‘Nancy Drew’ EPs Break Down the Mystery of the Sleuth’s Surprising Backstory

The Haunting of Nancy Drew
Spoiler Alert
The CW

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 16 of Nancy Drew, “The Haunting of Nancy Drew.” If you haven’t seen it yet, make like jewelry whenever Bess is around and vanish.]

When it comes to surprises, Nancy Drew has been full of ’em so far. Nancy’s beau Nick (Tunji Kasim) has a rap sheet. Upper-crusty pal Bess (Maddison Jaizani) was actually a homeless klepto. Long-time bestie George (Leah Lewis) was no longer her bestie and was sleeping with married rich boy-turned-murder suspect Ryan Hudson (Riley Smith). Burnout Ace (Alex Saxon)… wasn’t even in the books! But this has been one of the many joys lurking within The CW’s sexy and so-funny update of Carolyn Keene’s iconic crime-solver: The writers’ inventive upending of the 90-year-old character’s history.

Tonight, the show dared to go even further outside of the classic novels with a twist so not “Nancy Drew” that even our Nancy (the sooo good Kennedy McMann) didn’t see it coming. As the hour’s first shock hit — that the long-unsolved murder of Horseshoe Bay’s “Dead Lucy” Sable was quite probably a suicide, borne of the town’s horrific abuse of the young pregnant girl involved with a teenaged Ryan — a second was waiting at home for Nancy.

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As part of her earlier efforts to clear her own father (Scott Wolf) of the alleged murder, she had a DNA test conducted on her own hair against the hair sample found at the crime scene, worried that it would be a match that would link her mom to Lucy’s death. What the test revealed, however, was that Nancy’s sample — not her mother’s — matched with that of the young woman whose ghost has been haunting her since the pilot. Yes, Nancy is Dead Lucy’s baby!

Turns out Carson and his late wife were trying to help Lucy deal with the pain of being an outcast in her own town by spending time with her, including the fateful night during which a despondent Lucy suddenly gave birth to the baby nobody knew about. She begged the Drews to take the little girl and as they swaddled the infant, Lucy plummeted off the cliff to her watery death. Shortly after that, the Drews left Horseshoe Bay to raise their new child away from any suspicions regarding her true origins.

It’s a gutsy move to shake up the actual parentage of a legendary and long-beloved character like Nancy Drew. Decades of readers recognize her as the daughter of Carson Drew, the perfect, supportive dad… although this time around, the guy has some serious issues with honesty. Could Carson be lying again? There are still six episodes to go before the season finale, so more twists could totally be waiting for us.

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Thankfully, we got some insight from series creator Noga Landau and showrunner Melinda Hsu Taylor about what they have done here and how this may all play out as Nancy comes to grips with what she’s learned. And of course, we also had to ask about the hot new cop that just showed up in Horseshoe Bay, how George’s budding whatever it is with Nick is going to impact Nancy, and where they stand on how awesome Ace has become.

OK, this episode feels like a season finale and you still have six episodes left!

Noga Landau: Well, yes. That was sort of always part of the plan, because something that’s important to us as storytellers on this show is that you never know when the case is going to get solved. We don’t want to set up a paradigm where you know that Episode 22 is the episode where they solve the murder. We want to keep our audience on their toes so they’re going to continue to play along. And so a case is solved in a sense here, but a whole other story is beginning and a whole new case is about to hit.

Melinda Hsu Taylor: Yeah, we’ve definitely wanted the audience to know that even if you finished one long arc, there’s going to be so much more to come. And we’re always going to want to tell stories every week that are serialized in some ways and very emotionally driven, but also have this kind of standalone aspect. In any single episode of Nancy Drew, even the ones that are the most serialized, there’s a little self-contained story within it. You can have a beginning, middle, and end of some sort, and you get that kind of fun, snack-able treat, as well.

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With Dead Lucy, had it always been your plan that the reveal would be that she actually killed herself? Because it’s absolutely heartbreaking once the pieces all start coming together.

Landau: It really is. And yeah, that was always part of the plan from the beginning. We wanted to tell the story of someone who was driven to the point of suicide, but we also want to leave the question mark over the mystery of, in those final moments, the final seconds of her life, maybe she did slip? You know, we certainly understand she might’ve thrown herself off the cliff intentionally, but we also understand that in the chaos of the moment, having just given birth, having just handed her baby over, having just been with the Drews and right at the edge of a cliff, that she did lose her footing and slip.

Taylor: In my mind, I prefer to think of it that way. As storytellers, we’re leaving it open. I wouldn’t say we have a definitive answer, because just me as a human being, I like to believe that people can turn around, even on a dime like that and say, “You know what, I look at the world a different way than I did 30 seconds ago, because I just gave birth and these people just reached out to me and helped me and they’re there for me and I didn’t ever expect that. Things are different now.”

Because she did have more to live for in that moment.

Taylor: Yeah. Exactly.

Nancy Drew - Haunting

The CW

And now, you were masterful in just laying the little clues about Nancy. I clocked the whole hair-test thing because I started to worry that Nancy’s mom, who has been so sainted so far, might actually be the killer. But then you throw this twist in and OH MY GOD. This is canon-shaking!

Landau: [Laughs] From the day that I pitched the show to The CW, this was always in the plan. Because I always say, “Nancy Drew is a girl who spent her whole life solving mysteries and little did she know that she was the greatest mystery all along.” I just think if we didn’t do this, then I don’t know why we’d feel like we’re a mystery show. I feel like it needed to be something this big and significant and character-driven for Nancy, moving forward.

And what does that mean for her, moving forward? Because now we’ve got this whole situation of Ryan being her brother? Her dad?

Landau: Welllll… we’re going to find out a little bit more about who Ryan is in Episode 17, but he is…

Taylor: Watch [Episode] 17 and you’ll find out exactly what the relationship is. [Laughs] One of the great joys of co-writing that episode for me was that I get to have these big arguments between characters I’ve come to care very much about. And I think that they’re living out their emotional truth, hopefully in a way that feels resonant and relevant to the audience. Because it’s kind of like, if you found that out about yourself, or you found out about this other person, what would your argument be like? Like a Nancy-Carson argument.

Nancy Drew - Scott Wolf

The CW

Carson… oh God, Scott in that final scene, that monologue!

Landau: Oh yeah, I know! And we love actually both Carson and Ryan so much as characters for completely opposite reasons. They really are opposite people. Carson is a small-town lawyer and he’s such a good guy… he’s such a fatherly father for Nancy. Meanwhile, Ryan is, well, he sleeps with teenage girls and is a total rascal who does morally compromising things. And yet, I think what’s exciting about these last six episodes is that we see how Ryan is going to start to develop as a character now, alongside Carson.

Taylor: Yeah, I think you’ll feel a lot of things about him, I hope, in Episode 17.

Because if he is Nancy’s father, then Nancy’s father slept with her friend George.

Taylor: That would be correct.

Landau: Yep. [Laughs]

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And much like how amazing Scott Wolf is in his confession to Nancy, Riley gave is such a sympathetic side to Ryan in this episode. He really cared about Lucy.

Landau: Yeah. And I think that’s what makes Ryan so fun as a character, is that he kind of goes… You like him for a little bit, and then he does something terrible, and then he kind of redeems himself. You like him for a little bit, and he does something that breaks your heart. He just leaves. He’s a very complicated, multi-dimensional character.

Taylor: Yeah. And I owe quite a lot of that to Riley Smith. In Episode 6 when Ryan is talking about Lucy and his relationship with her, he was so sympathetic in that moment that we actually realigned ourselves a little bit in how the story laid out. We felt like his ability to bring a reality to this past romance and this kind of star-crossed loss that he had in the past really affected how we decided to shade the future episodes about their relationship. There’s definitely a version of the story that is not as sympathetic to Ryan, but we couldn’t do that version because Riley Smith is so believable and compelling in the way that he’s doing it now.

Nancy Drew - Riley Smith

The CW

And now, Carson’s worst nightmare has come true. The secret is out.

Taylor: He was ready to go to jail to keep the secret.

What does this mean for the Drews? What is this going to do to this father-daughter dynamic?

Taylor: It’s going to be tough.

Landau: Yeah. It’s going to be tough for a little bit. It’s going to be very complicated for [them].

And Karen, are we done with her?

Taylor: We love Alvina August. We just found such a satisfying conclusion to her arc as a character…

Landau: For now…

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Taylor: Yeah. We’re leaving her in prison.

So you bring in hot Detective Abe Timora?

Landau: [Laughs] Wily, intelligent, driven detective Abe Tamora.

And I’m assuming that he comes to town with his own bag of mysteries.

Landau: Yes. As you often do when you come to Horseshoe Bay, yes.

So does that mean the next mystery kicks off sooner than later?

Taylor: The next mystery does kick off very soon. But I think that his role in the remainder of the season, in a really fun way, is as an antagonist who is not buying what the crew is selling. But also, he’s not a huge threat just yet. More about that in Season 2, we hope.

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And what’s up with Owen (Miles Gaston Villanueva)? Just as Owen and Nancy are heating up, you start laying in the George-Nick stuff. And I was like, “Are they really going to do this?” Because that’s some Girl Code stuff right there.

Landau: It is serious Girl Code stuff. And I think what’s fun about the upcoming episodes is you see how George and Nancy are trying to treat each other well but are still subtly crossing some Girl Code barriers. And we actually think that in this day and age, two female characters can have each other’s back, be part of the sisterhood, care for each other, and at the same time be both in love with the same guy and have complicated feelings about that. But what is cool about Nancy and George’s characters is that, for them, I do think that girls come before…w hat’s the saying, bros over hos? Hos before bros, that’s it. Whatever it is.

I really love that very modern approach to these two girls, each knowing what’s up and being willing to hash it out. But I have to tell you, my favorite evolution of a character so far has been Ace.

Together: Yes! [Laughs]

Landau: We love him.

Alex Saxon has been an absolute delight. Because that character could easily have been just “the stoner” or “the comic relief.” But he is absolutely lovable.

Landau: We absolutely agree with that. We are big fans of Ace as well. Big fans of all of them.

Nancy Drew - Alex Saxon

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Oh god, they’re all great and clearly having so much fun. The humor that you guys are getting in works so well. Because at their age, they wouldn’t take things so 100 percent seriously. They would still actually have some jokes.

Landau: Oh yeah. And I think that the situations they’re in are often so dire that if you don’t have a couple of jokes in there, then it wouldn’t be as much fun as it could be.

Taylor: The list of people on the series-regular list right now? Every single one of them is very funny, but in a very different way from each other. And in Episode 17 actually, I think you’ll get to see this kind of humor — well maybe not Nancy, she has a lot to deal with in that one — but every single one of them gets to be funny in a different way, which is so wonderful for us.

You have layered in such cool stuff with Ace and his dad, even dropping fun facts like Nick knowing sign language. So where are you heading with Ace? Because it feels like he would make a good cop.

Landau: He’s good, yeah! And he has more and more the same investigative impulses that Nancy does. But something that we’re going to delve into in the future is that there’s more to Ace than meets the eye. He actually does have some secrets from his past that still need to be unspooled. Namely, why was he trying to hack into a federal database? That was what landed him in McGinnis’ debt. It’s in the pilot why he was working undercover for McGinnis to begin with, so there’s still more mysteries to Ace that will be coming out in the future.

Well, I can’t wait to see how people flip their lids over this Nancy news. Because showrunners always say a twist is a game-changer, but this is changing 90 years of game.

Landau: Yes!

Taylor: And it was Noga’s idea. [Laughs]

Nancy Drew, Wednesdays, 9/8c, The CW