Emily Ballou wants you to know that One Night is not a traditional mystery. As series creator and writer, she would know.
“Even though there are things to discover in the story, I don’t think of it as a mystery in terms of Agatha Christie,” she says.
One Night follows three friends, Simone (Nicole da Silva), Tess (Jodie Whittaker) and Hat (Yael Stone). Twenty years have passed since the friends lost contact. In a night that dramatically altered each of their lives in different ways, Tess fell victim to a horrific assault and fled overseas to London. The story picks up in the present day, and Simone (now a struggling writer) has turned the events of that night into a novel. The three friends reunite as the book is about to be printed. It begs the question – who has the right to tell a story that belongs to more than one person?
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“I think it’s a psychological mystery. The things that need to be solved are so personal to the characters, the mystery is more emotional than a classic whodunnit,” says Ballou. “And it’s about the way something that is devastating to speak of, by speaking of it, can unexpectedly help us to heal.”
Part of the inspiration for One Night came from Ballou’s own experience of writing a novel about her childhood. It turned out that her younger sister didn’t remember many of the stories she included. “[She] doesn’t have many memories of childhood,” Ballou says. “So, in a way, I was telling the story of our childhood for her. But is that the real story? Is it true, or is it just my memories?”
While not a typical whodunnit, One Night does take full advantage of one of the genre’s most reliable devices for generating suspense and intrigue: a small-town setting, in the Illawarra region of New South Wales. A location with a sunny and pleasant vibe on the surface – and a dark side that’s less hidden than some of the characters may hope.
“I think the landscape there lends itself so well to a story of hidden trauma,” Ballou says. “The way the sun sets behind the escarpment and casts this long shadow down over the road, over the houses, over the beach – there’s a kind of Australian gothic for me in the landscape.”
Ballou’s biggest challenge in creating the series was giving the audience enough information to keep them guessing, without giving away enough for them to work out the ending early on. Unlike a standard crime story, there’s no detective piecing together clues; instead, the focus is on the group’s shared memories. Much of the mystery comes from how the characters interact with each other after 20 years. As each opens up to the others, they realise just how much – or how little – they really know about what’s going on.
You may not be wondering who did it, but there are definitely questions that need answers. Just don’t expect Ballou to give anything away. “You don’t know how paranoid I am about spoilers,” she says.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Paramount+. All episodes of One Night are now streaming on only Paramount+.