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"Muse"

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ZeusFaber

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Here we go again with another VS5 blog. This time around we’re rehashing “Muse”, written by Jeremy Daniels, and teasing “Who We Are” which is coming up this Friday.

This episode was a return to a standalone story coming on the back of things we’d done with the Millennium Group and Legion, and it’s one that I think works very well in some parts and doesn’t in others. I like the way that this is less focused on murder than the typical Millennium “franchise”, and even though there is a murder at one point down the line, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the plot like many others can tend to be. Instead we’re focussed more on the concept of blood-paintings, which is a great idea that Jeremy pitched to us way back, and the relationship between this artist character and his titular muse. That’s also another part of the episode that I really like, that of the Beautiful Woman and her true nature, including the way we flash onto her in a devil image similar to what happened at the end of “Lamentation” (whereas the stuff last week in “Gotterdammerung” was more through implication). We cast Kate Vernon in this role, and I think she fits the image perfectly. Having mentioned those plus points, I think there are some structural flaws that could be identified later in the episode, and also some issues with having Frank in jeopardy, but I’ll get to that later.

The teaser sequence here is actually one that I decide to re-write. It’s always a challenge being in the position of showrunner, having to make these hard choices without wanting to undermine the work of the particular scriptwriter or lose their individual voice, while also doing what’s best for the episode and for the season in a wider context. It’s never an easy thing to do, and it’s never without a good reason, but sometimes it just needs doing. It’s not meant as anything against the writer either, since in this case Jeremy wrote a perfectly good teaser, it’s just that it used a structural device of showing us a glimpse from later in the narrative before returning to the beginning so many hours earlier. The problem here was that there’s another episode coming up fairly close to this where we’re using the same technique, and doing another one in such close proximity would be ill-advised, and added to that was that it showed Frank dead, only to explain that later by revealing it to be the way our central character, Blake, imagined things would turn out. That all made sense in light of the theme of artistic imagination, and the way people picture life unfolding, but I felt it would be a bit of a cheat to show Frank dead like this at the beginning and then come back to the end of the episode and do it differently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and no one likes to see their work changed, but it’s part of the process and just a question of judgement, and I only hope Jeremy isn’t too offended by my overwriting at this point. On the other hand, if everyone hates the teaser as it stands and wishes they could have seen the original version unfold, Jeremy can sit back in the knowledge that his was better.

My take on the teaser was really very different. It was fairly unique and out of the ordinary in the sense that we have absolutely no dialogue, and it’s kind of a non-linear montage that shows our antagonist of Blake doing one of his blood paintings at one point in time and also being seduced by his muse, the Beautiful Woman, somewhere else and some time later. I was quite taken with this sort of impressionistic approach that had been done on Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica in such episodes as “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part 1”, and this was an attempt to recreate that kind of tone and style on the page. This is the idea that you have these contrastive and disparate scenes glued together by fluid editing and music, and in this case the music I chose was a piece by the Shangri-Las called “Past, Present and Future” which uses the piano sounds of the Moonlight Sonata as its base for a quite sombre and hypnotic non-melodic vocals. I came across it by chance a while back, and hearing it reminded me very much of the kind of music sequences we’ve seen before in Millennium, and there was just something about it that suggested this kind of montage to me. I’d recommend everyone get a hold of it for a listen (easily done in this digital age) while reading the teaser.

As I’ve mentioned before in other blog entries, this is another instance of something that would almost certainly work much better on screen than it does on the page, given that it’s virtually based entirely around images, visual movements and a continuous audio – none of which you get from reading a script! As such, you might say it was foolish to attempt such a thing in this non-produced medium, which is part of the reason why I chose to put in snippets of the song lyrics. Normally I don’t favour this approach, especially when it’s just background music, and you certainly wouldn’t do it for a script that was actually going to get taken to a stage and shot, but in this case I felt it was necessary given the fact that we have zero dialogue to break up the action descriptions, and given that it was such a pivotal thing that held together the disparate montage scenes. So, worst teaser ever? Blame me. Like I said, it was to remove the “X Hours Later” structural ploy, and also to introduce the blood-painting concept from the get go instead of waiting until later, which I felt was important to do since it was the main idea that acted as the foundation for the story.

As we get into Act One, there’s a really great scene that Jeremy wrote between Frank and Miranda, commenting on the nature of Frank’s facility. I think he did a terrific job here of reflecting our overall take on the subject, succinctly getting across the idea that he’s definitely not psychic, and returning us to the original roots of what Chris Carter established when he wrote the pilot. It also does well to poke slightly on the way that this has been quite a confused issue in the show over the seasons, with different writers approaching it differently and sending out mixed messages on what exactly Frank’s “gift” was all about. This really nails our colours to the mast as to how we approach it on VS5, while also managing not to hammer it over the head or remove the levels to which it is open to interpretation. That’s a hard middle ground to write in a short scene, but Jeremy really pulled it off.

Frank and Locke also have some good interaction in the following scenes. Here they demonstrate the antagonistic side of their relationship, which has always been the angle we want to have between them more often that not, and this does well to paint that (no pun intended) whereas in recent weeks we might have scaled back on it a bit. I don’t want to really lose that side of their relationship, because it provides a nice level of conflict and is more evocative of the previous relationship with Bob Bletcher rather than the one with Emma Hollis.

When we get back to Blake and the Beautiful Woman in bed together, there’s a slight change from what was originally scripted, but nothing major this time. The original version called for them to both be in bed with another woman lying sleeping in the background, seemingly suggesting a threesome of sorts, and while this underscored the twisted, care-free nature of these two characters and the path they were on, it really didn’t have any connection to the rest of the story, and I thought as a result it was perhaps a risqué step over the line that was only for the sake of it. So it was just made to be just the two of them, and the rest of the scene played out just the same.

At the end of Act One we have the first and only actual murder of the episode. It’s done on a bus, which is a nice setting for it, not the standard approach, but it is another knife-attack which it seems we’ve had a surfeit of recently (“The Begotten”, “The Eye of the Needle”, “Word for Word”, “Gotterdammerung”). I desperately want to get away from doing too many of these in quick succession, but as in all the above cases it was the only thing that fitted the demands of the story. As I said before though, I think it’s great that this episode doesn’t just hinge on murder. This is the only one, and it’s not the central focus, it’s more about the paintings and what goes on between Blake and his muse.

Act Two picks up the investigation and flows pretty well all in all. Locke eats humble pie at the beginning, and shows that he’s not just a giant ego. He knows when he’s wrong and can admit that, even if he’s not always convinced that Frank’s way is the right way. That’s all very well written I think. Same for the stuff in the restaurant where the Beautiful Woman comments on the decadence of high-society with Blake. Fits the themes that are going on perfectly. These parts all seem to move along at a nice pace and just draw you in without making you too aware that time is passing and your reading on. That’s always how you want it to be.

In Act Three we have Frank in a captive situation, which as I mentioned is probably one of the things I’m most unsure of in the episode. We’ve tried not to throw our main characters in jeopardy too often, because it’s a bit of a standard TV cliché and we always know that they’re not going to die. We did this with Jordan in the premiere, but in that case it fitted with the demands of the story and the place we needed to get Frank back to, but even so, in doing it that once we kind of have a responsibility not to do it again any time soon. You could also say that Locke gets himself in a bit of peril at the end of “Word for Word”, so in some ways we’ve had three in seven episodes, and that’s something which invites criticism.

Nevertheless, this does go on to give us some good scenes between Frank, Blake, and the Beautiful Woman, and putting the characters together allows us to explore the underlying themes in more detail. The robbery that they undertake was originally scripted to be a bank, but I decided to have this changed to the art museum that we had already been introduced to because it was much more appropriate the art theme of the episode. A bank would have served just the same purpose, but by having it be the art museum I felt it would have a much greater thematic resonance.

We had a few problems at this point in that Acts Three and Four both came in rather short, so the robbery scenario needed to be expanded quite significantly. Originally, it wasn’t long after they got inside that the cops had arrived and the situation was resolved, so in order to expand the second half of the episode I added in some extra scenes in the museum. One of these was the confrontation with the curator, as I felt it was important to pay off the line where Blake instructs Frank to kill someone inside the building when they’re sitting outside in the car. Originally, this was just a random person inside what was then the bank, but I thought it would be better to make this the curator since we had introduced him already and he had an established prior relationship with Blake.

Another added scene, was where Frank gets to talk directly with the Beautiful Woman, which just expanded slightly on the idea of Frank getting into the minds of evil, and what that means in terms of the more demonic characters like the Beautiful Woman. Another involved Locke debating with the lead cop outside the museum, and then inside where Blake shoots the guard in the leg and uses his blood to create one final painting on the walls. I felt it was important to return to the concept of the blood-paintings at this point, as it’s what underpins the episode, and needed to escalate to a final point. You could argue that the image of Blake throwing this human blood around the room is a step too far, and again I take responsibility for that if it comes across as distasteful.

After this particular siege is resolved, we don’t just end the episode, which I think is another strength of the episode, but we instead return to the police department and see some of the aftermath. In this case, it’s not just the standard interrogation, but the murder of Blake by his friend Ronny – directed by the supernatural nature of the Beautiful Woman. You could argue that it’s a bit of a stretch for Ronny to get through into the police department with a knife and kill a prisoner, and again it’s another knife attack, but I think you can get past these things, and to dwell on them too much is to nitpick and take away from the strong thematic message and the power of the Beautiful Woman. I think Blake’s final death sequence is a good one, and I’m particularly fond of the way he looks across at her and we see his point-of-view with a devil figure standing there before cutting back to the human female. Nicely done by Jeremy, and it’s also a good choice to then go away to a final scene between Miranda and Frank that does well to bookend the episode with the opening of Act One. The dialogue between them is very good, and takes us out on a poignant note.

This Friday our new episode is called “Who We Are”, and it’s another one from Anthony J. Black. The focus is very much on Peter Watts as never before, and this is his turn to take centre stage. When we brought him back at the beginning of the season, we chose not to rush into too many explanations too quickly, but hold back on a couple of points to keep an enigma alive to a degree. We’ve established the broad strokes of what he did to fake his death at the end of “Goodbye to All That” and go into hiding before emerging as a result of the death of his daughter Erin, enough to make it plausible, but didn’t go into the specific details in order to not get sidetracked or bogged down in exposition. This episode goes back and explores this though, what Peter’s been up to in the seven year gap and more specifically what happened to his daughter. So those of you who are fans of his character ought to find this one pretty interesting. Here’s the print ad:

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That’s all folks, so I will say thank you for reading and goodnight.

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