Miranda Kwok on ‘The Cleaning Lady’ Finale and Future

*Warning: Article contains spoilers from tonight’s season finale of The Cleaning Lady*

The season 1 finale of FOX’s The Cleaning Lady has finally aired and it was intense! 

Each episode this season ended with a cliffhanger of some sort and the season finale was no different, ending on what should have been a happy moment for everyone – Hayak is in jail; Arman is controlling Hayak’s empire; Luca is safe and healing; the entire family don’t need to worry about money; Fiona and Chris are preparing the DACA documents; and, Thony has found a new purpose in staying in Vegas with a new cleaning business/ underground medical clinic/ Arman’s money laundering location. All seems well until Thony returns home to find Luca taken by his father Marco. We don’t know where, but we can assume they will go back home to the Philippines. It’s a heartbreaking end to the episode that many fans were not prepared for.

The series has generated a popular following with its premiere episode with a 0.5 rating and 3.6 million viewers, making it the network’s highest-rated new drama in two years. Fans have also been active on social media as Thony navigates through her life with the mob in order to save her son. They’ve even created romantic “ship” for the leads of the series “Armony” (Thony and Arman). Now with the season finale done and a likelihood of a second season, many are probably wondering what’s going to happen next for our heroine Thony. 

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Fortunately, we got to chat with creator and executive producer Miranda Kwok about the explosive season finale and what we could expect for its potential season 2. 

The Nerds of Color: The finale blew my mind. There wwe so many unexpected things happening. The last episode before the finale saw Carlos in the box in Arman and Nadia’s home. Thony was arrested. But, in the finale, Arman ended up working with the FBI to shut down Hayak, but he also had other plans up his sleeve — including getting Thony to get money for Nadia and now running Hayak’s business while he’s on the inside. What’s going on? Does he still want to work with the FBI or is that a front?

Miranda Kwok: Those are all great questions. Absolutely. I mean, what we’ve seen throughout the season is a lot of pressure [being built] on Thony. So one of the main aspects of why I [created] this show was to show a story of female empowerment, and how she faces all these pressures throughout the season. She has to figure out a way to navigate out of it and get behind the obstacles — not allow herself to be pushed against the corner. [We want her to] basically take the reins herself. And, at the same time, Arman has been trying to find his own path, and coming up against Hayek, that all comes to a head.

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For a moment, Arman was trying to get out from under Hayak. [Arman’s] plan was to use the guns to do that, but when he realizes from Thony that the FBI are watching those guns — you cannot move them or you will be caught — he has to improvise and come up with a new plan. That’s how everything got thrown for a loop. Arman realizes ‘okay, what do I have? What do I have to work with?’ He’s being pressured to do a deal with the feds, but [he’s] never going to trust the feds. So he uses that to his advantage — using Thony for her ability to be an invisible cleaning lady and the fact that people are underestimating her when he knows she is worth so much more. It all comes together where he manipulates and masterminds the whole scenario to come out on top so that Thony can get away with the cryptocurrency hard drive. And, at the same time, he’s working on the Hayak side [of the plan]. He’s trying to isolate the king in order to take over the king. That’s why he speaks to Isabel earlier. He knows that Isabel trusts him.

So, it’s a way to manipulate her [into turning her father in] — if your dad is ever in trouble, here’s how you can get out of it, which locks Hayak in prison. When they switched the room, Garrett [didn’t] have enough evidence to hold [Hayak] long enough [in jail], but, because of what [Arman] did with Isabel, Hayek will be put away for a long time. He’s basically lost a relationship with his daughter and his son is in Azerbaijan. So it only makes sense Hayak is going to hand over everything to Arman because he’s the guy who can take care of it. And by the business, we mean the whole business — not only the legitimate businesses, but also the illegitimate businesses, including the arms business and money laundering. That’s how the finale ends. Of course, for season two, [we’re still figuring that out], but that’s the launching point.

Thony’s whole purpose was to save her son. They left the Philippines to find a donor and they succeeded. Now, she’ll be able to go home and be the doctor she was in the Philippines, but, instead, she decides to stay in America. But, what’s her purpose now? What’s the reasoning behind staying in Vegas working for dirty money versus returning home and continuing her career as a doctor?

That’s a very good question. Most of season one was all about saving Luca, but the only way she was really able to do that was with Arman’s help. Of course, Thony is active in making moves to save him as well, but at the end of the season, she really feels like she owes Arman for everything he did. The only way to get out of that bind was to help Arman. So she feels greatly indebted to him – to help him in return, so that’s one reason not to go. The other thing that she discovered is that there’s a lot of people like her who are undocumented, uninsured, or impoverished in one way or another, [or] don’t have access to health care.

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Because of the situation she faced – all the roadblocks she hit — while trying to get help and access for her son, she realizes this is a challenge for many people and maybe she could do something about it. Even though she agreed to help Arman launder his money through the potential new cleaning lady business, what she wants to do is something that speaks to her heart, which is to help people. So that’s why she also comes up with the idea of doing some kind of underground health clinic so she could help [the] undocumented and uninsured. That becomes one of her driving forces in season two – to help people, but also take care of her family.

I do have to say that this season, I surprisingly fell in love with Nadia. Yes, she wants power and position, but who doesn’t, but she still loves her husband. She’s a really good woman and getting to know her makes it hard for me to ship Thony and Arman. It makes it hard to not like her. She’s very likable. What angle did you initially have for Nadia or ended the change over time due to her likeability or was this the plan all along?

It was always a plan that Arman and Nadia have a ride-or-die relationship. Even though Nadia sleeps with other women, their relationship and their marriage was solid until Thony came along. And what Arman sees in both these women is very different. He loves both of these women. Nadia has a lot of wonderful qualities, and she is loyal to the core. But then, there’s a part of Thony [that] brings out a different part of Arman, which [reminds] him of who he was and his family and his humble beginnings. Also, seeing how she, as an undocumented immigrant, is finding her way, he’s driven to help her. So he cares about both of them in different ways. And, of course, that is the conflict, right? That’s what makes us emotional. We don’t want to hate Nadia. I don’t want to hate Nadia. I also really wanted to stay away from the trope of people in power, particularly women, are going to be bitchy or they’re tearing down other women. There is space to support each other as women. So, that was definitely a conscious choice not to make her a horrible person [and] that she can actually understand that [Thony] infringes on their money and her relationship, but [now that Thony’s son is better, she can get out of their lives]. But, she knows it’s not possible, because Arman is now arrested and the feds are going to scrutinize everything. Nadia can’t be the one to extract the money and hold the pearl strings. That’s why they actually need Thony again [because] she’s more under the radar. 

As a mom, I understand Thony’s love for her son. I understood the pain of at the end of the season of having your son being taken away from you, even by the father, it’s just still heartbreaking to lose your child. But, I’m kind of 50/50 about Marco and his rights as the father because Thony took Luca away from him — sure to save Luca’s life, but he is a good father who sincerely loves his son. So, what can we expect from this dynamic and now the power shift because Thony is still undocumented, so it would be difficult to fly back to the Philippines for her son.

Exactly. Again, we wanted to present a real contrast and a real challenge because both of them are right, and both of them are wrong. When Thony took Luca in the beginning, it’s because she knew that getting a donor [match would be] so hard to find, especially with someone with such a rare blood type or rare blood markers like Luca, who is Cambodian/Filipino. She was right because that donor ultimately ended up backing out so she knew that she had to get to the states as soon as possible. At the same time, Marco’s visa was denied. That wasn’t an accident. [It] was on purpose because the US government makes it extremely difficult for people to come over. They don’t want people to come over, stay, and become undocumented.

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So they purposely only allow these two people who actually can prove that they have a home base, a job, a family, or other ties to their home country so that they’re not going to overstay their visa. She also knows that the likelihood of Marco’s visa appeal to change anything is unlikely. That’s why she takes Luca and it is the right decision. At the same time, Marco is not wrong either. [Thanks to Thony] Luca is now better, [but] Thony has been running around with gangsters and with a mob. She’s mixed in with the feds. It’s all a very dangerous situation for his son. So absolutely, he has every right to take his son to what he thinks is going to be safe. This is a conflict that has been brewing throughout the season that all comes to a head, you have to see what happens in season two.

What I love about this series is not just the mobster aspect to the story, but there are heavy topics being touched on, such as documentation, illness, access to care, DACA, and all of the ways the system works against people of color in general — despite documentation status. Was there a particular topic that spoke to you as the episode played out this season?

All of those! All of those topics [are what] I wanted to dig into. That’s actually what really motivated me to adapt this particular project [from] the Argentinian format of the cleaning lady who ended up working for the mob. What excited me [most about] The Cleaning Lady was being able to bring in all these other layers — she is undocumented and there will be different access to health care. For example, in episode four, the donor [backs out] and this actually happens about 50% of the time. People, who have signed up to be donors and are called upon when there’s a match found, say, ‘No, they’re not available.’ And, sometimes, it’s for no reason other than they don’t have the time or they just change their mind. It was definitely a conscious choice to make the audience aware that if you do this, if you sign up, you could save someone’s life. And then, if you’re called upon, don’t just change your mind because you are affecting so many people. You could be saving someone’s life. Then, [on] episode five, we were able to get into deportation. We absolutely wanted to show all these different aspects and challenges that immigrants face and really feel fortunate that we were able to do so. And, of course, the way to do it is to set it in this exciting crime drama, so that you’re able to bring an audience in and give them their candy with their medicine.

I love that. I also love all the characters’ stories — Thony, Fiona, and now Chris, who is dealing with DACA papers. How has the response been surrounding this documentation storyline?

It has been fantastic from many different sides.One of the most heartwarming things is that there have been a lot of people [reaching out on] Twitter and Instagram just to say ‘thank you. Thank you for telling the story.’ [They told me,] ‘I feel seen for the first time in my life.’ There’s so many undocumented immigrants [whose story is] never [told or ever gets] talk about it. So they’re actually left to feel so isolated and alone — and what the story was able to tell them was that they’re not alone and that their story matters. They are significant. I think people really were excited to see themselves finally represented on this. And then, at the same time, on the flip side of that, there are people who have been very anti-undocumented immigrants, and they have also come forward and said, ‘oh my God. I don’t want to see them get deported [because] Thony’s reasons are justified. After episode five, somebody said they were bawling their eyes out, even though they are Trump supporters. So we’re getting this amazing response across the board. It is exactly the response we had only hoped for and to learn that we are truly affecting people and getting people to understand the plight of undocumented immigrants and open their hearts and minds to see that these are real people. These are people that you were hurting. When you deport them or shut doors in their face, it’s not just a label. It’s not just a title. And I think that’s the most important aspect of the show and the most important thing that’s happened with the show.