Tag Archives: X Company

Link: X Company: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern talk “The Hunt”

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: X Company: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern talk “The Hunt”
“They are at a definite crossroads in their relationship. If we ever had any aspect at all of Heidi that Aurora would admire, for being a person that forges her own destiny and is strong and knows what she wants, this is where we see the darkness that comes under it. The image from the hunt is what triggered this whole season.” Continue reading.

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X Company 307: Writer Sandra Chwialkowska on “The Hunt”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X Company Episode 307, “The Hunt.”

Aurora Luft (Évelyne Brochu) and Franz Faber (Torben Liebrecht) have been on a collision course since the waning moments of X Company‘s Season 1 premiere, when Faber gazed down at Aurora’s photo in an intelligence file. For the better part of three seasons, we’ve watched them track each other’s every move, each trying to get the better of the other, all the while making similar horrific sacrifices to accomplish their goals. However—morally—Faber has always been a complex villain and Aurora has always been a conflicted hero, no matter how blurry the wartime scenarios became.

Until last night.

In “The Hunt,” written by Sandra Chwialkowska and directed by Amanda Tapping, Aurora crosses through the looking glass and into Faber’s hellscape, changing from protector to participant in order to achieve a larger goal. Undercover as Helene Bauer, she helps Heidi (Madeleine Knight) assess school children for Aryan traits ahead of the “cleansing” of a local village. Then, she finds herself on a posh country estate, where a pheasant hunt turns into a human hunt at the casual nod of Obergruppenführer Schmidt (Morten Suurballe). She kills a young Jewish servant in the woods. Innocent, wounded, helpless. Of course, Aurora kills him to keep her intelligence position secure in hopes of saving thousands more helpless innocents—”Strategy,” as Neil (Warren Brown) explained to Janowski (Florian Ghimpu) earlier in the episode—but did she become Helene in the process?

Unable to face her team members after her actions, Aurora seeks out her shadow self, Faber, who is drinking down his own self-hatred at the Race and Resettlement office. They kiss—brief, desperate, full of anguish. But it is the moment just before that is remarkable. She touches his scar—given to him by the Polish Resistance as a courtesy reminder that he, not his uniform, is responsible for his actions in this war. At first, she is gentle, then she is harsh, mashing her hand over his face, knowing that what Faber tells her is true.

“You’re just like me and you know it,” he spits.

It’s the stunning culmination of years of character development, and Brochu and Liebrecht—who have always had crackling chemistry with each other—are spellbinding in the moment. But it all starts with the script, and Chwialkowska joins us to break down that disturbing kiss and tell us why this brilliant episode was the toughest one she’s ever written.

Was this episode as difficult to write as it was to watch?
Sandra Chwialkowska: Honestly, I can say it was the hardest script I’ve ever had to write. I felt very sick to my stomach during the research phase, through the writing phase, through the rewriting phase. When you’re in it, you’re kind of imagining the scenes and sort of living them in your mind. Especially putting yourself in Aurora’s position and in the innocent villagers’ position. And as a person of Polish descent, it was difficult. So, yeah, it was tough. It was tough on the whole room. We always discuss the episodes and discuss the story and there was a bit of a dark cloud over the room during that time because we were kind of living and breathing those horrors.

I was familiar with the Nazi practice of “cleansing” villages, but I did not know about human hunting. Did that happen often?
Yes, we came across that in our research early on in the season. It was something that did happen, and the elite Nazis who had manors in the Polish countryside, that’s something that evolved between them as sort of a leisure activity. Often they were drunk, or often there was nothing to do. When you start to think about it, it’s so disturbing.

Aurora does excellent work as an agent in this episode, tipping off Neil and Alfred about the impending attack on the village and nabbing an invite to Berlin from Schmidt, but it comes at a tremendous personal cost to her. Did you do a lot of research into the psychological impact undercover work has on agents? 
We did, and in part of my own personal research, I read a biography about a Cold War spy. So different era, same gig. He described that the best undercover spies lie all the time, and if you spend all your time lying, your inner compass begins to erode, and you begin to lose yourself, and, in a way, this whole season for Aurora is about sort of falling down into the black hole that is Helene Bauer. And the deeper she falls into the hole, the more successful she is as far as fulfilling her mission, but as you say, at what personal cost?

One of the questions we had in the early days of the room in terms of arcing the season was ‘What is the absolute worst, most horrible thing that she will be forced to do?’ Because we’ve seen her kill out of mercy with René (François Arnaud), but this, I mean, she’s trying to protect the Jewish people, she’s trying to save lives. So to fulfill the mission at hand, the goal, to have to take an innocent life, especially of someone who is basically a slave, who is so helpless, I don’t think there is anything more horrible than that. There was a big debate we had in the room, you know, ‘Is that too far? Can you even come back from that?’ And because we are in the belly of the beast, we are going into the heart of darkness, that is something that we talked a lot about, ‘Can we take her there?’ I don’t think there’s anything more horrible than having to do what she did, and then the question becomes, ‘Can you come back from that?’ or ‘How do you come back from that?’ and ‘Does it change who you are?’ ‘Has she lost Aurora and is she just Helene?’ I think she’s been tumbling down this void, and this is hitting that rock bottom spot for her.

Meanwhile, Faber also has a tough episode, hearing some uncomfortable truths during his final confrontation with Janowski.
I think that he and Aurora are interestingly on parallel paths in this episode. They both have to basically shoot a man at point blank. Faber kills Janowski, and Aurora kills the Jewish servant. And in way, there are two hunts. There’s the wiping out of the Polish village and the formal pheasant hunt that turns quite dark. And there are sort of rules in each hunt, and the rule of war is that Faber has to kill Janowski because the Brigadeführer must kill the head of the Resistance, because that’s what the rules say. And Aurora has to kill the Jewish servant, because according to Ulrich’s rules that must be done. So there’s an interesting sort of exploration of at what point can you not follow rules? And we talked a lot in this episode of Aurora and Faber being on these parallel journeys, but then they’re on a bit of a collision course, and they finally meet in the final scene.

Yes, tell us about that kiss!
In the room, we called it the Monster Mirror Scene, because these two really become monsters in this episode and in a way that they mirror each other. So when Aurora comes to him, in a way there’s hatred, but there’s also a desperation. She can’t go back to her teammates after what she did. She’s so full of self-loathing that she feels that there is only one person who can really understand what she did, which is Faber. So that kiss comes out of disgust and self-loathing and self-hatred and alienation, and it’s dirty and messy. But in a way, they’ve always had this thing in common with each other. In a way, Faber has more in common with Aurora than with his own wife, which has always been interesting to me, if you look at it as a triangle.

Was Aurora touching Faber’s scar scripted?
The touching of the scar was scripted. In my mind, in the beginning of the episode, there’s a scene between Faber and Sabine, and she goes to touch his scar, and he turns his face away. The bookend of that is that he can’t let his own wife touch his scar, but he can let Aurora touch it. Because, in his mind, Sabine is everything that is pure and good and everything he’s trying to preserve, but Aurora is like a peer. She’s a mirror. She sees his ugliness, so he can be his scarred self in front of her. Maybe that’s like artsy fartsy, but in our mind, in the room, it was very purposeful that he will not allow Sabine to touch it, but he will allow Aurora to touch it.

The big reveal at the end of the episode is that Heidi overheard at least part of Aurora and Faber’s interaction. How much does she know? 
That’s definitely going to loom really large in the next episode, in terms of what she saw, or what she thinks she saw, and she’s going to use that information to her advantage. One thing I will say about Heidi is that she’s very crafty and savvy—or at least she thinks she is—and she’s very good at doing a lot with limited information.

With Janowski’s death, Neil lost yet another buddy. What will he do now? 
I know. It’s so sad. He’s cursed. I think that his anger toward Sinclair has been roiling about who we’re fighting for, what we’re fighting for and if the mission is really worth it because everyone is dying. And I think in the back three [episodes] it will come to a head, where his loyalty to Sinclair is really being tested. You’re going to see that resolve in a very dramatic way.

Can you give any hints about next week’s episode?
Just that it’s incredibly satisfying. Basically, with the final three, it just steamrolls. It almost plays in real time, so it’s ramping up, and we don’t pause to take a breath. It’s going to just roller coaster out until the end. It’s a huge adrenaline ride.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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X Company 307: Aurora is pushed to the brink in “The Hunt”

I pretty much lost my cool over this week’s episode of X Company, as this tweet demonstrates:

My reaction was in response to the horrifying moral quandaries the instalment presents to viewers and to a stunning—but completely earned—ending that is sure to blow up Twitter on Wednesday night.

It’s an incredibly well-done hour of television, but it is difficult to watch. It was also difficult to create, according to co-executive producer Sandra Chwialkowska.

“Honestly, I can say it was the hardest script I’ve ever had to write,” she says.

Here is our sneak peek of “The Hunt,” written by Chwialkowska and directed by Amanda Tapping.

A village in danger
Last week’s X Company ended with Aurora telling Alfred about the Nazi’s plan to “cleanse” the village of Nadzieja, Poland. This week, Neil, Alfred and the Polish Resistance try to fight off the German attack.

Aurora is pushed to the brink
Aurora has been delving deeper and deeper into the persona of Helene Bauer, and things are about to take a sickening turn as she must prove her loyalty during a party at Schmidt’s home.

Évelyne Brochu is always top-notch, but she is truly compelling in this episode. How she is continually passed over for a Canadian Screen Awards nomination I’ll never understand.

Schmidt and Heidi reveal what it means to be true believers
You think you know what’s coming—you don’t.

Major cliffhanger alert
Don’t even think about missing the final moments of this episode.

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

Image courtesy of CBC. 

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Link: X Company: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern talk “Supply and Demand”

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: X Company: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern talk “Supply and Demand”
“Neil’s also in for a rocky road with Alfred and Aurora because they are in a better position to continue to see the bigger picture than Neil. Neil is responding emotionally. Neil is driven to protect those closest to him and is determined to not lose another loved one. We worry that he’ll be able to keep that big picture in front of his face.” Continue reading. 

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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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