X Company 302: Writer Sandra Chwialkowska breaks down ‘Masquerade’

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X Company Episode 302, “Masquerade.”

X Company’s complex and growing cast of female characters were featured front and center in this week’s new episode, “Masquerade,” written by co-executive producer Sandra Chwialkowska. The tense, brutal installment focuses on Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) as she and the rest of the team try to contain Sabine (Livia Matthews) before she exposes Faber’s (Torben Liebrecht) new allegiances to the Germans. Meanwhile,  Krystina (Lara Jean Chorostecki) interrogates Scubaman (Trevor White) in Sinclair’s (Hugh Dillon) absence, and Miri meets a sad but brave end, as the Nazis search for the identity of a new Resistance leader.

Chwialkowska says Sabine’s Season 3 arc is one of her favourites of the series.

“She’s very volatile, which is something that makes her very exciting to write and to watch, to see where she’s going to go,” she explains.

And Krystina’s expanding storyline is gratifying both because of Chorostecki’s Canadian Screen Awards-nominated performance and because it represents important growth for the character.

“I, like all the other writers, am a big fan of Lara Jean, who plays Krystina, and we’ve all been wanting her to take on a more active role,” she says. “I, personally, am not that interested in characters who are just the wife or just the secretary who hands a file to a man.”

And what of the powerful scene where Miri sings as a noose is placed around her neck?

“I was really reluctant to have her die, but we all thought as a room, she’s so bold and brave and fierce in the face of death and in the face of the Germans that took her family that she wouldn’t be silent,” she says.

Chwialkowska joins us to breakdown all the episode’s major moments and preview what’s coming next in Season 3.

Are there major differences to the way you approached writing the show’s final season, as opposed to the previous seasons? 
Sandra Chwialkowska: In some ways yes, and in some ways no. I mean you always want to make bold storytelling choices, but when it’s a final season, you know it’s your last chance, so you really want to swing for the fences with a lot of the story choices, because you know this is the end. So any journey you’ve ever wanted to take a character on, you kind of go no holds barred in this case, because we knew we had to wrap things up. We knew we wanted every character’s story to reach a conclusion in some way.

I was sad to see what happened to Miri. What was behind the decision to have her die?
To be honest, there was a lot of dialogue and discussion back and forth. Like half the room was on board with Miri dying, and half the room was like, ‘No, we love Miri! We want to keep her around.’ So we really kicked the tires on it to make sure it was the right choice. How does her death showcase her dignity as a character, her strength, not just in terms of how does she service Neil? Because I feel a lot of times these smaller characters are brought onto television shows to help a more prominent character through some emotional journey, right? But the entire room, and I include myself, fell in love with Miri, and I think she brought a whole different kind of energy, especially female energy, to the show. I was really reluctant to have her die, but we all thought as a room, she’s so bold and brave and fierce in the face of death and in the face of the Germans that took her family that she wouldn’t be silent. She would not be silenced by this. And how better to honour that than by her singing a traditional Roma song, and it’s great that the actress, Sara Garcia, is a singer, and she was able to really go for the emotion in that scene.

The Nazis were searching for Rigaud when they killed Miri. What can you preview about his character?
He’s sort of loosely based on Jean Moulin, who was one of the leaders of the French Resistance and who was a uniting force and was a very brave man in his own right, so we’re kind of paying homage to him a little bit. You’ll see in the next episode him play a pivotal role.

Often times, people who don’t know that much about World War II think, ‘Oh, the Resistance was a united front and everyone had the same agenda and everyone was on the same page,’ but the truth is there were a lot of different factions that were against the Third Reich but had their own different plans, their own different missions. So it was really hard for many years to get everyone motivated behind the same goal. So Rigaud is sort of emblematic of a character who would try to get all the students and the communists and the Allied forces and the various different factions together and communicating together and working together.

It’s been great to see Krystina getting in on the action in Season 3. Tell me about writing the interrogation scenes with Scubaman.
It’s a great opportunity for her to show her chops in different ways, and what I like about it is–because that storyline is a bit of a con–she plays to the low expectations that Scubaman has of her. She even says at some point, “It helps if you let them underestimate you,” and shes uses the fact that she’s a woman and the fact that he doesn’t respect her and looks down on her to get away with the con. So she has that self-awareness that actually makes her successful. As for the torture strategies, we have all the research about what they did at the time and what was realistic, so that kind of stress position that he’s put in is something that was practiced.

Sabine chose not to tell her father about Franz working for the Allies, but is she still a threat to the mission?
I definitely think so. She’s another character, just like Krystina, who’s sort of used to being underestimated. I think everyone–Franz, even our team of spies–assumed she’d just go along with whatever Franz wanted, and I think one of the surprises coming out of Season 2 was that this woman is on her whole own journey, and she cannot be controlled necessarily, and she becomes as dangerous as Franz because we don’t know what she’s thinking. She has incredible connections to high-up Nazis, including her father, so who knows what she’s going to do? She’s very volatile, which is something that makes her very exciting to write and to watch, to see where she’s going to go.

I think she’s one of my favourite characters because she goes on one of the biggest journeys, I think, of any character in the series. She starts as an innocent that’s oblivious to the truth of what her husband is doing, and now that she has knowledge, what is she going to do next? What side is she on? And something I thought a lot about was how much agency would a woman in her position have at the time, because she is largely defined by the men in her life, her husband, her father, and that’s why I’m really intrigued by this new presence of Heidi, the guest at the party, kind of in one scene motivates Sabine. She’s unaccompanied, she comes on her own without a date, she’s a working girl, and we begin to see a change in Sabine to think of herself as like, ‘Well, what kind of agency do I have?’ and ‘I’m sick of being a porcelain doll,’ and ‘I’m in control of my own life and choices.’ And that is really empowering, but I think to the other people that thought they had their thumb on her, it’s terrifying.

Speaking of Heidi Adler (Madeleine Knight), it sounds like she is also going to have a major impact on Aurora’s storyline.
She does. What I love about working on X Company is we get to showcase lots of different types of especially female characters, and this is someone we haven’t seen before. As she says herself, she’s unaccompanied. She’s sort of like a protofeminist in a way. She a career woman, she’s a total careerist, she’s incredibly ambitious, she’s out there on her own. And we did a lot of research into the female roles in World War II at that time, and the really disturbing truth was that a lot of young women who wanted to make money, who wanted jobs, salaries, there weren’t many opportunities, but there was if you worked for the party.

It’s been amazing to see X Company’s female characters given more to do the last two seasons. 
A lot of that is to the credit of [creators and showrunners] Mark [Ellis] and Stephanie [Morgenstern] for being open to that and encouraging that. And a lot of it’s just the math. I mean, honestly. It’s so funny, someone said to me set, “I notice there’s more women onscreen today. Is that because there’s more women in the [writers’] room?'” And I have found over the years working on different television shows, the more women in the room, the more female faces end up onscreen.

What’s your favourite scene in the episode? 
An image I had in my mind going back to Season 2 was this image of Faber and Aurora dancing, and I was like, ‘I wonder if we could ever build to that, because that image would be so intense. Just to see them somewhere waltzing together.’ Because both of the actors have such great chemistry, and they’re so compelling to watch, and as the season goes on, we’re going to see that they have more in common with each other than Alfred does with Aurora or that Franz has with Sabine. They’ve both had to kill out of mercy. They’ve both had to do things they never wanted to do. And even though he’s this horrific Nazi who’s done these horrible things, they have this weird understanding of one another that will only grow as the season progresses. And I just had the image of the two of them in this dance frame.

And last season, there was no way to get to it because they were obviously antagonists, not working together. And yet here was that opportunity where like, ‘Oh, there’s a party, maybe there’s dancing.’
So that was incredibly gratifying because that image turned out exactly as I had hoped. It’s really hard to pull off a big fancy party. There’s a lot of people and music, and dancing is incredibly hard to film, but it all came together beautifully.

What else can you tease about Season 3?
One of the things we talked about in the room was, ‘How many plates can we get spinning?’ and how they kind of come to a head. We have our core group, but we really activated Sabine. She’s really going on her own journey this season. We’ve introduced Heidi, and she’s going to become a big player with her own agenda. We’ve introduced Ulrich. One of the things I love is when you get these characters activated on their own missions. You see that you have a lot of plates spinning at once, and you see that they’re all going to kind of push on each other and overlap and then come to this really juicy head sort of all at once.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.