Hello, and welcome back to the VS5 blog. In this entry we’re taking a look at “Who We Are”, written by Anthony J. Black, before rounding out with a bit of a preview of “Parturition” which airs this Friday.
We pushed it right up to the wire with this episode, having it completed pretty late on Friday, but fortunately we still made our air date, and so all is right in the world. It was always conceived as a real Peter Watts episode, a chance for him to take centre stage and for us to showcase his character as never before. Tony is certainly a big Terry O’Quinn fan (but then who in their right mind isn’t, right?), and he wanted to have this story where Peter really gets to carry an episode for pretty much the first time in Millennium, even more so than the only real antecedent, the third season’s “Collateral Damage”. Taylor Watts from that episode also returns here, as does most of the rest of the Watts family that we have met before in such episodes as “Goodbye to All That” and “Luminary”. Of those, only Chelsea was recast (with Leighton Meester here), since she never really had much of a speaking role before.
The crux of the episode is flashing back to the events we alluded to back in “Chrysalis”, that Erin Watts was murdered in order to draw her father out of hiding and back into the fight, just as Jordan was targeted for the same reasons to get to Frank in the season premiere episodes. However, the primary focus is really on the effect this had on the family, rather than the murder itself, because if we were to do that we’d just be rehashing the plot of the premiere really. Instead, Tony wisely focuses on how this impacted on the family dynamic, and most of all how it changed Peter and his life, to bring him to this point in time.
Back when we were first planning the season, Tony and I talked about the various character arcs and what we wanted to do with both Frank and Peter over the course of the year, and we originally intended to keep the close parallel between Frank and Peter and what’s been happening to their respective daughters alive in a very big way past the premiere. We went into considerably more detail about the children, and we even talked about giving Erin or Chelsea some kind supernatural significance in the same way that Jordan is kind of special given her connection to Frank’s facility. However, as we went on this kind of fell by the wayside as some plans and arcs inevitably do in the plotting of a season. I was never entirely convinced by the notion of making Chelsea gifted in some way and bringing her in as a more significant character, as it kind of felt a little contrived and in my mind I was worried about the risk of becoming a bit too teenager-centric like such WB (or CW now) shows as Smallville, which I’m just not keen on. I don’t think it would necessarily have played out that way, as I think our writing staff is talented enough to avoid the clichés and pitfalls, but for whatever reason we just never ended up making this thread part of the season. I for one am not too disappointed to see it go, in all honesty, and I think what’s basically happened, on a subconscious level, is that we’ve realised it would be one story-thread too many, one that we couldn’t really service what with everything else going on for our principal characters and also telling other self-contained stories as we go along, and one that isn’t really all that necessary for servicing Peter’s character. It probably would have come in as a story point a little bit in “Chrysalis”, and much more so in this episode, but as it is I think it’s best left as a footnote rather than something we’re actually pursuing.
The teaser we have here opens in the flashback, and it’s to events some time prior to the start of VS5, but we never really pin down the exact date because I don’t think it’s all that important, and just bogs you down in continuity when you don’t need to be thinking about all that. If you’re really curious, I’d probably say it’s about 18 months ago, maybe a year or so before our season begins. The opening shots are well chosen, I think, as they use a lot of great imagery to convey a safe and happy life, sunshine and white-picket fences that then stand in stark contrast to Peter’s life now – drab, spartan, and alone. That works really well as we cut back to the present day, and does very well to juxtapose the one with the other, thus conveying the overall themes of what Peter had and what he’s now lost very succinctly and visually.
We then go on to introduce who will be a new recurring character, that of Millennium Group executive Trepkos. He’s actually a character that I first wrote into the season in what is now episode 10, “Forty Days and Forty Nights”, which was actually written before this particular episode. That was where he originally made his debut, but as Tony was pressing on with writing “Who We Are”, and as it began to feature more of the Millennium Group, it seemed like a good idea to bring Trepkos in early and thus give him an extra episode to become familiar to us all. The episode needed a kind of Group Executive anyway, so we had the option of either going down the same route we did in Tony’s previous episode, “Laicite”, and just throw in a generic, one-off character to say a few lines, or take Trepkos from episode 10 and introduce him a couple of episodes earlier. The latter seems far more logical, and I’m glad we did so as it’s always nice to build up recurring characters rather than just one-timers that we quickly forget about.
As we continue with the flashback structure, we might be reminded a little of Lost, but that show certainly didn’t invent, nor does it own, said device. Nevertheless, there are quite a few little Lost references peppered through the script, giving a nudge and a wink to Terry O’Quinn’s current role on that show, such as the item marked ‘DH/108’ (108 of course being the total of “the numbers”, as well as the flight that crashed, etc., and DH = “Dharma” anyone?), the Scott/Steve name confusion, and events taking place in Portland like the title of a recent Lost episode. Tony’s certainly a big Lost fan, so it’s up to you whether the allusions raise a smile or something else.
I guess one of the criticism you could make of this episode is that it is rather slow-paced, and that the actual plot in Portland takes something of a back-seat compared to the flashbacks. I think that’s valid, to an extent, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that an episode like this is always going to need to devote a lot of its time to the character moments and the emotional angles rather than the conspiracy de joure. I think you could probably say that a little more balance on this front could have turned a good episode into a great episode, whereas as it stands it’s prevented from joining those ranks because the story with Atticus Bloom isn’t as clear as it might have been.
One thing that concerned me was that there was a bit of an absence of Frank for a big chunk of the episode. Like I mentioned before, this was the one that was going to give Peter’s character chance to carry an episode, so naturally he need to have most of the limelight, but I do think we could stand to have a bit more Frank. As it is, he only comes in at the very end of Act One, which kind of reflects the way Peter tends to crop up at such times as the first act-out of “Laicite”. On the one hand, I like that inversion and the symmetry of it, but on the other I think it’s always a risk to marginalise Frank on this show given how he’s such a powerful anchor. This episode is also the second one not to feature Brad Locke (the first being the aforementioned “Laicite”), which again could be a concern, since it risks suggesting to some of the audience that we perhaps don’t have confidence in our original creation and second-lead. Of course, that’s not the case at all, and fortunately I don’t think anyone in the audience has raised any such point so far. In the case of episodes like this, it would probably feel more contrived to just shoehorn Locke in, which is why we didn’t do it. On the other hand, it might be nice to see Frank, Peter and Brad all interacting together for once, but we’re going to get to that in episode 10, so just have patience.
It’s not really until Act Three that we get to more of the meat as to what Bloom is up to, and again I feel that this side of the story could stand to be stronger. Bloom in particular had the potential to be more of a well-defined character, but he doesn’t quite reach it. That’s not to say he’s a bad character, far from it, he’s in fact pretty intriguing from what we see of him – unrealised potential is more the term, which could perhaps be extended to the episode in general. I think what I’m getting at is that there are lots of seeds of good things and ideas and areas to go to, but that sometimes we just don’t get to them, even though they’re there and brimming with potential, as opposed to an episode that is just unsuccessful or uninteresting (which “Who We Are” is anything but). Most of that is the demands of the time we’ve got in a one-hour drama to tell the story though.
As an aside, there’s a little in-joke at the bottom of page 31 that you may or may not have spotted: Metcalf identifies two of the victims as Angela and John Gillnitz, the latter of which is the amalgamation of writers John Shiban, Vince Gilligan, and Frank Spotnitz that was often inserted into the episode of The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen that they penned together.
When we get into Act Four and the endgame plays out, it works well enough. To an extent, you could argue that we never quite buy that Frank is going to shoot Peter, and the comment that Frank was inoculated off-screen can be a little unsatisfying, but I think there’s enough drama to sustain us through the ending. One thing you could say is that Bloom’s ultimate explanation of his activities is a little bit megalomaniacal, but even so it fits with established themes. As I said before, I think this part is like the episode as a whole, good but not quite fully realising all the potential that it could to be great. So that’s not a criticism, I do believe this episode stands up well and explores character in a strong way, and I would by no means say it’s amongst the weaker episode we’ve produced so far.
The final twist in the tale is where we see Taylor morph into a face of Legion, which I think is a great choice that Tony had plotted right from the start. The idea here is that Legion is trying to fool Peter by appearing in the guise of his daughter in an attempt to convince him to sit out the fight against Evil. We’ve seen Legion do this before with regard to Frank, many a time in fact, and I think it’s great that it’s doing it to Peter here. Again, this perhaps ties back to our original plans involving Chelsea, but even without that it makes perfect sense and has a powerful impact. In doing so, we get to highlight the parallels between Peter and Frank even more, but also see how their lives have unfolded differently because of the choices they’ve made. Frank has lost his wife, but he’s still got his daughter and a happy home. Peter, on the other hand, has lost a daughter, but while his wife and surviving children are still alive, he’s lost that level of happiness because of his choice to go off and hunt down the Evil responsible for Erin’s death. Now he and Frank are on a similar mission in life, but for different reasons, and we’re going to see that play out through the season right through to the finale.
So that’s “Who We Are”. Coming up this Friday we have a new episode entitled “Parturition”, which is the first to be written by Angelo Shrine, from a story idea by Joe McBrayer. We’re all really pleased with it as a strong standalone with some interesting characters. It’s particularly refreshing as it’s not the standard plot of investigating a murder and following the clues. Instead, you’re going to see a couple of parolees and how their lives contrast, with one of them convinced he needs to forcibly baptise his daughter so that she wont follow in his criminal footsteps. It’s a tightly-plotted story and turns out in a way that I don’t think people will see coming, so it ought to go down well. Take a look at the print ad:
No questions again, unfortunately. Remember to throw them in if there’s anything you want an answer on folks – doesn’t have to be all broad and high-brow, it can just be clarifications on confusing plot points if you like. Throw me a bone. We’ll just round out with a sneak peak of dialogue from “Parturition” then:
Were you baptized, Frank?
My mother baptized my brother and I when we were young.
When my father was away.
Your father wasn’t religious?
Not like my mother.
I never was. And frankly, I don’t see the purpose now.
But Kemp does. He’s been led to believe if he doesn’t baptize her,
and now, that she’ll follow in his footsteps.
He thinks his very bloodline gave birth to evil.