A Million Little Things creator on 'intense' midseason finale, PJ's fate
Warning: This article contains spoilers about A Million Little Things‘ midseason finale.
“I’m here for you, and I will not lose you.”
A Million Little Things‘ midseason finale mirrored the ABC drama’s very first episode, with the gang on the verge of losing someone to suicide — but, this time, they were able to save one of their own. Since showing up late in season 1, PJ has been important to multiple story lines, but those converged in “Time Stands Still” as his search for the true identity of his father (it’s definitively not Jon) led him and Rome onto a roof for an emotional sequence. As Delilah, Regina, Mitch, and Barbara waited nearby with bated breath, PJ got up on the ledge, only for Rome, who was on the verge of taking his own life when we met him, to talk down his young pal.
But there were plenty of other emotions going around: Maggie finding an engagement ring actually leads to her and Gary breaking up; Regina is ready to adopt a baby; and Delilah tells her children that Eddie is Charlie’s father, which leads Sophie to lash out at her late father’s supposed friend.
To recap it all, EW chatted with creator DJ Nash about revisiting the issue of suicide, the personal PSA at the episode’s end, and the mysteries to come in the back half of season 2. (Read the full episode recap here)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The entire series began with Jon jumping to his death, and here you mirror that moment with PJ breaking down and standing on a ledge. But this time Rome gets a chance to save his friend. Why was it important for you to revisit the issue of suicide, and what did you want to accomplish with this scene?
DJ NASH: Candidly, it comes from a very personal place. As I’ve talked about before, I had a lunch on the books with a friend and it never happened because he took his life. I don’t think the lunch could have saved him, but I wonder. There is a part of all of us who have lost someone to suicide that goes, “What if the day had played out differently?” So for our gang, who is living with the regret, and, specifically, Rome, who has dealt with such similar issues, for him to have an opportunity to change the ending, that was really meaningful to us. It’s so important for Rome’s story, coming off of episode 8 where his mom died and he differentiated between depression and being sad because you’re supposed to be sad, this next step of him being able to step in and help PJ just seemed like the best way to tell that story. Obviously, the introduction of PJ as a character was done to be a cautionary tale as Mitch and Barbara were struggling to decide with what to do with PJ about his paternity while we’re following Delilah and Eddie, who are debating whether or not they should say the truth about Charlie. It’s not a coincidence that Delilah was in that stairwell hearing the effect and seeing Mitch and Barbara’s face, which serves as the catalyst that makes her decide to come clean. PJ’s in search of a dad; it never felt like Mitch was the right fit and he hoped that it was Jon, only to discover that the person who has been the most like a father to him this season was Rome. So it seemed like the perfect way to intersect these stories and send us into the second half of the year.
The episode ends with a PSA [which originally aired after the series premiere] about suicide that includes Chester Bennington‘s widow Talinda and his friend-bandmate Mike Shinoda. What is the backstory of how that came together?
Mike is a dear friend of mine; in fact, I saw him yesterday. The day after I sold the pilot to ABC, I had four tickets to the Hollywood Bowl for John Williams, and my friend Mike had lost his best friend and bandmate to suicide; I had given him some time and I knew he wasn’t being social and I said, “Hey, I have four tickets to John Williams, let’s go and just make it a night about music.” He was like, “That would be awesome.” So we went and were hanging out and he said, “What are you working on?” And I thought, “Oh, no.” He said, “What?” And I said, “It’s a thing,” and he said, “Well, tell me.” I told him the story and right from the beginning, Mike and his wife have been so supportive, really helping me and introducing me to Talinda and Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, who is our consultant on the show. So when the pilot was getting ready to air, I realized that some other shows haven’t dealt with suicide in the most appropriate way and I wanted us to do it right, so I talked to Dr. Barbara about having a warning at the top of the pilot and I also talked to her about doing a PSA and thought maybe I could get Mike and Talinda to do something. We shot this PSA and it was just incredible, because, as much as the show is fiction, it is so real to so many of our fans. So when it came time to do this episode, I learned so much about suicide and the portrayal of suicide on TV that I knew that we didn’t want to have PJ in distress over a commercial break. From the moment he steps onto that roof upset to the resolution, we never break to a commercial or another scene, we stay in that story. I knew we wanted to have a warning at the beginning and as I was editing it I realized that if we could find the time, I wanted to re-air the PSA. I know a lot of people watch because they identify with the story, so I’ve tweeted out a bunch of times in this last week or so, “I’d love for you all to see this episode, see it when you’re ready.”
What is PJ’s future on the show? With him heading off for treatment, it seemed like a possible send-off.
Shooting the scene on the roof, it became pretty intense. It became so intense that it seemed unrealistic that PJ could go from what happened on the roof to showing up at the Dixon’s house the next day. So we purposefully have a reference to him getting evaluated and getting help, and at the right time we will bring him back. But, for right now, I wanted to send the message that PJ deserves help and is getting help.
You mentioned Delilah seeing what happened with PJ, Barbara, and Mitch, and that being the impetus for her to come clean. We don’t actually hear her confession to the kids, considering you went with music instead. So why did that seem like the best route?
Last season, we did a really moving episode where we learned about Regina being a survivor of child sexual assault, and there was a scene between Regina and her mother that was scripted and we shot it, but when I got to editing, I realized seeing it and not hearing it gave them a privacy and reminded the audience, “Oh wait, this is private,” and almost had a more impactful effect than the words that were scripted and what we shot. So, as we went into this story line, in a similar way, we had words and they were really saying things, but we knew with the music we felt it was much more powerful than hearing the words.
We see the immediate impact of this news when Sophie destroys Eddie’s studio. What will the continued fallout be?
The first half of the season, Delilah and Catherine were pitted against each other in regards to admitting Charlie’s paternity, but now that the truth is out, we will see these two women and this whole gang have to come together to clean up this mess. Catherine, Delilah, and Eddie were aware that the truth would have an adverse effect on the kids but I don’t think they were aware of the extent. At the beginning of the episode, Sophie is this innocent young girl, but once the truth is out she becomes a woman who is aware of the realities of life and takes it out on a guitar. The next episode picks up three months later: Rome and Regina are on the way to adoption; Maggie can’t decide if she’s going to pursue Eric or what’s going to happen there; Gary decides he’s going to pursue countless women in Boston; and Catherine, Eddie, and Delilah are trying to make sure their children are damaged as little as possible from the truth that they know now.
You’ve alluded to Maggie and Gary’s breakup. Why did this seem like the right time for this big shakeup?
The whole show is built around the idea that everything happens for a reason and how fragile life is and how in a moment everything can change. Gary and Maggie met at a cancer support group, and after the most horrific thing that they’d each been through came the most beautiful thing they’ve ever been a part of, this relationship. The first season was all about cancer, and even though cancer was their enemy, their enemy brought them together and their common goal was to keep Maggie alive. The second season is about Maggie and Gary struggling to find who they are as a couple without cancer, and as they’re struggling to figure that out, their roles change. Last year, Gary’s role was “Keep her alive,” and now it’s, “What am I?” As they struggled to figure that out, we wanted to put in external forces, like Maggie still struggling with the loss of her brother, Maggie meeting the man who has her brother’s heart, that threatening Maggie and Gary’s standing, and survivor’s guilt. So, as she is trying to figure out who she is without cancer, Gary says, “Maybe while you’re doing that I need to figure out who I am without you.” I think the fragile part of life is, had she not applied to Oxford, she wouldn’t have been looking for her passport, she wouldn’t have found the ring, and they wouldn’t have had this conversation. Truly like objects in motion tend to stay in motion, they would have stayed together had it not been for that ring. We really loved the idea that this wedding ring, this symbol of forever, caused them to lose forever.
Eric was brought in as an obstacle and now there’s added intrigue with the secretive phone call he gets about something he needs to tell Maggie. What can you say about that?
There’s a couple mysteries we’re following in the second half of the season, and one of them definitely is brought up by this phone call. You’re led to wonder, “Who that is? What is going on? What is this thing that he needs to tell Maggie? Is it feelings for her? Is it something else?” So we will follow that right from our next episode. We don’t hold back on giving you stuff quickly. Then, there’s another mystery that develops that has already been in the water but that we pursue and will carry us through the end of season 2 and hopefully into season 3.
A Million Little Things returns for new episodes in 2020.