Betrayal Creator David Zabel: We're Not Trying to Romanticize Adultery
Hannah Ware, Stuart Townsend | Photo Credits: Jean Whiteside/ABC
"There's no way that anyone who watches the series will ever think that we're romanticizing or justifying adultery or infidelity," Zabel, who adapted the show from a Dutch drama, tells TVGuide.com. "We are examining the difficult situation that people in monogamous relationships find themselves in when they meet somebody else and think that might be the person they're meant to be with. ... It's very difficult for these characters."
The characters in question are Sara Hadley (Hannah Ware) and Jack McCutchen (Stuart Townsend), two if not happily-married, at least comfortably-married Chicagoans who meet-cute at an art opening and, against their better judgment and attempts to avoid each other, begin a torrid affair.
"For Jack particularly, I feel like he's this guy who's never really had a spark in his life," Townsend tells TVGuide.com about his character. "He's been on autopilot. And that spark suddenly happens, and I don't think we can ever know why. I don't think it's one thing. It's a moment in time where he meets this other woman at that exact moment, and something kindles inside him. I think he tries to fight it, as does she. But then there's a question of, is it fate that they meet again?"
Their dalliance doesn't end well, as the opening scene of the pilot is a flash-forward that shows Sara getting shot. But that could be because, as it turns out, her and Jack's entanglements extend beyond the bedroom. At the end of the pilot, Sara discovers that her husband Drew (Chris Johnson) will be the prosecuting attorney in a high-profile murder case involving the powerful Karsten family, led by patriarch Thatcher (James Cromwell). When a member of the family is murdered, the prime suspect is Thatcher's mentally challenged son, T.J. (Henry Thomas), and the person brought in to defend him is none other than Jack, the family's in-house counsel and Thatcher's son-in-law.
"What I really responded to was that it was a hybrid of a romance and a kind of legal thriller," Zabel says. "It keeps it more adrenalized and more energetic I think, because it's got this murder mystery thriller that it's all wrapped around."
Director Patty Jenkins (Monster, The Killing) was brought on board to helm the pilot, and a primary goal was to infuse the show with more of a cable sensibility. "We wanted to try to push the envelope in terms of the subject matter, in terms of the sexuality, in terms of the language," Zabel says. "It's the kind of storytelling and kind of character depiction that ... I don't think prime-time TV has been offering that much. We've got a show that's sort of filled with complicated people who are living morally challenged lives in various ways. They're challenged characters. They're not cuddly and lovable."
Three or four months elapse between the events in the pilot and the final episode, according to Zabel. "As the story progresses, all these characters get wound more tightly into the murder mystery that's set up in the pilot, and into a larger sort of crime story that involves the Karsten family," Zabel hints. "The shooting of Sara could be because of her relationship with Jack, or it could be because of some way that's she become tangentially involved in the larger investigation into the Karsten family. Or those two things could be the same thing, really."