Gun violence has always been unavoidable in the post-apocalyptic genre. Whether characters are fighting zombies, aliens, or other humans, putting someone (or something) down with a well-aimed bullet to the head just seemed inescapable. At least until Daybreak, Netflix's new post-apocalyptic series created by Brad Peyton and Aron Eli Coleite.
Daybreak follows the often-comedic and always earnest adventures of a handful of teenagers navigating a nuclear fallout in Glendale, California. But whereas the radiation turned adults into zombie-like, flesh-eating monsters called "ghoulies," the teens are... fine. The teens are great, actually! They're sort of crushing the apocalypse, as one of the series' protagonists, Josh (Colin Ford), is fond of telling viewers through fourth wall breaks and various asides.
Josh isn't the only narrator, nor is he the only narrator who wields a sword. The kids, who have sectioned themselves off into violent tribes by way of stereotypical high school cliques — for example, the jocks fall under the reign of former school quarterback-turned-Mad-Max-style-warmonger "Turbo Bro Jock" — brandish swords and chains and baseball bats galore.
The one thing missing from this apocalypse? Guns.
"It was totally intentional," co-creator Peyton tells SYFY WIRE of their choice to take guns away from the story. Executive Producer Jeff Fierson adds that real-world events and, oddly enough, the uber-violent crime flick Heat served as inspirations for that choice.
The show was in development in early 2018 when a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire, killing 17 people. The Parkland shooting and those since — there were 338 mass shootings in 2018 and 2019 has already seen 342 as of this publishing — have sparked yet another national political debate over gun control, with many of the survivors leading the charge.
Not long after the Parkland massacre, Fierson was watching Robert De Niro and Al Pacino go toe-to-toe in Michael Mann's movie when everything clicked.
"The shootout after the bank heist [in Heat] is entirely scored by falling bullets onto the ground and giant gunfire," Fierson says. That led him to suggest to the creative team on Daybreak, which was green-lit around the same time, that they find a way to explain away guns from this world they were creating; they didn't need to be depicting that kind of violence onscreen. It didn't take much convincing.
Thus the kids in Daybreak — members of Generation Z, the generation carrying bulletproof backpacks to school — unanimously agree to the "Emma González Accords." Named for one of the most vocal Parkland survivors, the Accords are the only thing the tribes seem truly capable of agreeing on. Turbo may be a brutish dictator with a penchant for violence, but when a group of nerds, members of the STEM Punk tribe, find a way to make a gun and attempt to assassinate him, the punishment for having created the gun in the first place is harsher than the one for attempted murder.
"We're not playing with guns!" Turbo's right-hand woman, the always-intense Mona Lisa, says before condemning the STEM Punks to a brutal beating and death.
"A lot of the questions that have come at us have been like, 'If kids had to restart the world, if they had to make up for the mistakes of the generation before [them], hit refresh and start over, how would they handle it?'" Fierson says. "And I think the way, taking Emma González and the way the kids reacted after Parkland, it was a very interesting kind of model."
"They actually learn from their mistakes," Peyton adds. "Whereas it seems like adults just bury their heads in the sand now. We invented a world where… the kids actually took responsibility and took action, which is absurd if you think about it, that the kids are the ones who are turning everything around when a bunch of adults who have all the power and responsibility do nothing, basically."
"We did not want kids running around shooting guns at each other," Coleite says. "It's too dark. And it's so easy. It's zero challenges of creativity, and kids are the most creative — are so, so creative. Yes, this is a dangerous hellscape, and, yes, we want them fighting with each other, but why would they do it with the most boring of objects?
"It's not something we wanted to put out in the world," he adds. "We didn't want kids firing guns at each other. And it's really important that they have learned a lesson that adults haven't learned, about how easy it is to say, 'Look, we're done! We're not doing it. And we've all agreed to this. We'll find other ways to work out our issues, but we're not messing with guns.'"
Daybreak Season 1 is now available to stream on Netflix.