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"The Begotten"

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ZeusFaber

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Greetings again, and it’s time that this blog got started proper and begins looking into some of the actual scripts now that the first one is on-line and “airing”. As you know, the new virtual season premiered on Friday with “The Begotten”, and we couldn’t be happier with how it seems to have gone down. In the next few paragraphs or so, I’ll give you a bit of an inside look into the making of the first episode (with spoilers, so read it first), then a little bit of a preview of what you can expect this coming Friday, before rounding out with some Q&A.

First, what can I say about the genesis of “The Begotten”? It feels like an eternity ago now that fellow executive producer Tony Black and I started working on this together, forming our ideas about what the season’s identity should be and breaking down the challenge of how to approach Frank Black after so much time has passed. Working out what kind of story should kick things off was high on the agenda, and in some ways it was formed out of the demands of what needed establishing and where certain characters needed to be positioned. In that respect, writing the premiere was something of a shopping-list of things that needed doing – we needed to establish what Frank had been doing with his life the past few years, we needed to introduce a new lead character for him to play off, and we needed to build it all around a plot that would genuinely and convincingly motivate Frank to return to an investigative role after all he’s been through. Doing all that while telling an entertaining story in its own right was quite a challenge.

Tony and I also knew that we wanted to make this dark. We wanted to make it gruesome and frightening in a way that called back to the first season, instead of perhaps the lighter or less grounded style that you can find later in the show’s history. That informs much of the teaser really, set at night in the pouring rain to give you that Vancouver image, and ending with a quite graphic and brutal stabbing of a young boy with plenty of blood. After that, I hope most people chose to download and play our new main title sequence which was skilfully tweaked by JT Vaughn to give us a few new images, and incorporated our new taglines – “watch… wonder… who decides?”. They’re quite reminiscent of the first season’s taglines, but they’re also unique, prompting you to watch the world around you and the things that are happening, wonder about their significance and what it could be building to, and ask yourself who decides on where we’re going, on all the invisible things that seems to happened every day, on the things that just seem to be naturally accepted without question.

When we begin Act One, it’s the logical time to go to Frank Black and find out what he’s up to. Lecturing at the FBI Academy seemed so perfectly natural and obvious to us right when we first started planning VS5, and it was also a good way of introducing some of the themes of the episode in Frank’s dialogue, and also of introducing Brad Locke as an ex-cadet by putting him in that setting that would once have been so familiar. There’s also a little in-joke in this scene if anybody spotted it – we see the next lecturer come in and start replacing Frank’s blackboard notes with her own as he talks with Locke, and she writes “Honesty, Containment, Conciliation, Resolution”. These were the four steps of hostage negotiation given by Agent Kazden in the X-Files episode “Duane Barry”, and Agent Kazden was of course played by CCH Pounder who had the recurring role of Cheryl Andrews in Millennium. Whether you choose to imagine Agent Kazden as this lecturer, or maybe a look-alike, is up to you.

We felt it was important that Frank reject Brad’s offer in this scene, as we were conscious of that fact that it would take a really big deal to get Frank drawn back into crime investigating and consulting. To an extent, he’d left all that behind, and it would be a bit of an insult to the character and the audience for him to be willing to just dive back in immediately. Tony and I both agreed that the only thing that would even remotely get Frank to even consider this would be a threat to Jordan, and indeed that is what demanded the story be about a threat to children in an attempt to gain the attention of the parents.

As such, the following scenes re-introduce Jordan, now a significant bit older, and they also establish the status-quo of happy family life at the Black residence. I remember that Tony wrote these scenes, and I think he did really well to capture the voice of a new, older Jordan that I myself would have found very difficult. He also did a great job of painting the picture of life at the Black family home, which is very important to establish in order to threaten it later on. This sequence used to be a fair bit longer, in fact, but we found that Act One was coming in very long compared to the others and needed trimming down, so unfortunately some of it had to be cut. I remember that the character of Bethany certainly had more lines, which it’s a shame to lose, and that perhaps explains why she seems a bigger character in my mind than she now comes across in the final draft.

We also introduce Frank’s therapist, Miranda Graff, in Act One, and she’s a character we talked about for a recurring role in the season and wanted to get involved fairly quickly. She’s not central to the plot here, but she establishes a new relationship for us to explore with Frank and also helps vocalise where Frank is emotionally. This scene was again Tony’s work, and again I think he nailed it and gave us some great dialogue.

Act Two opens with a flashback to the turn of the millennium itself, and I quite like using this as a way of breaking the linear narrative and bringing us in on an unexpected scene. This is an idea that came out of the writers’ room back when we were in the early stages of development, and I forget exactly who it was that came up with it, but it was certainly a good call. It was important that we address the millennium itself, given the show’s title, and it provides us with a way of linking our modern-day plot to that all-important event seven years ago. In some ways, we don’t get to the heart of the matter in explaining our take on how the millennium, as a concept, is still relevant to today until “Chrysalis”, so this hopefully serves to tide-over the audience and ask for patience until then.

Speaking of patience, you might be getting a little tired of reading this rambling diatribe by now, but I’ve got the script open with me now and I’m commenting as I go through it, so hopefully you’ll find it at least partially interesting to stick with. This brings me to perhaps one of the weakest parts of the episode, that being the discovery of the etched symbols of alpha and omega that Frank finds at the crime scene. In some ways, this is too easy and too much of a leap, and the whole ancient-symbols conveniently giving away the motives of the killer is something I wanted to get away from, but there was just so much other stuff to cover in the episode that we just needed to move things along already before it gets slow and confusing. So, it’s a stretch, which I take all the blame for since it was a concept I introduced and a scene I wrote, but hopefully it doesn’t stick out too badly. What I’m more proud of is the act-out that follows, with something of a montage set to a piece of opera, with the villain painting in red in one location while a murder spills the red of blood at another. In some ways it would work better on film than on the page, but I ‘m still fond of the combination of art and violence which has been a hallmark of Millennium since the pilot.

We then move ahead pretty quickly to capture the Raincoat Man, which allows us to bring part of this story to an end while moving on to another. Yes, we capture the main killer, but his disciples are still out there and they’re the ones that are moving on to phase two. Doing this allows us to get a certain sense of satisfaction with “The Begotten” as part one of two, while still keeping the events of “Chrysalis” closely linked. When we were breaking the story, I was the one who wanted to make it a two-parter to capitalise on the scope of a new season and spread around the shopping-list items, so if it doesn’t work structurally blame me.

Making it a two-parter also allowed us to end on what is hopefully a jaw-dropping double-barrelled cliffhanger, which is something I love to do, and I think this quickly sold Tony on the idea of doing a two-part premiere as opposed to just one episode. We have Jordan abducted by the Disciple (who we cast as John Fleck, who fans might remember form the first season episode “Blood Relatives”) which sets up the plot for “Chrysalis”, and then a big surprise which should come as a bolt out of the blue with the appearance of Peter Watts. That’s the pay-off for who had been watching and phoning Frank throughout the episode, by the way, in case that slipped off the radar. What exactly is going on with him and how he’s alive is something you’ll have to wait to see this coming Friday. It’s probably the biggest thing we’re asking the audience to roll with, but hopefully you were struck by the reveal rather than left cold. Tony wrote a version of it, and then I wrote a version, and I think we went with mine in the end, but it might be interesting for some of you to read the original if we can dig it up some day.

Now, what can you expect to see in “Chrysalis” this Friday? I’ll keep this very brief as this has become much longer than I expected. In short – what’s happened to Jordan? What’s the deal with Peter Watts? Answers on the way. We’ll also see Frank in a very compromised position, forced to do things he’d never consider doing. Find out what and why on Friday. Speaking of which, print-ad ahoy…

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Now, some quickfire questions (actually, there’s only one this week):

lucy48

Music was a big part of Millennium and I noticed a bit was referenced in The Begotten. I was wondering if there was any discussion of including musical references in forthcoming episodes. The raincoat man was listening to opera while painting but it wasn't identified as which one.

You’re right, we didn’t specifically reference the opera piece, and it’s mainly because I don’t have a great knowledge of opera I’m afraid! Maybe Mark Snow could have composed an original piece for that sequence – if this were real – but I think you get the kind of sound in your head anyway. We’ll try and pick out specific pieces in future, and forthcoming artists on our minds at the moment are Bobby Darin (but of course), Dire Straits, Philip Glass, and even the Shangri-Lars.

And so this marathon session comes to an end. Hope you’re still awake. I’ll leave you with a sneak peak of dialogue from “Chrysalis”:

FRANK

You’re saying this is about the millennium?

RAINCOAT MAN

Nothing has changed since then. It’s only managed

to convince you that you can blind yourself to it.

FRANK

Are you saying that the millennium wasn’t the end?

RAINCOAT MAN

Only the end of the beginning.

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This is great, I love reading all these behind-the-scenes mechanisms of the birth of VS5. I didn't come along until much later, so all of this is new to me.

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