Through 10 episodes, Netflix’s Daybreak has a little something for everyone: Mad Max-style tribes, Ghoulies, mutated animals, catchy cereal jingles, a samurai episode narrated by RZA, and a Japanese cover of the Backstreet Boys inescapable “I Want It That Way.” At the center of this explosion of genre sensibilities is the quest for survival in the apocalypse–a metaphor for high school experience–and what we’re led to believe is a love story for the ages between Josh (Colin Ford) and Sam (Sophie Simnett).
Only Josh and his “killer origin story” of revenge, drama, fights, and love is not exactly what our mostly reliable narrator made it out to be. In episode eight, flashbacks reveal that it wasn’t the apocalypse that tore Josh and Sam apart. When Josh learns the fate of his father, he channels his grief towards Sam in a fit of rage, calling her a four-letter word that ultimately doomed their relationship. When we spoke with Daybreak producers Aron Eli Coleite, Brad Peyton, and Jeff Fierson at New York Comic Con, they broke down the decision to throw a major twist into this supposed love story.
“They’re high school kids. We can look at it and be like, ‘that’s a terrible way to handle this’,” Coleite tells Den of Geek. “But you also understand like he’s not really emotionally able to cope.”
Adds Fierson: “His dad died and he’s been ignoring phone calls from his mom all day. He takes it in a very natural way. I think he’s somebody dealing with tragedy who has never dealt with tragedy like that.”
None of which is to excuse Josh’s behavior towards Sam. Josh spends his time during the apocalypse attempting to atone for his mistake, thinking that his heroics, saving the damsel in distress, will win Sam back. Only that’s Josh’s version of reality. In episode 10, Sam makes it clear that they’re not getting back together. The end of the world wasn’t the best thing to happen to Josh, it was the best thing to happen to Sam, who in a twist is now the leader of the jocks.
“What’s more high school than that?” Fierson says. “How many times do you break up in high school and like you think you’ve lost the love of your life? That’s what keeps it grounded to truly coming of age.”
The producers confirmed that if Daybreak is renewed for a second season, we’ll see much more of Sam’s perspective.
“If season one is the epic love story, season two is the epic breakup,” says Coleite. “The show is about subverting tropes and the most expected thing to do, is the guy and the girl get together at the end. You have your happy ending. But only he’s been the one telling the story. So we haven’t seen her perspective at all. And her perspective is, ‘No, I’m not a damsel that needs to be rescued. That’s not me at all.’ So we told season one as the most epic love story, a guy getting back together with girl.”
The writing staff knew the end point for Daybreak season 1: Josh and Sam would reunite. From there, it was all about managing the audience’s expectations along the way.
“We begin the season with [Josh] saying, “I have to find Sam,” Coleite says. “We end it with her being the bad guy, in his point of view. So filling in and being able to block out every episode of how we unfold that story, how it twists and turns, how it is able to really layer it in, so that at one point he believes she’s dead, and then he finds out that she’s alive. Then we find out, ‘Oh, he lied to us, and they were broken up before the end of the world.’ We really place everything in a very carefully orchestrated way, so that when you get to that ending, it really is surprising.”
Read more from our chat with the Daybreak producers on what to expect in a potential season 2!