SPOILER ALERT! This post contains details from the first two episodes of Freeform’s The Watchful Eye.
The layers are beginning to peel back on the mystery in Freeform‘s latest thriller series, The Watchful Eye.
The first two episodes debuted Monday, introducing viewers to Elena Santos (played by Mariel Molino), a young woman with a complicated past, maneuvering her way into working as a live-in nanny for an affluent family in Manhattan after the child’s mom dies from falling off the ledge of the Greybourne, the building they live in. At the behest of the woman’s aunt, played by Kelly Bishop, Elena is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, only to discover the mysterious building she now lives in has deadly secrets and ulterior motives.
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As the episodes unfold, it becomes clear that Elena has some shocking secrets of her own — and her own motives for wanting this job in the first place.
“The fascinating thing about any character, but particularly this character, is figuring out the why. No one’s just a grifter. No one’s just a con artist. Everybody has a reason. That might be a bad reason, but they have a reason,” showrunner Emily Fox told Deadline. “I think what I love about this character is that there’s a certain righteousness to her that she never really loses, even throughout learning that maybe her view of the world as being so binary, good and bad, is — that there’s a huge gray area in between.”
Fox and Molino spoke with Deadline to break down the first two episodes and give more details about unraveling the mystery of the Greybourne and its inhabitants.
DEADLINE: Mariel, I want to start with you and ask what drew you to the character of Elena and to this mystery?
MARIEL MOLINO: That — the mystery of her. When I read Episode 1, I really wasn’t sure who she was. She was clearly being deceitful, and she was pulling some sort of con or a grift. That’s what I found so fascinating about her. She was complicated. She clearly had a past. She’s flawed. I think I recognized her brokenness that I thought would be very interesting to explore. So that’s why I initially wanted to dive in and then apart from that, it was the thriller aspect of it all. I had never done a thriller, and so I just love them so much. I love to watch them. So what better way to try and explore that than to be in one?
DEADLINE: And Emily, how did you develop Elena as a character? She clearly has some secrets of her own, which are slowly being revealed in these first two episodes.
EMILY FOX: The fascinating thing about any character, but particularly this character, is figuring out the why. No one’s just a grifter. No one’s just a con artist. Everybody has a reason. That might be a bad reason, but they have a reason. I think what I love about this character is that there’s a certain righteousness to her that she never really loses, even throughout learning that maybe her view of the world as being so binary, good and bad, is — that there’s a huge gray area in between. What we wanted to embrace was to make this class struggle really specific to this character. Why is she here? Why is she doing this? What does she think she’s going to gain from pulling off this con? We know that she’s been strong-armed into it a little bit by Scott, and Scott has his own motivations. But she’s got her own agenda. She’s got to make sure that she’s still, at least on the surface, aligning with Scott’s agenda. The one thing she doesn’t expect is to fall in love with anyone, certainly not this spoiled little rich kid that she’s supposed to take care of, but she instantly adores him because she recognizes a kindred spirit, like a little bit of a broken person. She is a sister, and I really love examining that part of her because I’m also a big sister to a little brother. It’s just a really special relationship. There’s always, I think, a bit of a maternal aspect to that, and here’s a child that doesn’t have a mother. We just had so much fun thinking about all the reasons throughout any given day that Elena does anything, because she’s a very active character. She makes choices. She doesn’t just let things happen to her. We loved how engaged she is in her world. She’s not sitting back and observing. She’s getting in there and getting her hands dirty and is very determined.
DEADLINE: She’s a very strong woman, which I appreciate. Even though she goes into this to help out Scott, she seems determined to do things her own way. How important was it to both of you to craft her that way?
MOLINO: For me, it was really special to get to craft, first of all, a woman who isn’t a victim in need of being saved — or a woman who is hyper sexualized. Sometimes there can be a stereotype of the struggling Latina, and I think that it was really great that I had something to craft that was just so human. Along with Emily, we were able to really get to the root of where her strength came from, and her motivation for going into the Greybourne. I think that at least for me, what helped was really knowing everything that had happened to her prior to entering the Greybourne — her past life, what had happened to her family, their involvement with the Greybourne Corporation, and like Emily said, just the fact that she is an older sister that she does have a responsibility to her brother. She’s also a survivor. For me, if you’re able to figure out the minutiae of her past and the details of everything that has led up to this point, then the rest is easier to craft. That strength comes naturally, because it’s not a part of her. It’s a necessity she needs to survive.
FOX: I think what’s interesting about Elena is that the rare moments that we get to see her vulnerability. That’s what’s interesting and scary because it could derail her mission here. She’s already lost so much and has stared down so much grief and fury and confusion, even as a very young person. It gets etched on your soul. What I love about her is that she’s withstood these blows, and now she’s like, ‘I’m gonna fix it.’ It reminds me a bit of the character from Catch Me If You Can who was like, ‘I’ll get it all back, and that’ll fix everything.’ She comes into this believing one thing and comes out of it understanding something very different. In that journey, she is discovering like, ‘I don’t know if this is actually going to fix it. This thing I thought I could do to put everything back to right, but nothing is going to turn back the clock.’ And that’s such a universal lesson for everybody living on the planet, from the history of time until today. You realize determination alone is not going to heal these wounds, but I’m going to try.
MOLINO: It is, for me, also a story about grief and about dealing with grief and avoiding grief. And that if you don’t face it, it will eat up at you.
DEADLINE: Emily, as far as crafting the narrative, how are you making sure you reveal enough information to hook the audience while also leaving them a little confused?
FOX: On a different project in a galaxy far, far away, I got a note that there’s a fine line between intriguing and baffling. That was so useful to me, because as a viewer, I take in all of these shows that dole out these tiny little treasures every episode, and you come away from each episode feeling like ‘Okay, I have one more thing.’ It’s like I’m collecting coins or something until I’ve reached the next level of the video game. With this, we had mapped out ahead of time, ‘What’s our card turn for each episode? How do we keep everybody feeling like they’re along for the ride?’ I need you to tell me something, but you’re not going to tell me everything. I have to resist the impulse to tell everything. We want to make it exciting, but not too dizzying. It’s exciting for me as an audience member, like I love doing that.
DEADLINE: Mariel, did you have all the scripts before you filmed, or were you learning as you went?
MOLINO: No, I was right there along with mystery. We were getting the episodes week by week. I think what was important for me and for where I was going, was that I knew what my goal was. So for me as an actor, I was able to deal with each obstacle in each episode as it came, because I still knew where I was going. I still had to suspect everyone equally, you know? So I guess for me, it was in a way also beneficial not to know the whodunit of it all because I needed to still keep my suspicion of every character.
DEADLINE: What can you say about what’s in store for the rest of the season?
FOX: We’re gonna get to know some of our other characters in the world. This world gets a little bit bigger with each episode and a little bit richer and more complex. I think we’re going to learn a lot more about the history of the building. There is a puzzle piece put in place with each episode. Part of what the viewer should be figuring out in the first few episodes is, ‘Wait, what are we trying to solve for here?’ There’s a whodunit, and there’s a whydunit. There’s the supernatural component too. One of my really favorite things about it is that there’s sort of no way to prove that it’s not happening, but when something is happening, just in your head, it can make you think, like, ‘Am I losing my grip on reality? Is there something in this building that’s making me see things?’ It’s yet another test for Elena.
MOLINO: Something that’s interesting to me that we’ll get to explore more is the dynamic of Scott and Elena and why he has a stronghold on her. We’ll get to explore that relationship and the relationships that Elena has outside of the Greybourne and how they’re affecting her inside of the Greybourne. Like Emily said, we’re going to learn about the Greybourne’s history, which is to me one of the most fascinating parts of the story and the show because it’s essentially another character in the story. So to get to peek into the past of it will be very interesting.
FOX: I love a haunted house, so it was really fun to film those scenes and definitely fun to imagine this world inside of these walls that are, to the naked eye, so luxurious and yet, you know the luxury is so close to peril.
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