[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the season finale of The Cleaning Lady. Read at your own risk!]
A year after fleeing the Philippines with her son Luca (Sebastien and Valentino LaSalle) without consulting her husband Marco (Ivan Shaw), Thony (Élodie Yung) got the worst taste of her own medicine. After returning home with her sister-in-law Fiona (Martha Millan) and Fiona's children, Chris (Sean Lew) and Jaz (Faith Bryant), Thony discovered that Marco had wordlessly taken Luca back to the Philippines, even though she had just agreed to help her crime boss Arman (Adan Canto) launder money through her new cleaning business.
TV Guide spoke with Yung and executive producers Miranda Kwok and Melissa Carter spoke about the heart-wrenching final scene, Thony and Arman's inextricable connection, and the new storylines that would be explored in a prospective second season.
In the final moments of the episode, there's a heartbreaking 360 shot of Thony realizing that her baby is gone and we hear the lyrics "I'm lost without you" in the background. Élodie, what was it like for you to film that final scene?
Élodie Yung: For most of the scenes, I try to learn my lines and let it happen on the day. And especially for something like this, I need to get surprised by it. Things came up during the scene—there was the script—but nothing was completely scripted. I remember after the first take, I was physically shaking. So for me, as I came in, it's like you have a feeling of something. You know it deep down, but you don't want to believe it quite straight away, so I think this is what happened to me and Thony. We came home, I called Marco and he didn't respond, Luca's not there. I tried to put myself in control [as Thony], but then it hit me as soon as I went back to Fiona that he took my kid. I've never experienced this as an actor before. It was a very hard, powerful feeling to go through, and I'm sure I didn't even experience not even 5% of what parents in this situation would experience, but it was my honest and true reaction that day.
Throughout the episode, Thony and Marco seem to have different definitions of where they call home—Marco wants to take the entire family back to the Philippines, while Thony wants to stay in Las Vegas. Melissa and Miranda, how would you justify his decision to unilaterally leave with Luca?
Miranda Kwok: It comes from a good place for Marco, even though the action may not be right. From Marco's perspective, what Thony has been doing is wrong. She's involved with a criminal, she's involved with the feds, she could be thrown into jail. He's doing what's right to protect his son, and it's actually Thony who has been endangering him by getting involved with these dangerous criminals. He's also just forcing her hand. He's not trying to separate Thony from Luca; he's trying to say, "The Philippines is our home. That's where we need to be." And he's just being very aggressive about it.
Melissa Carter: We're gonna really dive into that [next] season, because she initially took Luca in order to get him healthcare, but she did it without waiting for [Marco] to get his visa. We're gonna try to really lean into the fact that it's not black and white, that he's not flat out kidnapping Luca, which in a sense he is, but really show what an international custody battle looks like. What's great is that we have the character of Garrett (Oliver Hudson) who's gonna go through a custody battle of his own with his kids as his divorce progresses in the second season, so she's gonna start to get pushback from someone in her life that she needs to reach out [to] for help, and just exploring it from Thony's point of view as the mother but also not vilifying the father.
To save both of them, Thony urges Arman to make a deal with the FBI, and while Arman initially agrees, he later reveals to Thony that he has concocted his own plan. What ultimately led to his decision to turn on Hayak (Navid Negahban)?
Carter: I think, for the first half of the season, Arman really felt like Hayak was a prototypical father. This was someone who had groomed him, who had saved him from a life of poverty, who saw his intelligence. And then there's a switch in Episode 3 when he realizes, "No, Hayak just really sees me as the help. He doesn't see me as part of the family." [Hayak] sends him off on a foolish errand to get the politician to come to the wedding, so I think that's the start of his arc this season where he realizes, "This is not my family, and Hayak is not my father, and he doesn't wish the best for me. He's been using me, and the only way to truly break free from him is to make this deal with the FBI." And he hates the FBI, so it's a real big conflict for him in Season 1.
Kwok: We debated at the end: "Would he kill him?" And we realized, No, this is his father figure. Instead of killing him, we thought it would just be smarter for him to take him down in his own way and also to still get what he wants. He was able to mastermind the whole thing and protect Isabel (Shiva Negar) as well. He needed to gain back Hayak's trust but then also isolate him. In order to take down the king, you need to isolate him, you need to strip him of all his power. He never trusted Garrett to let him free, so knowing that, he's like, "Well, how can I use that to my own advantage?" He was able to be so many steps ahead of the game.
Élodie, you've mentioned in past interviews that you noticed a striking shift in the way Thony reacts to such brutal, life-threatening situations compared to the pilot. How would you describe her full evolution this season?
Yung: I don't think there's a complete change in her. She's in survival mode, so she has to find ways in order to just make the best decisions she thinks for her kid and for herself. I do feel like she's a reactive person. I felt, midseason, that, "Oh, okay. Her reactions were a little different. She lies; she's secretive." I don't know if she's changed or if those situations just brought out those qualities or flaws that she had within her.
In the finale, there's the scene where she brings Fiona to the new place. There's an excitement in her, and to me, that was an extra layer of, "Oh, she is getting involved more than maybe she realizes." She's excited by that, and that's gonna bring something else out of her, but I don't doubt that she will still have good intentions and to help people beyond just helping her kid. But I can already feel the tingle of like, "Ooh, watch out, Thony! I don't know what you're getting yourself into." [Laughs.]
Thony and Arman kissed twice this season, but those moments—and their feelings—were frankly never addressed after Thony ran away on both occasions. Do you think there is also some twisted romantic potential there, or do you think it's a case of fatal attraction? Will the writers ever address the tension between them?
Kwok: Yeah, I think that question is always there, and that's a question that we want to play with. Their relationship will continue to evolve and change and progress as they get closer, but there's also things that will draw them apart and set them against each other. So we don't want it to be ever necessarily a full-blown romance, 'cause then that's not what the show is. That show is about that tension.
Yung: I like it this way because you see, Max, you asked this question, and I'm asking myself this question the whole time, like, "What's going on?" But I do think that there's an attraction between them that is layered with complex situations, and I don't think that this should be about the love story of Armando and Thony. I think it's a very complex, bizarre relationship that they don't even understand themselves.
It was so funny. In Adan's mind, it was like a romance. "How do you think we should kiss? I think we should have, like, a gentle thing." [Laughs.] I don't think, on my side, that this is what's going on. I do feel, in my gut, that there are moments [when] you're so lost and there's this person that's there, and they're the only anchor at that specific moment, and then chemistry can happen like a flash. And to me, that's why Thony reacted this way. I don't think she wants anything like this right now in her life or even with him. I think it's just flashes of attraction.
Carter: There will be physical connection throughout the [next] season—how far it goes? We're not sure yet. [Laughs.] But I feel like [in] the finale, all cards are on the table. Nadia (Eva De Dominici) knows that her husband has feelings for the cleaning lady, but now she's hitched to her financially. She doesn't get her money unless it's through Thony getting that cryptocurrency out and giving her her allowance, so that complicates things. Then, if she's gonna keep Luca in this country, Thony is gonna have to make a deal with Marco, which means she's probably not gonna be able to run off with Arman. It's all of these things that keep the tension really taught and tight.
But I think because we have a female showrunner and creator at the helm of this project, we do everything from the female gaze, so even Arman's desire is her looking at his desire for her. It's what every woman's fantasy is—that this dangerous, dark criminal, who is intelligent and sensitive, wants to protect her and is falling in love with her. So I think as long as we can keep that going, how far they go physically is less important than where they are emotionally.
In his final scene of the season with Thony, Arman says, "You won't regret making your home here. After all, America is a land of opportunity. All you need is the right combination to unlock it." They then share a silent look like they both know something the audience does not. What was the significance of that look and the focus on Arman's hands, specifically with the tapping of the finger?
Kwok: So, because they can't speak openly, Arman had masterminded everything to basically put Hayak in a corner, and Thony was in on the plan, of course, to get this cryptocurrency on the hard wallet USB. That was his way of saying that he received it—that was the knowing look. Him asking if she's going to stay and help, because America is a land of opportunity—that was the money. And then when she agrees to stay, he gives her the code. Hayak gives him the numbers in the bus [to the prison], and then [Arman] gives [Thony] the same code.
Where are you in talks about a potential renewal with FOX?
Kwok: Melissa and I are working on a Season 2 pitch, and we're gonna be pitching that first to Warner Bros. to shape it and then to FOX. They said that they probably wouldn't do a renewal until after the finale anyway, and the Season 2 pickup doesn't necessarily depend on what our pitch is, but that it can certainly help build the excitement.
Where would a prospective second season pick up?
Carter: I think what the audience is looking forward to seeing is, how is Arman gonna deal with Hayak in order to take the crown? Arman is going to run the Vegas syndicate. What is that gonna look like? But meanwhile, Thony is going to be working with Fiona setting up her cleaning lady business, but she promised an underground clinic for undocumented workers in the back of the cleaning facility. As she starts to try to do good for her community, she is going to start making questionable moral decisions, and she's going to start making enemies. We kind of felt like, even though she's always trying to do good to counterbalance the bad, we want to start shading her a little darker every season where she starts making more and more morally complex decisions.
Kwok: And the money laundering—that's something that evolved in Season 1 when we realized that Arman could have this last big score, but he doesn't quite get it, and the challenges of what's gonna happen with that. Will Hayak find out that he was betrayed? Obviously, we need to get Luca back somehow. And then Fiona as well, she's gone through her own arc of facing her biggest fear of deportation and what trajectory she's going to go on. Is she going to try to go on the straight and narrow so that it doesn't happen again, or does that empower her to take bigger risks? We definitely have some places to go with her as well.
Carter: And Garrett has a big fish in jail, but is he gonna be able to keep him there? How is [his] relationship [with Thony] going to deepen? Also, she's done something like taking her son away from the father, [and] he has a completely different perspective about that. Will feelings develop on his part towards her eventually? Is all that conflict hiding some real chemistry there? And I also think Nadia could be a really delicious villain. She has every reason to be pissed off at this cleaning lady and maybe she could be a real force for Thony to reckon with [next] season.
The full first season of The Cleaning Lady can be streamed on FOX Now or Hulu.