‘Queens’ Creator Zahir McGhee on Brianna’s Fate After the Midseason Finale
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Queens Season 1, Episode 8 “God’s Plan.”]
ABC’s Queens has been teasing a character getting shot all season long, and in the December 12 midseason finale, the show finally answers a lot of questions, leading to a big cliffhanger ending. The original drama centers on four women — Brianna (Eve), Naomi (Brandy), Jill (Naturi Naughton), and Valeria (Nadine Velazquez) — who stage a reunion of their popular hip-hop group from 20 years earlier.
Now we know that it was their manager Eric (Taylor Sele) and Brianna who were shot, but while Eric turns out to be fine, Brianna is in critical condition. When the episode ends, she’s in surgery and we hear her flatline, but then at the last moment, we hear the beeps return on her heart monitor, indicating that she’s still alive.
TV Insider spoke to Queens creator Zahir McGhee to discuss Brianna’s fate, the identity of the shooter — Jill’s ex-husband Darren! (Emerson Brooks) — and what we have to look forward to when Queens comes back on January 4.
So I think we have to talk about the elephant in the room, which is Brianna. We do hear that beep beep beep of her heart at the end of the scene, so she’s not gone. I don’t really think we expected her to be gone halfway through your first season, but still, you didn’t leave viewers hanging on that one.
Zahir McGhee: Well, it’s interesting because we went back and forth on how much we should hear. When should we hear it? So I am excited and interested to see what people think when they’re watching it. Obviously you had a feeling that she’s definitely alive. But, I think that those beeps happened in that moment, and we don’t know what happened after. Maybe she’s alive, and maybe she isn’t.
Did you always plan for Brianna to be the one to get shot?
We didn’t know who was going to get shot. It has been really interesting to me to think about Brianna throughout the season and her perseverance. I know that isn’t always the most fun, but we’ve thrown a lot at her, and every time she seems to overcome something, we’ve given her something else big to deal with.
I always thought it was great to watch her come out of that. She finally overcomes Jeff (RonReaco Lee) cheating on her. She finally thinks she can come to grips with what he did. And then she happens to be giving this incredibly beautiful speech to a dead body. She’s then able to finally eulogize her husband, only to find out that his mistress (Hannah Masi) is pregnant. And then she finally does the right thing with the mistress only to find out the mistress has left with this baby inside of her. And then she has a moment of triumph and is like, I’m just going to be me and I’m going to be the Professor Sex of 1999, only to have her kids find out. Watching Eve perform that, and then watching the character beautifully overcome those things, there’s an ultimate joy, and an ultimate place for Brianna to get to, and that journey is only halfway there.
Are we gonna see her when we come back in Episode 9?
I can’t say that.
Well, I had to ask. We’ve done flashbacks before, but we actually go back further to when they’re teenagers this episode (Kai Ture as Young Brianna, Teshi Thomas as Young Naomi, and Olivia P. Bucknor as Young Jill). It’s really exciting to see them come together as a group. What made you wanna put that in this episode?
We had been bandying this idea about for a long time, and I knew that I wanted to show them as teenagers at some point. I give the writers a lot of credit here. They really pushed me to have this story in this episode, because the one challenge is that Valeria didn’t exist in the group back then. So, we’re telling a story about them in the hospital and them grieving their friend, and then we’re telling a flashback that doesn’t include Valeria. There was a scene that occurred outside where they were leaving and there was another teen girl trying to get in with a fake ID, and that was going to be Valeria, and they didn’t interact with one another, but she was there in the same time, in the same space as them. But we ended up not being able to shoot outside, so it didn’t work out. I just thought it was a great way to show the bond that they had.
The teen actors you got have such great chemistry.
Aren’t they incredible? They’re amazing. I felt like, well, let’s make this spinoff show about them. They were also charming. It’s a really difficult thing, as you probably know…when you’re casting a movie, and you’re casting younger versions of Will Smith or whatever, you would probably spend a year on it right? In TV we have like two weeks to find someone that credibly resembles them, is a good actor, and also is capable of performing and doing choreography and recording a song for us.
They’re amazing. I definitely want to see them again.
It also gave us a really great way to incorporate some of Brianna’s family because that’s obviously a real thing that would occur and making her mom (Gayle Samuels) a part of the story in both the past and the present was a really beautiful way to do that.
Brianna’s mom is kind of scary. Are we going to see her in future episodes? Is she going to come back?
I don’t see a world in which she would come back. It’ll be clearer why she wouldn’t come back in the next episode.
With Jill’s husband, we’ve seen red flags from him for a while now.
Oh yes, he’s been totally normal…setting divorce papers on fire and breaking into someone’s house to cook breakfast, that sort of stuff.
Yes, those kinds of perfectly normal things. You did seed in a bit of a misdirect in that he signed the divorce papers, so I thought, ‘everything’s OK now.’ But then he comes back.
Well, I knew it was going to be Darren from the beginning. I had a general idea of who I thought I wanted to be shot back in July, but I knew with 100% certainty that he was the shooter.
Oh, so you knew from the start?
We got to figuring out whether it was too obvious. Are people too on his trail after he set the divorce papers on fire? Is there any other option? And certainly, in a writer’s room, you go through tons of permutations. We pitched versions where it was Val’s mom (Elaine de Valle). We pitched versions where it was Tina (Felisha Terrell). We thought about it, but I knew it was going to be Darren from the beginning. I didn’t care to humanize him a great deal, but I did find from the beginning that his character could be interesting in the sense that Jill had broken up with him essentially on national TV. Nothing he did is right or makes sense, but that was an interesting character for me to deal with as the person who’s left behind, who has to watch the person that jilted them and feel like something was done to them. Now they have to watch their partner be treated as the hero. And in watching the episodes, Jill hasn’t behaved all that great. But I think we did a good job of hiding the ball on Darren, after him being such a clear suspect at the end of Episode 5.
I think because he signed the divorce papers, it was easy for viewers to file him away in our minds. I think it’s interesting though, because when we first meet Jill, the way that she talks about her marriage is, ‘Oh, my husband saved my life. He’s the best. If I were attracted to him, everything would be great.’ But a person doesn’t just become abusive overnight. They don’t just become violent. Were there signs in her marriage that she’s going to have to reckon with now that maybe she wasn’t paying attention to?
Jill doesn’t have the best judgment. Throughout the season she’s been a person who’s been dependent. She’s been dependent on drugs. She’s dependent on her dad, who we will be seeing very shortly. She’s been dependent on Darren. Then she was dependent on Tina to help her get to the next stage of life. Then Alicia (Rana Roy) comes into her life and she immediately attaches to her. So she has dependency issues. She’s someone who’s unsure of who she is. She looks to other people for validation and then she molds herself to those people, so I don’t think she was capable of seeing those red flags. On the surface, Darren seems totally normal. I would imagine that he was always a controlling person, but Jill couldn’t see it. When we get to her father you’ll see why she might be a little bit willing to attach and mold herself to a spouse or a male figure. She’s had a really rough go of life up until this point, and that doesn’t excuse the things she’s done, but I certainly understand her and empathize with her as a character. It’s going to be nice to see her journey of getting through this, getting through the guilt of this, because it’s going to be hard for her to not to see this as her fault to some degree.
Is there going to be a time jump when we come back?
Yes, a small one, about three months. We’ll start Episode 9 fairly soon after the event in Episode 8. That’ll be the teaser, and then we’ll jump ahead in time. People are gonna be shocked by the opening. And then we have maybe the biggest moment of the show at the end of the episode.
I feel like this is the biggest part of the whole season, and we can’t even talk about it.
I’ll just say it has to do with Brianna. I always assume that TV viewers think, ‘If I don’t see the body in the ground, then I have to assume that the person’s alive.’ One of the great things about when we come back is there will be tons of music. Rapper Remy Ma is going to guest star in the show as well. You’ll get a Remy song, Remy and Brandy get to do a song together. There’s going to be some rapping in Spanish later on.
What can you tease about storylines that we’re gonna see in the back half of the season, whether that has to do with Valeria’s mom or anyone else?
Valeria’s dealing with both her search for family and also the void that her mother, her fake mother really, has left her with. I can tell you that pretty early in Episode 9 we’re going to deal with whether her real mother is out there and whether they are going to potentially have a reunion. Muffin (Pepi Sonuga) is going to be on the most amazing journey ever. She’s going to find herself really inspired by the Supreme court video that they did. She’s 24 years old, and she’s trying to figure out ‘what do I have to say?’ But, there’s gonna be a really explosive start to Episode 9 with the entire group that’ll send them in different directions. Then the end of the episode will be very satisfying in a shocking way to people.
Queens, Season 1 Returns, Tuesday, January 4, 2022, ABC