Tag Archives: Julie Puckrin

TV Eh B Cs podcast 71 — Where the Puckrin Is Going to Be

Update: At the time this was recorded, Killjoys had not been renewed for a fourth season. Happily, it has been renewed for two more seasons.

Toronto-based writer/producer Julie Puckrin has worked up and down the west coast, in both the United States and Canada. Julie recently completed production on Space’s third season of Killjoys. Her credits include the acclaimed CBC series X Company, three seasons of CTV’s Motive, and Gracepoint, the Fox TV adaptation of the hit British series Broadchurch. She also interned on the Emmy-award winning Mad Men, under showrunner Matthew Weiner. A recipient of the Michener Fellowship, Julie has a Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin.

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X Company 308: Writer Julie Puckrin delivers “Naqam”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X Company Episode 308, “Naqam”

The title of this week’s X Company was “Naqam,” which means “to avenge” in Hebrew. That concept couldn’t have been more fitting, as Aurora (Évelyne Brochu) was able to dish out some cold justice on Heidi (Madeleine Knight) after she discovered Aurora was a spy. The epic showdown ended with our protagonist spitting the stunning line, “Heidi, I want you to know you were killed by a Jew.”

Julie Puckrin, who co-wrote the episode with showrunners Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, admits the dialogue made her a bit nervous.

“It was one of those things where I was like, ‘This is either a great line or a horrible line,'” she says. “And then we were all like, ‘Yeah, I think that’s where we’ve gotta go with it.'”

Aurora wasn’t the only one who was outed as a spy. Faber (Torben Liebrecht) also had to do some quick thinking after his aide, Edsel (Basil Eidenbenz), turned him in to Obergruppenführer Schmidt (Morten Suurballe).

As we barrel toward  X Company‘s series finale, Puckrin joins us to tell us more about Aurora’s battle with Heidi, Edsel’s relationship with Faber and give us a few hints about the final two episodes.

Unlike Episode 306, you co-wrote this script with Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern. Was the process of co-writing much different than writing solo?
Julie Puckrin: Well, Mark and Stephanie are the showrunners, so we’re always writing to their taste and to their sensibility, and your goal is always to give them what they want. So in some ways, it was really great because I was working even closer with them. It was cool to be closer to their process, and it was cool to be writing the draft with them, because I was like, ‘This is great! I know that this is what they want because we’re doing it together.’ It was actually my first co-write. I’d always written on my own before. But they’re very collaborative and really generous and just great people to write with, so I felt very lucky.

This episode continued the parallel paths of Aurora and Faber, in that they were both exposed as spies.
We start the season with this whole idea of whether Faber can be trusted, and Faber is an interesting character because, first and foremost, he’s a survivor. He certainly has morals, but when push comes to shove, it’s always about protecting his family and protecting himself. And this was the time when we were like, ‘If he’s going to become a double agent, he’s really going to have to be put to the test.’ What does it look like when, as a double agent, this guy is exposed? What is he going to do, and is that going to destroy everything for our spies, who at this point have kind of been lulled into a sense of security with him and feeling like they have this mutual trust?

We know that Heidi has seen Aurora and Faber together, and so we love the idea that Aurora is the first one to feel pressure, and the team thinks that she is going to be exposed, and so all of our efforts are on saving Aurora and protecting Aurora, and nobody even sees this blindside with Faber coming because it’s coming from this innocuous source, which is Edsel.

Edsel seemed very torn, but he swore his loyalty to Faber in the end. Will that come into play in the final episodes?
I think it’s hard for him, and it’s interesting because Edsel was a character who was raised in Hitler Youth, and that was part of the culture that you inform on your colleagues, that you self-police. We see that idea of the Hitler Youth in both Edsel and Heidi and where they are now, and that idea of self-policing and being raised that way in a sort of culture of suspicion and paranoia, and I think it’s really hard for Edsel because he’s been looking at Faber as this father figure for him, and yet he’s been torn between everything he’s been raised with and this man who is actually the closest thing to a parent he has.

I think if we had more seasons, Edsel is someone who we would have wanted to explore a lot more. Because in some ways, we think of him as someone who’s like Faber was when he was starting out, and you’re sort of watching how someone becomes involved in this, and how someone loses their sense of right and wrong, and how your morality starts to become a little slippery and almost conditional. The question that we always come back to is, ‘How could people do these things?’ ‘How could people be part of these things?’ And Edsel was another way into exploring that and how these things become normalized.

While Faber was dealing with Edsel and Schmidt, Aurora was fighting off Heidi. I must admit that while I was afraid for Aurora, I almost felt sorry for Heidi because she was so overmatched in the end. 
Heidi was a character that we were all interested in exploring right from the beginning of the season. I think Sandra [Chwialkowska] mentioned when you talked to her last week that the image of the hunt was something that we really, really wanted to get to, and we knew that once we’d gone there, we had to pay that off big time. I think that where we get to with Heidi is very satisfying, but it’s interesting that you said that you almost felt bad for her, because in a way that’s a great compliment. We took this character who is quite villainous and does some really horrific things, and the question we always had was, ‘How do we make her human?’ Because no one is ever just a monster; everyone is complex. And we hate Heidi, we hate her and she’s an awful person, and yet we kind of understand her. I mean, you certainly don’t understand the things that she wants to do, but when she’s talking to Aurora about what it was like to be in the girls’ equivalent to the Hitler Youth, you sort of start to realize the things that this kid was raised with, the level of brainwashing is horrifying. But I think it also makes you have a little bit of pity.

And the fact that Heidi was a woman fighting for her place in an office full of men also made her more relatable to me, evil as she was.
Oh, my gosh, yes. We absolutely felt that way. It just happened this season that the writers’ room had a lot more women than men, which was great, and we could all totally relate to that aspect of Heidi, that in wartime there’s opportunity to craft boundaries and advance yourself and improve your situation, and Heidi was going to take advantage of that. When we were doing research into these women that were working for the Nazis and doing a lot of these things, often that was the case. These were opportunities that they never, ever would have had in the rest of their life, and you kind of see why that would be seductive, to have the movement and the freedom and the autonomy to achieve things. So it’s tricky, because you understand where she’s coming from, but the things she’s using that power to do are pretty horrifying.

It was interesting to me that Faber had to talk his way out of his jam, but Aurora had to talk and physically fight her way out. Was that intentional?
That fight scene between Heidi and Aurora was obviously super-duper physical and very difficult to film and very emotional. I think we had to go there with Aurora. I mean, everything that she’s done has been quite raw and quite visceral, and it’s interesting because looking at Faber’s journey, it’s often been these dramatic chess moves, but with Aurora, it’s been these visceral gut punches of things that she’s had to do, so it’s kind of interesting to see how things are going down with Faber and Schmidt are almost very civilized, and then what’s happening between Aurora and Heidi is so violent and quite primal.

Aurora tells Heidi, ‘I want you to know that you were killed by a Jew.’ Was that line written early in the planning stages for Season 3?
Absolutely. It’s introduced in Season 1 that Aurora’s grandfather is Jewish, so it was something that we all had in the back of our mind when we’re seeing these scenes in Poland. It’s obviously a horrible, horrible thing to happen to anyone, but Aurora has this extra personal connection to what’s happening. And it’s funny, but when we were breaking the episode, we came up with that line, and I think the first time that I said it I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if this is too far, but ‘I want you to know you were killed by a Jew.'” And it was one of those things where I was like, ‘This is either a great line or a horrible line.’ And then we were all like, ‘Yeah, I think that’s where we’ve gotta go with it.’

You know, it’s Aurora’s job as a spy to have to kill Heidi, but I think it is also this tremendous catharsis, which is what the title was inspired by because it means revenge. Obviously, there is no revenge that was going to right those wrongs, but it is a very satisfying moment, hopefully, for the audience.

Meanwhile, Sabine agrees to take Ania after her father threatens to have her ‘disposed’ of and calls Ulli things like a ‘parasite’ and an ‘aberration.’ That scene was all the more horrible because it was so subdued.
The actor who plays Schmidt, Morten [Suurballe], is a really fantastic actor. It’s a powerful scene, and the things that he’s saying have to be handled quite carefully, otherwise he could seem really arch. In the whole season leading up to it, I think we’ve never questioned that he loved his daughter. I think we’ve seen glimmers of where he has been a good father, and he’s certainly a scary man, but you’ve seen him as human. And this scene is the moment where we really see what is going on here, and I think in another actor that may not have been handled as well, but he just really delivered a wonderful performance that was both chilling but also really believable, which was terrifying. And also at the beginning of the exchange, when Sabine first brings Ania, he’s quite loving with the child. He’s sort of this happy grandfather and then it just switches, and it’s a very believable flip, and a very scary flip.

When Schmidt was talking about Ulli, as an American, I couldn’t help but think about the fact I have a president who openly mocked a disabled reporter and think of the rising nationalism in the U.S. Does it shock you how relevant the storylines on X Company still are today?
I think it really is shocking. I remember thinking, ‘It’s so important for us to tell these stories.’ And I remember thinking how lucky we are in this age of technology, in this age of access to information, that we can hear stories of the kinds of things that happened. We can hear stories of the kinds of things that happened and hear them in people’s own words, we can read their memoirs, we can see documentaries of people telling their own stories . . . But you certainly never think that it’s going to be a relevant comment on the world as it is today. You hope it’s never going to be quite as relevant as it has become. So that has been an interesting shift to go from working on something and feeling like it’s important to tell these stories to now feeling like it is more important now than ever to tell these stories. And also a certain sense of dismay that people are repeating this history or maybe not learned the lessons that you had hoped we would have taken from them.

What will Sabine do now?
I think we’ve been talking about Sabine’s journey through the whole season, and she has reached critical mass now. There’s no going back for her now, which I think is going to be very exciting to see.

And what about poor Alfred and Aurora? Will these two ever find a moment of peace together?
It’s so hard because I believe their feelings for each other are true and that they love each other, but you just keep watching the war throw obstacle after obstacle between them. I think certainly she’s the reason he keeps going, and I think he has become the reason that she keeps going. So in a weird way, they are each other’s greatest strengths, but also in a position to do the most damage to each other emotionally.

What’s going to happen now that Faber has Sinclair’s son?
It was such a small plant early in the first couple of episodes when Alfred confides that Sinclair has a son, and he does it to try to help bring Sinclair and Faber to the table so they can relate to each other. And then when Sinclair has the tape of Faber, Faber feels pushed and he says, ‘Let’s find Sinclair’s son,’ and it’s been five or six episodes since we’ve seen that. And now Faber is backed into a corner, and he’s got one trump card and he’s going to play it. I think this is the moment when we are perhaps most afraid of him.

X Company airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC. 

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X Company 306: Scribe Julie Puckrin breaks down “Supply and Demand”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X Company Episode 306, “Supply and Demand.”

X Company doesn’t pull any punches, as this week’s episode, “Supply and Demand,” once again proved. Written by Julie Puckrin, the instalment saw Sinclair (Hugh Dillon) sacrifice a “discard team” in Poland in order to keep Aurora (Évelyne Brochu), Alfred (Jack Laskey) and Neil (Warren Brown) on the trail of Operation Marigold. Watching Faber (Torben Liebrecht) coolly shoot the inexperienced agents in the head to win the favour of his father-in-law—and knowing that Sinclair sent the young men for that purpose—was chilling. But it represents the very type of bold storytelling that attracted Puckrin to the show—first as a viewer.

“I was a big fan of X Company,” she says. “I loved the first two seasons. It was really exciting television, especially at the end of Season 1, where they went with Franz Faber’s character, and the places they were willing to go with the spies and the stories they were willing to tell. They just really didn’t pull their punches, and I was so impressed with that.”

So when Puckrin—who previously worked on Motive and Gracepoint—was offered a spot in the Season 3 writers’ room, she jumped at the chance.

“This was probably my first experience of having been a viewer of a show and really, really loving it,  and then finally getting a chance to be in the room and play with those toys,” she explains. “It was really exciting to get to be in that room, especially for the final season. It was exciting as a fan to be part of the final thought for all of these characters and just follow it to the end.”

Puckrin takes a break from her current gig on Killjoys to break down “Supply and Demand” and tell us what’s coming up in X Company‘s final episodes.

First of all, you interned on Season 5 of Mad Men. What was that experience like?  
Julie Puckrin: It was very cool, because up until then, I thought that maybe I wanted to be a feature writer and then you get a chance to be part of a show like Mad Men, and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, TV is where it’s at. There’s just no question.’ That was a pretty cool experience.

You also worked on Gracepoint. Is the experience in an American writers’ room much different from the experience in a Canadian one?
There’s a slight bit of a cultural difference that’s not really in the room, it’s more within TV. In the United States, the model of the showrunner as the major head of the show and the voice of the show has been in place a lot longer. And in Canada, it’s partially been these amazing showrunners like [X Company co-creators] Mark [Ellis] and Stephanie [Morgenstern] who have really established the creative importance of having a really strong showrunner at the helm and the importance of empowering those showrunners to really tell their stories. I think that Canada is in a bit of a Golden Age of television, and I think it’s because we’ve been looking more to our showrunners and empowering them, and they’re really stepping up and telling some amazing stories.

Canadian television has really upped its game.
Oh, my goodness. I mean even, right now, if you just look at Wednesday nights in Canada, you’ve got Cardinal and Mary Kills People and X Company, and they’re incredible shows. So I think we’re really coming into a Golden Age.

X Company’s final season has been pretty heavy, and “Supply and Demand” continued that trend with the deaths of Peter and David and the fates of the Jewish workers. What were your goals for the episode?
We knew as soon as we decided that the show was going to Poland that it was going to get very dark because many of the greatest atrocities of the war happened in Poland. So we knew there’s this fine line where you want to be respectful and true to that, and we did a lot of research and there were so many stories that we could have told in Poland that were so intense . . . The story of Jana is based on true stories that we read about keeping skilled Jewish workers around, and people would tell stories of how, one day, the Jewish workers just weren’t there. They’re just gone. And it’s hard to imagine that, that your co-workers would just be gone one day. So we knew that that was a story we wanted to explore, and also it’s part of Aurora going into this incredible dark place, that the deeper and deeper she gets into being Helene Bauer, it’s pushing her more and more to be a different person.

And then the idea of the discard team, that is something that they really did do. They would feed spies with misinformation and send them out into the field. And, of course, they couldn’t know that the information they had was wrong. And this idea of becoming your own enemy, we’ve explored a lot of Sinclair going to some really dark places and the decisions that he’s had to make as a leader, and obviously the decision to send a discard team was really difficult. But we now understand that that is why he decided not to send Krystina in the field.

But, of course, our team is realizing this, and I think Neil says it at the end of the episode, and it’s quite true, ‘At what point are we disposable, too?’ That is something that we wanted to explore because it’s interesting that, in order for them to be doing what they’re doing in the face of all of this, you have to be incredibly committed, and how terrifying it would be to realize that you’re committed, but the people on the other end might see you as disposable for the greater good.

X Company covers a very dark period in history, but were there ever discussions in the writers’ room about how dark you were willing to go?
Absolutely. Yes, it’s a dark show, but it was really important to us not to be dark for the sake of being dark. Mark and Stephanie never want to do shock value just for shock value, and neither do any of the writers. We always want it to be that there’s a point to this, that there’s a reason to this, that we’re trying to talk about something. I think one of the things that we found interesting about the war on both sides is that these are good people who are being forced to make decisions that they would normally never make, and that the stakes are so high, and to see the toll of these decisions.

I think we will see that with Sinclair, that this was not an easy decision, that this was something that he’s struggled with. I think Hugh Dillon has been giving some incredible performances this season, and I think you’re seeing the weight of the leadership on him, and I think that was important for us to show that, as a leader, he wasn’t going to make these decisions if he wasn’t going to carry them. So we did talk about that a lot : At what point are things too dark? What won’t our characters do? And I think we had to always feel like, ‘Is there a greater good to this?’ ‘Did this person believe they were making a noble choice?’ ‘Is this person taking a burden that’s for the greater good?’ That was important to us.

Sabine was disturbed to discover bullet holes in the clothes she was mending for the Women’s League. Is this going to be a turning point for her?
Sabine’s a really interesting character. When we look back at the war now, we ask lots of questions like, ‘How did people not know these things?’ and ‘How were they going about their day-to-day life?’ I think Sabine is our window into exploring that. And for the first two seasons, she was pretty sheltered, and at the end of Season 2, Aurora opened her eyes. At the beginning of this season, we see Sabine kind of be in denial about that, and sort of trying to rationalize and try to avoid it. I think this episode is a real turning point for her character. There’s no avoiding this. It doesn’t matter where you go, the machine is everywhere. And we’re going to see a real shift in her character moving forward, because she’s realizing now that she cannot be passive, that she now has to make a decision.

Neil was very angry that Sinclair sacrificed Peter and David. Is he going to disregard Camp X orders from now on?
Neil is one of my favourite characters, and I think it’s partly because when the series began, he was a soldier, and he had no problem following orders and no problem doing what was right. I think for him it’s hard when the ground is shifting and you can’t trust the orders, and he’s really starting to question Sinclair and leadership. And we’ve seen that all season when Neil chose to go ofter Miri, and Sinclair was maybe not happy with that, and now he’s realizing that [Sinclair] is willing to sacrifice these green agents who never even had a chance—and I think that’s what bothers him the most, the injustice of it, that these kids never even had a chance. I think he feels really responsible, because after the loss of Harry, he was not ready to accept these new rookies, but he can’t help himself. He’s a good guy, and he sort of bonded with them, and so this is a huge emotional betrayal for him, and we’ll see him continue to question Sinclair’s orders and Sinclair’s leadership.

We saw a new side of Alfred in this episode. Was that fun to explore?
It was a lot of fun. You know, all these characters carry a burden, and for Alfred, he’s always been the person with perfect memory. And we talked a lot in the room about it’s almost like having a superpower. It’s a great gift, but it’s also a huge responsibility, and he never gets a break from that, and it’s been very heavy for him. We saw in Episode 304 that he’s carrying the burden of the story of these Jewish people who have been massacred. It was kind of like, ‘What would it look like if Alfred had a chance to be normal?’

And I think also because he’s in love with Aurora, she’s the love of his life, it’s not been an easy go, and what would it be like for him to have an opportunity to look into a window and see, ‘This is the life I could have had with this very open and loving woman, and I could just be normal’? It’s interesting seeing him in the midst of all this war and trauma be tempted by that, and I think the sadness for him over upcoming episodes is that that’s not actually a possibility for him, but we wanted to give him a moment to enjoy it.

We found out that Operation Marigold is actually a scientist named Voigt who is working on synthetic oil. What will the team do to stop him?
The big push is going to continue to be to try to cut off the supply of Nazi oil, and we’ve kind of hit a dead end. We’ve made a big push, and we’ve gained some information, but Voigt has been removed and is even harder to get to now. So we’re going to have to up the stakes a little bit, and they’re going to have to take more drastic measures.

The episode ended with Aurora plotting with Alfred to stop Heidi from clearing out a Jewish neighbourhood. Can she really stop the raid without blowing her cover?
Things are going to get even more complicated for Aurora, because she’s going to continue her natural instinct to help and to do what she can, but her surroundings are closing in around her even more. I think her natural urge is always going to be to do what she can to help, and we’re going to see those avenues continue to be cut off from her, which is I think the greatest loss for her. Going undercover, she’s telling herself, ‘I’m doing this for the greater good,’ and she’s going to struggle with having less and less opportunity to do things to help.

What scene are you most proud of in the episode?
The one with Sabine seeing the bullet holes in the dress. I read a memoir, and they talk about that, and that was a scene that I really wanted to show because it really sums up everything about what was happening in Poland.

What can you preview about the rest of Season 3?
I would just say that as a writer and as a fan that it gets pretty dark, but I think ultimately where we’re getting to is going to be a very satisfying conclusion.

X Company airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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