[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” finale, “Sacrifice Zone.”]
For 99 percent of other shows on TV, the main character ripping out a student loan collector’s throat would certainly be the most memorable part of an entire season. For “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block,” it’s just another thread in a shocking season finale that brought together every single element from the previous five episodes.
“Channel Zero” creator Nick Antosca explained in an interview with IndieWire that Alice’s attack on the guy behind those persistent phone calls was an example of another “Butcher’s Block” setpiece that uses a practical setup for maximum effect.
“It’s always delightful when that stuff works and you don’t even have to clean it up in VFX. There’s not even a CGI touch-up there,” Antosca said. “It’s just Adam Hurtig, the loan collector, wearing a thing on his neck and her biting it off. That’s one of my favorite moments in the show, to be honest with you.”
That surprise jugular rip serves as an effective bookend to the episode’s final moments in front of the staircase: Joseph Peach’s (Rutger Hauer) showdown with the Pestilent God, a grand sendoff for all the “Butcher’s Block” villains. When both Joseph and Alice (Olivia Luccardi) stare down the otherworldly entity that’s been behind all of the chaos throughout this entire season, the glimpse under its ropes is a trippy, almost nightmarish look at the cosmos.
“[Director Arkasha Stevenson] and I talked quite a bit about how, particularly on our budget, you represent something that’s supposed to be so cosmic and incomprehensible that you break your consciousness if you look too closely at it,” Antosca said. “We explored a number of experimental filmmakers as inspiration. What you see is a combination of the work of an artist named Susi Sie, who creates these videos that both look like something totally vast and cosmic and something tiny under a microscope.”
With the insides of the Pestilent God as work from Sie that the show licensed, Antosca sees that recontextualizing of experimental videos as a continuation of the origins of the series. Each season of “Channel Zero” is drawn from a creepypasta, a viral work of fiction that matches short-form horror with repurposed online images.
“You’ll find these creepypastas that grab images from Olivier de Sagazan, the performance artist we hired to play the Skin-Taker in Season 1 and they’ll just repurpose them and build a creepypasta around them. We felt that remixing of experimental art was in keeping with what creepypasta is and what it does.”
Visions and memories that invert and decompose have been ripples running through the past two seasons of “Channel Zero.” For the lead-up and aftermath of the Pestilent God standoff, the show got some more help from some other outside video artists.
“Guy Maddin and his proteges Evan and Galen Johnson worked for us on ‘No-End House.’ When you see Alice’s memories start to break down and twist and distort, that’s some work that Evan and Galen Johnson did. I don’t see visuals like that on any other show. It’s become a kind of a shorthand for the incomprehensible and the supernatural in ‘Channel Zero,'” Antosca said. “We can send them footage and tell them roughly what we want them to do with it and then they do their special sauce with their proprietary algorithm and send us back a bunch of different versions. It’s so beautiful and strange and it’s something I’d like to incorporate into future seasons as well.”
Also front and center in this jam-packed finale is the final fate of the two sisters whose story helped form the backbone of the season. Zoe (Holland Roden), the sister who first ascended the Butcher’s Block staircase, ends up in a loving, newly-chosen family. Alice, after doing her best to save Zoe from the Peach’s clutches, follows in their mother’s footsteps and ends “Butcher’s Block” at a psychiatric facility. Those diverging paths weren’t always the fixed end goal, but they came out of the creative team’s desire to find a natural, subversive ending.
“When I go into the writers’ room, I usually have the characters, the world, the scenario, roughly what the take on the creepypasta is. Then, together as a room, we often figure out where it goes,” Antosca said. “‘Butcher’s Block’ is the one that was determined most in the writers’ room. As we followed these characters, we collectively realized that it would be too obvious for Alice to end up the victor and turn out OK. There was something more heart-wrenching and disturbing and surprising about the sisters reversing places by the end of the season.”
The rise and fall of Zoe and Alice is mirrored by the destiny of Peach, the season-long evil patriarch pulling the strings across dimensions. One particularly unsettling sequence finds Peach discovering the severed heads of his children in a basement. Aside from being an emotionally fraught scene, the shooting logistics were just as difficult.
“That scene is pieced together from multiple different locations because it was too cramped to shoot it in the basement of that house. So the shot from behind him is in a different place than the shot on his face,” Antosca said. “It’s tough for an actor to do a scene like that pieced together. Rutger Hauer was a dream to work with and he brings so much. He just has a presence and can sympathetic and scary at the same time in a way that few actors are able to.”
But the most memorable Peach moment — maybe the most memorable in all of “Butcher’s Block” — is his elaborate demise. Taking one final stand against an all-powerful force, Peach is rewarded by being split in half and exploding into a cloud of bloody viscera.
“The obvious inspirations for blowing things up like that are ‘The Fury’ and ‘Zabriskie Point,’ which Arkasha and I had watched and talked about. It’s pretty simple as an effect,” Antosca said. “François Dagenais, who created the Tooth Child and did all the creatures on ‘Hannibal,’ is our guy. He just built a life-like model of Rutger Hauer and then we ripped it apart and shot it from a couple angles. The scary thing about that is that you only get one try. If it doesn’t work, then you’re in trouble. But it was fun.”
It was also a blast for Hauer, who’s no stranger to memorable on-screen deaths.
“What a nice way to die! Setting aside ‘Blade Runner,’ I probably died like 50 times or something in different parts. A lot of them were guys who had to be killed. But this was such bliss,” Hauer said. “When I saw how I died, it was amazing. They had a little video to show me on the day, just before the scene. I got a pretty good idea how spectacular it was. I think this is #2 on my list, basically.”
This finale represents the ending of a season-long partnership between Hauer and his castmates (“We clicked like a motherfucker!” he said with a chuckle). It’s also the culmination of a journey of sorts for director Arkasha Stevenson, who directed all six episodes.
“There was a lot of chaos going on and a lot of blood and a lot of fire and it was like three in the morning and my face was like half covered with dirt and blood,” Stevenson said. “And I was just thinking like, this is incredible. There are a hundred people right now making this happen and it’s a really exhilarating experience doing that with a large group of people.”
“I knew I was in good hands on the first day, the moment I saw her short film. I think she’s a major talent,” Hauer said. “We had real serious chemistry there. I couldn’t imagine any director doing something like this that was physically so hard and complicated. To me, she’s a miracle.”
As has become “Channel Zero” tradition, the next season is already on the horizon. The “Butcher’s Block” follow up will continue in the same spiritual lineage of “No End House” and “Candle Cove,” but it will have a distinct set of influences. If “No End House” was a group of Carpenter-style episodes and “Butcher’s Block” followed in the footsteps of Argento, Antosca has a new pair of predecessors informing Season 4 of the Syfy series.
“Season 4 is a whole new direction. It’s a love story and it’s inspired by Hitchcock and DePalma, with some elements of Cronenberg as well,” Antosca said. “It’s paranoid, it’s creepy, it’s scary. If Season 3 is super heightened, Season 4 is more ground level. It’s about a marriage and secrets that start to come out and take on a life of their own.”