The titular Bad Sisters on making one of the year’s best shows
24 October, 2022
Warning: This interview contains spoilers from Bad Sisters, including the finale episode.
By: Nick Romano for Entertainment Weekly
While dragons and elves were dominating most of the streaming real estate this year, one show was quietly proving itself to be just as formidable without the same fantasy bells and whistles. Bad Sisters, the latest series sensation from Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan, had word-of-mouth on its side.
Equal parts emotionally wrenching trauma story, addictive thriller, and giggly whodunnit, Apple’s black comedy was the show — about five sisters in Ireland and the one truly heinous man they kept trying but failing to kill — everyone was secretly watching and then getting everyone they knew to watch, as well.
“The fact that it came out week by week… people talked about it in between,” Horgan, series co-creator and star, tells EW in a roundtable interview with her cast mates, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene, and Eve Hewson. “And so, each week we kept getting a bigger audience because you had that, what you’d hope is that water cooler moment for each episode. I started out going like, ‘Oh, no one’s watching it.’ And now I’m like, ‘Oh! People watched it.’ It’s been absolutely glorious.”
Based on the Flemish series Clan, Bad Sisters opens with a death. A grieving Grace Williams (Duff) lays her husband, John Paul (Claes Bang), to rest, while scrambling to hide his rigor mortis erection before guests arrive at the wake. (A perfect opener to set the tone for the 10-episode story.) We meet Grace’s four siblings, the Garvey sisters: eldest Eva (Horgan), eye-patched badass Bibi (Greene), nurse Ursula (Birthistle), and youngest Becka (Hewson), all bound by the loss of their parents at an early age. The series then quickly pivots to the mystery surrounding John Paul’s death. We bounce back and forth between the present, when two life insurance agents (Brian Gleeson’s Thomas Claffin and Daryl McCormack’s Matt Claffin) are investigating the situation, and the past, when we learn John Paul was psychologically abusing his wife and the Garvey gals were secretly trying to kill him. Who actually did the deed? It’s a mystery to even the sisters until the very end.
“I’ve got a lot of messages from women saying how that either, one, they have dated someone like [John Paul] or, two, they have a sister or friend who’s married to someone like him,” says Greene. “So lots of people coming into my DMs and offloading their family, toxic men. I think that it’s reaching people, not just on an entertainment level, but people are seeing their own reality in it.”
The worst man in the world
The award for the most notorious TV villain of the year might go to Bang’s portrayal of John Paul. It’s not easy being the most hated man in the world, but Horgan, who developed Bad Sisters with Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, had a lot to work with.
“The two best things that original show gave us were the nasal spray addiction,” Horgan says, referencing John Paul’s compulsive need to clear out his nostrils, “and he called [Grace] whatever the Flemish for ‘mum’ is. So translating that into the Irish ‘mammy,’ and we went full bore with it. Sometimes we had to say to Claes, ‘That’s enough with the mammy.’ ‘Cause he just grabbed hold of it… Just that in particular, how he’s desexualized her in a way. It was such a small thing, but it did so much.”
“He even called me mammy when we had a cup of tea,” Duff recalls of Bang on set.
The rest of John Paul, and all the ways he strategically and personally harms the lives of everyone in his orbit, is an amalgamation of “every shitty man I’ve ever met,” Horgan says.
“It was really important that you see his vulnerability at times because the more human he is, the more dangerous he is,” she explains. “That he’s a clown because clowns are often seen as not dangerous, but as we know from Trump, for example, they can be extremely dangerous. That he’s an attractive man and Grace still is really attracted to him. But we took away a sex appeal really by making him a fool, whether it’s when he is on the phone to his boss or when the sisters can see through him and laugh at him, and making him an outsider.”
The challenge was to make sure John Paul never went too far. There was a fear of getting to the point where an audience might feel no real man could ever be that terrible, which Horgan says “is ridiculous because far worse people exist.” It was still a “balancing act,” she adds, “keeping him entertaining and keeping him awful enough for people to wanna see him dead over 10 episodes.”
The finale reveal
Each hour seemed to bring another attempt from the Garvey sisters to do away with John Paul and save Grace from his abuse. A divorce wasn’t enough. He would still have a hold over Grace. He needed to be put down. The problem was, none of their ideas seemed to work, whether it was sneaking drugs into his nasal spray or poisoning the liver he required Grace to prepare for him each day or locking him inside the freezer in his basement or blowing up the family cottage with him inside it. He would always manage to survive.
Then, when he actually died, it was a question of whodunnit? Was it one of the sisters? Did one of them finally take it upon themselves and finish the job? There were other suspects, as well. Was it Roger (Michael Smiley), Grace’s kind next-door neighbor who was taken in by police after John Paul gave authorities a false tip about him being a pedophile? Horgan personally saw many fans theorizing it could’ve been Blonaid (Saise Ní Chuinn), Grace and John Paul’s daughter. Maybe the teen was fed up with her dad’s treatment of Grace and took it upon herself to set things right.
Here’s where the second spoiler warning comes in. Read no further if you wish to keep the finale a secret.
No. In the end, it was Grace herself who finally snapped out of the gaslighting illusion John Paul cast on her and strangled him to death. She did call Roger, though, who helped stage the body to make it look like an accident, inspired by a scene from one of the movies Grace was always seen watching.
Duff discusses the importance of Grace being the one to kill John Paul. “I think a couple of things. One is there’s something incredibly frustrating about Grace,” she says. “As much as you love her and you want to rescue her, you start to become impatient with her. You start to become infuriated by her. You think, ‘Oh for God’s sake!’ because he’s so relentless. So it’s a nice surprise for her to go, ‘Do you see all along?’ That was quite satisfying. But I just wanted her to be a human being and I wanted her to exist inside of herself to be realized. It’s undeniable… I thought that was just so brilliant. She’s not rescued. She rescued herself.”
In the end, it always comes back to the sisters. John Paul admits to Grace that he raped Eva years earlier, resulting in her pregnancy and eventual miscarriage. He tries to frame it as Eva coming on to him in a drunken stupor, but it’s his attempt to smear her name and crack their bond that makes Grace see the reality.
“It’s there, a little moment that suggested when she’s on the bed after she’s killed him and she says,’You made me think it was me.’ There was nothing like that in the original [series], but I loved it because it talked about her entire journey, everything she realized at that moment was a lie, really,” Horgan notes. “But it was an awful lot going on in that scene and in that whole episode.”
Watch the full roundtable interview with the five stars of Bad Sisters above. All episodes of season 1 are available to binge on Apple TV+.