Season 1 of Sweet Magnolias on Netflix leaves a burning question unanswered: who are Isaac Downey’s (Christ Medlin) birth parents? Isaac and many fans of the show think the obvious answer is Dana Sue (Brook Elliott), since her time outside Serenity is a mystery, but his mother could actually be local reporter Peggy Martin, and his father could be the man who broke her heart – Ryan Wingate (Michael Shenefelt).
Sweet Magnolias primarily focuses on restaurateur Dana Sue and her two best friends, Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), a newly single mother of three, and Helen Decatur (Heather Headley), a powerful attorney who dreams of becoming a mother. They live in the small town of Serenity, South Carolina, where gossip and a lot of drama are always in play. As the season progresses, the worlds of the supporting characters such as the children in town and the Sweet Magnolias’ various past and present love interests come to the forefront. The audience’s attention in part is brought to Isaac, a young newcomer to Serenity who works at Dana Sue’s restaurant.
Isaac is quite a mystery in the first several episodes, but in episode 6 it’s revealed that Isaac moved to town in search of his birth parents. He doesn’t have much information about them besides knowing that he’s of mixed race and that his birth mother is from Serenity. Like many of the young characters in Sweet Magnolias, Isaac is hoping to find love and belonging. However, what if Isaac’s mother is the town reporter, Peggy Martin (Brittany Smith)?
While Isaac has now asked two people if they’re his parents, he’s completely missing Peggy, which is understandable. Peggy only makes an appearance in five episodes, but her short appearances remain revealing. Peggy has had a rivalry with Helen since high school, and in the season finale she alludes to a potential familiar heartbreak at the hands of Helen’s ex, Ryan Wingate. She’s often portrayed as a villain out to get the Sweet Magnolias, but the show suggests that she’s much more than a jealous woman. Peggy mentions to Helen that she missed their high school prom because her family moved away for senior year. It could be that Peggy left Serenity to go through her pregnancy and give birth to Isaac. It would make sense that Peggy would want to keep a secret love child to herself, with fear of the consequences, even all these years later. Peggy is a good reporter, so she likely knows Isaac is searching for her but is fearful of opening old wounds caused by Ryan.
Ryan first returns to Serenity from San Francisco because of a phone call from Peggy that the Sweet Magnolias were renovating his childhood home. It’s the first and only direct indication the writers provide that Ryan and Peggy have a connection. Like Peggy, not much about Ryan’s past is uncertain, outside of his affairs with Helen and that his father didn’t approve of interracial relationships. As Helen and Ryan break up for good, it becomes abundantly clear that he doesn’t want children. Ryan claims he doesn’t want to bring a child into the world because of climate change and witnessing suffering in Africa, but there’s a more profound pain in his eyes. The real reason Ryan is against having children could be from extreme guilt and sadness over giving up his son. Given his family’s issues with race, it seems clear that he would’ve kept an adolescent relationship with Peggy a secret.
Ryan departed Serenity at the end of the season, but he will likely make a dramatic return. Just like Peggy, Isaac has a curious mind with smart instincts, so his investigations may lead him to Peggy and Ryan in season 2 of Sweet Magnolias.