[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the ending of “Moonhaven” Season 1.]
As Season 1 of “Moonhaven” is ending, an entire society hangs in the balance. A generations-long plan is starting to crumble, there’s a coup in progress, and some new arrivals are making the people of a self-contained lunar colony question pretty much everything.
Most other shows would lean into or feed off that chaos. Yet, “Moonhaven” takes some time for Earther pilot Bella (Emma McDonald) to join Paul Sarno (Dominic Monaghan) and his family in a quiet meal where they all talk about what they value and what’s to come.
“We said that a lot in the writers room, to ‘Think like a mooner,'” showrunner Peter Ocko said. “You didn’t grow up in a harsh environment, and then come to Paradise. You were born in Paradise. And so we built a fantasy version of a human that’s really in touch with themselves, but not in a way of ‘I’m going to yoga class.’ It’s actually in a way that feels like you’re fully living your life every day. Part of that is to acknowledge that when bad things happen, a moment of mindfulness is necessary. Otherwise, you’re just swept into crisis mode, and you’ll pay for it down the road by not processing what’s going on.”
That gentleness plays out in the moments that surround it, too. Paul’s family bids farewell to Wish (Josh Tedeku) as he makes his final trip to the First Wave ships bound for Earth. As he leaves, he passes through a series of open-air gates, mirroring the ones lit in the background of the series-opening night sequence. Another in a long list of the show’s entrances and exits, that goodbye through those outdoor semi-circles is part of the design team’s tangible connection to a shared past.
“So much of our action is on the roads. How are we going to remind the viewers that we’re on the moon?” production designer Phillip Murphy said. “We went off and did a bit of research, and I found in Chinese culture from the 13th century, they had Moon gates, which are essentially holes in walls or round windows that have views out onto the world, or that lead you in a path that ask you to adjust what you’re seeing because you’re going into somewhere beautiful. That design left China in about the 15th century and ended up going all the way to South America, where they cropped up there in another format, and now you see them all over the world and modern sculpture. So that’s what we took.”
Despite the calm and determination of Paul and his family, the reason why menace is still present in this season finale is that the omniscient artificial intelligence IO is about to be under new control. Indira (Amara Karan), who arrived at Moonhaven under the cloak of being an envoy, ends the season in the midst of a takeover of IO alongside Tomm (Joe Manganiello) and their other allies. To the extent that Indira’s turn is a surprise, Ocko explained that the season’s six-episode length meant they couldn’t be too coy about her intentions.
“I promised Amara that she would have to play poker for the first season, and she did a brilliant job of it. But I think that character has played a rather simple throughline with her ideology in this season. She masked it to tell a different story, but she is that passionate person. So is not all lies. She just has her own sense of how the future should play out. There’s a really interesting story to be told that doesn’t boil down to ‘She wants to be bad.’ I think she has very rational plans to make things better in a way that she feels is the future,” Ocko said.
Even as the curtain’s starting to get peeled back on Indira and Tomm’s true intentions, “Moonhaven” is approaching power and policy-making on this society’s own terms. One of the keys to keeping Indira a mysterious force throughout the season is that she doesn’t stand in as an easy real-world analogue. Ocko said that he and the writing staff wanted to stay away from making any of the people in this story a pure allegorical stand-in.
“This is not meant to be a lecture or a show with an agenda or an answer. It’s really just putting out this question of, ‘How do we survive?’ I think that’s a fair question, and the choices we have to answer that question change as we get more desperate,” Ocko said. “The idea that a group of people from the moon could return and restart society with a fresh generation, that seems absolutely absurd to our present-day ears. But if we really have no choice, and we’re being backed against the wall by climate and greed, will our choices change? It’s not meant to be an ‘I told you so.’ It really is just meant to put these things in play and let the individual stories play through. There’s no right answer.”
On top of the thematic questions raised by this finale, there are plenty of logistical ones for how those on the moon will adjust to the physical changes of their surroundings. Arlo’s (Kadeem Hardison) detached arm points the way to a few answers. (That was Hardison’s actual arm in the finale — Murphy said that for the other scenes in the season where Arlo is separated from his limb, model makers at Odyssey studios made a cast of Hardison’s arm and made a full recreation, down to “putting all the hairs in. It was like a perfect match.”)
There’s the revelation of the literal family tree that once stood in the Fringe Land but is now a much more integral part of how these Mooners see themselves. It’s one of the last examples of the show’s ability to introduce an unfamiliar concept and have both Bella and the viewing audience of outsiders recognize the significance right away. The potential unraveling of the family system — built on every family raising other adopted children from the community as their own — holds the weight it does because of those scenes like those around Paul Sarno’s dining table. That uncertainty sets the stage for the still-mysterious IO to become a more visible element of the show going forward.
“IO, we’ve hidden that card as much as we could in Season 1,” Ocko said. “I don’t think we can keep it hidden. IO now has to expose itself and they have to know more about it and understand what does it mean that ‘It’s a child now, but not forever?’ Arlo’s line is really important, and that’s certainly part of my thinking moving forward.”
All of these swirling ideas make up what Ocko described as a six-episode “prologue,” one that manages to address fundamental philosophical ideas like mortality and destiny, while also introducing otherworldly, ethereal figures like the Wild Child, last seen disappearing into the same smoky chasm where Maite Voss (Ayelet Zurer) offers herself.
Between the strife on the Moon, and a new dynamic of those First Wavers arriving safely at their destination, the show’s renewal offers a chance to fill out even more of the series’ full scope.
“We don’t want to just pick up the story exactly where it left off. I want to feel that when we’re in Season 2, we’re with our characters we love, but this is a new chapter,” Ocko said. “Thematically, the problems haven’t changed. We’ve got a team that’s gone back to Earth and is now marooned, but they have with them IO’s technology. It’s not about a bunch of softies who are now going to get overrun by the walking dead. It’s a group of technologically advanced humans who have come back and are still intent on pursuing that goal of making things better. The show is not cynical. I’m not cynical. I think it’s really important that we we don’t let go of, ‘We are not a people, we are a purpose.’ That, to me, is the most important thing we’re doing.”
“Moonhaven” is now available to stream on AMC+. The series has been renewed for a Season 2.