[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Society” Season 1.]
“The Society” showrunner Christopher Keyser knows exactly what happened to the teens on his Netflix original drama. Of course, he’s not telling. “It’s a longterm mystery that needs to be teased out over time,” he told IndieWire. “It’s a many-layered question.”
For the young people who find themselves trapped in an alternate world with no parents and no rules but the ones they make, it’s not just a question of what happened to them, but why they ended up in a carbon copy of their small New England town, what their parents might have had to do with their disappearance, and, of course, if there’s any way they can return home.
“We’ve begun to answer some of those questions and we’ll continue to do that,” Keyser said. “That’s going to get stretched out over the course of the series because the answer — the ultimate answer, the fullness of it — you wouldn’t want known until close to the end.”
That said, Keyser does feel like a fair amount is known by the end of Season 1 (streaming now). “On the kids’ side, you know they have begun to understand that man who drove the bus is some version of God, and that man who drove the bus is connected to something that their parents did the day before they were taken,” he said. “They’re beginning to have conversations, whether that’s about being saved or being punished. They know that they are not on the Earth they were on before — that they are in some other place, a parallel universe.”
There’s also what’s revealed in the last sequence of the finale: “What [the kids] don’t know, but now the audience knows, is not only do they still exist, but Earth still exists, which matters a lot if you want to know whether the kids are ever going to go home. You’d need both things to be true.”
Keyser’s previous TV credits include co-creating the original “Party of Five” and writing for series including “The Last Tycoon” and “Tyrant.” The origins of this series, he said, began several years ago, when he and fellow executive producer Marc Webb began pitching it. “Showtime wanted it and I wrote a script for them. They passed on it, saying that the cast was too young,” he said.
But four years later, an executive at Netflix remembered Keyser’s pitch and asked if the idea was still available — six months of development later, the writers’ room was open for business. “It’s an old idea that I think feels more relevant now than it did when we first started thinking about it, so that’s good. Sometimes it’s good to let things wait,” he said.
That waiting didn’t affect the show’s relevance to today — quite the opposite, in fact. While the show’s development took place before events like the 2018 school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School (which spurred its students to become vocal gun control advocates), he said, “the post-Parkland generation was entirely in our heads because it’s obviously a generation that sees the challenges and actually believes they are part of the solution. To make things better. That was in large part the drive to do the show this way.”
One important choice made in setting up the show’s premise was the fact that the teens start off with a fair amount of food and electricity. “It’s not random, though they don’t understand what it is,” he said. “If there’s a deity in this story, something that makes that happen for a purpose — and we don’t know what it is yet — it both serves that function of how their story fits into the morality tale that they find themselves a part of, but also allows us to tell stories about them asking all of these really interesting, more complicated questions about society, than simply how are we going to find food tomorrow.”
However, this is only really the beginning of this community’s journey. So far, the teens have only gathered supplies; they haven’t started making anything on their own yet. “They don’t live in a world where there’s capital and labor yet, where stuff is being produced and the question of who owns what’s being produced,” Keyser said. “None of those things are happening. They’re gathering not in the wilderness, but in a suburban setting. They are in some ways a very early version of a society, except they happen to have a lot of modern conveniences at their fingertips.”
There’s no firm plan in place for how many seasons “The Society” could run. “I think it’s flexible. It could expand,” he said. “I know full well that first we need to get a second season and then we need to deal with what Netflix’s general philosophy is about how many seasons shows get. I don’t really have any idea.”
Should the show get to Season 2, Keyser said the focus would clearly be — following the events of Season 1, in which Allie (Kathryn Newton) was removed from power by Campbell (Toby Wallace), Harry (Alex Fitzalan), and Lexie (Grace Victoria Cox) — “New Ham under new leadership, [and] that’s not very stable because it’s a triumvirate of three people, none of who trust anyone else in that triumvirate. How that’s going to work and whether they will work together or will begin to undermine each other, we don’t know.”
In addition, production is a necessity that could still lead to problems. “They’re going to need to begin to produce their own food,” he said. “Food means agriculture and that’s uncertain. What stories might come out of a successful planting season or an unsuccessful planting season? […] We have not yet dealt with what happens when sickness or injury happens. There are all kinds of pressures that are going to be placed on a community like that that we haven’t explored yet.”
For now, Keyser remains in a good headspace about the future. “I kind of like to think that we’re at the end of the beginning with ‘The Society.’ If we’re lucky, we’ll get to tell it all the way through the actual end. If not, then it’ll join a long list of television shows that ended before their creators wished they had.”
In the meantime, he knows “The Society” “will always have that possibility of chaos hanging over it, but it also contains some seeds of optimism; that there’s something inside of us that might actually give us the capability to do a little better.”
“The Society” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.