From show creator David Farr (who also wrote the screenplay for the film), the second season of the Amazon Prime Video original series Hanna continues to follow a young woman (Esmé Creed-Miles) who escaped a sinister government agency, only to find out that she was not the only one out there with the skills and training to be an assassin. With the Utrax program and all of the new trainees now being run by the ruthless John Carmichael (Dermot Mulroney), Hanna finds an unlikely ally in CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos).
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, writer/director/executive producer David Farr talked about how much Season 2 evolved as a result of making the first season, whether he’d ever considered a different story path for Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman), why he wanted to bring the character of Marissa more to the forefront, his experience directing two episodes this season, the importance of telling this story through the female gaze, not wanting to fetishize the story’s violence, his plan for a possible Season 3, and how long he sees the series continuing.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Hanna Season 2.]
Collider: How close is Season 2 to the idea that you had for a second season, when you originally conceived of what you wanted the series to be? Is what we see basically what you thought it would be, or did the first season change any of what you wanted to do?
DAVID FARR: What I’d say is that, when I decided to embark on the television version, I did have a fairly clear roadmap of what I felt would be worth telling, and it was all about the fact that Hanna had actually escaped from a completely different possible life, which was the life that we see these other girls lead, at the end of Season 1 and all the way through Season 2. It’s a very, very strange life, brought up in secret in a Romanian facility, miles from anywhere, by a covert organization, basically training to kill, but also training to enter life, as an apparently normal, young American college girl, if you like. They’re very innocent killers, and Hanna has only escaped that fate because of the actions of Erik Heller, who pretended to be her father and brought her up alone.
So, to me, Season 2 was an opportunity to bring her and the other young women together and to see the impact they would have on each other, and specifically to look at what that meant for Hanna, in terms of her search for her identity and the choices that she would make about her life. One obvious choice might be, given that Erik has died, would be to say, “Well, I actually probably belong here. I probably belong amongst these young women. That’s what I was meant to be. That’s what’s in my DNA. And if I do that, I gain all sorts of wonderful things that they have. I gain a different identity and name. I’m given a family. I’m given a past and I’m given a history. I also gain the friendship of these actual young women.”
Given that so much of the season, and the whole show, is about family and identity and belonging, it’s inevitably very tempting for her. The central dilemma of the season is, what does Hanna choose to do? Does she choose to accept that offer, or does she choose to resist? It’s a pretty clear choice that she has to make, and a dramatic choice that she has to make. If she chooses to accept, it means she’s giving up on everything Erik brought her up to believe in. If she chooses to resist, she’s risking her life and the lives of others.
That was the thing I thought would be very potent, and which we held onto. What’s completely developed, way beyond my expectations, in a way that got me really excited, along with all of the other writers on this season, is the Meadows and the world of the other girls and the world of this strange socialization program. It is reflective of our modern world and the way in which identity is created in the modern world, so often, virtually, through online media. Identity is not a simple thing anymore. It perhaps used to be, in the past, but it’s complicated with a series of mirrors and prisms through which we find out, discover and express who we are. That seemed, to me, to be something that we all got very excited by, when we started writing particularly the middle section of the season.
There was such a bond between Hanna and Erik, and he was such an interesting character, and you had a great actor like Joel Kinnaman playing him. Did you ever think about or want to do anything different with that character, to have him be more of a part of Season 2, or was that just not ever possible to do, or you didn’t feel that was right for the story?
FARR: Erik is a really wonderful character, but the central idea of Erik is that he has pretended, for so long, to be her father, and then he has to learn to really be her father, in Season 1. He does that and it’s beautiful, but he dies for that idea. That’s much more beautiful than him surviving for another season. At the same time, the character that I was really most interested in exploring, in terms of developmental change, was Marissa. I really saw an opportunity, unlike in the film, to craft a very fully-fledged character, haunted by her past, and a character who suddenly discovers feelings for a girl who she would’ve killed, if it hadn’t been for what Erik did. Hanna becomes a redemptive possibility for Marissa, and that was a journey that I really wanted to explore in the television program. It felt completely new, totally different, and much more profound than what was offered in the film. And Mireille [Enos], being such a beautiful, nuanced, thoughtful and skilled actress, I thought could honor that really beautifully. That’s the second major journey of the season, after Hanna, watching Marissa begin to open up and realize that she has real feelings of affection and cares for this girl. The whole season is about Marissa gaining Hanna’s trust.
It’s fun to watch Marissa really resent having maternal feelings.
FARR: Exactly. There could have been a sentimental version, where she got all gooey, immediately, but I love the way that Mireille is not sentimental. She keeps the military in Marissa, every step of the way. There’s a slight resentful quality of “How dare you touch my heart?” and she does that very well. And Esmé [Creed-Miles] is so wonderfully good at being difficult and not doing what Marissa wants her to do, but doing the opposite of what she expects. There’s a constant enjoyable tension between the two. They’ve both been bought up in a state of conflict and a state of battle. They’re both primed, constantly, for battle. Hanna was brought up, absolutely believing that she was going to be attacked, at any second, and Marissa has brought herself up in such a way that she constantly expects attacks. There’s never a state of relaxed-ness. There’s always a state of wariness and readiness, all the time.
It’s interesting that the season ends on this idea of, what now? Do you know what a Season 3 of Hanna would look like?
FARR: We haven’t gotten that option yet, but I do, in my head, have some sense of that. The doorways are open to that, in terms of the story. It’s very clear, without spoiling the story, that there’s a sense with which we know more about Utrax’s intentions than we did, at the beginning of the season, and we are interested in how that could play out. I’m also, of course, always focused on Hanna’s journey, given the choices that she eventually does make and the pathway that she very clearly and very practically closes down. What’s left for her? Where does she go now? That very central idea in Hanna, which is, can I find a place to belong in this world? Can I ever belong anywhere in this world? Can I be loved? Can I live a life that is, in some sense, more normal or fully-fledged? Where does that fit for me now, in the context of the choices that I’ve made? That, for me, will be the central and driving idea, in any Season 3. More than that, I can’t really say right now.
With a show like this, it seems like it’s almost impossible to wrap everything up with a neat little bow, at the end of every season, so there is still a sense of there being more story to tell. Does it feel risky to not fully wrap up a story, when you’re telling an ongoing story and you don’t know where it will end?
FARR: Yes, it is risky. With the first season, we didn’t leave it as quite as open as we did, at the end of the second season. Yes, it’s risky, particularly in the context of what’s going on with coronavirus. That makes it riskier. Everything is a little bit more uncertain, in terms of production and in terms of everything in life. I’m totally aware of that, but on the other hand, a story is a story. There was no way, in Season 2, of being able to wrap up everything in a convenient way. I still think there’s a satisfaction to certain resolutions that happen in Season 2, but I totally accept that this is an ending that literally ends with a question. If we never answer it, it will be obvious, but that’s life.
Have you thought about how many seasons you would need or would like to have, to fully tell the story that you want to tell?
FARR: It’s not a show that I would imagine lasting forever, or having a long, long run. In my head, it has a clear fairytale-like structure, of a girl coming out of a forest. I don’t think it’s a lot more, to be absolutely honest, but I wouldn’t want to say anything for certain.
You wrote the script for the original film and handed that over to a director (Joe Wright), and then you revisited the material to bring your own vision to it for this TV series. Now that you’ve gotten to make two seasons and you’ve even directed the last two episodes, how do you feel about both projects? Do they feel like very different approaches to the same material, or do they feel like companion pieces?
FARR: They’re really different, in a good way. The film has Joe’s vision, written all over it. That’s the way he always makes everything. He’s all over everything, with every shot and every detail. There is a very obvious way that I would characterize the difference. It’s very simple, and maybe a bit too simple. Joe is a guy and his gaze is quite a male gaze. One of the things that I wanted to explore was, what if we took a slightly more female-led gaze with the TV series. The character of Marissa would be the perfect example. This is not a criticism, it’s just a different way of doing it, and the way that we did that was by basically saying, “Okay, we’re going to get female directors to lead this and to drive this forward, in the vision of this.”
Even though I directed two, they were at the end of the season. This season was set up by Eva Husson, and was continued beautifully by Ugla Hauksdóttir. The first season was started by Sarah Adina Smith. And this season, I brought in three female writers, as well, particularly to play with the creation of all of these wonderful young women in Utrax, and that worked out fantastically. That’s the way I characterize it. It’s more organic because of the nature of television. Film has to make quick statements, these days, because it’s a relatively short-form media now. TV is long-form and organic, and allows characters to breathe and grow. Genuinely, there is a more female-led feeling to the show.
One of the things that a lot of people say is that Hanna’s violence is not fetishized or sexualized. She’s not looking all sexy in a catsuit, as she takes out three guys, which is an increasing trope in cinema. In a lot of female-led action dramas, the women are so fetishized. To me, I have to be honest and say that I don’t find that particularly empowering, from a feminist point of view. It’s a slightly false dawn. I’m proud of our show, in the sense that we don’t do that. The violence is not fetishized. There are reasons for why she does it. We do it sometimes, but she owns it, in a very particular way. Esmé, as an actress and as a young woman, is very keen, very clear and very assertive about that, and I love that about her. She’s not interested in being fetishized, at all, and she’s not interested in the male gaze, at all. She knows exactly what it is, when it comes, and she’s pretty feisty about that, in a good way. She’s very typical of her generation.
Those days of having middle-aged white male directors gazing at sexy young women doing violent things in catsuits are over, or should be over. I don’t want Hanna to be seen as part of that. I don’t think it ever was. I don’t think it was in the film either, but because of Joe’s almost fairy tale gaze, it led to a series of clone films that did have that quality. I see us very much not like that.
What was it like to have the experience of directing the last two episodes of the show, and what are the challenges specific to directing a show like this?
FARR: It’s very different directing the show, further down the line. I’d watched a lot of the other guys’ work and I very much tried to pick up from what they did. As a TV director on a show, you try to balance two different things. One is to honor the show for what it is. In my case, I tried not to think like a writer. I tried just to be the director of what I saw on the page. That is the greatest challenge, when you’re writing, as well, to actually detach and to separate those two roles slightly. However, my two episodes also had a far more aggressive narrative. They were much more plot-driven episodes than almost any of the others. They had a very quite specific story, involving a very particular idea. I take great pleasure in the architecture of a story. I probably wouldn’t have felt as comfortable directing the episodes that Ugla directed, in the middle section. She just got so inside the characters in a way that, as a director, I wouldn’t have been able to do, in the same way — whereas I feel very comfortable designing and creating the architecture of a narrative, in the way that lots of film directors of the past, like Hitchcock, have done it. That architecture of narrative, and how you tell a story that is gripping and entertaining, and having all of the subtlety of performance come within the structure of the story, is something that I find really enjoyable.
Hanna is available to stream at Amazon Prime Video.