Throughout its four-season run on The CW, Nancy Drew has consistently done several things very well, including but not limited to ghost stories, gripping mysteries and stunning heads of hair.
The show’s Aug. 9 epiode, which also marked co-showrunner Melinda Hsu Taylor’s directorial debut, zeroed in on two more things the show has always done well, with Ace’s family hosting a beautiful, authentic (and occasionally chaotic) seder dinner at The Claw, with much of the meaning and tradition being conveyed through American Sign Language (ASL).
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“I was very excited to do this episode, partly because [co-showrunner Noga Landau] has always wanted to do a seder on TV, and it was really important to her to portray it in a really wonderful, affirming and inclusive light,” Taylor tells TVLine.
Part of that inclusivity meant putting ASL interpreter Susi Bolender in front of the camera as a guest of the family. As Taylor points out, “the family would be engaged in the seder and wouldn’t be translating for the guests. It was a really cool thing to put Susi on screen,” an idea she credits to the show’s ASL consultant Sharon Dror, President of the Jewish Deaf Community Center. “We wanted to get the nuances of what that would look like for this family.”
“The book that everybody’s reading from was made by the props department,” Taylor notes. “It was so detailed, down to all of the food elements, the lighting of the candles and the prayers. The cast and crew learned all sorts of things, and they learned it in ASL. It was a great way to have all the characters at the same table literally playing out their various storylines. You want to find ways for all the different emotional currants, like ocean currents, to come together at this one same spot on the rocks — and they crashed in a big wave, because the ghost throws a tantrum and everybody’s having confrontations. It was a wonderful venue for all of that.”
The episode, written by Alex Taub and Leilani Terrell, also found Nancy and Ace at odds, as they have been for much of the season. But as Taylor points out, the same chemistry between Kennedy McMann and Alex Saxon that makes fans want their characters together also serves in their favor during those confrontational scenes. (“There’s always a different energy in the room when you have feelings for someone, or you had feelings for someone.”)
Then again, they weren’t totally alone. Ace’s ghostly girlfriend (now known as Alice) was anxiously watching from her own in-between place, and Taylor made sure the viewers experienced what it felt like to be on the other side, if even just for a moment.
“It was fun to use the camera as a supernatural force to bring the audience with you on this mystical energy that was invading Nancy’s space,” Taylor says. “That’s why the camera interrupts their argument mid-sentence and you’re on the side of Ace’s face, because that’s what the ghost is looking at. She’s trying to find him, and she feels him coming to her defense and saying he doesn’t want her to leave.”
Speaking of Alice, this episode featured her first official moment of contact with Ace, a key moment in their relationship that was both pivotal and extremely technical. Following many conversations between Taylor and Landau “about how the ghost mythology works and how [Alice] would be perceived by the human eye,” it was decided that a split diopter filter would be used to keep Alice out of focus, while Ace remained in focus due to his proximity to the regular part of the lens.
“Then our wonderful people at CoSa Visual Effects married the two things together in post-production so that we could see her kind of glitching and it would never seem like there was a halfway split down the middle of the screen. They smoothed it all out, and it was amazing.”
One scene that actually turned out even more emotional than Taylor anticipated was Ryan’s father-daughter chat with Nancy, which she credits to the chemistry that McMann and Riley Smith have developed over the years.
“Riley got very emotional in his first take, which was wonderful,” she says. “And Kennedy responded to that, of course. So the two of them were teary eyed through the whole scene, and we just embraced it. I love that about directing — hanging back and just fostering this atmosphere of possibility where the actor can bring what they’ve been working on, what happens for them in the moment, and then you just run with that and get out of their way. It’s so satisfying.”
The series finale of Nancy Drew airs Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 8/7c on The CW.
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