Miranda Kwok, creator of FOX’s The Cleaning Lady, spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the debate between individual bodily autonomy vs community betterment presented with Joe on tonight’s episode.
This interview contains spoilers to The Cleaning Lady Episode 4 (“Kabayan”).
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): Was Joe Fabroa (Lou Diamond Phillips) initially introduced as a ‘bad guy’ to tilt the audience toward Thony’s favor? It seems it would be a harder sell to get viewers fully on board with pressuring him to do a bone marrow transplant otherwise… Even for Thony’s innocent, young son.
MIRANDA KWOK: I don’t see it necessarily as good guys and bad guys. It’s not that we wanted to show, ‘Oh, Joe’s a bad guy!’ but maybe he was a selfish guy. Maybe Joe was just looking out for himself and wasn’t thinking about the greater impact that he had by actually going through with this donation.
We wanted Joe to really look at the desperation of the situation. Thony is coming to you and begging you to help save her son’s life. It’s not an easy thing for people to just open their hearts to someone that they don’t know.
That’s a big theme of the show. Instead of disregarding people and not considering what they’re going through, actually opening your hearts and eyes to see where they’re coming from.
I think we all have difficult decisions to make that are influenced from our life experiences and fears. A lot of it is hiding our own insecurities or the pain that we felt. Joe has his own story of loss from what was supposed to be a simple medical procedure.
It’s not just, ‘Oh, I’m too busy to do this!’ It could be what Joe reasoned at the time but there’s a lot of people in their own world. They’re dealing with their own minds, their own problems and they don’t necessarily open their minds or their heart to other people and what their needs are.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was Joe Fabroa supposed to symbolize a larger debate in society between bodily autonomy and social pressure for the welfare of the greater community? I feel the majority of people would have reacted the same way as Joe does when ambushed with demands for him to go under the knife. Good intentioned or not.
MIRANDA KWOK: Absolutely, it is a larger debate. You cannot sell tissues or organs in this country or many countries actually. There are a lot of people in need, navigating a situation where there is a shortage of tissues & organs.
Even amongst the doctors and medical community, it’s a much bigger debate. There’s a lot of people including doctors who say you should be able to sell.
When there’s a transplant, the doctors are paid, everyone gets paid. Yet, somebody who actually has a vital organ that they can sell, aren’t allowed to sell it. There’s a lot of angles, we’re not here to debate with that necessarily. But definitely we wanted to ultimate open the conversation about that debate and about the shortages.
There’s this system and the rules that are set up aren’t necessarily able to help everyone it can. And so, again, it’s a struggle for different reasons. Why people break the law again and again… Why they go against what is considered right or moral. They bend those rules sometimes because they want to help their families.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I feel Thony De La Rosa can no longer be seen as a purely hero character after setting Arman loose on Joe in Episode 4 (“Kabayan”). Essentially forcing a bone marrow donation through the indirect future threat of force for non-cooperation. “I know where you live, I know where you work.”
Joe’s change of heart definitely had strings attached. How do you feel about this shades of gray, ambiguous turn for Thony as a protagonist? Even if it did work out for her in the end.
MIRANDA KWOK: Everything has shades of gray. We’ve all made decisions that sometimes we regret or aren’t quite morally right. At the end of the day, she managed to get the bone marrow transplant for Luca.
There’s a fine line for a hero, right? But she’s still a hero on this journey in many ways. Thony is not meant to be flawless for me.
She chose to come here to get a bone marrow transplant for her son and the hospitals failed her when the bone marrow donor dropped out.
This actually happens more than 50% of the time at bone marrow donor centers. Something that we really wanted to highlight. A lot of times people get scared, they think it might hurt, or they might have to take time off work.
We wanted to really highlight the fact that by making flippant decision of like, ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered’ you are actually really impacting someone’s life. You could be the difference between saving someone’s life or not.
All along the way, this is a journey for Thony because the system keeps failing her. She has limited resources because she’s undocumented. Thony doesn’t have the money, the finances, the resources to consider making more difficult choices. We wanted to show these choices are never easy.
Sometimes they’re not always right, and they’re not always the best. But you have to do what you need to save your family. That’s the kind of more open moral areas that we think are really interesting to illustrate… Because sometimes one of them is in the life of crime.
We tend to blame that rather than the person. It’s important for us to show Thony’s not necessarily a bad person. She’s just unfortunately forced to make bad choices sometimes. We all are.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: When I spoke to Martha Millan she was definitive that Fiona letting Chris grow up thinking he was a U.S. citizen was wrong.
Isn’t there something to be said though for ignorance being bliss? Wasn’t Chris De La Rosa somewhat better off living his childhood without the knowledge or fear that he wasn’t a citizen?
MIRANDA KWOK: I think we all make tough choices that are sometimes not necessarily right or wrong. Just the best decision you can have at the time. And even though it was wrong to lie and to hide the truth from him…. It could be necessary to a child, especially if you’re undocumented.
A lot of people who are undocumented just don’t talk about it because you don’t know who you can trust. Children’s friendships in school and likeness to speak freely can be their downfall. They don’t have the critical thinking needed at that age to tell who their best friends truly are.
So I think that Fiona definitely had very strong and good reasons for hiding it from Chris. It just kind of comes to the point when he starts being a teenager or a young adult, where a discussion needs to happen that Fiona never wanted to have.
She introduces that child to the struggle. I think some aspects of hiding the truth to protect Chris are right and some are wrong. It’s not necessarily black & white or cut & dry. There’s all these moral gray areas to navigate, which is a big theme of our show.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: It seemed all it took for Fiona to change her mind on selling drugs was a simple kiss. Even after making Thony promises again and again.
Combined with Fiona’s one night stand with Chris’ father, the pattern appears to be that love is her trojan horse. What does it say about Fiona that her need for affection & romance ultimately hurts her? An unconscious, uncontrollable weakness of sorts.
MIRANDA KWOK: I think that’s the case for a lot of people. I think a lot of people are looking for love in different ways, and sometimes we don’t get love or affection or attention.
What it says is that in this particular moment in episode four, is that she is vulnerable. Not just for the ideation or affection & love that she needs, but also she’s desperately trying to do something to her son. And unfortunately, Brandon (Daniel Lissing) exploits that.
Brandon pushes her to do what he wants, which is to get Fiona to sell drugs. She wants to learn to depend on herself, to empower herself. But at the same time though, she also chose not to be with Chris’ father.
She chose her own path and is on her own journey the entire time. Fiona also made a lot of sacrifices and compromises for her own children as well.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thony all but calls Arman Morales a monster to his face in episode 3 (“Legacy”). But when she was given the pen to drop at the club by FBI agent Garrett Miller (Oliver Hudson), she waits until Arman is out of the picture.
Is it a purely utilitarian move by Thony recognizing she still needs Arman to get things done? Or does Thony not really believe he’s a monster?
MIRANDA KWOK: It’s more that this is a person who has actually bent over backwards to help her for no reason other than to help. He has recognized her plight as a cleaning woman, but who was in their place at the wrong time. Arman recognizes her as a mother struggling to help her child. So he’s doing everything he can to help because that’s just a part of who he is.
Yes. Even though he’s a criminal that makes bad choices and has people tortured or has done monstrous things… It doesn’t mean that he is a monster at a core.
Thony recognizes this. Not only everything that he’s done for her son, but she sees who he is as a person.
And so when Thony’s asked to spy on him, she’s faced with a choice to betray a man who has helped her. It’s quite a predicament. Garrett is forcing her to be an informant and do something for him and she’s caught in the middle.
It’s basically a way to show that Tony can rise above the people, trying to manipulate her and control her. She is able to create her own path and the rules she is choosing to obey. Thony can say she’ll give this FBI agent something… But she’s not going to hand over Arman, the man who has helped her.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Arman appears to subconsciously see a young version of himself in Thony. At least based on the revelations of his ex-girlfriend’s father on being seen just as the help. What are your thoughts on the irony of this kindness potentially leading to his arrest and demise?
MIRANDA KWOK: It shows a real empathy and compassion in Arman’s character. That connection binds them together and keeps them together. When you’re vulnerable and you allow yourself to care for someone, that is something thing that could take you down or endanger yourself. But at the same time, it can also strengthen you.
Arman is going to have to navigate his own situation while compromising himself, his business and his position in all of this. At the end of the day, that relationship is going to empower him as well. It is going to be more of a give and take relationship because as much Thony also feels the same compassion towards him to help in return. Even though it’s not necessarily the direction that she would have taken otherwise.
But it’s these two people who care about each other somehow placed in this very extraordinary circumstance.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: There’s a significant spotlight on clothes and social status in this series. Particularly Arman’s wife Nadia remarking that Thony looked different in her janitorial scrubs. Was it your intention to show work wear having a bigger mental impact than the job itself?
MIRANDA KWOK: I think it’s still the job or position itself that has the most impact. I mean, if somebody walks in the room, we judge them on so many things, not only their clothes, but what they look like and also what job they’re here to do. Thony’s still the same person when she met Nadia Morales (Eva De Dominici).
She’s the same person when she was working as a doctor in the Philippines. Thony’s the same person now when scrubbing toilets in an underground site. We can’t always judge people by our assumptions. That is definitely something we wanted to highlight in the show as well.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Miranda!
MIRANDA KWOK: Thank you!
Follow Miranda Kwok on Social Media
– Visit MirandaKwok.com to read Miranda’s biography and follow her on Twitter @mirandakwok88.
– Be sure to read our exclusive interview with Martha Millan on The Cleaning Lady‘s Fiona De La Rosa!
– Watch FOX’s The Cleaning Lady right now on-demand and catch up on Thony De La Rosa (Élodie Yung) and Fiona De La Rosa’s (Martha Millan) journey!
Will Luca (Sebastien & Valentino LaSalle) receive the vital experimental medical treatment he needs? What will be Chris’ (Sean Lew) fate?
– Check out The Natural Aristocrat’s interview with Chef Brynn Gibson on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen and Chef Gordon Ramsay.
– Read and watch more exclusives with Hollywood talent in the Interviews section!