In the first eight episodes of NBC's sci-fi drama, Debris, CIA operative Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) and MI6 operative Finola Jones (Riann Steele) have worked together under the joint organization Orbital to investigate pieces of an alien spacecraft that have crashed to Earth. From the start, Beneventi's boss/handler, Craig Maddox (Norbert Leo Butz), has ordered him to lie to Jones about the truth about her "deceased" father, astrophysicist George Jones (Tyrone Benskin). However, as the debris cases have gotten weirder and more harrowing for the two agents in the field, so too has their interest in lying to each other to protect state secrets.
It all came to a head in Episode 8, "Spaceman," when the pair decided to come clean with each other about George, their bosses, and to start to figure out what their ultimate goals are as they collect these debris pieces.
In this week's "Do You Know Icarus?" the agent's tentative trust in each other is immediately tested when a new debris piece puts them in an unending time loop that is creating a crisis in the fabric of reality. Eventually, the time resets separate Bryan and Finola as partners as their paths and destinies get further and further apart. To find out more about the impact of this episode, SYFY WIRE got on the phone with Tucker to get some insight into shooting the complicated episode and what's to come in the final four episodes of Season 1...
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers below for Debris Season 1, Episode 9, "Do You Know Icarus?"**
By this episode, you and Riann must have felt you had a better handle on the show and your character's arcs. How did you feel about the slow reveal of secrets and intentions between Bryan and Finola up to this point?
One of the things that we have been grateful for has been the opportunity to let these characters reveal themselves over a first season versus sharing everything right upfront. That was very gratifying. And it certainly speaks more to a cable sensibility than to a network sensibility, or what we had thought of as a network sensibility. We've gotten to see this partnership really come together. They've had to come to recognize that if they don't trust one another, they're not going to be able to succeed in their mission. And they're trying to sort out that trust between the two of them. Not whether Finola can trust Bryan, or Bryan can trust Finola. But, as a team, who's telling the truth and who's not?
Can you rank the episodes you have personally enjoyed the most so far?
[Episodes] 9, 10, and 11 are really my favorites. We're starting to build out this world, set up a second season, and not just tease the audience as much as being able to offer satisfying answers to some of the questions that have been posed thus far.
What has been satisfying about playing out who your characters are as people and figuring out that you both would rather be aligned with each other than the organizations you work for?
[Creator] Joel [Wyman], Riann, and I had a very strong sense of what the arc and those beats were going to be upfront. It was about attempting to maintain the courage to stick to that overarching commitment to the unwinding, versus getting sucked into the false, surface-level ways in which sometimes writers put characters together. And [Bryan and Finola] are seen as not romantic, so that is an additional challenge. It's always easier when they're romantic.
But, the mission becomes more and more clear for these two characters. And the way in which to succeed in the mission is ultimately in taking on different parts of one another. Particularly for Bryan, it's taking a page from Finola's book of vulnerability, and understanding that vulnerability can be a powerful tool. We're starting to see clearly that what Influx is willing to do to win, and it becomes evident that the only way to get ahead of them is to do this together.
"Do You Know Icarus?" has a very Groundhog Day structure with the events of the episode repeating on a loop that they can't escape until Bryan takes some drastic action. Was it fun or frustrating to play out an episode where there's so much repetition?
It was a terrific challenge and a welcome one. We knew it was coming early on so we were all excited about the opportunity when we finally got there because we had a good build-up. I think this is a good example of circling the quality of some of the directors that we've had on board. For television directors, it can be a thankless job. In this case, we had a director named Padraic McKinley. He is also one of our producers. And he also directed and edited and produced Kingdom, which is a show that I did in Los Angeles. He's a world-class post-production guy that's now stepped into directing. Joel, the network, and the studio knew that he would be able to pull this off flawlessly, and he did.
I don't think we did almost any pickups or reshoots. I even remember going to bed after the first or second day, and I texted Paddy that morning and I was like, "Man, did we get everything?" He was like, "What are you talking about? We got every single thing." His organization and pre-production work was nothing short of extraordinary, and it had to be perfect because we're block shooting as well, which means for one side of the camera, we'll be shooting the same scene four different ways, but without going back to the other scene. Then we'd flip the camera around and shoot all four again. And that's very challenging.
It's a potential continuity nightmare with all of those different "days" playing out in the same rooms, right?
Yes. But the continuity of the emotion is definitely what I was most concerned with, and so this is definitely the time to underscore what an extraordinary director Padraic McKinley. It was all of that, and then you add stunts and add a whole week of water stuff. It was a bear of an episode. I don't know if I've ever seen a more daunting task for a TV director over two episodes too. And he really, really pulled this thing off.
Let's talk about those scenes where you have to do a bunch of underwater work. Were there any moments of holding your breath, literally and figuratively, as you were shooting those sequences?
Many literal holdings of the breath. [Laughs.] Not as many spiritual ones just knowing that we were in the hands of Paddy. And I am scuba certified. I've ended up doing a bunch of [water] tank work recently so it's a good thing for actors to be comfortable in water and underwater. Vancouver had a terrific team up there for the tank work so many hats off to them. But tank work is a bit miserable because you can't wear goggles. And every take takes a while to reset. It's unpleasant but I also drive by people who are doing road construction at three in the morning in the middle of sloshing cold, freezing rain, and I just think, "Shut up." We're very lucky. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing actors complain. It is a true sin in my book.
The climactic scene where Bryan calls alternate Finola to convince her to help him, and she tells him the penguin and the soldier story is a quietly impactful moment between the two of you. Even more so when he admits he's trying to get back to her. Talk about your choices in playing that moment.
I've got two kids now. [Kids] are very clear guides in some of the emotional rides that we, as adults, can go on because they are so clearly delineated and pure. The feeling of being lost and trying to get home and get back to an embrace, or a sense of security, is a driving force for my 2-year-old twins. That disorientation is also a part of what I get to see with them when things change, and they're trying to realign what they know to be true and safe and welcoming.
I think that was a very helpful way into that scene. And being able to bounce between the frustration of being lost in the anger that I can't muscle my way out of it, and the emotional connection that I have with somebody who I know doesn't recognize the situation that I'm in; I'm cognizant that she's unaware of what's happening. Again, Joel ends up putting his characters and, oftentimes, the audience in these positions that are totally familiar and fully sensational at the same time. That's what makes our show so rewarding to watch.
Did you play out that solitary moment on the phone in a variety of ways?
One of the nice moments we found in that scene was the double doors and opening it to step outside and sit down. That's an example of trying to catch your breath and ground yourself, trying to see through all of the different layers and boundaries and borders and lenses. Seeing through the glass, stepping out of the glass, inhaling fresh air, trying to bridge these two worlds.
Should we look at the next episode, "I Am Icarus," as the resolution to this debris event?
Yes, you're dead on with [Episode] 9 and 10 being held in one hand. And then you'll take a big step back in Episode 11 with my Afghanistan episode that really re-contextualizes Bryan. And then ultimately, the last episodes answer the question about the girl and the photo, it answers the question about the bracelet that I wear. And then it's like a slingshot that brings us forward to a layup for Episode 12 with the big slam dunk in Episode 13.
Did you have a moment reading how Joel and the writers close out the season?
Yes! And it's going to be so fun to see people's reaction to it because it is a big surprise. It was a big surprise to everybody on set because they were redacting the pages. It'll be a lot of fun to hear the audience response.