger. What can you tease about that going forward?
We’re going to pick right back up in episode 12 where we left off in 11, with Miles, Cara, and Rakesh [Suraj Sharma] coming face to face with Priya, and we’ll start to unpack her involvement in the greater mythology. We’re also going to introduce a new player in the back half who’s going to change things up and bring a face to the mythology that’s unexpected. So we’re really excited about this new character. It’s going to really have a larger connection. We’re really lucky to have Parminder Nagra come on the show, and you’re really going to understand her on an emotional level and understand her involvement in the mythology. There’s a very personal involvement that you’re going to learn in episode 12. She really brings such pathos to the character, and I think people are really going to enjoy it.

WYNBRANDT: As it relates to Priya, you said it well, she is connected to a larger story that is tied to the God account. She’s the character that brings us into the new character, and there’s a larger mythology that she and this new character are a part of. We don’t shy away from it, we get right into it in 12, so people are going to really start to get a sense of what the potential theory is of the God account and who’s behind it and why.

Looking back at the season so far, do you guys each have a favorite episode?
LILIEN: I think what was really successful for the show on the front half, and that we really enjoyed, was bringing in Uncle Terrance [Malik Yoba] onto the show. We had a three-episode arc, and he was just terrific and people really responded to him. It really opened up the world and showed that family dynamic. It culminated with him being a friend suggestion, and it was so emotional and powerful and it was so personal. We found that when we can make these episodes powerful for Miles and for Cara, and Rakesh, they’re really successful.

WYNBRANDT: I felt like episode 5, when the God account unfriended Miles, was one of my favorites because of the natural progression. Miles crossed the threshold there and accepted his part in it. The energy of the show changed in a positive way when he accepted that he was going to do this and going to stop being against the God account. That is such a big transition to make, and that episode organically brought him to the place that he needed to be where the theories could flourish. You can go many seasons once you have a character who accepts his destiny and his role.

HALL: The Coney Island episode, because I got to ride the Coney Island roller coaster and have a father-son moment. You can’t beat that. I can die a happy man.

God Friended Me returns Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

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