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"Forty Days and Forty Nights"
Spedis Owl posted a blog entry in Official Virtual Season 5 BlogWelcome back to the VS5 blog. This week we’re going to be rehashing episode 10, “Forty Days and Forty Nights”, then tease the next episode which will be “Sleep of Reason”, airing on Friday. This episode was written by myself, and it was essentially an attempt to do one of the Group-centric thrillers that have been peppered throughout the show now and again. So far, this has more been Tony’s turf with episodes such as “Laicite”, which is more in the style of the Season 2 episodes where this sub-genre of Millennium episode was really born. My approach was more to reflect the slightly different tone that was created in such Season 3 episodes as “Collateral Damage” and “Bardo Thodol”. As such, we’re looking at a blended total that in turn creates our own unique style for VS5. With that in mind, the general spark for this episode was the Asian Tsunami disaster that occurred on Boxing Day 2004. That really tied in very well to our thematic assertion that the apocalypse as a concept began in 2001 and has been an unfolding process ever since. Peter even mentions it in dialogue in “Chrysalis”. It’s all about those kinds of natural disasters that can be interpreted as another step towards the end of the world, and also about asking who might potentially have an interest in these sorts of things and gaining control over them. That, of course, would be the Millennium Group. Having said that, we’re always conscious of not wanting to portray the Group as entirely Evil this season. That’s something we’ve said since the inception of VS5, and that’s why there are quite a lot of points in the dialogue that go out of their way to stress that the Group as a whole is not up-to-no-good as a unified force of villainy. Instead, we’re suggesting that there may be something else that is just using the Group and their influence as a conduit for their own agenda. That’s what this episode ultimately leads up to portraying, and it’s something that will be built upon in future episodes. That basic premise of Tsunami disasters and the engineering of technology to control them leads us to the teaser sequence, which takes place aboard a navy ship docked at port. I really wanted that to be the focal point of this episode, and the stand-out image, and I think that’s what it ultimately is. It’s a location that hasn’t really been used much in Millennium, aside for a brief sequence in “Bardo Thodol”, and as such it’s an ominous object that hangs over the majority of the narrative – a fulcrum point for mystery within and without. As such, water in general is the overriding piece of imagery in this episode, and I wanted to foreground water whenever I could. That’s why I chose to open on the ocean itself, and the reflection of the USS Arizona in its waters. We then go on to the drowning sequence which sets up a general enigma in terms of what these officers are doing, and hopefully depicts a fairly harrowing event. The idea of the test chamber and that it’s designed to fill with water is a bit of a conceit in this sense, as you could question what practical value a chamber like that would actually serve, but it was important to me that the initial death be a drowning, and not just a shooting or stabbing or poisoning or whatever aboard ship. Again, that’s because of the water theme that runs throughout the episode, so it really demanded that all the deaths be by drowning. To facilitate that, I invented this water chamber contraption, rather than just have the two officers fiddling with random computers. At the top of Act One, we have Frank alphabetising his book collection with three very specifically chosen novels. First we have ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens, which I chose because there’s a fairly strong drowning motif in it; then ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, not only because it’s title has an obvious resonance to Frank’s wok, but also because there is also a woman who tries to drown herself; and finally ‘A Lap Full of Severed Tongues’, which has no thematic relevance but is instead a reference to the episode “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense” in which it is revealed that Frank read this book by the fictional writer twelve times in college (to which Chung replies: “that’s the worst book I ever wrote!”). Frank is of course interrupted though by Peter Watts who brings him the case/story. In some ways, this is a bit of a generic method of kicking-off the investigation, with character X saying “I need your help on this, Frank”, so you could criticise it for that. I agree with that, to an extent, but then again you can’t have something unique and wonderful every week. Last time we had “Parturition”, by Angelo Shrine, which I mentioned did very well to paint a new way of Frank getting on the case, so having that allows this episode to be a little less imaginative! Even so, this is an episode about the multiple agendas of our main characters, and how those agendas collide, so having Peter bring the case before Frank (whilst keeping it off the Millennium Group’s radar), serves a legitimate purpose and isn’t entirely “franchise TV”. When we cut to the crime scene, we first go to Brad Locke, who is someone we haven’t seen interact with this kind of world before. In previous Group-centric episodes, he hasn’t been around, such as in “Laicite” and “Who We Are”, so this was a chance to explore his point-of-view on all of this and bring him into more direct contact with Peter. As we soon see, this allowed us to pay off more of the antagonistic side of Brad’s relationship with Frank. We’ve seen him grow a little beyond that in recent weeks, but it’s still something central to his character which we set out in the Writers’ Bible at the beginning of the year, and this scenario allowed that to come to the surface once again. It’s a good source of conflict, and we all know that conflict makes for good drama, so I was pleased to be able to play that here and develop something of a triangle between him, Peter and Frank, which soon becomes a square when Emma resurfaces. Speaking of which, now might be a good time to talk about Emma. We’d talked about her character when setting up the season, and pretty much agreed that we didn’t want to use her again as a show regular. We were seven years later, Frank had something of a new life, and it would be a little implausible to have them reunited coincidentally. However, we did say that we might have her crop up somewhere down the line, possibly in a recurring role, depending on the demands of the story. The last time we saw her she was a Millennium Group member, although fighting for a good cause not the bad, so this story was a logical point to bring her back and explore her character in this new age. That only added to the dramatic potential and the conflict, so there was a lot of ripe character moments to exploit here, and hopefully they were capitalised on. We first have her off-screen, being talked to by Trepkos. This is a nice little device to build up a level of mystery, essentially manipulating the audience into question who it is. I make no apologies really for doing that. Yes, it’s manipulative, but the craft of writing is all about directing audience reactions, in a way, so it’s not exactly underhand. I think it makes Emma’s entrance more interesting, builds it up a bit more, and hopefully it comes as a surprise. That’s why her name isn’t in the opening credits, it’s at the end, because I really wanted this to be a surprise and a strong act-out. Trepkos himself, who actually appeared in “Who We Are”, originally made his debut here. As I think I mentioned in the blog for that episode, “Forty Days and Forty Nights” was actually written first, but we decided to insert Trepkos into “Who We Are” just to capitalise on the character. He gets more screen-time in this episode though, which isn’t all that surprising given that fact, and he’s designed as someone we’re going to see more of as the season goes on. In some ways, it’s not exactly surprising that he turns out to be a villain, or at least what seems to be a villain for the time being, but as I’ve said before, that isn’t really the point. It doesn’t always have to be a huge surprise as to who’s behind it, so to speak. If it’s crafted as a whodunit, then yes, it should be a surprise, but that isn’t really Millennium. As we head into Act Two, Emma’s first contact is with Brad Locke, someone she of course has never met before. When I approached this scene, I never intended there to be much of anything going on between them, but when I came to write the dialogue I found them being almost a little flirtatious with each other. This was really a case of the characters just dictating their own dialogue to me really, it was by no means a conscious attempt to try and pair up the two younger characters. I don’t know if it really plays that way to anyone, but I did think it was a curious instance of something coming in to the scene that wasn’t entirely conscious or intentional, so it would be interesting to see how that comes across with different people. Emma’s first meeting with Frank though is of course what everyone is waiting to see. When they cross paths at the docks, I chose to hold back on n actual proper meeting for a bit. It would be the obvious thing to just dive in as soon as possible and answer all the questions that are on the tips of everyone’s tongues, and it can get kind of overwhelming to rush in and start babbling dialogue straight away. Not only that but it would be a diversion from the main story. Instead, I find it far more effective to hold back for a moment and just play the initial shock and surprise and seeing each other again, then save the longer, more drawn-out dialogue for later. So, Emma and Locke make contact with Terry Pressman, then we go to the reunion scene with Frank. This was probably the most challenging scene to write, as there are so many issues bubbling under the surface and so much that you could get caught up in dwelling on the past and recapping what’s happened between now and then. To avoid getting totally swamped, I pared it down as far as possible and stayed rooted in the emotion. It couldn’t just be all exposition, but on the other hand it needed a bit of exposition to explain where Emma is in her life and what’s going on with the present case, so it’s a tricky tightrope to walk. We then end the act on the second murder, the death of Terry Pressman. Again, this was designed to capitalise on the water motif, so that makes it another drowning, and there’s also a moment where Terry looks into the reflection in the waters before he is attacked. Water, water, everywhere. Act Three is really the point where all four of these personalities start interacting and working as a unit for the first time. That creates a bit of a problem as there are a lot of characters that need servicing in the dialogue, so that nobody is redundant or under-used, so that’s a constant juggling act. We get around it at times by dividing off the characters, such as when Frank takes Brad aside and they have another little confrontation. In this scene, I was conscious of not wanting to show Brad as just the spoilt brat, so it’s important that he has a legitimate point, and that’s that Frank can be quite reticent at times and wont take the time to explain his logic to people. That’s completely true, I think, of Frank’s character throughout the series, and it’s not hard to understand why colleagues such as Brad can get frustrated. So this scene kind of strikes that balance as a point of conflict that is a legitimate one, and not just characters arguing for the sake of arguing. As a result of having these four characters working together on the case though, something is inevitably going to fall by the wayside, and in this case I would say that’s it’s probably Emma’s relationship with Peter. Last time they were together, in “Goodbye to All That”, a distinctly adversarial relationship took shape between them, with Emma accusing Peter and the Group of manufacturing her father’s illness in order to manipulate her with the offer of a cure. This episode can’t really touch on all that though, given everything else that is going on, plus it’s not really part of this story, so it’s probably the element that has to be sacrificed and, to a certain extent, swept to the sidelines. That’s unfortunate, and a part of the episode that you could really criticise, but I’d just have to take that criticism as a legitimate one, but one that nevertheless I wouldn’t go back and change because it’s the part that needs to be sacrificed. That takes us to one of the more tricky scenes in the episode, and that’s the drive-by where the four attempt to hack in to the Arizona’s wireless network. This requires a big stretch of logic I suppose, and I really can’t say to what extent it is technically viable or not. I imagine there are probably some tech-heads out there that could pick this all apart and leave it in shreds, but there comes a point where you just have to move past that kind of technical detail nitpicking and do what needs doing for the story. Despite that flaw, I do think it’s a tense and thus entertaining scene, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in film or TV so far. There probably is something now that everyone’s screaming about in their minds, now I’ve said that, but I can’t think of anything else that has done a kind of wireless-network hack scene. There was something kind of cool about the car driving around in laps, trying not to get noticed while using the proximity to get into the navy computer system aboard ship. I guess you either buy it or you don’t, but I like the tension in it all nonetheless. Then we have Act Four which is really the endgame, where everything hits the fan, so to speak. We begin with Emma departing for the Group headquarters so she can track down the money-trail, and given her ultimate fate, I knew this would be the last scene between her and Frank. Again, this meant treading a tightrope in making it poignant, emotional, and a fitting farewell between them, whilst also not telegraphing the fact that she’s going to be dead by the end of the episode. Does that work, or not? It’s probably something that will be different for every audience member, but I think it ultimately strikes that balance fairly well. We get to share a positive final moment between Frank and Emma, while not showing our hand too early. Then we have the two scenes that we cut between, the action aboard the Arizona, and Emma’s investigation. Having two locations helped to drive the ending forward and keep the pace up, and matched up unexplained events and some answers. On the ship, we soon see that everyone has left, and it’s now deserted. Why? Because it’s about to get blown sky high. When Frank and Peter finally realise this, noticing the C4 and detonator pin, I like the way they just have to look at each other and not say anything to get the hell out of there. In the aftermath of the explosion, we see Cain, the wordless character we see introduced a little earlier with Trepkos. I didn’t give him any dialogue at all in this because I wanted him to remain very enigmatic, something of a mystery figure. We’re not entirely sure who (or what) he is at any point in the episode, and that’s largely how I want it to stay. Obviously the name has clear Biblical connotations, but whether or not that is just a coincidence or something more sinister remains to be seen. He’ll probably appear again somewhere down the line, I can say that much. This brings us to Emma’s death. We talked about this when we were thinking of having her back for a guest spot, and largely agreed that she had become expendable, since she wasn’t one of our main characters, and as such we would be open to killing her off should the story fit. In this case, I think it did, and I hope it comes as a least a half-surprise (as, let’s face it, some people must have suspected it could be coming) and I’m ultimately pleased with her coming back and having a last story and involvement in the series before getting her own exit scene. The actual moment itself was one that I wanted to make significant, yet not operatic. It’s not the final scene, which it could be in some shows, and that makes it less operatic, so to give it the dose of significance I chose to do something rather out of the ordinary for Millennium, and that’s so have a slow-motion CGI bullet effect come out of the gun. That takes us out the very gritty and realistic nature of the show, and as such I imagine it could be a little divisive amongst audience reaction. Normally the show has quite a high level of verisimilitude, but in this case I think it’s justified in breaking that in order to make Emma’s shooting more weighty and her exit more significant. In the final scene we have Frank examining his minor injuries in the mirror, and of course, splashing water on his face, just to get the water in there once again. It’s left to Peter to break the news to Frank, that Emma’s body was found washed up in the Potomac (water, again) and he’s characteristically quiet for it. Another option would be to go over it in minute detail with long speeches and laments for poor Emma, but instead I thought it was more in-character and more effective to just keep Frank’s words to short, one-word questions. We then go out on the final image of the photograph, just as a kind of final tribute to Emma, and the tear landing on it (yes, water again!). So that’s “Forty Days and Forty Nights”. Next up we have “Sleep of Reason”, despite having a few tricky issues with which episode is going in the eleventh slot. We had talked about switching it around with “Burning Man”, but it looks like now we’re sticking with the original plan. Sorry to confuse anyone. This episode is going to focus on the character of Miranda Graff, who we created for VS5, and is going to thrust her into the limelight a little more than she has been in the past. Hopefully we will be able to flesh out her character while telling an interesting story at the same time. Since she’s a psychiatrist, the plot is going to focus on the issue of madness and what that means, but it’s also going to build on her relationship with Frank and where exactly the two of them are heading. Take a look at the new print ad: Until then. Thank you for continuing to read, and goodnight.