Welcome back to the VS5 blog, and apologies for this one being a little late in the week. This time it’s “Laïcité” up for deconstruction, and a quick preview of “Word for Word” which airs on Friday.
The core of this episode began with the basic idea of the space programme and orbital weapons platforms, the kind of things that have often been discussed by a number of US administrations. It’s nothing new, and has been around for a while, the idea of missile defence systems mounted on orbital satellites capable of shooting down incoming ballistic missiles from space. The more fantastical elements involve just how powerful these things might be, and how much destruction they could cause from above, but its certainly a legitimate question and an interesting one in terms of Millennium’s themes of “an apocalypse of our own creation”.
That led on to the other spark for this episode, that we wanted to reintroduce the Millennium Group for the first time of the new season. This is the first time we see them since the passing of the millennium seven years ago, and we had a lot of new ideas we wanted to bring to them. When mapping the tone of the season in general, Tony and I both agreed that we didn’t want to make the Group outright villains in the way they had sometimes been depicted in the past. In a way, we wanted to get them back to something like they were in the first season, but at the same time we couldn’t completely ignore the way they had developed subsequently, so what we’re trying to do here is strike something of a balance in showing them to be a group with interests in these kinds of issues of global importance but a legitimate group that isn’t illegal or cult-like in any way.
The title, “Laïcité”, is a French terms meaning the separation of religion from the State, and that basically refers to how we’re trying to depict the Millennium Group in the twenty-first century. They’ve moved to a more secular position, shriven of the religious hocus-pocus of the past and are now much more like a large corporation or Fortune 500 company. That’s what we’re trying to get across here, and in some ways I don’t think there’s really enough time to go into all that in much detail in this episode, which is a shame, but it also has to focus on the story it’s telling, which always has to come first.
It’s quite a tense thriller in that respect, and it’s perhaps one of the more Season 2-like episodes we’ve done so far. Tony Black, who of course wrote this episode, is much more of a fan of that year of the show that I am, so it’s perhaps not so surprising to see that kind of tone come into his writing. But it’s not just that one note, it’s also quite evocative of some of the third season Group-centric episodes. Striking that balance allows it to create a unique identity which is what VS5 should always be, so in that respect I consider it to be a success.
The action beats of the teaser, with the Black Coat Man and such all come across very nicely, and it continues throughout. Then we come to the part where Ardis Cohen returns from Season One’s “Kingdom Come”, which was an interesting idea and gave Frank someone a bit different to play off. Original discussions talked about bringing back the VS4 character of Ryan Frost at this point, by I was never keen on that myself. On thing was that he wasn’t our creation, so it felt a bit strange to be taking him, and another was that we wanted to stay true and firm to our own identity and not be overly interweaving with everything that our predecessors did. Ultimately, I think it works better with Ardis, and we never got to the stage where Frost was actually put into the script.
Something that was a bit of a gamble though was not featuring the character of Brad Locke this week. I had concerns about that, since it’s relatively early on in the season and Locke is supposed to be our second lead character that we’re trying to establish. So, some parts of the audience might find him conspicuous by his absence. Nevertheless, it still would have been foolish to shoehorn him in when he wasn’t part of the story, and it would have bundled down the story with too many redundant characters.
Then there is the subplot to this episode, which is the part where Jordan acts as a kind of matchmaker between Miranda and Frank, attempting to keep her in his life. I think this part works really well, serves as a nice tonic to the intense conspiracy going on in Texas, and advances both characters in a positive way.
As for Peter Watts’ character, we knew we wanted to get him into a position by the end of the episode to renew his association with the Group, so that he could have that kind of access and point of interest for the future. I like the setting of his first scene here, where he receives a call from Frank and is in a very Spartan and almost empty apartment. That says a lot about where he is now, away from his family and ruined to a degree by the events of his daughter’s murder. That’s something we don’t know the full details of just yet, but is going to be addressed in depth in a later episode. For now, it’s more of a semi-enigma that works quite nicely in that mysterious sort of way.
Later, we see his conversations with the new Group hierarchy that eventually get him back to a position similar to the one he used to have. The thing I insisted on for these scenes was a certain design aesthetic to the sets, which obviously never get built but you can still imagine. The main motif was glass and transparency, to create that sense that the Group themselves are not as dark and obscured as they used to be. I wanted lots of glass everywhere, the glass table, glass doors, large glass windows overlooking the city. That’s a design scheme that you’re going to see again when it comes to the new Millennium Group.
For the concluding sequence, where the police move in on the warehouse, the original draft of the script called for Frank and Ardis to be carrying guns and going in armed with the other troops. We changed this though in the process, as I didn’t want to really see Frank with a gun at any time this season, the way he would always shy away from it in the first and third seasons. Frank isn’t an action hero, and he’s usually not a man of violence, despite what we sometimes see lurking deep within him in such episodes as “The Beginning and the End”, “Goodbye to All That”, and our own virtual episode “Chrysalis”. Tony was also very quick to agree with this way of thinking.
The final shot, where we move around to see the logo on Peter’s computer screen saying 2216 days have passed, is one I’m very fond of. It mirrors the desktop icon of the past, turns it around to the new age, and provides an open ending for Peter and the Group. That’s what we can probably say of the episode as a whole, which simultaneously manages to tell a tight story about what might be going on with NASA and the orbital weapons platforms.
This Friday our new episode is called “Word for Word” and is the first script from Brendan M. Leonard. It’s more of a standalone episode, to give us that variation, and returns to the idea of a killer that is out there somewhere committing some of the most detestable acts a human is capable of. However, it’s not the same kind of tone that we saw in “The Eye of the Needle”, as it’s ever so slightly more off-beat in the way that it centres on a novelist who’s work seems to be the inspiration for the murders. You might instantly be thinking of something like “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense”, but it’s certainly not a comedy by any means, and really doesn’t share much in common with that episode at all. In some ways, it’s more evocative of “…Thirteen Years Later”, but again not a comedy, so if you imagine what that episode might have been if not played for laughs but played darker and more intense, you might be approaching something close to “Word for Word”. Here’s the print ad:
Again there are no questions this week, so it just leaves me to give you sneak-peek of dialogue from “Word for Word”:
So, what do you know?
I don’t know anything yet.
I though you were, you know, the guy.
I don’t work that way. I can’t tell you what I can’t see,
Brad. Right now, I haven’t seen enough.