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Rabbit Hole Bosses Break Down that Heady Premiere Twist

What is John going to do now??

Scott Huver

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the series premiere of Rabbit Hole. Read at your own risk!]

Did you see Rabbit Hole's big dual episode script-flip coming? The Paramount+ series' creators, showrunners, and directors Glenn Ficcara and John Requa didn't think you would – and that the show would get its hooks in you all the more because of it.

Rabbit Hole already had the distinction of marking Kiefer Sutherland's return to series television after his iconic turn in 24 and distinguished follow-ups like Designated Survivor, as well as being his first foray into the streaming landscape. In fact, Ficarra and Requa – writer-directors who've lent their distinctive touch to a variety of genres, including the films Bad Santa, Crazy, Stupid Love, andJungle Cruiseand seriesThis Is UsandWeCrashed – wrote Rabbit Hole specifically as a vehicle for Sutherland, conceiving the concept around his many strengths.

At first blush, viewers may have thought they discovered Sutherland at the center of a novel procedural-style series, with his character John Weir quickly established as the head of an organization specializing in industrial espionage, pulling off elaborate, slickly conceived corporate spycraft in service of high-dollar clients – and his own B.S. meter seems impeccable. Indeed, the sting operation that caps off the show's first act, stylishly staged in the vein of an Ocean's 11-esque heist, seemed to promise the template for similar cleverly executed operations every episode.

But then Ficarra and Requa hit viewers with a twist that upends the whole concept when Weir suddenly finds himself targeted in a deftly staged conspiracy plot that shunts him out of his comfortable, if risky, world and on the run, scrambling to stay one step ahead of the machinations against both him and the world at large. Even further, the glimpses at Weir's complicated backstory strongly indicate that our protagonist Weir is no straight-up good guy.

Ficarra and Requa joined TV Guide to dissect various elements of Rabbit Hole's opening gambits, including the inspirations and motivations, fueling the opening twists, crafting a thriller with Sutherland in mind, keeping the audience on Weir's side even as he's revealed as an unreliable narrator and the turning the increasingly pervasive real-world conspiracy theories into juicy fodder for Weir's exploits.

Kiefer Sutherland and Meta Golding, Rabbit Hole

Kiefer Sutherland and Meta Golding, Rabbit Hole


I think a show about industrial espionage starring Kiefer Sutherland was already a pretty good idea, and then you go all North by Northwest. Tell me where that instinct came from, because you start with a kind of juicy premise and then you make it that much juicier.
Glenn Ficarra: [Laughs] Yeah, I mean, I think the main idea from the get-go was like, we want to keep redefining what the show is, what reality is, and we can use all these genres to sort of illustrate that. So yeah, it's seemingly about something very simple and interesting, but that quickly gets derailed and it turns into something else entirely, and then I think one more time turns into something else entirely. So it was a challenge, but it was also kind of a thrill because we didn't want it to ever be a predictive sort of formulaic, episodic show. So that was kind of the fun.

John Requa: And we wanted to show that doesn't happen basically, because the thing take thing takes a complete left turn, a North by Northwest, Hitchcockian turn. We wanted them to say, "Oh, this is a great idea for show. Here's this character. Here's this team of people here." You know what I mean? It's like, "Oh, this is a good show." And then pull the rug and have that moment, which I think audiences love where they're like, "Where am I? What's going on?"

Tell me about the twists and turns that got you guys excited as you were baking them into the story. Were there some specific reveals and things you were just really excited about how to unveil and the way you unveil it?
Glenn Ficarra: Oh yeah. I mean, that's the whole fun of the thing is those little moments of, "Oh, I can't wait till we reveal that Charles [Dance] is his dad." What's the best way to reveal that? Or reveal that the entire first episode was not what it seemed, with just one shot, with one toss of the apple, you know, completely upend the audience's expectation of what they had just seen and what's going to happen going forward. Because now suddenly your character knows a ton more than you thought he did. And what a great chance for you to have Kiefer Sutherland be being that guy, because they know immediately like, "Oh, we're down for something fun and we're going to go, we'd love to go do it with him," you know.

Kiefer Sutherland Reveals How His Rabbit Hole Character Is a Different Challenge than 24's Jack Bauer

You wrote this with Kiefer in mind, when you found out he was looking for something fun. You thought about writing something specifically for Kiefer before you even had conceived the concept, is that right?
Glenn Ficarra: Yeah, yeah. It came pretty quickly actually, once we heard he was looking for something. I mean, we had been toying with an idea about a guy who kind of manipulates reality for a living. We weren't sure what it was or anything. And then we just kind of took that seed and ran with it. And then it was feeling a little formulaic. So we're like, "Well, what if then suddenly the North by Northwest angle comes in," and-

John Requa: The Man Who Knew Too Much, too, a little-

Glenn Ficarra: Also David Fincher's The Game was a thing where you're like, "Well, there's a lot more going on here." And the way we reveal those things and the way we set the table for what we think it is and it's always shifting was incredibly influential.

Kiefer Sutherland, Rabbit Hole

Kiefer Sutherland, Rabbit Hole


Early in his career, Kiefer played a lot of villainous or adversarial roles, then he's played his share of heroes: Jack Bauer had some decent shades of gray in him, but here you get to really play with the fact that here Weir's an unreliable narrator. You get to draw on all of Kiefer's strengths – tell me about tailoring the role to the things you knew Kiefer was going to be able to pull off.

Glenn Ficarra: Well, the thing about an unreliable narrator is you still want to like him after he deceives you. And what better guy than Kiefer to do that and have the audience still be with you because they trust him. And even though they know he is a man capable of violence and a man capable of intensity. Ultimately people are always with him though. And we kind of need that going through this show, because he goes through this whole gamut.

As you worked out the tapestry of the show, certainly there's no shortage of conspiracy material in our culture right now to draw from. Tell me about going down your own rabbit holes in the research for this and the prep for this and picking and choosing what you wanted to incorporate into the show.
John Requa: Well, unfortunately, all you have to do is open up your news browser and you find it. But there's so many books and podcasts about the data mining, and also how giant corporations have been leaking information. That's where we were going because we were interested in that anyway. I mean, we did WeCrashed because we were interested in that world anyway. 

And so we were like, we're being manipulated and people are surrendering their data, and themselves in many ways, and people are taking advantage of it. And so you have \ John Weir, who is one of the manipulators, really. He's one of the people who does that for a living. But then as the story goes along, you realize he realizes that there's a bigger plot at play and that it could potentially be incredibly dangerous for the country and for the world. So that's basically what it is, and you needed him to be this sort of guy who had deep knowledge of this world in order to understand the threat.

Glenn Ficarra: Seeing how Cambridge Analytica exploited this Facebook data to really discover things about people and manipulate them for relatively little money, it just makes you shudder at the thought of what could be done if somebody with the wrong intentions wanted to do something. And yes, it's done for advertising and yes, it's done to get you to scroll on your social media or anything like that, but it could do far worse than that depending on the amount of data that you've [provided].

John Requa: We read an article, and then watched the documentary, that the whole Russia hacking the election thing was not brilliant. They just sort of were throwing crap out there. They were just trying all sorts of different [things] and some of it stuck, and they weren't like brilliant [manipulators]. And it was just that they stumbled into it and they were completely like, "Look at what we did!" They could not believe it. And that just completely blew our minds. And we said, "Well, what if there was someone who actually had a clue who was doing this? What if there was someone who actually knew what they were doing and had evil purposes that was doing this." And they could take over the world. I mean, it'd be easy for them.

The Rabbit Hole premiere episodes are now streaming on Paramount+ with new episodes dropping every Sunday.