Hello, and welcome back to the VS5 blog, for those of you that are reading regularly anyway. This time around I’m going to be rehashing “Gotterdammerung” before going into a slight preview of this Friday’s new episode, which is called “Muse”.
This episode was actually written by myself for the first time since the opening two-parter, and it was designed as the first one to re-introduce the figure of Legion for the new season. This was always on our minds from the conception of VS5, and it has always been one of my favourite running themes of the show. Structuring the opening batch of episodes had this in mind, kicking off with a general two-part premiere that covers the big events and brings the characters back up to date, then coming back down to Earth with a more standalone story before re-introducing the Millennium Group as one of the big through-lines of the show, with another standalone for variety and then “Gotterdammerung” to re-introduce Legion. That way we’ve got all of the big themes and story types visited in the opening six episodes without it being an overload. At least we like to think so, anyway!
I guess I ought to say a quick word on the title itself, as it can connote quite a wide array of concepts, but the general idea here with “Gotterdammerung” – which pretty much translates as “Twilight of the Gods” – is just to evoke the idea of the battle between the metaphysical manifestations of Good and Evil. There’s a Wagner opera with the same title with similar ideas, and there are also associations with Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is of course where the opening quotation from this episode comes from. So it’s not meant to be taken too far, just to be suggestive of those ideas of Good vs. Evil, or Legion vs. Angels, or more specifically in this case Sammael vs. Leonard.
As for the story itself, the idea is to show this battle coming more towards Jordan than Frank. After all the years we’ve seen Legion going after Frank and tempting him to either give up the fight or cross over to its side altogether in such episodes as “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions”, “The Curse of Frank Black”, “The Judge” et cetera, I felt it was time that Legion abandoned that plan and moved on to Jordan. We’ve seen over the years that she has the potential to be as gifted and pivotal a person as her father, and as a child that is just coming into her own at around 16 years of age, she’s still potentially impressionable and perhaps more easily influenced than her father.
Following this line of logical also meant that this could be one of the most Jordan-centric episodes in the show’s history, and the teaser reflects that in the sense that I believe it’s the first one to just feature Jordan alone. You might think of “Saturn Dreaming of Mercury” as the closest antecedent, but at least Frank was also present in that case. This time, it’s more about her stepping out on her own without the father figure standing over her all the time. Of course, with Frank still around as the great father that he is, that’s always going to be a factor and he’s never going to just leave her to it, but this is perhaps Jordan’s show more than ever before. Having said that, I’m probably the last person to be wanting to write about teenage girls for an entire episode, and you’ll probably see from the script that there’s not a great deal about that anywhere. I tried to approach Jordan simply as a character in her own right, and didn’t want to fall into the kind of stuff we might be more accustomed to on teen-soapy shows like Smallville or Buffy (really not keen on them, if you hadn’t already guessed).
Instead, I wanted to keep this an adult show that is as dark and frightening as ever, and I think you see that from the last shot of the teaser – a human face with its eyes gouged out. But we also see something else in the teaser, and that’s what the script refers to as the Dark-Haired Boy who is always dressed in black. I’m sure everyone gathered that this is meant to be Sammael, the angelic character we have met twice before in “Borrowed Time” and “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions”. Originally, the script came right out and reffered to him as Sammael in his dialogue-headers, but I changed this later on in an attempt to preserve some of the subtlety we have in those previous episodes. They never came out and said exactly what he was, you were left to work it out for yourself, in some cases needing some repeat viewings to properly appreciate it. I wanted people to get the same sort of feeling when reading this episode for the first time, the sense that you’re not entirely sure who these people are and what’s going on, and that you might have to go back and look at it again.
I’m not sure whether that came off or not, to be perfectly honest. It’s quite a big gamble really, as there’s not only one way it can go wrong but two. First, people could see straight through the so-called “subtlety” right off and know exactly what the idea is and not get that enigmatic feeling at all, or second, it could be too oblique for its own good, not making sense to people and alienating them with its lack of explanations. I can only hope that the episode managed to walk that fine line in between and achieve the desired middle ground, and only the audience as individuals will really be able to say whether or not it did.
As we head into Act One, we’re soon introduced to one of the key characters of Paul Leonard, Jordan’s school counsellor. He’s the one meant to represent the Legion figure here, the one who deliberately insinuates himself into Jordan’s life by engineering this case of a body at the school, and again I hope that wasn’t all too obvious right off the bat. As usual, it’s not entirely meant to be a total whodunit mystery, so you’re not meant to be caught totally by surprise when you learn that he’s evil, but I just mean that I hope while people are questioning his motives they haven’t quite got the whole story figured out right away. That’s a real challenge trying to balance that, especially given the fact that most readers will be very familiar with a back-catalogue of three full seasons of Millennium and are thus very well trained to see where things are heading.
Leonard’s dialogue is all structured to be very pleasant and extremely polite, that idea that the Devil is one of the most persuasive and seductive and convincing people. In Millennium, Evil or Legion or whatever you want to call it never comes to you at face value as a snarling villain, always as a clever-talking tempter, like the serpent in Eden. As such, Leonard is depicted to be very understanding and very nice to Jordan and everyone in these opening scenes, while still being a little shifty given his note-taking and smiling façade. In many ways, he’s something of a mirror to the Al Pepper character in “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions”, which was in itself a significant inspiration for this episode, and the intent here was to create an equal character for Jordan as Pepper was to Frank. I guess you could criticise this for being too similar to Pepper, and they are quite alike in their dialogue, but in a way that’s the point, the idea that what you have seen tempting Frank in the past is now tempting Jordan. The same can be said of this episode’s relationship to “Powers…” itself, not as a sequel but more as a mirror, with that episode for Frank being what this episode is for Jordan. The line for the act-out, where Frank is taken aback by Leonard saying it’s nice to meet him again is probably the most direct nod to “Powers…”, in that it mirrors Al Pepper inexplicably saying he’d see Frank when he got back at the end of one of its acts. Perhaps some people felt that was a lift too far, but there you have it.
We’re also introduced to a pathologist named Simon Nathans in Act One, who conducts the autopsy and gives Frank and Locke some of the evidence and such. Some readers might have been a little confused as to why he’s made to be so over-enthusiastic, and why Frank narrows his eyes at him, but really this was just meant to be a red-herring. I chose to call him Nathans as it’s Satan backwards if you drop the n and the h, again just as a bit of a subliminal red-herring, to plant the idea in people’s minds that maybe there’s something going on there that they haven’t quite figured out yet. That probably fell completely flat, but never mind.
Speaking of subliminal suggestions, there are also two other such things that ought to be commented on. The first is when Frank meets Leonard for the first time, and gets his name wrong in calling him Mr. Lennon, before being corrected by Leonard who brushes it off by quoting a bit of Shakespeare and saying “what’s in a name?”. The point here was to foreground Leonard’s name a bit, to make you think about it more than you ordinarily would, because in doing a little research I found it’s actually the name of a certain demon. I was trying to decide what to name this character, and ideally wanted something that was both normal and everyday but also had some kind of Satanic history or allusion to it, and in coming across Leonard amongst names of demons it fitted that category.
The second I speak of occurs at the top of Act Two, when there is a quick dream-sequence for Jordan. I enjoyed throwing I a few appropriate clips from past episodes of time’s Jordan has felt threatened or unsafe, and one of these was the upside down clown from “Dead Letters”. That was in her dream in that episode, so I felt it would be nice to make it a recurring image for her, and this time I thought I would give it some creepy foreshadowing dialogue. Maybe you got this straight away and maybe you didn’t, but it’s actually a bit of reverse-speak there, a bit like Michael J. Anderson’s character in Twin Peaks. It doesn’t really affect your enjoyment or understanding of the episode one way or the other, just me trying to be cool really. If you didn’t get it, go back and read it backwards, letter by letter, to find out what the clown’s message was.
We then get to the chessboard image which is a recurring metaphor throughout the episode, and much more obvious. Jordan at first sits at the centre of the board, neither controlling black nor white, and you could say that she’s perhaps playing against herself. Later, with Miranda, she can’t decide if she wants to be black or white, and it doesn’t need me to tell you that’s all about reflecting the idea of Jordan being pulled to take side for Evil or Good. A bit too on the nose? Maybe, but I thought it would give the episode that extra visual motif to explore the issues in something other than dialogue.
When we get to the part about the groundskeeper, I hope the idea of a controlling force came across satisfactorily enough. It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch that Frank and Locke match the boot-print so easily and fortuitously, probably the greatest area for nitpicking in the episode, but it was just another case of having to get from A to B without getting bogged down in the boring stuff. The idea here was that Legion, exerting its controlling influence, was giving the police an easy and obvious perpetrator who kills himself and thus wraps up the case in a nice neat package, so that they will go away and leave Leonard alone to work his charms on Jordan without Frank’s interference. That probably didn’t come across as clearly as I would have liked to, but that was the idea. In any case, his hanging himself from a basketball hoop in the school gym of all things – in front of a whole load of kids no less – is a horribly macabre image, and one that I quite like as the act out despite the fact that the build-up to it may have been a little weak.
As the investigation continues, we intercut with a couple of scenes of Sammael coming before Leonard in an attempt to warn him away. These were added in after the first draft because I wanted to keep Sammael as much involved as possible. When I first set out with the script, it was my intension to focus on Sammael as never before, even make it something of a character study, but to an extent that’s just not possible given the enigmatic nature of his identity. I wanted to really play up what it would be like for him on Earth, what his life would be like, while keeping it as grounded as possible in the same way that “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” kept it very grounded by having this guy just be a scrawny kid that walks amongst men in a very everyday fashion. But again, focusing on him so much just wasn’t possible, as there isn’t really anyone for him to play off or have much dialogue with. When I looked at the first draft and realised that Sammael didn’t have nearly as much “screen time” as I originally wanted, I added in these extra scenes of him warning Leonard off and giving him three chances to depart. That’s a very Biblical kind of thing, like Christ telling Peter he will deny him three times before the cock crows and so forth, whilst the dialogue here went for an almost Shakespearean touch in the way that Sammael delivers his warnings. There’s even a direct Shakespeare quote in there with “firm and irrevocable is my doom”, and I even thought about writing his lines in iambics, but felt that would be too over-the-top. There’s also the “extreme prejudice” quote from Apocalypse Now, which was unfortunately undercut by Bill Buchanan quoting it in the 24 season premiere just a few weeks before this one could get out – goddamnit. Can’t win ‘em all, but I was done with “Gotterdammerung” well before that, honest.
The final confrontation between Leonard and Sammael in the gym was originally scripted to be witnessed by Frank, not Jordan, who was back playing chess with Miranda in the first draft. However, as I went back over it, I realised that the story was about Jordan, so it had to be her that had this experience at the end, and it had to be her that saw the flashes of light from her “unique perspective”, as Frank had done in “Powers”. Again, this is a mirror of that, not a rip-off, at least that’s how I defend it. When it was Frank seeing this, it probably was more of a rip-off, but again this is about bringing it around to Jordan, so I’m glad I made this change for both of those reasons. Unfortunately though, this meant I had to loose something I was intercutting with at this point, which was the chess game. This had two things going for it, I felt, first that it provided a different approach to your standard endgame action-scene, by cutting away to something as often as possible, and second it really played up the metaphor by literally seeing Jordan moving pieces around the board as Leonard and Sammael moved around the school – since they are both essentially pawns in the giant game of Good vs. Evil. So, I was sad to loose that, but it was worth it to put Jordan directly in this situation, and most of it could be salvaged and moved up to early in the episode and this still get the point across, just without the extra significance of the intercutting.
Moving on, we have another brand new episode on Friday called “Muse”, written by Jeremy Daniels. This one is kind of half standalone and half another look at the devilish side of things. We have a case involving some rather sickening paintings in blood, which eventually leads to an escalation putting Frank directly in danger. It really takes the kind of link we’ve seen between art and horror that we’ve seen since the beginning of the show (e.g. the dancing in blood in the pilot) and pushes it to extremes. At the same time though, we also see the influence of a twisted upper-class woman, and we have another kind of look at Legion – only this case it’s in a different way to “Gotterdammerung”, not with figures like Leonard and Al Pepper, but with some direct images of the kind of Devil figure we have seen in the likes of “Lamentation”. Take a look at the print ad:
I’ve got a question to cover this week, so the Q&A section is officially back!
This is such a pivotal theme in the series. Sammael’s motivations blurred in each season. And again, here, he morphs into a clown in Jordan’s nightmare. So it might follow that she’s not sure of him either. I’m glad you did, but what made you tackle such a complicated subject. I’d like to know your personal opinion of Sammael’s role.
Yes, it certainly is a complicated subject, and I’d say you’re right in saying Jordan isn’t quite sure what to make of it all just yet. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Clown was meant to be a representation of Sammael, more an image of being threatened and confused, but I’d certainly not want to stop things being open to interpretation, so that is an interesting one.
As for why I wanted to tackle it, it basically comes down to being very interested in the Sammael character and the way he was represented so ambiguously in the two episodes he appeared in. I very much like the way he was shown to walk amongst men and be very grounded, with not the slightest hint of ethereal qualities or wings or halos or anything like that. I much prefer the subtle image of a boy dressed in black. Then, as discussed above, there was the desire to bring the Legion threat back around to Jordan, so those things combined resulted in “Gotterdammerung”.
And my personal opinion of Sammael’s role? Well, in this case, he’s a servant of God’s will, a pawn for the forces of Good. According to angelic lore, he’s the angel of death, and that’s his role here, to take out the manifestations of Evil such as Leonard and Al Pepper. You might ask yourself what this means to him as an individual, if he has free will or not, and to what extent his Earthly suffering is fair or not – that’s what the final scene of this episode is all about.
Finally then, as ever, a quick inside look at some dialogue from “Muse”:
This is a waste of time. I checked this kid out, I'm done.
This isn't though.
I have people to answer to, Frank, and I can't be wasting
time chasing down every hunch you have.
I don't expect you to. But I'm getting tired of waiting until
the bodies start piling up to act. Those paintings are a
statement of a man getting ready to act.
If he hasn't already.