Sugar Showrunner Explains That Big Twist and the Possibility of a Season 2

Simon Kinberg sits down with Den of Geek to explain what a second season of Apple TV+'s Sugar could entail.

Colin Farrell as John Sugar.
Photo: Apple TV+

The Apple TV+ original series Sugar, starring Colin Farrell as accomplished private investigator John Sugar, surprised audiences with a massive twist at the end of its sixth episode. As Sugar’s investigation into the missing alleged granddaughter of a movie mogul veered into dark and violent areas of Los Angeles, Sugar himself was revealed to be an extraterrestrial joining a small group observing Earth and humanity. This reframed the presumed neo-noir tale as a science fiction one, growing more complex as Sugar realizes he’s not only against nefarious kidnappers but a sinister figure within his own otherworldly community.

In an exclusive interview with Den of Geek, Sugar co-showrunner and executive producer Simon Kinberg unpacks the first season’s big twist, explains the deeper themes within the show, and details the implications of the season finale for a potential season 2.

Den of Geek: Now that we talk about this openly, how was it creating this neo-noir and, in episode 6, revealing the protagonist is an alien? How did you want to approach that twist, because I feel like it’s a make-or-break moment for the story.

Simon Kinberg: It definitely is! It was something that was part of the show from the very beginning. Mark Protosevich wrote a pilot on his own on spec and, at the end of that pilot, at the end of the first episode, Sugar was revealed as an alien. That’s what we went and sold to Apple. We went to other places as well and Apple was the most supportive and right home for it. As we were developing the show beyond the first episode, what we felt was to do that in the first episode, yes, it’s a make-or-break, but it also hasn’t given the audience an opportunity to “make,” to really create an opportunity to create a human relationship with that character.

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We talked about when and where to do it, and how to do it and how to lay in enough bread crumbs and clues that while it was a big “holy shit” it wouldn’t be such a left turn that you feel like you had been abducted and dropped into something else entirely. You’d feel like the back of your brain has been leading you to some sort of reveal. It’s a big swing and the good news is that people like the show enough to stick with it through the end of six episodes, so the actual film noir detective mystery worked on its own.

The even better news is that it seems like people certainly stuck with the show and appreciated the ambition of the swing and that it could actually deepen the character as opposed to taking anything away from the complex, unique character that we all, and especially Colin, created.

The twist completely reframes the context of the story and the character. We had seen Sugar deplore violence, show compassion, and appreciate film and the other things Los Angeles has to offer. With this twist, how was it viewing humanity and these things through the unique lens Sugar provides that us homegrown humans take for granted?

That’s a lovely way to describe it. We talked a lot about the character, because he’s an alien and, in so many ways, so many people live in Los Angeles specifically are aliens, meaning that they’re not from Los Angeles. I moved here when I was five or six, so I was a little bit of a transplant. I lived here for most of my childhood and the vast majority of people who I know that live in Los Angeles are not from Los Angeles. They come here because they want to work in entertainment, because they want to get away from somewhere; they come here for many different reasons.

In our core team, Fernando Meirelles, our director, is not American, he’s Brazilian and coming to Los Angeles from the outside. Colin is obviously not American and came to Los Angeles from the outside many years ago. Something I think that’s interesting about L.A. is not only is it full of outsiders, but it’s also a city, as much as any city in the world, whose identity has been created through film, specifically film noir. There is a lot of film noir that takes place in Los Angeles, a lot of the classic film noir and the contemporary classics – whether you consider Chinatown as contemporary; L.A. Confidential certainly is.

We all felt like there was something people would relate to, being a little bit outside the human experience. Also, like you say, it would be a fresh lens into things that we take for granted, like simple acts of compassion, the kindness of a dog, good movies, cool cars that are slightly forgotten. But through an innocent lens – another thing that we thought was exciting about the character was that, while he’s obviously physically formidable and really intelligent, there is an innocence to him because he hasn’t been, in some ways, ruined by all of the different moral complexities of living in our world. He is fresh to our world and we like that idea very much.

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We felt like it brought a lot of other colors to the genre of detective stories, which is a well-trodden genre.

How did you want the Siegel family and this mystery to challenge Sugar’s innocence and shape his outlook on humanity as the story progressed?

One of the things we wanted was to see is that Sugar starts with that certain innocence and naivete and even worships what the Siegel family represents, especially Jonathan Siegel, and, over the course of the story, he becomes disillusioned by all of them, especially by Jonathan because he was the one that he held in the highest esteem. We wanted to test his empathy and his belief in the goodness of people, complicate it for him, and see, on the other side, if he would still have a love for humanity.

We thought that was a really great challenging crucible to put him through in a single season of TV.

The season finale reveals Henry (Jason Butler Harner) is the antithesis of Sugar in what he appreciates from humanity. How did you want to set up Henry as this antagonistic figure moving forward?

We really wanted the aliens to have the capacity for good, like Sugar, and for bad, like Henry and humans. We had talked from the very beginning about having this ultimate reveal that this group of aliens would have at least one specific bad apple in it. They wouldn’t know how to handle that bad apple and, in their scramble to handle it, they would bungle much the way that humans do when there is immorality dropped into a community.

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We felt like, to really create a moral grayness to the whole show and say “Everybody can be touched by goodness, empathy, and compassion, but also darkness, depravity, and corruption,” we really needed to treat the aliens with that as much as we did the humans. That’s why we ultimately have Henry as the face of it.

Between this and Invasion, you’ve got aliens on the mind, Simon.

I do! Having worked in the superhero genre a long time – and there are some aliens in the superhero genre, but they’re not quite like this, and there are other things I’m working on that have aliens in them – I think I’m drawn to stories of being alien partly because the human experience right now, at least for me, feels slightly alien.

When I think about what I’ve lived through, as a 50-year old person in this world, with the invention of the internet, social media, all of the ways that feels like the world has accelerated, transformed, and technologized in the last 20 years, I do think there is a slight alienation that we’re all feeling from one another and ourselves. I find that stories about aliens are ways to metaphorically tell stories about humans, so I am drawn to them.

Obviously, Invasion and Sugar are very different, as well they should be. But I do think the similar strain is this question of what human beings do in the face of a slowly growing communal alienation.

This season, Sugar has two major anchors in his life who both happen to be strong women: Ruby (Kirby) and Melanie (Amy Ryan). What was it about having these two touch points for him in the story?

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You’re absolutely right to reference those two. They’re very different, not just one being human and one being alien. Ruby is someone who is in more control than Melanie is in control of herself and her place in the world. In the way I was saying before that we wanted to be sure that we were fair to both humans and aliens, I would say that Ruby is someone that betrays Sugar and that Melanie is someone who proves that humans can be trusted and that a relationship with a human can be as complex, fulsome, and loving as the innocent Sugar would hope, despite the fact that she’s a very broken person.

Melanie is someone who has been through a lot as a human being in the world and a lot of really dark and terrible stuff, but has come out as someone that can be trusted and is a good person. The difference is that he trusts Ruby implicitly and entirely at the beginning of the season and comes to realize that he can’t and that aliens are not all good. He has a little bit of a tough time trusting Melanie at the beginning, but comes to trust and realize that she deserves his trust.

The whole world just becomes more complicated for him in terms of his place in it, both in his relationships to humans and his relationship to aliens. The idea that they’re both strong women may just be something subconscious for all of us. I do think there is a softness, sweetness, and kindness to Sugar that we all wanted to mother a little bit.

You ended this season on a heck of a hook, with Sugar on his own on Earth and on the hunt for the man who kidnaped his sister Djen. What are your hopes for season 2?

I would start for a hope that we have a season 2; that’s not official yet. We’re all hopeful for it and everybody loved working on this and we feel like we have a lot more story to tell with this character. Fingers crossed, we get season 2!

If we do, I think it would be an opportunity to continue Sugar to figure out where he fits into planet Earth because he was here on a mission in season 1 and he was part of a community of people like him in season 1. Now he does not have a stated mission from his community, he has the mystery of wanting to figure out his family. He does not have a mystery to solve nor a larger question about the human species to solve for his own species.

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The second season would really go from “Who are these people and who are we in relation to them” to something a bit more personal, like “How do I find my place, my home, and my people down here?” While the mystery for him would be more personal and we’d want to find a new mystery for him to solve as a detective, it would be an even more intimate season because he’d really be alone. He’d have no, at least what he thought to be, protectors down here.

Sugar is available to stream on Apple TV+.