‘Snowfall’ Boss on How “Dramatic Irony” of Ending “Seemed Like It Was Right”

[The following story contains spoilers from the Snowfall series finale “The Struggle.”]

For six seasons, FX’s Snowfall explored how the crack cocaine epidemic contributed to the destruction of a community in South Central Los Angeles. The 1980s-set drama also touched on the intersections between the unfolding drug crisis and larger societal and geopolitical issues like the Iran-Contra affair and Cold War tensions between the CIA and KGB.

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But for its final episode, which aired Wednesday night, the series, co-created by the late John Singleton, ended in some ways as it began, with Damson Idris‘ Franklin Saint walking along a palm tree-lined street.

“For all of the show’s aspirations and its geopolitical reach, it started on the street with a kid who was full of potential in a neighborhood that was just a working-class neighborhood on a summer day,” showrunner Dave Andron tells The Hollywood Reporter of ending the series on Franklin. “And we always knew that the story, as much as it was about a lot of things, was about the transformation of this neighborhood. Franklin’s condition at the end is emblematic of the neighborhood’s condition, and so it felt very much right that it come back to come back to that street.”

Indeed, like the neighborhood where he grew up, Franklin looks quite different than he did not only in the first episode but also at the beginning of the finale. After he’s thwarted in his attempt to get back the $73 million stolen by former CIA agent Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), the stone-cold sober son of an alcoholic begins drinking and continues to imbibe as he scrambles to hold on to what little money he has left.

Over the course of the hour, Franklin struggles to retain his empire without his mother, Cissy (Michael Hyatt), who refuses to talk to him after she killed Teddy just seconds before he was seemingly set to transfer $37 million into Franklin’s account, and as his relationship with Veronique (Devyn Tyler) crumbles.

By the end, which jumps forward from 1986 to 1990, Franklin doesn’t look like the drug kingpin turned real estate mogul he was in later seasons. Instead, he more closely resembles his father as he was when viewers first met him.

For Andron and the Snowfall writers, ending with Franklin destitute and drinking heavily was an unexpected but appropriate way to end a tragic tale.

Andron, who wrote the final and penultimate episodes, explains why the series finale focused mostly on Franklin, why the lead character shut down after Teddy’s shocking murder and what the still-proud son has learned through his years in the drug game as well as what life looks like for Louie (Angela Lewis), Leon (Isaiah John) and Oso (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), some of whom get happier endings than others.

How did you land on that ending with Franklin basically destitute, virtually alone and drinking heavily?

Over the years, we had talked about versions of Franklin’s end. Part of it was maybe staying away from the expected thing of he’s dead or in jail. I kind of think if Franklin had stayed in the game, he probably would have ended up that way. But we saw he was really trying to make it work as a legitimate businessman. And then you start thinking about, “What is an end that’s befitting for a tragedy where a guy has destroyed his own neighborhood?” And you think, “Well, him being kind of condemned to live in a place that he has destroyed, the dramatic irony of that seems right.” And then you think of the totality of everything Franklin Saint’s been through in his life and the horrible things that he’s done, and you think that could very much break a guy, and you know he’s got the possibility of the alcohol gene from his father. He always hated and resented what his father was, and for him to become that very thing that he hated seemed like it was right.

You were talking about going through all of the iterations, when did you decide on the ending that we saw, and how much of this was part of the original vision or arc of the show?

When you go in to pitch where you show is going, you want to have some sense of where it’s going to land. You know [a show like this is] not going to end well. And then again, you only have so many options. And I’m sure at some point early on, somebody was like, “Well, he could always end up like his father.” We ended the pilot with him seeing his father out the window of a car. I’m sure it was in the back of our minds, but we didn’t really commit to it fully until, I think, in season six. I think we very much kept options on the table, knowing that none of them were good.

In terms of the structure of the final season, the finale really centered around Franklin and his family and his community — the conflict with Teddy and the CIA ended in the previous episode, and Franklin got rid of the KGB at the beginning of this episode; the battle with Kane (DeVaughn Nixon) is over. How much of that was intentional to just focus on Franklin in that final episode?

It was completely intentional. Once we had Jerome’s (Amin Joseph) passing in [episode] six and a beat to be with that in [episode] seven, everyone really made their push in [episode] eight. And that really played out over [episode] nine with Cissy. And then it was really just about Franklin and who would he become now that the money was gone? Could he keep it together? Could he find reserves? Could he overcome his pride? Could he figure it out? Could he make it work? Unfortunately, I think his mother shooting Teddy just decimated him. I think the way she did it, he just couldn’t cope with it and he couldn’t recover.

I was surprised as a viewer that he’s so resigned after Cissy shoots Teddy. He’s been scheming all season long trying to think of ways to use the CIA and the KGB, and then he just accepts that it’s over. Why did he feel like that was it?

For me, to go through that, because I believe he’s still aware of the power of the CIA, and once Teddy is murdered by her in public, first, I think he’s got to worry about himself. He could easily be arrested for this. Havemeyer [Matthew Alan] gives him one out. And Franklin doesn’t really have it in him in that moment to formulate a plan. I just think the betrayal of Cissy killing Teddy like that cannot be understated, what it would have done to him and how hard it would have been to recover. He certainly in the hours following doesn’t have it in him to create some big master plan. He can only do what they’re telling him to do and hope he’s able to walk away. And he is. He’s able to walk away. They don’t kill him right there. They don’t arrest him. Cissy’s confession gives him some deniability, so that he’s not put in jail for that. I just don’t know how Franklin, in my mind, at this point would have recovered from all of that and come back.

The idea of Teddy dying, or Franklin or his mother killing Teddy, was out there for at least a couple of seasons. How did you decide this was how it was going to play out, with Cissy killing him, seemingly right before Franklin gets the money, whether that would have happened or not?

I knew back from even season four when Teddy shows up in Cuba and kills Alton [Kevin Carroll], that story had to be brought full circle and that was going to galvanize her and really create her drive, taking us all the way to the end. At that point, I always thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if at the end of the day, it’s Cissy who gets [Teddy].” I didn’t know how we were going to get there. It felt unexpected and at the same time totally right that she be the one to pull the trigger, and then when we realized that Teddy was going to take Franklin’s money, it quickly became clear that for Franklin to get that money back from Teddy, Teddy’s got to do it in a way where Franklin’s going to have to let him go, and Cissy’s never going to let that happen. So that speech at the beginning of the season that she gives Franklin about, “Are you with us or are you with them?”, as soon as that happens, for me, as soon as Franklin chooses them over his mother, Cissy’s going to do what she does.

There were so many adversaries and forces that Franklin was facing this season (the CIA, his family, the KGB) and there was so much double-crossing and various motives. How did you keep all of that straight as you were putting the season together?

You know, you just put together a writers room of really smart people, and you try to keep track of it and get through it the best you can. Episode eight was where it felt the most daunting to me. Like, “Here are all of the pieces on the board and we need to organically get everything to this reversal where you think Franklin’s cooked and then we flip it.” It was one of our writers in the room, Tyger Williams, who smartly was like, “Let’s come at it through Oso’s point of view” and really make episode eight “The Ballad of the Bear,” as we ended up calling it. So when you get a little overwhelmed with like, “Oh my God, all of these moving pieces and these characters,” you just go back to a character’s point of view and what they want and just try to keep it as simple and organic as you possibly can.

When we talked last year, you said that this season was going to be heavier than previous seasons, and it certainly was, and there were a lot of really dark moments this season. Were there any times when you thought, “Is this too far, should we pull back from this?”

There were a few. Obviously the one midpoint was Louie getting grabbed by Kane and how ugly that should get, not wanting it to feel excessive and yet keeping it real with like, “What would Kane do to this woman who had almost ended his life and rendered him impotent in so many ways?” There was a lot of discussion around that. And then there was also a lot of discussion around Franklin at the end and how far to take his spiral down. We pushed it pretty far, but there were versions early of that story where we went kind of even further with how dark his life was going to get on the street. And, yeah, season five was supposed to be, “fun” is probably too strong of a word, but at least to see these characters for a moment have this money and be living this other life and have a little bit of a lighter adventure with them before inevitably the family rips itself apart.

We see a little bit of Louie in the finale where she’s on the run. What is life like for her after everything? Is she constantly on the run?

We wanted to communicate that she had to go to a distant place to get away to really try to escape and start over, to the extent that you’re able to, and also in short amount of time to communicate that this is not like she gets a happy ending, like, “Oh, she’s out on this ranch, and she’s working with horses. These people kind of look after her.” No, no, no, she’s wanted by the DEA. They have the picture. They’re always going to be after her. It’s not like they’re going to be out there every day searching, but if they get a tip or something turns up, they’re going to go after it. That’s the price she now pays. She’s going to live the rest of her life wanted, and whether or not they’ll actually catch up with her one day, let the audience decide.

And there were a few people who were able to step away from things, Oso and Wanda (Gail Bean) and Leon, even Veronique, in a sense. Why did you want them to be able to walk away from this and how much of a happy ending did they get?

One of our guiding lights for who was going to make it out was: The people who had taken stock of the things they’d done and tried to change their lives should get to make it out. And that’s really Leon, and even Oso was trying to get out. The real tragedy is Jerome who, at that last gasp, wants to get out but, of course, it’s too late. But it felt like you wanted there to be, for those people, a chance to go live a life. They get a chance to go forward and try to right the wrongs of their past. That felt important as well. Because the reality is it’s not just hopeless for everybody. But that was the guiding light for who gets a happier ending.

One of the things that does happen in the finale is Franklin does track down Peaches (DeRay Davis). Why did you want to come back to that?

It always felt like a story point that we wanted to find a way to come back to because it happened so suddenly and was so jarring to Franklin. There were so many questions around it, and so when we started to think about how and when could that come back into Franklin’s life, it felt like to come back toward the very, very end of the finale would be A) so unexpected and B) there’s a real kind of hope to it. After you’ve watched this brutal 45 minutes of Franklin, there is this moment of hope, where it’s like, “Yeah, Peaches took $5 million from him, and it hasn’t been that long, and he’s living in this not very nice house, and there could be $2 or $3 million,” and “Is Franklin going to get saved at the end? Is he going to get bailed out? Is that going to come back to actually help him?” Obviously it doesn’t, but it just felt like the most interesting way to bring Peaches back.

At the end, Franklin, despite his very visible decline, still seems to have his pride and he’s talking to Leon about being free. What do you think Franklin has learned throughout this whole experience?

I go back to the pilot with him and the scene with Melody (Reign Edwards) where he’s in Cho’s and she comes to see him and she’s kind of on him about what he’s doing and why he didn’t go to school and why he’s working at Cho’s, and like, what is it really he’s trying to do here? And he does talk to her about how he doesn’t want to be in the rat race; he doesn’t want to play the game their way; he’s going to try to do it his own way, no matter what that means. He wants freedom from all of it. He obviously doesn’t get where he wants; he doesn’t get what he wants. But he’s not playing the game their way. He’s still out there on his own terms. I don’t know if you asked Franklin at that point what he’d learned what he’d tell you. I think he’s still probably a little bit in denial. But he feels like he’s at least done it his way. He didn’t dance for anybody and he didn’t succumb in that way. That’s the only thing he has left to hold on to.

When you look back on the show as a whole and apart from what happened to these characters specifically, what do you hope people take away from it?

We never set out to make a documentary. We knew this had to be entertaining. But I hope it does stand as a bit of a record of this place and time and the people that were there and the things that happened or were allowed to happen, and how everybody mistreated this plague as a criminal problem instead of a health problem. And I hope that people loved these characters.

And there was somewhat of a light moment at the end, with that movie shoot tribute to John Singleton. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about?

We were just looking for a way to tip our cap to him. This show brings his career full circle. His career started by telling the story of South Central. I know Boyz n the Hood opens in the ’80s, but really, it was South Central in the early ’90s and what had happened, and this story was very much the prologue to that. How did that neighborhood become the place that we inhabit in Boyz n the Hood? So it felt only right. We jumped time there obviously in the last couple of acts. September 1990 is the [Los Angeles] Times paper that Leon walks by. It’s a real L.A. Times from September 1990 when [Singleton] starts shooting Boyz n the Hood. So it just felt like the proper way to bring his oeuvre full circle and to really hand it off.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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