Keep Breathing bosses on Liv's ambiguous ending and making a 'serene thriller' in the wild
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Keep Breathing.
Liv (Melissa Barrera) has had one hell of a trip.
In Netflix's new survival show, Keep Breathing, razor-sharp New York lawyer Liv was heading to Canada to reunite with her estranged mother when her plane crashed in the wilderness. Trying to survive all alone gave her time to work through her demons, which include problems with her parents and commitment issues that were complicated by her being pregnant with her coworker/boyfriend Danny's (Jeff Wilbusch) baby. After fighting the elements — and a bear — Liv ends up surviving thanks to two strangers who pull her from a raging river. That's about all we know for sure, because while we see flashes of Liv with Danny at the hospital for the birth of their child, we're left wondering if it's a flash-forward, or just Liv's imagination.
We spoke to Keep Breathing creators Martin Gero and Brendan Gall about Liv's ambiguous ending, crafting the dangers in the wild, that bear, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to tell this story?
MARTIN GERO: We started four years ago coming out of working on Blindspot, which was the loudest hour of television. We started talking about what the quietest show we could make [would be], and it grew out of that. We were dealing with anxiety, being Canadians living in America, and we found it incredibly restorative to go up to the Canadian wilderness in our off time. The idea of a serene thriller, a show that could be terrifying and urgent to watch, but could have moments of serenity, started to unfold.
Liv is rescued from the river, then we see flashes of the birth of her child, but the show has been exploring her mind. Can you clarify the ending?
BRENDAN GALL: The ending is literal in that she survives. We see her wake up again and take that breath. The ambiguous part, the part up for interpretation, is whether the images of her and Danny going to the hospital are flash forwards or her imagined future when she believes she's dying. Both are valid.
GERO: But she survives. She absolutely survives.
Were there any survivalists you consulted with for Keep Breathing?
GERO: Initially, we didn't do it with a consultant, because Brendan and I would die in this situation immediately. Liv is from New York and she isn't super into survival, so our rule was, we needed to figure it out just between the two of us and we weren't allowed to Google. The one cheat we did was I remember from camp [making] a compass out of a needle and cork, but I had forgotten about the magnetizing, which is a really important part of that. That one we Googled.
What was your standout or favorite obstacle you put in Liv's way?
GERO: The plane crash sequence was something we thought we [knew] how to do, but we realized how complicated it was and how limited visual effects are to a certain extent. We realized we had to crash a real plane, there was really no way to fake it. We bought a real plane and figured out how to crash it into the lake. The river sequence for us was the last piece because we were thinking of a terrifying final obstacle. We had a narrow window to shoot it in because one week earlier it's raging so hard that you cannot get in it and then a week later, it was just a trickle. The water is slowly melting from the mountains coming racing down to the ocean, so building the entire schedule around "well, we have the river this week" was really fun and terrifying.
We had such an incredible team up in and around Vancouver executing the show to the point where there's very little visual effects and green screen. It's done entirely out in the wilderness.
Why did Liv burn all that money? After the fire was started, she could have used other stuff to keep it going?
GERO: Money is useless to her. It's also heavy, so she's not going to put some of it in her bag as she walked out because having anything on your back for more than 20 minutes is too much. Then she drops [her] bag eventually. She didn't take the drugs because she was pregnant and she didn't burn the money because it could keep her warm.
Was there anything that you wanted to include but didn't?
GALL: We were telling a story about her hitching a ride with drug runner and one thing we thought about was if they should have a gun. She could use it to protect herself from the bear. It just didn't feel right to us and we had just done five years of an action network show with lots of guns. This show was the antithesis of that in a lot of ways.
After working on the show, do you think you could survive in the wild?
GALL: I think I would give up more quickly now. It just seems really, really hard.
GERO: I suffer from overconfidence, so I feel like I know a little better what to do out there. I will say this, if you watch the show, your chance of survival goes up at least 7 percent. It's kind of a guidebook to how not to die immediately.
We don't see Liv's life after her time in the wilderness. What did she learn out there?
GALL: [Liv's] going after something she thinks she needs, which is some form of validation or closure from her mother, but ultimately she finds out there through very active tasks is that she's strong enough to be on her own. Not only is she a smart lawyer, but also she can emotionally withstand basically anything that is thrown at her. Personally, I like to think the stuff we see with Danny is real, so for me it's also that she is capable of love and being loved.
GERO: We're all really concerned with being safe and what that means to each of us is totally different both emotionally and physically. Trying to control that sometimes can be a fool's errand. Part of what we're going for as she gets into the river at the end of the show is abandoning control in your life to a certain extent, because life is gonna happen to you. One of the results of being abandoned in the forest is you have a lot of time with your thoughts, so as the show goes on it starts with very impressionistic flashes of her past and then she starts dealing with it in a significant way leads to some healing by the end of it.
At the end, it ends with "for Mike." What was that dedication for?
GERO: Mike Banas was an editor on [Keep Breathing] for episodes four and five, he touched six. He has been our main editor for 15 years going all the way back to, for me Stargate and for Brendan The LA Complex. This was his last project, he was giving notes from his hospital bed to get this [show] across the line. He's a huge part of our creative life and this is such an editorial show. There's little dialogue and super visual. One of the first days of shooting he called me and was like "I got a shot of a girl tying her shoes for 20 minutes. What do I do with this?" and I was like, a lot of this is gonna get made in the room. It was an acknowledgment of his extraordinary contribution not only on [Keep Breathing], but everything that had gotten us to this point.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Keep Breathing is now streaming on Netflix.
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