We’re now two episodes into Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail, and things have already started to get pretty wild. The premiere episode, “Hittin’ The Trail,” sent the people of a dusty little town out on the eponymous trail, with a preacher man (Daniel Radcliffe as Ezekiel Brown) and an outlaw (Steve Buscemi as Benny The Teen) shepherding them to a land of, if not great promise, than greater resources. And, as she has every season, Geraldine Viswanathan has stepped up to help lead the unruly group—this time as Prudence Aberdeen, the repressed wife of the town’s richest man, Todd Aberdeen (Jon Bass).
In the second episode, the townspeople try to “Ford The River,” and things go about as well as you’d expect. Everyone is under Benny’s sway, so they listen to him about everything from dining on bald eagles to abandoning one of their neighbors in order to make it across the river. When Zeke challenges the group’s ruling about leaving someone behind, he almost drowns, but he’s saved by Prudence, who would have done anything to get away from a pair of stoned proto-influencers played by Jordan Firstman and Shay Mitchell. These extreme developments are foreshadowed at the top of the episode, when Benny tells Zeke,“There is no morality on the trail. It’s kill or be killed.” They were previously hinted at in “Hittin’ The Trail,” as Prudence suggested to Zeke that he might be allowed to “do a little bad to do a lot of good.”
Naturally, co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Geraldine Viswanathan also have a sense of the moral compromises in store for Zeke, Prudence, and the rest of the group (and maybe even Benny, who seems to be growing a conscience). The A.V. Club spoke to Radcliffe and Viswanathan about the dark times ahead, as the group grows increasingly desperate. Miracle Workers has always explored the notions of goodness and worthiness, whether in the season-one context of a weary God (played by Buscemi) who was prepared to completely undo His creation because it wasn’t perfect, or season two’s questioning of the values of a bygone era. Viswanathan says Zeke will grapple with how to stay good while trying to keep everyone alive: “He has this very black and white sense of morality. The stakes are high on the trail, and you gotta pick your battles.”
For Radcliffe, the darkest hour comes in episode nine: “I don’t want to say what it is, but we wouldn’t be doing an Oregon Trail series if there wasn’t a Donner party episode. So people make some real compromises.” He was impressed by the writers’ ability to balance an overly grim reality with the series’ trenchant humor, so he texted them to say, “‘Well-done. I think you did something impossible, which is to write a comedy around something truly, truly horrendous.’”
Prudence will apparently not be around for that possible turn to cannibalism, but, as with previous seasons, the fortunes of Radcliffe’s and Viswanathan’s characters are closely tied, allowing them to show off their killer chemistry. The pairings have always leaned toward the romantic, and Radcliffe says season three will explore that possibility further than previous outings. Viswanathan thinks their season-three characters have the best shot at a lasting relationship, no matter how dire their circumstances might be.
Throughout the series, Viswanathan has portrayed characters who strain against their prescribed roles, whether it’s season one’s Eliza trying to do more than the bare minimum to keep Heaven running or season two’s Al rejecting oppressive, medieval social norms. By the second episode of season three, Prudence has told her whiny, privileged husband that she’s not going to play the role of the docile, obedient wife anymore. As for pushing against real-life constraints or finding themselves stuck in a different kind of rut, a creative one, Viswanathan and Radcliffe count themselves lucky to have been able to avoid typecasting. Viswanathan recognizes that “the world can be limiting sometimes, but there are also limits that you put on yourself,” while Radcliffe says he once worried whether the industry would be able to see him as someone other than Harry Potter. “But you keep doing stuff and stay active and find the people who will take a chance on you in something else. That was how I dealt with it,” Radcliffe says, observing he’s been fortunate enough to have avoided being “unfulfilled or stuck creatively.”
Production on season three was markedly different from past years, and not just because the setting is the Oregon Trail. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, new safety guidelines and measures have been implemented, which meant that during filming, the cast members were the only ones who were ever without masks. This led to what Viswanathan calls “the game of ‘guess that mouth.’ It was really bizarre not seeing anyone’s mouth, except for the other actors. As a cast, we would catch a glimpse of one of the crew by [craft services] with their mask off, and it was like, ‘Oh my god, that is not the face that I was picturing.’” Radcliffe chimes in, “We’d sidle up to each other and say, ‘Have you seen how handsome Joey is without his mask? He’s got a great mouth.’”
Things are going to get bumpy on the Oregon Trail, but Radcliffe also wants viewers to watch out for an “insane dance number” in the fourth episode: “Far and away, it’s one of the crazier things I did on this set or any set, frankly.”