Welcome back to the official VS5 blog. In this time around we’ll be rehashing episode 13, “Golgotha”, which was written by myself. This aired on Good Friday, and although we never set out to consciously do a themed episode to coincide with the Easter season, when we noticed that there would be an episode on this date anyway, it made sense to earmark it for “Golgotha” given the subject matter of the episode which was already established.
The idea behind this one was to do a really kind of graphic, mature and intense episode that dealt with some strong themes and really pushed the boundaries of what could be done with the medium and with the series. I envisioned it as something perhaps slightly akin to the first season episode “The Well-Worn Lock”, in the sense that it’s a very adult story that doesn’t shy away from dealing with a difficult subject, and also an episode that would really focus on the character of Brad Locke in much more depth than we had ever done before, explaining the true complexities of him as a person and his motivation and backstory. On some levels I think it achieves those objectives, and on other levels I think it falls a little short, and I’ll get into the specifics of each of those as we go on.
The teaser begins with our introduction to the Church setting by opening on the image of a crucifix, which also closes the episode in a neat kind of way, and that’s very much the symbol that is the overarching presence throughout the entire episode. It’s laden with so many values about the Christian religion, about sin and forgiveness and faith and so forth, and of course it also ties in very specifically to the physical act of a crucifixion which is the method of murder in the episode. So, focusing on that visual as the first shot establishes all those themes from the get go.
We’re then introduced to some of the main players of the drama, with Leon, Jody, Father Reed, Father McClintock and Alex. I toyed with the idea of just opening on the first crucifixion scene on the streets, which would perhaps be the more succinct and conventional route, but I also realised it was important to establish these characters and the fact that the story was going to be about more than just an extreme murder. That’s not really what this story’s about – it’s not about murder. What it’s really about is the abuse of the children at the hands of the priests, and the murders are really secondary. By starting with a scene at the Church, that statement is kind of made, and it also establishes something of a threat to the younger boy, Alex.
The murder scene and the real hook comes when we get out of the Church an onto the backstreets of New York City. That’s one of the first images I had in my head when approaching this episode, the idea of a crucifixion on the streets of a modern, built-up city. There was deliciously macabre juxtaposition to that in my mind, the ancient torture and execution method paired with the quintessential modern metropolis that is New York. What I didn’t want though was to actually see the actions here. That would really be too graphic, and it’s an extreme enough scenario as it is. The series uses Frank’s internalisations to get around this to some degree, and that’s the only time I ever wanted to see the actual graphic actions of nails going through the palms and stuff – only in the rapidly-edited and blurred visions.
Act One brings us up on the Church once again, this time from the outside, and I tried my best to convey one of those grey, rain-filled and gritty images that are such a hallmark of the exteriors on Millennium thanks to the Vancouver climate. Then, as we move inside, I chose to have the choir singing “Abide With Me”, for one thing because I really like it’s melody in general as something simultaneously sombre and hopeful (its regular performance at FA Cup finals probably contributing too), and for another because some of the lyrics are particularly resonant to things going on in the episode if you care to look them up.
We then play the first scene with just Locke on his own, no Frank, because as I said this was envisioned as a real Locke episode. Having him on his own to start out with was one obvious way of foregrounding his character. It’s Father Reed who he has the opening conversation with, and Father Reed was intended to be the good Priest amongst all these abusive ones. He was always entirely innocent, and I felt it was important to have someone to represent that side of things, rather than have all the Priests be guilty. Father McClintock, by contrast, is the really guilty one, and I think that pretty much comes across from his entrance here and the way he is around the police.
We then cut back to Leon and Jody where they talk about Alex, and that’s always to reassert the threat to him. There needed to be some sort of extra tension here, like a time limit, which is essentially why Alex is part of the narrative. Without that, there wouldn’t be much of a reason why these boys were reacting now, instead of at anything other time, whereas the imminence of the threat to Alex gives it a reason.
The first scene over at the Black family home serves as a contrast to the darkness of what’s happening with the children at the Church. That’s what Jordan provides here, the counterpoint of a life on the right tracks as opposed to the lives of the kids in New York. Then I wanted to play something a bit different where Frank gets the phone call, or slightly different anyway, since usually it’s either him or Brad asking for help and things progress very straightforwardly from there. This time around I wanted to show Locke being a lot more hesitant to get Frank involved, bringing himself to dial then stopping, calling then hanging up, not quite deciding what to do. Originally, I wanted to spread this out a little longer, so that he would hang up then carry on and not go back and make the call for real until a bit later, but the demands of pacing the story really forced me to move that along a bit quicker.
We then cut back to Jody and Leon arguing again, and you could argue that this scene is essentially a repetition of their earlier scenes together. That’s true really, and that’s an element of the story structure that you really could criticise. Like I said before, it served a purpose of keeping an imminent sense of threat and tension around, which was required to give us some kind of vested interest in what was happening at the shelter, but there’s no avoiding the fact that it is a bit of a repetition.
When we go back to Frank, it’s the first scene between him and Miranda since they kissed at the end of “Sleep of Reason”. In some ways I wish I could have played on this a bit more than we ultimately did, and make a bit more of their scenes together and go a bit deeper into the nature of their relationship at this point, but the problem was there just wasn’t time to get sidetracked on all that. There were certain beats that the story needed to hit, point to get to, and Frank needed to be up in New York with Brad for most of the time, which meant he’d be separated from Miranda. Also, it’s not really a Miranda episode in the same way that “Sleep of Reason” was, so this had to give way in order to allow the main story of Locke and the crucifixions to play out.
Then we have the act-out which is a fairly disturbing one as act-outs go. It’s much more low-key than what we usually go for, it’s not a murder or a kidnapping or anything else that ends with a bang, it’s just a psychological thing. There’s only so much you can do and show in this kind of situation, and only so much you would want to write in all honesty, so it’s just enough to give you the key ingredients of what add up to something very disturbing in your own mind – the old man, the young boy, and the bed. That’s pretty much all you need to go out of the act on a pretty creepy note.
At the top of Act Two we get Locke and Frank together which is really a chance to start putting the investigation together. They don’t go in to the police department for two reasons here – for one thing Locke’s not really supposed to be up there, because he works in Washington not NYPD, and for another thing I had kind of had enough of police station scenes at this point. After a while they all tend to wind up the same, so I was happy that this was a chance to get past all that. Getting to the crime scene was always going to be an important point too, and in some ways it might have been better to get there a little sooner, perhaps in the first act. This is the point where Frank’s internalisations really show all the gory stuff, and it goes pretty far in showing everything. If it were to be filmed I imagine it would probably turn out to be one of the most gruesome parts of anything in Millennium.
The next step was to get Frank and Locke to talk with the main abuse victims, firstly Leon. This is probably another weak part of the episode, in that the way they get together is a little clumsy – it’s another example of just needing to move the story forward in order to not let it get too slow or boring or laborious. The subsequent interview scene is probably the hardest scene I’ve ever had to write from an emotional perspective. There have been harder scenes in terms of figuring out plot or figuring out how to stage things, but never has something been as much of a struggle in terms of the feelings it stirs and how to treat the material appropriately. Much of the story that Leon recounts is based on stuff I remember hearing in the news a few years back, so it is rooted in that kind of reality, not just entirely made up. I didn’t want to exploit that and I didn’t want to try and invent a load of crap that was just to be sensational, so I just stuck to what I remember of hearing real victims’ statements and being true to the emotion of the scene. Again, this calls back to “The Well-Worn Lock” in terms of tone, so that gave me something to cling to in terms of how to approach this kind of story. There’s an element of having to walk a fine line between being subtle and making implications that get their points across without straying beyond the confines of what would realistically make it on network television. Also, I probably wouldn’t want to write anything more explicit that wouldn’t make it on network television anyway, so that suited me just fine. The goal here is to not really say anything outright, but to say enough so that everyone knows exactly what’s being said and feels appropriately uncomfortable, as you really should from a scene like this.
The act-out for Act Two is another crucifixion, which is similar to the teaser but not quite the same approach. In the teaser, we just saw the aftermath, whereas this time we would see more of the event yet still not the really graphic impacts. Instead, I decided to use a technique of cutting back and forth between the crucifixion and the choir back at the Church, and have them singing a really upbeat hymn to work as the maximum possible counterpoint to the murder. We have plenty of scenes in the past that combine music and murder in Millennium, and I’ve always thought this was most effective when there’s a strong degree of contrast. Hopefully this scene would stand up to them, and it’s one of the elements of the episode that I’m more proud of and hope would be quite memorable.
Act Three is then probably the weakest part of the episode. Most of it is just the setting up of pieces for what’s to come and there’s a bit of a back and forth in terms of the logistics of who is where and at what time. Frank and Locke go back to talk with Father Reed, which doesn’t really show us much more than we already knew, and Leon is then quickly back at the Church before confronting Father McClintock. It’s a bit clumsy in that regard, and could have done better. The scene in the vestry, with McClintock secretly watching the boys getting changed is another disturbing one, and again a little difficult in terms of making it clear about the various perspectives and character positioning. Some might say that the action itself here is in poor taste, but there’s plenty of precedent for it in the series in such episodes as “Nostalgia” and “5-2-2-6-6-6”.
As Locke and Frank continue to talk with Father Reed, Locke gives something of an outburst of anger which is designed to show that there’s more going on for his character than just an average investigation. This had been something that was put in the Writers’ Bible since the beginning of the season, that Locke had a background of being raised in care and suffered abuse, and we’d put in some slight hints to it in such episodes as “Gotterdammerung” and “Ondraeden Ende”, but you really wouldn’t pick up on those to much of a degree without knowing what you ultimately find out in this episode. So, putting in a few more outbursts from Locke as the episode progresses was another attempt to build that up, both in Frank’s mind and in the minds of the audience.
We then go back to Jordan and Miranda who are getting on pretty well with each other by this point, and growing increasingly familiar. The answer to the crossword clue they are working on is “contrition” by the way, in case anyone was wondering. Just a little something that fits the themes of the episode. The main point of the scene though, of course, is to get to the conversation between Frank and Miranda over the phone. I wanted this to be really reminiscent of some of the conversations Frank and Catherine used to have in the first season of the show, as this was really the kind of episode that would have worked well for that relationship, and I also wanted Frank to get that familiar feeling until the point where Miranda finally has to point out that she’s not Catherine. I liked that idea, and always wanted it to be a part of the episode, as it fits the story and works in a bit about these two characters and their relationship at the same time. This also serves the purpose of Frank having it all but confirmed that Locke is a victim too, given the stuff Miranda tells him about trying to fix other people’s problems while we cut across to Locke. That really leads on to their more revealing conversation that fills in some more character details for Brad, but first we have the act-out McClintock getting hit over the head with a candlestick by Leon and dragged away which sets up the endgame.
Unfortunately, that means we have to wait until the top of Act Four before we get to the crucial scene where Brad bears his soul to Frank. In a way, this really should have come earlier in the story, but it was just a case of the events of the plot running away from me and needing to get to certain points that meant this scene kept getting further and further away. That’s one of the biggest weaknesses of the episode I think. On some level, the whole episode is meant to be about Locke’s character history and has been building to this moment for quite some time, but when we finally get there I don’t think it quite delivers. I wanted to this to be a really big scene where Locke gets to show himself as a real human being more than he ever has before in the season, not as a detective but as a person with a deep background and more going on that we previously knew. To some degree, I don’t think the resultant scene ever quite achieves that.
I said before that there are point that I’m very happy with about the episode and points that I think could have been better, and this is it. I think the underlying story about the abuse at the Church and the crucifixion works, I think it manages to be that kind of emotional and disturbing episode on the same kind of level as the likes of “The Well-Worn Lock” or “Monster” in the past, and I think it manages to achieve that balance of being graphically extreme and mature but also appropriate and non-sensational. However, what I don’t think it manages to do is to be that real character episode for Locke that it was meant to be. I think we end up learning about his background too late in the day, and I think the ultimate scene itself wasn’t quite the crucial moment it should have been. Even after this scene with Frank, I don’t come out of it thinking we’ve spent a whole episode devoted to Brad, and I don’t think people will look back on this and remember it as “the Locke episode” which is how I wanted it to be.
After that, Father Reed interrupts them to say that McClintock is missing, and from here to then end it’s a case of a hunt for the killer and victim. They find the bits of evidence they need, the candlestick, the hiding space and the stains that come with it, but it’s the arrival of Jody that gives them the final bits they need. Again, I think Jody’s character could have been worked into the episode better, and Alex too. Originally I had intended to have another interview scene with Jody recounting his experiences, but there just wasn’t time for this. Instead, he just kind of shows up at the end and you have to forget about any questions you might have as to the logic of him turning up at that point.
When we learn that there is an old wine cellar under the Church that’s no longer used, and that Father Reed has never gone down there, and that it’s one of the places Father McClintock used to take the boys, it’s more than a bit of a contrivance I suppose. This was a last-minute addition, as I knew we had to have Frank and Locke catch up with Leon and McClintock before he kills him, and there would be no time to get to that point without a long drawn-out hunt unless there was something a bit convenient close by. So I came up with this door that is always locked which leads down to the wine cellar. Nitpicks aside, the final moments of the episode are more successful, I think. Leon’s final line here of “consummatum est” were of course Christ’s final words, meaning “it is accomplished”. All these religious overtones I imagine could be quite controversial with some, but it’s important to remember that it is just a story. It’s not a message against the Catholic Church and it has no secret agenda in those terms. It’s just another episode that uses some real-world truths that we just have to accept as its inspiration. These things really do happen, so we’ve got to remember that and not try and take it personally or as any kind of slur on people’s religious faith.
We then have a short time dissolve to see McClintock being taken off into an ambulance, still alive, and Leon being taken away in handcuffs. I like the irony that Locke gets to vocalise at the end here, which also speaks to the complexity of the situation, that they ended up charging off to save the life of a man who was really the guilty party, the bad guy, and that you wonder whether he was really worthy of being saved. Conversely, Leon, as one of the victims who has suffered terrible abuse, ends up as the one they capture and lead away to prison. Of course, he’s not entirely innocent either, as he’s crucified three men. I like the way that this isn’t very straightforward in the way that some episodes can be, where you just end up saving the victim and capturing the killer. Instead, it’s more complicated. It’s also very downbeat, which is what Millennium generally tends to be.
That is balanced out somewhat with our final scenes with Frank and Jordan having a much happier time at their local Church on Easter Sunday. Of course, it’s all bright sunshine here to reflect that contrast. They’re also joined by Miranda, which originally wasn’t the case, but I eventually decided that she should be involved at this point too and show them all being happy together. We then go back to New York to end on the more sombre tones of Locke sitting alone in the Church looking down at a photograph of his younger self and crying a little. I liked this image and always had it in my mind as the final scene, and also decided to put it to a piece of Phillip Glass music. There’s just something about his minimalist piano melodies that fit this kind of emotional moment just perfectly. We then push in on the carving of the crucifix to bookend the episode and end on the same shot we opened with.
So that’s “Golgotha”. It works in some ways, and not so much in others. I’m satisfied with the episode as a story, and for its themes and images, but I just wish it could have achieved its goal as a Brad Locke character episode a little better. Now a short bit of Q&A:
So i was talking about the horror genre with someone and that the purpose of it is to unsettle the viewer. i thought i would explain the plot of golgotha to this person, and for thirty minutes i got nothing but, "that is sick, demented garbage." " the guy who would write such garbage is demented." " and that stuff is not good for your heath, it disturbs me that you read such trash." "and you need to find more healthy material to read." You probably get the point. how do you feel when people criticise your writing and work like that ?
Well, that kind of reaction is unfortunate, but I guess it's not entirely unexpected after this episode. It is a difficult subject, and some people are going to be put off by it, by I think it's an important issue to tackle and I tried to do that as honestly and appropriately as possible in "Golgotha". Unfortunately, we live in a world where this kind of thing happens, and I think it's already an established part of the series to explore that. If you look at Millennium, and indeed almost anything on television, you'll see a whole load of murders, shootings, death and so forth. Yet when a sexual abuse story comes up it's suddenly "sick" and "demented". I'm not going to spend a long time defending the episode, but you can see that disparity there. If some people only want their entertainment to deal with happy issues, than I'd advise those people to stick with The Waltons or The Brady Bunch. Millennium is a little more adult, a little more dark, and a little more sombre. That's not going to change.
will Lucy Butler be appearing in the virtual fifth season, or can't you say?
I can confirm that Lucy Butler will definitely be appearing later in the season. You can look forward to an episode that will act as a kind of last hurrah for Lucy and the Legion theme in general, which will also incorporate a similar kind of character from Jordan's past.
And that’s all folks. Thank you for reading, and I hope you continue to stick with us.