Here we go again with a slightly belated entry in the VS5 blog. It’s high time we rehashed episode 11, “Sleep of Reason”, which went through a bit of a troubled process. Recently I’ve been singing a lot of praises in the blog, which is always genuine and never just blowing smoke – I was rather gushing about “Parturition” and pretty pleased with “Forty Days and Forty Nights”. But I’m not going to do that this week.
I always aim to be honest in providing these insights into our production process, and I have to say that I wasn’t entirely happy with “Sleep of Reason”. We’ve talked about areas that didn’t quite come off in the past, and I’ll reiterate once again that these things are never a slant on the individual writer. I’m the showrunner, and it’s ultimately my responsibility when things don’t go quite according to plan. I ended up doing fairly extensive rewrites on this episode anyway, and I’ll freely admit that it’s not one of our most successful episodes. Part of that owes to the fact that we pushed this one right up to the wire and had it completed very late on, just barely making its air date. We had it on the board quite far in advance, but for one reason or another it just never quite came together and didn’t take shape until the last minute. That’s no way to be doing an episode, and again I’ll shoulder responsibility for that.
The basic idea of the episode was to focus on the character of Miranda Graff who we created for VS5. We wanted to base a story around her in order to flesh out her identity and make her role a bit more substantial, and also to move on her relationship with Frank which had been kind of bubbling slowly for a few episodes. Those were our goals, and I think we achieved some of them, but there also had to be a full and entertaining story, which I don’t think we quite delivered.
Given that Miranda had been established as a therapist, it made sense that any story centred around her would have something to do with that world, and more generally the theme of madness and what it means. That gave us a starting point, but it was the idea of returning to the polaroids that came much later, and that led on to the photographic element that was pretty much added at the last minute. That gave us fuller and more coherent theme, but it still wasn’t quite everything.
The teaser is something that didn’t change all that much from the first draft, where we have Miranda leaving work late at night and feeling a little jumpy at some of the potential stalkers she sees around her. Then the final ‘boo’, as it were, is a psychological one where we see her open the envelope and find polaroids of herself. In this respect, the teaser works fairly well, and is probably one of the more successful parts of the episode. It’s a chilling moment, has that extra level of meaning to fans of the show who know about the previous plots with the polaroids, plus it isn’t a murder, which is something I’ve been keen to get away from wherever possible. That’s another element of the episode that I’m more pleased with, the fact that it’s not a story that hinges on murder, and we don’t even have a single death until the third or fourth act.
As we head in to Act One, Frank comes straight into the story which saves us any tedious introductory scenes which I’ve always said we try to avoid. The fact that this is personal, something happening to Miranda, allows us to get away from the standard “franchise” of “what’s the case?” That’s always a fairly standard opening, a bit of a cliché, and we like to avoid that kind of formulaic approach wherever possible. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, it can work perfectly well for some shows, it’s just a personal standpoint of wanting to be out of that template wherever possible. The same can be said of Locke’s introduction into the episode – we have Frank needing him for a change, not him needing Frank’s help on the latest police case. We show him making the call, then cut right ahead to the next scenes, skipping out the laborious stuff of filling him in on the details and asking him to come down, which we’ve all seen so many times before and really don’t need or want to see again.
So that’s the plus points to be taken. For the negative though, there’s a certain low-key nature to events at this point. As I mentioned, it’s good that we don’t have yet another murder and another hunt-the-killer job, but the flip side of that is that the story is thus somewhat less urgent and less tense and less threatening. After all, when you boil it all down, Miranda has just had a few photos slipped under her door, and had it not been for the existing backstory of the polaroids in the show’s history, it wouldn’t be all that much of a big deal. Also, you could make the argument that the relationship between Frank and Miranda isn’t quite as it should be. On the one hand they’re suddenly on the level where Frank is the first person she calls in the morning to confront this situation, but on the other hand, they’re exactly dealing with each other in a familiar and affectionate way. It’s a tricky line to walk, and I’m not sure the scenes between them ever really hit the right balance or achieve the right tone.
We’d talked about Miranda and Frank at length at the beginning of the season, and we had decided that we wanted to build something of a relationship between them that grew into the romantic as the season progressed. We wanted it to be slow and gradual, but we wanted to play it out. It’s a difficult area to tackle, since there is always going to be a sector of the audience that will be very hostile to any romantic involvement for Frank, and who will always cling steadfast to the memory of Catherine and what an important element she once was in his life and indeed the show. I myself was quite opposed to the growing distance between them in Season 2, and indeed the introduction of Lara Means who seemed to be something of a usurping force in this respect, especially in such episodes as “Midnight of the Century” which had much stronger relationship subtext.
However, on the other side of this, Frank has been alone now for a very long time. We’re in 2007, present day, so that means Catherine has been gone for almost ten years. That’s a long time for anyone, even for the solitary and internal man that Frank is. I don’t think it would be entirely right to say that Frank would be so hung up on Catherine’s death and her memory as to spend the rest of his life entirely detached from other human relationships. Of course it’s going to be an issue, and it’s not going to be something that he’d just launch into, but I think it’s a possibility under the right circumstances, and hopefully we’ve crafted Miranda and her association with Frank as someone who fits into those circumstances. It also gives us something else to play with Frank’s character. We all know Frank as a profiler and a problem-solver, but you can get board if that’s the only beat that you play with him over the entire season. This way, it gives us an extra range of possibilities to explore with his character beyond a one-note role. I think if Lance Henirksen was actually performing these scripts, or indeed any actor, that would be something they would push for and be interested in doing, to stretch their muscles beyond just one level. You might draw comparisons with 24, since I think Jack Bauer and Frank Black are very similar people in many ways (although not in others). They’re both very internal, lone-ranger types who both lost their wives, and Jack has since been involved with Audrey Raines from the fourth season, and that can be accepted despite the lingering memories of Teri Bauer, so I think Miranda can also be accepted on the same terms.
Back to the specifics of this episode, you’ll see that we intersperse this element of the story in Act One with brief snippets of action in a photographic darkroom, with an unidentified photographer. This was something that I added in my pass at the last minute when the photography element was taking shape as a more prominent part of the episode. On the one hand it’s a means to an end, to break up the reactionary stuff between our main characters and insert something more sinister brewing in the background, whilst also expanding and lengthening the act. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s entirely just a tool, as it also creates a bit more tension and an atmosphere, while fleshing out the thematic level of the episode in terms of photography and the sinister connotations of a darkroom – what with all the red lighting, the chemicals, the solitary nature of it, and the somewhat voyeuristic level of developing photos of other people and hanging them up. I was hoping to evoke the kinds of scenes you see in the typical serial killer narrative, of the faceless antagonist pursuing his own obsession in the dark, and was trying to bring to mind things you might have seen in such episodes as “Dead Letters”, or indeed the movie Se7en. It’s certainly very basic on that level, the meat and potatoes of Millennium territory, but at the same time it’s always good to return to those bare-bones roots and not get whisked away with the overly-elaborate for a change. A return to the ground if you will, this allowing us to go off further into the deep end in future episodes without seeming totally unstable.
We then spend a fair amount of time going over video footage and filling in backstory of Miranda’s past patients, which can get fairly laborious in all honesty. We eventually get to see Ellis emerge from his darkroom, once we’ve been told who he is, and that takes us out in the fictitious Lucky Mart and the rather dull nine-to-five job that he seems to have taking family portraits. Again, this was an attempt to be very grounded, and to do the kind of Millennium staples of an ordinary-looking guy working somewhere everyday that seems innocent but in fact feeds his obsession. You might think of such characters as the man in “Loin Like a Hunting Flame”, for a similar example. Again, it’s good to just do a standard story covering all the staples once in a while, but that inevitably makes it rather pedestrian and by-the-numbers.
The act out is also a bit of a problem here. It does its job well enough in isolation, but it suffers a couple of problems. For one thing, it introduces us to a location that is fairly redundant in he grand scheme of things – Ellis’ trailer. Originally this was an apartment, but the problem with that was making it distinct from Miranda’s place and her office, so a trailer seemed more unique and in character. Nevertheless, it never really pays for itself as a location, and isn’t seen all that often. The other problem here is that the ‘boo’ is essentially the same as the teaser, with the photographs of Miranda. It does the job, but it’s a bit of a repetition.
Act Two opens with some fairly plodding police investigation, the necessary evil of connecting the clues and doing the legwork – nothing particularly interesting. These kind of scenes need to be in every episode to some extent, so it’s not a unique criticism of this episode, but it’s one that we didn’t avoid either.
We then move back to Miranda and watch one of her own videotapes of a session with Ellis from many years back. This is slightly more engaging, but it did present a challenge in conveying the sense of watching a tape, since we have Miranda watching herself in the same room, so getting that across on paper and avoiding confusion needed some thought. In the end, we just put a parenthetical in, which hopefully did the job.
When we return to Ellis, we get to see a bit more of the Fedora Man, which also became problematic as the episode went on. The main things is, really, that we probably don’t see enough of him. We’re asked to accept that he’s significant and the key to Ellis’ psychosis, but we only ever see tiny bits of him with small pieces of dialogue. The basic idea with the Fedora Man was that he represented the physical manifestation of Madness. He was never real, never supernatural or anything like that, never meant to be connected to things we’ve seen of Legion in the past. Only Ellis could see him, and he was essentially a projection of his psychosis. I’m not sure that ever truly came across very well or with any clarity, and that’s doubtless due to the fact the we don’t see enough of him through the episode.
Then we have Frank showing Miranda some of the polaroids that have been sent to him over the years. On one level it might seem odd that Frank has actually kept these, and you could question why that is, but on the other it serves the purpose of tying this story in to the existing trauma of the past, which in turn makes it a bit more significant. It also gives us more of an emotional beat to play, rather than just the investigation. However, this also presents another problem in that it can bring up the suggestion that this is somehow connected to Frank’s stalkers over the years, that it’s deliberately meant to be the same thing. That was never the idea here – it’s just meant to be a totally different and isolated occurrence that just happened to use the same tactic. You could criticise this for being overly coincidental, which is fair, but you could also defend it since it probably is a fairly common stalker’s device, and that it only seems like a coincidence because it has a resonance to Frank’s past. In either case, it’s still a problem area that again is never quite made clear enough.
Then when we get to the act out, we have the same problem that it’s a repeat of the same thing from the teaser and the end of Act One. It’s playing the same scare for a third time, and in an ideal world you would have something different for each act out. Instead, it’s just a repetition, and the more times you play it the less shocking or scary it becomes. We’ve already seen the polaroids of Miranda, so we get that already, it doesn’t add anything new.
In Act Three we also become a bit incoherent, zig-zagging a little between Locke at the station, Locke at the Lucky Mart, then back at the station again after bringing Ellis in. It’s a bit messy in that respect. Miranda’s scenes with Frank are a little better, since it builds on the emotional level and helps develop the relationship, but again I don’t think it does that to the extent it really should in order to drive us to the point we get to by the end of the episode.
When Locke goes on to suggest using Miranda as bait to draw Ellis out, I very deliberately added in a line for Frank where he says he’s seen how these things can go wrong too many times. That’s a very self-conscious acknowledgement of the fact that this scenario has indeed been played out in every cop show under the sun at least once or twice, and that everyone in the audience is bound to know where it’s basically heading. That’s another element of the episode that I’m not really pleased with, and again that’s down to me since it was my invention in the rewriting process. The act out is a little better here though, with Ellis entering the security room. It’s not another repetition, and it’s not overt, it’s an implication of what’s to come, and I’m more happy with that.
Act Four is all about the final confrontation between Ellis and Miranda, and in some ways it’s been an awful long time coming. It’s the only bit of action we ever really get, and the fact that we’ve had to wait all the way until the final act is another problem. When Miranda first catches sight of Ellis in her office, we use a machine-gun cutting device to flash between Ellis and the Fedora Man, which I think would look pretty good and kind of scary on screen, and it’s designed to show the merging identities of the two, which on an implicit level signifies the growing madness in Ellis’ mind. It is very ambiguous though, and I don’t think it helps the clarity of exactly what we meant to get across with the Fedora Man.
It’s not until after this that we pay off what we saw with the act out, when Frank enters the security room to find the guard killed. I think this part works better, as it explains what Ellis got up to and how he’s managed to get in the building. Hopefully people can make that connection with the last thing we saw in Act Three. Unfortunately, what Frank ultimately finds is that the surveillance equipment has been rigged to show the playback of an old tape rather than the current feed. Yes, we pulled the Speed gag. It’s a bit unforgivable, but it was the only real way around this set-up. We had to give Ellis a confrontation scene with Miranda, and we needed some drama and excitement, so he needed to fool the surveillance. So we did Speed, but there you have it.
The scene between Ellis and Miranda, as it plays out, is better. It touches on the relevant issues and forces Miranda to use her knowledge and professional skills to talk him ‘round and prevent him from doing anything terrible to her. You could criticise this for reducing Miranda to a damsel-in-distress, another piece of standard jeopardy for a recurring character, but I don’t think it’s too bad on that level. All those things are true, but then again Miranda is a recurring character, not a show regular, and we just killed off Emma Hollis in the previous episode, so it’s not as if everyone is definitely safe. Also, we show Miranda helping herself really, using psychology to confront Ellis rather than just screaming and getting rescued by Frank.
Frank does enter the scene in the climax, but he doesn’t really ride to the rescue. Miranda has already gotten into his head to a degree, but she hasn’t exactly solved the problem. Instead, Ellis has actually gone further over the edge, if anything, and the Fedora Man or his own madness has basically convinced him to throw in the towel and kill himself.
For that moment though, I wanted to do something that might make you jump a bit if you saw it on screen, and wasn’t just a standard jump-out-the-window. So I decided we’d cut back to Locke in the surveillance van, and just have the body smash onto the windshield out of nowhere in a very sudden impact. There’s a moment in The Departed where a body just falls from the roof right into the path of either Matt Damon or Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, I forget which, and I would envision the same kind of sudden shock at this point. This also gave us a chance to pay off the shattered-glass image in Frank’s mental images that were always in the first draft, but never really went anywhere. Instead, I made sure that the shattering glass of the windshield from Ellis’ fall tied into that. In a way, it’s more of a neat bit of foreshadowing than anything of substance, as we never want to make out that Frank can see the future or anything ridiculous like that. I’m not sure if this ever even registered with anyone in the audience, but I liked the image from the first draft and so wanted to make something of it, and I like the way that the shattering of the windshield does that. I also like the way that the situation is resolved in some way other than a police arrest, or a shoot-out, or a chase – instead the antagonist just promptly jumps out of the window and incapacitates himself. There’s something marginally refreshing about that.
Then the action is essentially over, but there’s a bit more business to take care of as we cut to the psychiatric hospital. That gives us the chance to see Ellis who is recovering physically, but is as mentally unstable as he ever was as he sees the Fedora Man once again. More important though is the final scene between Frank and Miranda. This was meant to be the point where they’ve got through their trial and have come out the other side, and that going through that together has supposedly made the bond between them stronger. I’m not sure that ever truly comes across, but the idea was that confronting this situation would make them confront their feelings for each other and convince them to seize the day, which ultimately results in a kiss. I image that this would be hugely divisive amongst audiences, especially long-term fans. As I said, we wanted to move this relationship forward, and for better or for worse that’s now been done, but it is only a small step. They’ve shared an intimate moment, but it’s not as if they’re suddenly a couple. We’re going to keep this slow and building for the time being and see where it goes. Whether or not the kiss was the right thing to do here is something that everyone will have to decide for themselves. The last bit of dialogue reflects that, echoing Ellis’ idea that we’re all mad, and using that to convey the subtext of the potential “madness” of the romantic development between Frank and Miranda. I think it’s a nice enough way to go out of the episode.
So, ultimately it’s not all bad. There are parts of the episode I like, things that are done which I’m pleased with, but as an overall whole I don’t think it’s entirely satisfying. It’s probably fair to say that it’s one of our weaker episodes so far. Like I said though, I’m the showrunner, it’s my responsibility to keep tings to time and to keep the show on track, plus I did a lot of rewriting on this episode, so any criticism is a criticism of myself. But, no show can hit it out of the park every time, and we’ve had a lot of strong episodes that I have been very pleased with so far, so we can take the rough with the smooth.
This Friday we were supposed to air “Burning Man”, and due to more of the pressures of time and such things we weren’t able to deliver on that. We’re all very sorry about that, and it’s not something we take lightly. It’s very unfortunate, and we pulled out all the stops to make sure “Sleep of Reason” would still go out according to plan, but this time we just couldn’t do that again. It will now air at a later date instead. We’re probably going through our most difficult time of the season right now as some staff depart and others suffer illness and others have to devote time to other commitments. It’s all starting to mount up at the midpoint, but we just have to get on with it and hope we can keep up the standard that everyone has established so far. We’re probably going to be asking for your patience more than ever, so I hope you’ll stick with us.
Remember that the blog is still here for you and your questions. I’d be delighted to answer anything from specific moments in individual episodes to overarching issues of style and execution. Anything at all, ask it on the boards and I’ll address it.
That just leaves me to thank you for reading. Goodnight and good luck.