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"Word for Word"

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ZeusFaber

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Greetings from another blog entry. This week we’re rehashing “Word for Word", written by Brendan M. Leonard, and offering a little sneak preview of the forthcoming “Gotterdammerung” which airs on Friday.

This is a story that was pitched to us by Brendan when he joined the writing staff, and I think I’d be right in saying that it was always conceived as another standalone episode to give us that variation again coming on the back of what was a fairly big Millennium Group intensive story in “Laicite”. The main concept didn’t really change much from that initial pitch, which is the basic premise of a set of murders being inspired by some fictional crime novels, but some of the beats of the script did change quite a bit, particularly in the second half. I’ll get to all that later.

The teaser is something of a mix of the conventional and the unconventional. First, the conventional in that we have a murder depicted on screen, a young college girl running away from a pursuer but nonetheless ending up brutally murdered. Nothing out of the ordinary so far there for Millennium. But then we also have the unconventional in that all of this is guided by a voice-over from an as yet unseen character called Jimmy Roran. Everything he says here, and most of his dialogue, is all in a very hard-boiled style that matches his writing, and I think a lot of that comes from Brendan’s voice and the things he’s read and so forth. I might be in need of some correction there, but the general tone of the piece tends to match the concept of hardboiled detective fiction.

In that respect, there might be some parts of the audience that might reach for comparisons here to the second season episode “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense”, but I really don’t think “Word for Word” bears any genuine comparisons to that beyond the surface similarity of fiction writers as central characters. I really don’t think the two stories are very much alike, and the tones of each are certainly in marked contrast. “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense” is pretty much an out and out comedy as only Darin Morgan can write, whereas “Word for Word” is played much more straight and not for laughs or comedy. I think in some ways, if you really want to search for an antecedent, then this episode is more similar to “…Thirteen Years Later” from Season 3, in the sense that murders are inspired by something from pop culture. In that case it was horror movies, and in this case it’s detective novels, but again the tone of that one was very comedic whereas “Word for Word” is more down-the-line.

As we head into Act One, we’re introduced to another one of our novelist characters in the form of Russell Langford, who ultimately turns out to be our killer. I’m not sure if that was too obvious to anyone, or if it felt like he was always bound to turn out to be the killer. In some ways, it’s not the most important thing, because this isn’t just a mystery show, it’s as much about motive and the exploration of these actions as it is simply a question of whodunit. Nevertheless, in taking a pass on this I tried to make it as ambiguous as possible as to why we’re being introduced to this character, and I think you can maintain a degree of uncertainty because there’s always a question of if Roran himself could be the killer. That’s a theme we’ve seen explored a lot in the past, the idea of a man – be that a writer or a profiler – who gets so obsessed with the darkness of his work that he becomes it himself. That’s quite an old story now, so I hope that by playing up that possibility every now and then in the dialogue, at least some of the audience might have been fooled into thinking we were dragging that old one out again, and thus not identify Langford as the villain right off the bat. I don’t know if that worked or not, but I can only hope that it did.

There’s one scene I added which wasn’t in the original draft where we cut back to the bookstore late at night, just after Frank has left Jordan at home to go meet with Locke. This is where Langford is a bit over-eager in asking Roran for advice on his latest manuscript. This was to serve two purposes really, the first being the aforementioned diversion of suspicion onto Roran, when Langford suggests that he’s “too caught up in his own books”, and the second is to sew some seeds of motivation for Langford in being the pale imitator to Roran, the student who doesn’t match up to the master. That also gave us the rather nice thematic parallel to Locke and Frank, which gets underscored later.

Langford himself is, as I think Brendan would tell you, pretty much inspired by Dan Brown, or if not Dan Brown specifically someone of similar ilk. I particularly like the little joke of having his pulp thriller be entitled “The Michelangelo Mysteries”, which is a pretty on–the-nose dig at “The Da Vinci Code”. I’m sure everyone got that one.

The act out a little further on is really when the story starts proper, in discovering that the crime scene matches up to the cover illustration of Roran’s novel “Bed of Coals”. I think that’s a pretty good image and a pretty good act out, and it’s from there on in that we start seeing what this case is really all about.

When we go into Act Two, we have a medical examination scene which reveals some numbers mutilated into the victim. Originally, the script later revealed that this was Langford just messing with the heads of his pursuers, and had no deeper meaning beyond that. The intent here was, I think, for the episode itself to mirror some of the clichés and stereotypes of the kind of fiction that Roran and Langford write, and in that sense it would have had an extra satirical level. That was also why Langford didn’t originally enter the narrative until much later on. However, I felt that this kind of extra meaning wouldn’t really come across on just the page alone, and that we’d risk people thinking it was just flaws in the episode, so we went back and added in some extra scenes for Langford, and eventually wound up explaining the mutilations as page numbers. I don’t know if that still works better or not, as we’ve all too often had convenient number mutilations of crime scene markings explaining the case on Millennium, and I’d specifically written in the Show Bible for the season that we were going to stay away from that as often as possible (so in making them page numbers I guess I’ve broken that), and Locke even makes a sly dig at it by theorizing that they could be Bible references later on. I think it’s one of those moments that’s just going to come down to each audience member’s personal reaction.

I really like the interplay between Frank and Locke in this scene though, and indeed the entire episode, as it really shows them behaving as teacher and student. The medical examiner asks about why it isn’t yet a serial murderer, and Frank makes sure Brad is the one to answer, as if checking off an exam question. That’s a really good touch from Brendan there.

As we move into the steakhouse, there’s another added line where Langford says he tried to call Roran the previous night but got no answer, and this is another attempt to get you thinking whether or not Roran could have been out committing the murders. It’s not so much meant to point the finger directly at Roran, because that would just be too much, and I don’t think anyone is ever going to stop wondering if Langford is the killer, but just by suggesting the possibility that it’s the other guy prevents it from being entirely predictable. At least we hope that’s the case! Brendan also did very well with Roran’s dialogue in this scene, showing a mark contrast with Frank, and how the two similarly aged men have very different lives and mannerisms. That in itself though draws back that thematic parallel, in the sense that Roran gets inside the head of criminals in order to write about them, while Frank gets inside the heads of criminal in order to catch them. The idea that the profiler and the author are very similar sorts of jobs, on one level, is an interesting one that is very underplayed and subtle throughout the episode, but it gets you thinking, especially given where Roran ends up by the end of the episode.

Act Three begins with the investigators attending the latest crime scene, and this was one that was added in by Brendan after the first draft when it came in a little short, plus it would have felt a little incongruous to depict another crime scene at the end of Act Two and then never return to it. Again, all the characters behave with an interesting dynamic here, with the Frank/Roran and Locke/Langford parallels just bubbling under the surface.

There’s another scene here in Act Three that I added in late on, and that’s the one at the police department with Frank and Locke which comes just after Roran has introduced Frank to Langford at the college. The reason for this was partly to lengthen the act slightly, but more importantly it was to break up the two scenes involving Langford. Originally, we had Frank meeting with him for the first time, the in the very next scene discovering that he’s the killer, and that felt a little to quick and sudden for me. So, by adding in a couple of pages of dialogue of what is mostly down-the-line investigative work, we get to break up those two moments and make it feel a little less sudden. It might not be the most exciting scene to read, but it serves its purpose. It was also important to keep Locke active and in play, especially given how he’s targeted by the end of the episode, as otherwise it would risk being the Frank/Roran show and do a disservice to Brad’s character.

That takes us to the endgame in Act Four which changed quite substantially from the first draft. At that point, it was Jordan who Langford came after, and this final scene played out in a similar fashion at the Black residence. However, I wanted Brendan to change this because we wanted to avoid Jordan becoming the damsel-in-distress of the season, since she had already played the target in “Chrysalis”, and next Friday in “Gotterdammerung” she is threatened somewhat, although not in captive victim sense. So, basically, I didn’t want people to think we were playing Frank riding to the rescue of his daughter all the time, so we switched this to a confrontation between Langford and Locke instead of Langford and Jordan. As the situation plays out, we eventually get to a point where Langford has Locke at gunpoint, and there was a slight change here as it was originally scripted to be a knife. However, since we had already established that Locke left his gun outside, I felt it only made sense for Langford to take advantage of that and use it.

Another reason for using the gun is that it facilitated another change that I made to the ending, that of the gun falling to Roran who shoots Langford. I can’t remember exactly how the scene originally resolved itself, but it basically ended with Langford knocked out somehow, and Roran was largely a spectator. However, I felt that Roran had been established as a fairly central player in this drama, and that it was important for him to be more involved in the resolution and commit to some sort of action that would change and affect him. So, as a result, I put the gun into Roran’s hand and have him be the one to pull the trigger and incapacitate Roran. This also helped have a stronger emotional impact on him, and made a bit more sense of him going off and burning his books at the end, which was always the final scene. I only hope Brendan forgives me for doctoring his work at this point!

This Friday we have a brand new episode called “Gotterdammerung”, as I mentioned, which is my first full script since the premiere, and it’s going to be the first episode of the season that really brings Legion back into things. We centre on Jordan’s character more than we’ve done in any of the episodes so far, following the idea that she’s the one to be targeted by this force of Evil. We’ve seen Legion going after Frank countless times in the history of the show, offering him deals, asking him to work for him, messing with his head. The idea here is that after all that, Legion has moved on and has now turned it’s attentions toward the younger member of the Black family as a source of untapped potential that could swing either way in the eternal Good vs. Evil battle. However, at the same time we don’t want to overplay this or throw it in your face too much, so hopefully there is a level of subtlety to this one that the episode could very well stand or fall on. Oh, and for any of you fans familiar enough with the character, Sammael’s back. Take a look at the print ad:

printad2x06.jpg

People seem to have run out of questions they want answering, so the Q&A section of the blog is fast becoming a thing of the past I’m sorry to say. I’ll just round things out in solitude with a sneak-peek of dialogue from “Gotterdammerung” then:

FRANK

Most of what we have here is virtually meaningless.

Surface signs of things with no substance. No real

ideology.

LOCKE

That fits with the Lucifer symbol scratched into the

forehead. It serves no purpose other than to act as a

giant neon sign for Satanism.

FRANK

Maybe that’s what this whole thing is.

(beat)

A show.


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