Spoilers for the ending of Mosaic follow below. If you haven’t watched the final episode turn back now.
This week saw the unveiling of Mosaic on HBO. Billed as a new project from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and writer Ed Solomon, Mosaic was actually conceived and launched as a “branched narrative” app experience in which the viewer can choose their own path through the story. But HBO asked Soderbergh and Solomon to also deliver a “limited series” cut to air on the premium cable network, resulting in a completely reconfigured version of the story.
That story came to an end tonight as the killer of Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone) was finally revealed.
I recently got the chance to speak with Solomon in-depth about the creation and execution of Mosaic, which was covered in Part One of the interview, but now it’s time to share Part Two which digs deep into spoilers. Solomon talks about the Mosaic ending and if the identity of the killer was always the same, as well as whether information revealed in the app but not the limited series cut technically has any bearing on the story of the linear version. Solomon got pretty candid about how the conclusion came together and how he and Soderbergh worked out how this murder mystery would wrap up, so if you loved Mosaic like I did, you’ll certainly find this conversation intriguing.
Check out the interview below.
How early on did you guys hit upon the identity of the killer, and did the identity ever change?
ED SOLOMON: It’s funny, we made a conscientious choice to make him, in a weird way, the guy you would always make him. There were a lot of choices that we made where we said, ‘Let’s just make this thing as real as we can make it.’ Let’s make it a little bit more like a novel, and let’s not try to be clever or fancy because in our minds we already have a ‘complicator’, and that complicator is the method of storytelling that we chose, so let’s not get too fancy with the plot in terms of the twists etc. Now in hindsight was that the right choice? I don’t really know, but at the time that’s sort of what we were operating on.
Because we liked this idea that those guys just don’t lose. Only in movies do they get their comeuppance. In movies the little guy defeats the big guy and then we get this David vs. Goliath story. But it was more interesting to me if the character Joel just kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper into this panicked self-doubt where he can no longer tell what is memory and what is fantasy. In other words, he can no longer tell if he is remembering something or thinking he’s remembering something because he’s imagined it so many times, that he gets lost in this downward spiral. So what if the great fat irony of it is he becomes convinced that he’s done something, which he may or may not have done, and his conviction to be a really good person ironically means he confesses to this crime that he now believes he’s committed. I found it interesting that him following his conscience and being what he believes is a good person means acknowledging he’s actually a horrible person. This is all in contrast to the bigger story, which Petra is starting to uncover. As we were breaking the story Steven came up with the title Mosaic, and once he had come up with that it was like now a lot of the themes have been codified for me. It’s a mosaic, and that means there are a lot of little pieces that make more and more sense the further you stand away from it. So going along with that theme, the idea is that Joel is diving deeper and deeper into one little tiny tile on this mosaic. It’s focusing so much on this one moment that he loses all greater context. Whereas Petra is going back and back and back where she can see the bigger picture. And Nate, the cop, is not close enough to see the real detail and not far enough to actually see the big picture, so he’s sort of lost the pattern.
It’s a really heartbreaking ending. It’s satisfying, but poor Joel.
SOLOMON: I know I really felt for Joel (laughs). I love Garrett, I thought he gave a really sad, great, deep performance. I always did feel really bad for him because poor guy, he really does want to do the right thing, and he really is a good guy but he’s got these demons from his past that he’s so haunted by that he can’t see past them and he can’t keep them at bay even though he’s been away for four years. And going back to try and help this woman to do the right thing begins this spiral of self-analysis that ultimately leads to his conviction about his own guilt. One of the ideas we’ve always been playing with is once an event happens, the only thing we have is our memory of it or the stories people tell us about it, and to me one of the most heartbreaking things about Joel is he’s replayed that moment so many times in his mind that he can no longer tell if it’s a memory of a real event or a fantasy that has become a real event in his mind because he’s rehearsed the thought over and over and over. I really felt bad for him, and yet I was leading him down this path (laughs). But again it was us trying to take it down its natural course, trying to make it the most optimized version of itself.
What’s really interesting is I finished the linear cut and the ending could be taken as a little ambiguous, but then on the app it shows and confirms exactly what the killer did. Was that ambiguity for the linear cut intentional? Did you ever consider including the footage of the killing in the linear cut?
SOLOMON: Oh yeah, we thought about being more specific in the linear cut and we also thought about being more ambiguous in the app version of it. There’s footage in the app that’s not in the linear cut, and there’s footage in the linear cut that’s not in the app, and again this was because we were not trying to just repurpose footage, we were trying to make each experience a different experience and as optimal a version of the experience that we could create. So the story is different in the linear cut, and the result is actually different. So while it would be tempting to go into the app to find more detail, and I guess you could, it brings up a whole question of is the story itself a discrete entity where the facts of the story of this linear cut are the only things in this universe, in which case it’s like the app didn’t exist. So if there’s a piece of information that’s in the app that’s not in the linear cut, does that mean the universe of the linear cut that didn’t happen? It’s an interesting question, one that I hope not to have answered (laughs). I do think asking people to go through the process of making choice after choice after choice as they do in the app, it seemed like they might have deserved a more definitive answer, and it seemed like the best, most organic way to tell the broadcast version was to be less definitive.