Now that the excellent Trollhunters Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix, I get to share with you this chat with the DreamWorks show’s executive producer, Marc Guggenheim. A fair warning ahead of time that we’ll be getting into some spoiler territory, so if you haven’t watched the 13-episode run yet, you might want to do that first. And even if you have already watched all 13 episodes, you might want to go back and watch them again because there’s almost certainly something you missed, something that might hold a clue to the future of the Tales of Arcadia series.
I spoke with Guggenheim about the evolution of Trollhunters, its storytelling, and its cast of characters from Season 1 to Season 2, and beyond. While he couldn’t say much about the upcoming third (and final) season of the show or the spin-off series 3 Below and Wizards, he did tease some of the connections among the series. We also spoke once again about the unfortunate passing of the late Anton Yelchin and, despite having recorded all of his performances for the entirety of this season, how his absence affected the show. All that and more follows below!
One thing I noticed was an interesting breakdown of the arcs over the 13 episodes of Season 2. How far in advance did you plan the rollout of the story?
Marc Guggenheim: Basically, what we’ve done, and we did this in Season 1, we really think of the show in 13-episode increments. If you go back to Season 1, Episode 13 is the end of a chapter and Episode 14 is the beginning of a new chapter. If Netflix had wanted to, they could have split up Season 1. We would always construct the season in 13-episode increments and develop a grid: What’s happening with each character, what’s the logline, what’s the theme, is there a subplot that needs to be serviced? We’d always think about each individual episode with a gameplan in mind, but we go into each season knowing exactly what those 13 episodes are going to be and how they’re going to be structured out. Sometimes, over the course of a season, we’ll alter our plans slightly, but those big structural things tend to remain in place.
Another thing that stood out was the confident narrative structure and non-traditional approach to storytelling.
Guggenheim: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think we all felt like Season 1 was about table-setting: There were a lot of characters and a lot of concepts and worlds and whatnot to establish. I think when you’re busy laying all of those foundations, it can be distracting to start to play with structure, but one of the joys of doing Season 2 was that we had everything in place; all of the pieces on the chessboard were in their proper squares by the end of Season 1. So once you have sort of done your homework, now you can go out and play. We do enjoy playing with narrative structure, but that’s the dessert after you’ve eaten your vegetables, from a writing perspective.
Episodes 8 and 9 are among my favorites just because it is so narratively challenging and interesting. As a result, we definitely feel like Season 2 is better than Season 1, but whether that’s really true is up to the audience, not us, and it’s only possible because we had done the work of setting everything up properly in Season 1.
How long have you been playing with the idea of revisiting Jim’s decision to become a Trollhunter?
Guggenheim: I don’t recall that being part of the Season 1 discussions. I want to say that that was something that came up while we were breaking Season 2. There were certain ideas in Season 2 that came out of the writers’ room in Season 1, like, “Oh if we get a Season 2 and if we do X, Y, and Z, then we might have this opportunity to do this moment here.” I think that, in Episode 11, was just something that came up in the organic process of breaking Season 2.
While we got to see Jim back in the fold, it was bittersweet due to the passing of Anton Yelchin, especially in the episode where he gets to play with Jim’s multiple personalities.
Guggenheim: That episode that you’re referring to, which we call the Multiplicity episode, that actually came about at Anton’s request. Anton had so much fun doing the Crispy Jim character from the Grit-Shaka episode that he said, “You know, I really enjoyed this, and if there was some way I could do this again, that’d be great.” And we said, “We could maybe do you one better.” In this case, I think we went five better, perhaps more. Of all the episodes of Season 2, that episode is arguably the most gratifying for me. It’s very nice when you’re working with an actor who … when Anton went into that Grit-Shaka episode, he went in with some trepidation because he wasn’t a voice actor, and voice acting is a different skill set. There was a learning curve for him, one that he felt, and we all felt, that by the end of the Grit-Shaka episode, he had really nailed. The idea that he felt so confident in his talents that he could make that request of us, and then we write an episode that he just knocks out of the park, it’s very gratifying.
You’re right, it’s made bittersweet by the fact that, not only is he no longer with us, but it hurts a bit, not just to not have him but to know that he never got a chance to see what people thought of Trollhunters. He unfortunately passed away before the show came out, so as a result, he never got a chance to see how beloved the show became; that really is salt in the wound for us. It’s bad enough to lose him but it’s made all the more tortured by the fact that he never got a chance to see how much everyone loves these characters and loves Jim. It’s bittersweet.