Clickbait creator explains that jaw-dropping whodunnit reveal
"I think people are really going to love it, or I think they're going to throw their remote at the television," Tony Ayres says with a laugh.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season 1 finale of Clickbait.
Clickbait (now streaming) follows the mystery of family man Nick Brewer's (Adrian Grenier) disappearance after a video posted online shows him beaten and seemingly held against his will, holding cue cards confessing to abusing women and threatening to die if the video gets 5 million views. Of course, the disturbing video goes viral, and it turns out the cue cards weren't just an empty threat: Nick is murdered and his body is found as early as the end of episode 2. But the mystery continues as Nick's sister Pia (Zoe Kazan) and wife Sophie (Betty Gabriel) try to prove Nick's innocence.
And shockingly enough, they do. It turns out Nick was kidnapped and held hostage by Simon (Daniel Henshall), a man who wanted revenge on the person he thought was responsible for his sister Sarah's (Taylor Ferguson) death. You see, an online dating profile using Nick's photos, name, and information had struck up a romantic connection with Sarah, but when "Nick" ended things harshly, Sarah committed suicide. Simon and his friend Daryl (Jamie Timony) found and kidnapped Nick and filmed the videos, but as Nick talked with Simon, it came to light that not only did Nick have nothing to do with Sarah's death, he didn't know her at all and wasn't behind the dating profile.
After Simon and Daryl let him go, Nick ran to the house of his co-worker Dawn (Becca Lish), since he realized she was the one behind the profile (back when Nick first started his job, he gave Dawn all his personal information so she could set up his work account, and she used that to catfish as Nick online because she was bored). There were multiple other women she had fake relationships with as well, and when her husband, Ed (Wally Dunn), found out, he made her stop. But when Nick showed up and threatened to expose Dawn's catfishing, Ed bashed him on the head with a hammer, killing him. It all leads to Ed almost killing one of Nick's sons before the cops shoot and kill him, leaving Dawn all alone — and the Brewer family finally at peace, knowing Nick was totally innocent.
Since we didn't even meet Ed until the season finale, there was no way to guess the identity of the killer from the start. And if you suspected Dawn of identity fraud from the start, you should definitely look into becoming a detective because that Clickbait twist came out of nowhere. While series creator Tony Ayres knows that this ending may be "controversial," he stands by it.
"I think people are really going to love it, or I think they're going to throw their remote at the television," he tells EW with a laugh. "Or both. The thing I really wanted to do was to make episode 8 also a 'why done it' so that even though it comes out of the blue, what we were trying to do was then explain how did this happen? How does someone like that end up in this situation?"
Below, EW got Ayres to break down that finale ending.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always know that Nick was innocent?
TONY AYRES: It was always the idea. We tried to make him not squeaky clean. In some ways, he did actually look online, he opened Pandora's box. But at the end of the day, it just felt like the only way in which we could tell the original story, which is a story of identity theft, is if the person is innocent. There was no choice but for him to be innocent because his identity was stolen.
Was there any version of the show in which Nick survived?
There was no other version of the show. [Laughs] He was a goner. We wanted to show that things that happen on the internet can have real-world consequences. Personally, I love the surprise of his death. I find it quite shocking because it's not what you expect is going to happen.
Where did you get the idea to have Dawn and her husband, Ed, at the center of the crime?
It was in the research. It was the stories of women who were stealing male identities and catfishing women and romancing them. And it was never really clear, sometimes they were lesbians but sometimes they said it was out of boredom, sometimes it was out of isolation. A couple of these women were married. It was just such an unusual thing. When I was trying to understand it and unpack it, I was drawn to the idea of a woman who feels completely invisible. Who Dawn is makes her invisible: she's an older woman, lower middle class, working class, she is not someone that anyone would look at twice, and yet she craved to be seen. As a gay Asian man, I kind of feel like Dawn whenever I go to a gay bar. [Laughs] Gay bars are basically places where status is so important. I kind of related to being invisible and I thought that was such an interesting story to tell. She wanted to just feel visible, and she wanted to be seen by women, interestingly, because women were probably more engaged in the romantic fantasy that she wants to engage in.
You said earlier you think this is a controversial ending. Are you worried about the response people may have after watching it?
I mean, you always want people to like you and to like your work. [Laughs] But no, I think it's better to do something like that because there's so much content in the world. I would stand by why we did it and what we have to say in doing it. The key to this format is it gives us an opportunity to really get in the skin of the characters and to understand why people do what they do. I think that there is something interesting and valid in talking about the invisibility of older women. I think there's something interesting about why Dawn does it. But I've got my bike helmet on, so I'm ready for the response.
There are going to be so many armchair detectives trying to figure out the answers while watching the show, but since we don't even meet Ed until the finale that means no one will be able to predict the ending. Was that a conscious decision on your part to make sure the ending is as unpredictable as possible?
To be perfectly honest, COVID had gotten in the way. We have a nine-month break. There were plans to try to put Dawn in another scene earlier on to just have a bit of a hint. Ed was always a byproduct of Dawn's story, so I didn't feel the need to see him earlier. But there were plans to try to include her in another moment, but it just became impossible because of COVID. We knew that when we get to episode 8, everyone's going to go, "What the f---? Dawn?!" And so then we had to pedal really fast and say, "This is how it happened."
This is described as a limited series, but do you have any plans for more seasons?
I really love this format and if people connect to it, I would love to do it again. I think it works really well, especially for a more elevated crime. I like to satisfy the whodunnit quality, but still try to do a deep dive on character and then at the same time do a 360 around an event because everyone has slightly different [perspectives]. I've got ideas for a season 2 or 3.