[Caution: mild spoilers about The Crossing ahead!!]
ABC's The Crossing has been compared, not unfairly, to Lost — ABC's famed sci-fi, supernatural series that, like The Crossing, starts off with a group of shipwrecked survivors trying to make sense of their new world. But The Crossing is unique in its backstory, which begins with the idea that 400-plus Americans from the future have washed up on the shore of a fishing town in Oregon as refugees from a war 187 years in the future. In Episode 2, it becomes clear that the future is populated with genetically engineered people — Apex — and as sheriff Jude Ellis (Steve Zahn) dukes it out with Department of Homeland Security leader Emma Ren (Sandrine Holt) and bonds with unusually powered refugee Reece (Natalie Martinez) to tease apart this mystery, The Crossing hints at a future that's vastly different from today, yet rooted believable projections of what's to come. The Crossing's central drama — unusually powered refugee Reece (Natalie Martinez) trying to find her daughter Leah (Bailey Skodje), Emma's battling bureaucracy, refugees settling and conspiracies galore — takes place in the present, but in order for that to feel real, creators Jay Beattie and Dan Dworkin had to first create their imaginary future.
As they'll explain in their The Crossing podcast, Beattie and Dworkin did more than just imagine the future: they consulted some of the best minds in the business, from tech experts to NASA scientists, futurists and genetic engineers. As it always has been, the sci-fi of the present is the reality of tomorrow, and in amassing firsthand knowledge about what's to come, The Crossing creators pieced together a future where meat from animals isn't a thing and the sun comes out only rarely — and that's just the start. TV Guide caught up with The Crossing's storytellers to hear what they learned and what made its way into the series.
TV Guide: Why did you want to consult experts, and what was that process of discovery like?
Dworkin: It was incredibly fun for us to dive into the research. We found out all these cool things from physicists and genetic engineers — people you would not talk to in everyday life. We weren't sure, when we set out to create the show, how much we were going to show of the future, so we wanted the refugees that came back from the future, just in their dialogue, to represent where they came from as accurately as possible. That's what let us down the path of speaking to futurists...in the pilot, that's what led to the notion that we're going to create food in labs and in the atmosphere you're going to have greater moisture it would create cloud cover that would potentially obscure the sun and the stars — there was no end to the interesting stuff. Andrew Hessel, the genetic engineer, he was kind of our consultant; he would check us if the things we were coming up with were a little bit out of bounds in terms of what he thought could be a future reality. Obviously, a big foundation of the (show) world is one where there is genetic engineering and how we're going to be able to upgrade our bodies in the future. Specifically, how much of the population will have access to that? How are designer babies going to come into play? We tried our best to put into the show without overwhelming the show with too much research.
Beattie: When we started our research into genetic engineering, a lot of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology was already out there. You see stuff on YouTube right now where people are using technology to hack themselves, injecting themselves online with gene therapy. The more controversial one that's creating the ethical debates is germ line editing where it's like Can we change our genes and the heredity of diseases and things. It's pretty much here now. In talking with people like Andrew Hessel and climatologist at NASA Tom Wagner it became clear to us a lot of it will happen much sooner.
Dworkin: Are we going to have genetic engineering in the next 180 years that is going to sponsor an Apex-like race? That's a question we put to Andrew in the podcast. No one can say. But it is absolutely predictable that things like cancer and diabetes — those things are going to be cured.
In your vision of the future, was there a singular event like a global catastrophe or war that makes these genetically enhanced people rise to prominence?
Dworkin: That's a great question. When you are doing a show, there are things you have in mind...but then there's a question of how much of that makes it into the mythology of the show. We might have it in the show in a later episode. I don't want to spoil it but we had a really interesting idea for the genesis of Apex. It was about how, in the future, when we do space travel — and I'm not saying our show is going to space travel because it doesn't - but when there comes a point in the future where humanity wants to more seriously explore outside our solar system, the human body isn't built for that. It can't withstand the radiation exposure and isolation and stuff like that so the human body is going to have to be upgraded significantly if we're going to explore the universe. And in our mind, that played a part in the genesis of Apex. There was a project to upgrade the human body substantially beyond how it had been upgraded before. And that took a left turn and went wrong and became Apex.
Beattie: As this technology becomes available in the future on our show, you would think it's a matter of who can afford it and who cannot. But it really goes a different way on our show. It's about who's genetically available to upgrade themselves. And it creates a world of haves and the have-nots. This further creates separation between two classes — Apex and normal humans we call Commons. And you have a population that's coming to realize that they are superior. And that's where the war begins and that's where things take a darker turn.
Can we talk about Mantle's disease? What's up with it - what are the effects?
Dworkin: When we were trying to picture a future for future genocide perpetuated by what we are positing is a very intelligent, very powerful race of people, that being Apex, we were trying to think: What was the means by which like a hyper-intelligent race of people would perpetrate this holocaust? What is most efficient thing? Far more efficient than a nuclear weapon it seems, would be to genetically target a specific type of person. We had this idea and consulted with Andrew and it sounds like it would be. At this stage we have the technology to target a specific genetic profile and eventually the ability to target an entire population. It's not the craziest idea in the world. We said that they engineer this virus so that they could walk into infected areas with immunity, it was an interesting idea. We basically we talked about it being hemorrhagic symptoms — that's Ebola, when organs shut down. Most importantly it's incredibly contagious so we hint at something in Episode 2 when you're hearing the testimony of the refugees talking about how the disease affected them in the future. And how maybe the most devastating insidious part was you had to flee your loved ones if you wanted to survive. Staying in proximity was a death sentence for yourself. So I think people having to uproot themselves and leave loved ones behind to die was maybe the most emotionally affecting part of the whole thing. It plays a lot in the remaining episodes. You've seen that Leah has been infected, she has this rash. That scares the hell out of the rest of people in the camp. Because it's the worst virus that ever hit humanity. And then you're going to see another character come in - a virologist - to study it and you're going to see how, in the future, Reece was able to treat Leah with her blood. So now you've got this Apex running around with DNA that essentially could be the cure for everything that ails people now. That makes her very valuable.
Leah discovers a Bible and doesn't know what it is. Is there no religion in the future?
Beattie: That could be taken a couple ways. It's a line said by Leah, whose life in the future is a little bit different than the rest of the Commons. So I do think based on the research, in the last hundred years people have been moving away from religion. They've been becoming more agnostic or non-practicing. We're not trying to make a statement about how it's gone in the future, it's just some people weren't exposed to it in the future, like Leah. It is interesting to explore the idea that science has kind of taken the place of religion, certainly for the Apex. It seems to be that they have made themselves into God.
There's a good deal of diversity on the show. Is that commentary on the idea that there's perhaps a lack of racial prejudice in the future?
Dworkin: We really wanted to, from the outset, cast the show as integrated as possible from an ethnic and racial perspective because in our minds, and this is born out by the demographic trajectories that we're on in this country, certainly the future is pretty mixed. If you're talking about a hundred eighty years from now it's all mixed. I was just kind of an overarching thing we tried to adopt.
Reece and her partner in the future are shown in a kind of arranged marriage. How common is that in this world you've created and what did the futurists have to say about that?
Dworkin: One guy we talked to, a tech venture capitalist, talked about how emotions will be displayed differently. They'll be more of a technological transmission of emotion. To some degree could inform what we're showing of the future; you have these people Apex who have different norms that we do when it comes to courtship and cohabitation and I think on some level things are more efficient in a way.
Beattie: I think we're envisioning a world where, with dating and marriage statistically, it's a crapshoot. Maybe science has some answers for that in terms of matchmaking in the future. That led to our thinking: maybe some people give themselves over to science a little more readily.
What is the purpose that humans serve in your show's ecosystem then? If everything is automated, what are people doing?
Dworkin: It's a good question. Pablos Holman, he's part of faculty at Singularity University, we asked him; we had the same question. If our economy is going to be at autonomous, if our lives are going to be autonomous, we have to do less and robots are doing our jobs, what are we going to be doing? His answer was really interesting. He said we are going to have more time for taking care of one another, more time for emotional health, to try to explore those things. It was his contention that that's something we've failed at, looking after our fellow man and being empathetic and that technology frees up that space a little bit. That will be the next frontier after robots and AI.
In that light, what is the function of Apex people themselves? What are they working towards and doing?
Dworkin: This is the debate we had all season — we have lot of stories to tell, a huge cast of characters. And we're trying to figure out how much of the future story we want to tell, how much the future we're going to show, and what we ended up doing is I think showing glimpses. We tell the story through Reece and the refugees...the stories are more personal and a little open-ended as to the larger machinations of Apex in the future. We give the audience bits and pieces.
We leaned that there's at least one person from the future already in the present. What motivated him to leave the future behind?
Dworkin: The people who are already here, The Sleepers, we call them, you'll find out later they're not Apex. They're Commons and they do have a different agenda than the Commons we meet on the beach in the pilot. That is a mystery that will be unspooling over the next few episodes. There is an episode coming up that focuses — I would say the primary focus of the episode — is exactly what the Sleepers are up to, how they came here, what they've been up to since and what they hope to do no to do now.
Time travel is obviously a piece of this. How did the Commons actually get here, and what does their vessel look like?
Dworkin: That is something we will be showing. But you're going to have to wait. I don't know when you see it. I don't know if 'vessel' is exactly the right label for it. But there's an environment. One flash forward we did want to show was the refugee experience, which is the inspiration for the whole show, this notion of the mass exodus of people fleeing this horrible situation. In the future they're going to The Threshold, that's where it's called in the pilot, and it's a rumor. No one even knows if this mechanism is real or if it's going to work but that's all they have is hope. We show the people arriving at this place. That's in later episodes. But we will be meeting a character later who played an integral part in coming up with this technology and goes on to play an integral part in our show. So there's stuff like that down the road.
The Crossing airs Mondays at 10/9c on ABC.