SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched Fox’s Sept. 11 premiere of “Monarch.”
With Susan Sarandon at the front of every “Monarch” poster around town, viewers may have been shocked to see that at the end of Sunday’s premiere, her character, Dottie Roman, is seemingly dead.
During the first episode, which aired following the NFL game on Fox, Dottie learns she has cancer but is determined to die on her own terms. She enlists her daughter Nicky (Anna Friel) to help her, holding her hand while she swallows an entire bottle of pills.
Despite the shocking episode end, the show’s producers promise there’s much more to come with Sarandon.
“Susan’s a part of the show. She hovers over everyone. She influences everything,” executive producer Jon Heldman said during the show’s recent Television Critics Association press conference. “She comes in and out of the show. So she will appear in multiple episodes, and we have some great stuff planned for her… So she is a looming presence, both on screen and off on ‘Monarch’ in Season 1.”
Showrunner Melissa London Hilfers noted that “there’s nothing more fun for us than writing for Dottie.”
Variety also spoke to Michael Thorn, president of entertainment for FOX Entertainment, both about the decision and how much the COVID-19 pandemic went into the choices.
“It was always designed that the matriarch of the family was going to die at the end of the pilot. But it was also always designed that the matriarch would then come back in several of the episodes throughout the first season in flashback,” Thorn said. “There’s two things happening in the series. The first one is, as you know, there’s the succession story of who will inherit the crown of country music after Dottie Roman passes away. But the other part of it, which plays out, in part, in the flashback, is Trace Adkins’ character says, the Roman legacy is really built on lies.”
The first half of the season, Thorn noted, “is a mystery-thriller that was born in the past and catches up to the present-day timeline.”
While that was always the plan, Sarandon was cast to do the pilot and make a few other appearances in other episodes throughout the season.
“Where we were slightly impacted by COVID, as we would have had her in another episode or two, but we have her in just under half the season,” said Thorn. “So she’s not just going to be in the pilot and then not be in the next episode, it’s not a bait-and-switch.”
During the panel, Hilfers added that the pilot shocker was an important part of building the show.
“It shows the kind of bold storytelling that we’re doing. You never know what to expect and what’s going to happen next, and there are shocking things that happen,” she said. “That being said, once she really got to set, I really regretted it. We never wanted to say goodbye!”
Jennifer Maas contributed to this reporting.