Some Utopia In Your Dystopia: An Interview with Killjoys Creator Michelle Lovretta

By Kelsey O’Regan

 

As if Syfy space comedy Killjoys going off the air last year after five roller-coaster seasons wasn’t devastating enough, we now live in a world that will never know what Team Awesome Force and their merry band of nerds, rebels, and morally-ambiguous anti-heroes would look like through an extended lockdown, and that’s just wrong.

Thank goodness, then, for the infinite rewatchability of Dutch (ever-electric and criminally underrated Hannah John-Kamen), Johnny (Aaron Ashmore), and D’avin (Luke MacFarlane) snarking and/or shooting their way out of this week’s hot mess.

“I prefer to focus on what’s drawing people together, what they adore about one another, not what’s tearing them apart.”

Series lead Yelena “Dutch” Yardeen is an unstoppable firecracker of an (ex) assassin with quips for days, who should top anyone and everyone’s list for a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Team. Not only is her womanhood never used against her, but she’s typically responsible for most of the brute force that gets her and her friends out of dodge—girl’s got moves, and everyone around her knows it.

Right-hand man Johnny Jaqobis is the world’s softest Ravenclaw and somehow both a tech whiz and improv comedy extraordinaire. Whatever problem he can’t hack his way into, he’ll surely talk his way out of; and has there ever been a more tangible friendship between man and machine than Johnny and Lucy, the squad’s ship? (That was a rhetorical question, since the answer is no).

Big brother D’avin Jacobis is the perpetually-recovering ex-soldier whose biggest muscle is his heart (though all of his other muscles are pretty big, too) and shifts seamlessly into Dad Mode when his loved ones need him the most. Whether he’s hate-flirting with a rival killjoy Fancy (Sean Baek) or sincerely flirting with Dutch, D’av is the hulky feminist hearthrob we all deserve.

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Image: Temple Street Productions

We spent the back half of the decade desperately rooting for both this trio and the wild assortment of personalities that surrounds them on any given day, and series creator Michelle Lovretta has done just about everything in her power to ensure that each and every character is sorely missed now that their full onscreen story is in the books.

Shortly before the series finale I had the honor and privilege of asking her some of my most burning questions—about our faves, about her writing style, and about visible queerness in the cis- and heteronormative scheme of things—and her answers were incredibly moving. Especially as a queer fan of the series, feeling seen and understood both in front and behind the camera has meant the world to me. Media that puts so much effort into gifting its subjects diversity, complexity, and empathy is still all too rare, and I’ll be forever grateful to Lovretta and the entire Killjoys family for making it happen.

Beware: both Spoilers and Feelings ahead!

QueerQuality: The characters are a huge part of what makes the series so charming, emotional, and human. Who or what inspired you when developing them? Did you have any specific priorities regarding anyone as far as traits or backstory?

Michelle Lovretta: Well, thank you! Tons of credit to our fab cast and writers, definitely a group effort. I’d like to think I have a knack for creating fresh-feeling characters and “families” that are fun to spend time with, and then casting them very, very wisely. If I have a secret weapon as a showrunner, it’s probably that character-actor combo right there.

Only thing I’d say about my priorities is just that I don’t typically build character relationships from a place of conflict, because man, do I find that shit exhausting. I prefer to focus on what’s drawing people together, what they adore about one another, not what’s tearing them apart. So, our tensions tend to be external  and unifying; we aren’t really a show about juicy secrets and constant personal betrayals. We’re about the good guys coming together to kick the bad ones in their asses. That’s very Killjoys, to me. We explore lots of different types of relationships along the way, but usually without a ton of relationship drama. It’s there, obviously, because: life. But it’s rarely the plot engine. We write grownups, and grownups should talk shit out and move on whenever possible. Then crack a dirty joke and go shoot some stuff.

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Killjoys Creator, Michelle Lovretta Image: NY Castings

QQ: I’ve always appreciated the show’s emphasis on non-romantic relationships. What draws you to them? How did you manage to create such a gorgeous friendship with Dutch and Johnny?

ML: Oh, man. Just personal bias and life experience, really. They’re so much damn fun to write, so that’s definitely part of it. But I’ve also had my own “non-sexual life partner,” as John calls Dutch, and it was one of the happiest periods of my life—so that’s a very special and real thing to me. I will probably go to my grave raging against how marginalized and disrespected platonic love usually is in media and society and by, like… your mom. But first, I’m going to use my work to challenge the fuck out of that perception, because I think it actually does us all a lot of genuine harm. Don’t get me wrong—sex can be great. Romantic bonds can be fucking amazing. But to say they’re always and automatically the higher form of love, or that they’re an unavoidable consequence of two attractive people with compatible orientations, is just not a magazine I subscribe to. Johnny and Dutch is still very much an epic love story, to me. Just a different kind.

“…sex can be great. Romantic bonds can be fucking amazing. But to say they’re always and automatically the higher form of love, or that they’re an unavoidable consequence of two attractive people with compatible orientations, is just not a magazine I subscribe to.”

QQ: Do you have a favorite character dynamic among the cast? A duo, a trio?

ML: Oof. Can I say all of them? Because bloody all of them, and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to be able to say that. For bonkers comedy, Pree-Zeph-Turin was a great last minute find. For straight up cathartic scenes, though, I love writing Dutch with either John, D’av, or Khlyen, because we tend to go to some pretty intense emotional places in their scenes and explore stuff that really matters to me on a personal level—which, selfishly, is half the fun of being a writer. But we’ve been so blessed with our actors that basically every mash-up we’ve tried, I’ve loved… and there were lots more I wanted to try but we ran out of time.

I guess that’s my one real sadness about the show ending: it means I’ve run out of road for exploring any fun, new, weird little combos. Well, outside of Killjoys books or comics, should I ever try that route, which I might… Pree’s warlord years would be great, or Dutch and John’s early missions. But that won’t stop me from missing our stellar cast.

“I hardcore love that unapologetic bitch.”

QQ: Tell me every feeling you’ve ever had about Delle Seyah Kendry.

ML: Ooh shit, how long do you have? Because I hardcore love that unapologetic bitch. When all is said and done and Killjoys goes off to the great TV spaceship in the sky, I might even be proudest of her arc. She was brainwashed from childhood to see Westerlyns as subhuman so that, when the time came, she’d be willing to sacrifice all of them to the Hullen. It was an intentional destruction of her capacity for basic human empathy and very similar to the shit Khlyen pulled while training Dutch. That common core was part of her immediate attraction to Dutch and Aneela. (The other part is HJK’s face, because hello, have you seen her?)

And then, over five seasons, we watch as Delle Seyah… shifts. She doesn’t ever fully change who she is—still haughty, still merciless—but she changes who and what she values. And that makes all the difference. Here we are, five seasons in, and Delle Seyah and Aneela’s main “evil” plot is… saving the universe. And I believe it.

I’ll just say this: one of my favorite images of the whole series is our very last shot of Delle Seyah Kendry.

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Image: Syfy

QQ: I’ve always considered Dutch “ambiguously queer” (she and Delle Seyah have both acknowledged their hate-flirting and Kissed For Science!) but it’s Dutch’s look-alike Aneela who ends up with our favorite Terrible Person. Could you talk about that fascinating triangle? Was Aneela and Delle Seyah’s chemistry pre-planned or a fantastic discovery? (Will I ever stop laughing about how Delle Seyah’s soulmate is Dutch-but-evil-ish?)

ML: When I first created Delle Seyah Kendry, even in the early character sketch stage before anyone was cast, she was always openly attracted to Dutch (and amusingly disdainful of the Jaqobis.) I just loved that dynamic on the page, and then Hannah and Mayko really sold it and made me crave it more. So the moment I decided Aneela was joining the show in season three, I knew I’d be pairing her romantically with Kendry. Mostly, I just loved the existing chemistry between Hannah and Mayko and was looking for a way to explore that further through Aneela, but it also helped us with some really tough production constraints: we need to keep Aneela physically away from Dutch most of the season because doubling Hannah eats up our shooting schedule. Dropping someone as familiar as Kendry into Aneela’s story orbit helped keep them both connected to Dutch from afar, as they plotted against her and Team Awesome Force.

… And then something delightful happened: I started rooting for the villains. We all did, if we’re honest: they’re just so much fun together, all wrong in all the right ways, and so beautifully loyal. I became really protective. There’s that horrible old toxic trope about lesbianism leading to madness, and we definitely get to flip that with these two—loving Kendry is what puts Aneela back together. I love watching that journey.

“I love that he’s an aspirational character living outside the gender binary.”

QQ: Similar question but re: Pree and Gared. Were you always looking to give Pree a partner or was that simply a seized opportunity?

ML: Both. I knew Pree would have a relationship eventually, but I wasn’t sure when, or with whom. You have to be patient rolling out relationships for your supporting cast when you’re working with such short seasons.

Then Sean Reycraft wrote a great scene where Pree talks about how he first got his bar, and Gavin Fox (who plays Gared) just looked at Pree the whole time with such goofy admiration,  and boom! A whole backstory popped into my mind about Gared secretly crushing on Pree for years, eventually stealing Pree’s bar as his clumsy way to force Pree to finally notice him. None of that story was planned.

That’s the best thing about writing for television: little eureka moments can fall into your lap while you still have time to pivot and explore them. TV writers get to be surprised by their own show, and that’s a fabulous treat. Pree and Gared are one of my favorite relationships on Killjoys, now, thanks to some unexpected magic in that one scene.

QQ: In general, what’s your favorite thing about Pree as a character?

ML: He’s such a star. I love that he’s an aspirational character living outside the gender binary. I love his confidence, his strength and swagger, his loyalty, his panache. His make up. But I think my favorite thing about Pree is just Thom Allison. He’s been a gift to this show, and to me. I hope I work with him again.

QQ: One of the things about the show that I appreciate the most is how it completely abstains from labeling anyone’s identity. (I always say something like “Everyone on Killjoys is queer until proven straight, but also, no one on Killjoys is straight.”) Is that an active choice, especially given how much everyone flirts with each other without the words “no homo” ever slipping out?

ML: When it comes to character relationships and attractions, I’d rather show than tell. It feels more natural. The “no judging, no labels” thing started for me back on the first show I created. Lost Girl, which is centered around a succubus and her merry gang of lovable delinquents. There is definitely something to be said for the power of labels and claiming who you are in the public space, and thankfully that’s being handled very well elsewhere—but my worlds are in the fantasy and futuristic realms, so I try to demonstrate some progress in our cultural norms. I want some utopia in my dystopia, I guess. To me, that includes a world where people are judged solely by their actions. No one needs to hide who they love in the Quad, they’d frankly never even think of it, and I dig that. And we get to embody that freedom in big and small ways: one of my favorite little goofy moments was when Pree and John posed as bickering marrieds while surrounded by a bunch of dangerous outlaws, and the only thing the crusty outlaws took offense to was John insulting Pree’s mother. As they should. Because: rude, Jaqobis.

QQ: What is your approach to openly/canonically LGBTQIA+ characters?

ML: I just want them to be able to live and breathe and fuck up and triumph and date and break up and possibly save (or destroy) a few galaxies while wearing good shoes, like everyone else gets to do. So that’s what I write. I also write all my characters as heroes until proven otherwise, because this world just feels so tense and sad lately, you guys, and don’t we all need to see more joy and hope on our screens?

That’s what I try to do with the worlds I create. Some will feature spaceships, or wizards, or lawyers—but they’ll always be kind at heart. I just don’t know any other way to write than from a place of hope and joy. So for those of you who have supported that vision and voice, who enjoy my oddball wee shows full of banter and bleeding hearts, thanks for tuning in over the years. It mattered. I adore you, and you smell wonderful.

If I dream up something new and pretty, hope I’ll see you again there, soon.

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