There are still five episodes of Desperate Housewives left, but fans will say an early goodbye to one Fairview resident when Wisteria Lane gathers to lay Mike Delfino (James Denton) to rest this Sunday (9/8c on ABC).
Why was Mike the one to bite the bullet? How will Susan cope with the loss? And what does it mean for the rest of the women? Showrunner Bob Daily spoke with TVGuide.com about the decision behind the big death, the "heartbreaking" funeral and why we may not have seen the last of Mike just yet!
How long had Mike's death been in the works?
Bob Daily: Quite some time. And I can't believe that we were able to keep this secret as long as we did. I think we pitched it to the network and the studio maybe as early as December.
Why did you decide to kill Mike?
Daily: I think we knew we wanted another blockbuster moment as we approached the end. Everybody's been married at least a couple times and we were running out of other big life events. We had a lot of births. We thought, "Well, maybe one of the most beloved characters dying would be a very interesting way to end the season." [We wanted] to be able to see the ramifications and how it affects life on the Lane afterwards. We kind of went through everybody in the cast at one point, just trying to see who made the most sense. I think one of the reasons we choose Mike Delfino is because he is so beloved by the audience. We thought it would really have a maximum impact. It's easy to kill a character that the audience isn't quite so much in love with.
Why was it important to have his death happen five episodes before the finale, as opposed to, say, two episodes before?
Daily: We wanted to take the time in the case of Susan's story to see how she is going to handle a grieving son, a pregnant daughter. How are her friends going to react to this? Are they going to rally around her? I think we really wanted the real estate to examine some of those issues. It seemed like if we did it right at the end ... it wouldn't really give us time to explore some of those issues. And ... we don't want to leave Susan a raw wound at the end of the series. We want to let the audience know that she is going to be OK. She is going to be able to handle this. Again, having that extra time allows us to take her on that journey, but also bring her out of it a little bit by the end.
James Denton said he felt bad about Mike's death because Susan won't be able to be funny for the final episodes. Was that a concern for the writers?
Daily: Teri's a great dramatic actress as well, and I think she's been playing the scenes beautifully. But I think we are also finding ... bits of humor. To me, that's always what Desperate Housewives has been about: finding either the dark comedic moments in an otherwise dramatic story, or finding the dark dramatic moments in an otherwise comedic story. I think we are dipping our toe in the water a little bit. We have an episode [with] Susan realizing she has to kind of be mother and father now to M.J. So, how does that play out? She's not slipping on a banana peel, but we are trying to find moments where she can be a little lighter and more comedic.
Have you missed writing for Mike in the last five episodes?
Daily: Really, when you look at that pilot, his moving onto the Lane was, in so many ways, the catalyst. [His death has] given us a lot of story ideas for Susan, but we really miss writing for Mike. Let me just say this: I would not preclude his coming back before the series is over.
What was it like writing his death and the funeral?
Daily: We just did a playback of the funeral episode, and there was audible sobbing in the room during some of those scenes. They're heartbreaking, especially seeing M.J.'s reaction. There's this one little moment with M.J. that breaks my heart every time I see it. It's definitely a very emotional episode for all of us because we love that actor and we love that character so much. We're busted up about it.
Was series creator Marc Cherry involved with this episode?
Daily: Oh, absolutely. This was really his idea. He hasn't been ... writing it, but he's been intimately involved in all of the steps of the story.
Unfortunately, a lot of people heard about Mike's death prematurely through the Nicolette Sheridan trial. How upset were you that it was spoiled?
Daily: We knew it was probably going to happen. It killed us that it did. We were days away. We were not surprised. We had been warned that it probably would. You work so hard to make these things a surprise, it would have been nice.
How did you decide on the way you killed Mike?
Daily: When he came onto the Lane, he was this dark, mysterious character. So we thought, "Let's get him back ... to that guy in this season." Also, we liked the idea that his last act before dying was saving Susan because he had always been Susan's protector and white knight. Rather than just [him] having a heart attack in his sleep, [we thought] "Let's give him a heroic ending." ... And also, it's more for an actor to go out in a blaze of glory with fake blood and that sort of thing. It's our parting gift to Jamie.
How will Susan deal with his death in the immediate aftermath?
Daily: I think she's pretty devastated, and she's got a lot on her plate right now. She's got a pregnant daughter, [and] she's having to deal with a son who is pretty young. She's definitely devastated, and we aren't going to try to have her quickly move on. We're trying to make this feel real. I think even though we are going off the air, it will be a long time [before] Susan is back to herself again.
So Susan isn't going to magically get a happy ending?
Daily: No, I don't think so. Like I said, we are building up to the birth of her granddaughter. I think the best we can do is find bittersweet moments.
Will Julie change her mind about keeping the baby in the wake of this tragedy?
How will Mike's death affect the rest of Wisteria Lane?
Daily: You'll see in this next episode that it kind of makes Carlos rethink his life a little more. Seeing his best friend die kind of causes him — as often happens — to take stock. [On] the funeral episode, we actually are doing one act per character. The event of Mike's death is causing [the characters] to re-examine their lives and re-examine the place they are at now. They're all kind of reaching big decisions in the course of the episode.
In the last episode, Carlos and Gaby were conflicted about what's next for them. Will Mike's death bring them together or drive them further apart?
Daily: Mike's death will lead both Carlos and Gaby to make big life-changing decisions about where they are going in the future.
What can you say about Lynette and Tom after news broke that his girlfriend, Jane, was moving in him?
Daily: I think Lynette is also going to reassess what she wants out of life based on Mike's death.
Desperate Housewives airs Sunday at 9/8c on ABC.