By Samantha Highfill
January 07, 2021 at 05:47 PM EST
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Credit: Chris Large/FX

Warning: This post contains spoilers about the season finale of A Teacher.

A Teacher follows the inappropriate relationship between high school teacher Claire (Kate Mara) and her student Eric (Nick Robinson), from the moment the two first meet to their relationship going public to 10 years later, as both characters have had time to sit with their decisions.

The FX on Hulu series has been talked about recently in part due to its finale, which featured a massive time jump and ended with a candid conversation between a now-adult Eric and his former teacher. During the conversation, Eric makes it clear that he was the victim in this scenario and seems to shock Claire with the way that he talks about their time together. The series then ends with Eric walking away, leaving Claire to further evaluate her decisions.

Below, EW talks with Kate Mara about that scene and why she sees it as an optimistic ending.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This ending feels like people either love it or hate it. Did you know the ending going into the series?
KATE MARA: Yeah, I did. It was never a secret how we thought it would likely end. [Creator] Hannah's [Fidell] very open about the storyline and she wanted my input as well and Nick's so that was definitely a discussion. We talked a lot about slightly different versions or things that could be said. It's interesting because obviously the subject matter is so risqué and intense and it's very controversial, so people's reactions are either: people love the ending and think it makes total sense and then there's the other side of it where people are like, "I know this is horrible but there's a version where I wanted them to end up together or to leave it open-ended where you think they might." I found that interesting because for me playing her, you want there to be some sort of forgiveness or, while I don't think this is a romantic show at all, I think the romantic person would hope for a more optimistic ending. But I do see it as optimistic. Eric, the survivor, is finding his voice and he stands up to her and speaks the truth. I think that's why it's hard to watch because hopefully, when watching the show, you have at some point or another felt some sort of empathy or compassion for Claire as well. Hopefully. [Laughs]

In that final scene, it felt like what Eric was saying was news to Claire, like she was just realizing the weight of what she'd done. What was going through her head in that moment from your perspective?
I think that it was important to show that she was in such denial that yeah, his words genuinely are surprising to her. She's been living in this denial and has been telling herself all kinds of lies. While she knows what she did was wrong and she regrets that, I still believe that she clearly hadn't come to terms with this being her fault. Maybe it was her way of trying to survive, to try and get through the guilt, maybe that's why she was telling herself this particular lie, that it wasn't all her fault. But yeah I do think for her it had to be a surprise. It was so hard to do that scene. We were also shooting like three episodes all at once, sort of like a movie, so it wasn't like that was the last thing we shot. It was toward the end but it's such a strange dynamic that Claire and Eric have at that point and it's obviously completely different than all of the other scenes that we had done together. It's an entirely different chemistry so it felt as uncomfortable as I think it looked.

With such a massive time jump going into the finale, did you almost feel like you were playing a different character? Or at least a very different Claire?
Yeah, definitely. I just tried to look at it as like, what was I like 10 years ago? You're still yourself but hopefully, you've grown a lot. When I think about how I was in my twenties, you make very different choices, for good and for bad I would say. People definitely change a lot, and Claire's supposed to have had two kids. As someone who has two children, my life is very different now than it was before I had kids. But I also feel there's a lot of things I still connect with that I did when I was 10 years younger. So there are different aspects to it. Hopefully, she's grown and learned some things but clearly, like a lot of us, hasn't learned maybe her most important lesson.

When Eric left that table, it felt like the end of his story to me. He said what he needed to say. But with Claire just having had that realization, I found myself wanting to know what she did next. Did you think much about what came after that conversation for her?
That's so interesting, no, I actually didn't. I thought more about what happened in between that we never saw, so all those years we didn't see her struggling with the choices that she had made and then finding someone who was willing to start a family with her and not judge her for these horrible mistakes. I thought more about that than anything else.

One thing I liked about the ending was that you spent all season exploring these gray areas of consent, but you all ended on a pretty firm note of what was wrong and what was right.
Yeah, I agree, I liked that too. We kept saying to people at the beginning when there were only three or four episodes out and people were like, "Oh my god I can't believe this show," we were like, "Just wait, you have to go through the whole experience." And I don't even think the first three episodes at all glorify the relationship. I think it's always very clear that Claire is doing something wrong even if she doesn't completely see it at first. But we were always like, "You gotta wait" because more than half the season is about the consequences of that choice.

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