X Company 305: Writer Jillian Locke enters new “Frontiers”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X Company Episode 305, “Frontiers.”

Conflicting loyalties were a key component in this week’s episode of X Company, “Frontiers,” written by Jillan Locke, as Neil (Warren Brown) and Alfred (Jack Laskey) freed Faber (Torben Liebrecht) from the Polish Resistance, and Aurora (Évelyne Brochu) began her undercover assignment at the disturbing Race and Resettlement office.

“A big theme in the episode is playing both sides and how can you do that,” says Locke.

After working as a story coordinator on Rookie Blue and the executive story editor on the second season of Between, Locke was invited to join the X Company Season 3 writers’ room after showrunners Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern read one of her pilot scripts. “Frontiers” is her first produced hour of television.

“I had a great time working on X Company,” she says. “It was absolutely amazing. Everyone in the room was so intelligent and passionate about the show.”

Locke joins us by phone from Toronto to tell us more about the themes of the episode, break down Faber’s epic escape scene and give some hints about future plot developments.

You had a lot of ground to cover in this episode following Harry’s death and the capture of Faber. What themes did you want to explore in the script?
Jillian Locke: This season, Mark and Steph wanted to continue to explore elements of resistance, specifically the Polish Resistance and Jewish Partisan fighters in Eastern Europe, so Zosia and Janowski became important characters for our team to align with: a Jewish woman who is dedicated to fighting back, and a Polish Resistance leader. Their community in the forest is based on real life events. Jews and other displaced Eastern Europeans created hidden, fully functional communities in the woods in order to stay alive. They fought against oppressors, they wanted their land back, but fundamentally, people like Zosia and Janowski were just looking for a safe place in the world. It’s a really basic need,–which makes it so heartbreaking. Like with Miri in Season 2 and 3, we wanted to continue to tell stories of the persecuted who stood up to fight. And I think that’s what makes X Company really topical right now–to write and to watch and what I found inspiring about it–as society is dealing with ongoing issues of refugee migration and resisting racism and xenophobia.

I thought you gave Harry’s death great poignancy in the episode. 
Going off the sudden death of Harry in 304, everyone is grieving, but they don’t have the luxury of the support of their fellow agents, and there’s just a moment here or there to mourn. They are all separated from each other, strangers in a strange land, in this ‘black hole’ of Poland that Sinclair has said they know nothing about. Neil and Alfred have been isolated in the forest with people who may or may not be their allies. Aurora is alone as well, in the belly of the beast, surrounded by Nazis.

So I think, metaphorically, we used the symbol of the radio and of communication, or lack of communication, as an elegy for Harry in this episode. They’ve lost their friend first, but they’ve also lost their radio operator in a time where they are most isolated from home and vulnerable, and it’s extremely scary. When Neil is able to help Zosia communicate with her government in exile via the radio, it’s a little bit of catharsis for him, and a little bit of hope that Harry lives on.

Aurora gets her first peek inside the Race and Resettlement office, which she discovers is quite sinister despite its innocuous appearance. How dark are things going to get for her while working there?
Aurora is in a very dangerous spot, and now the team has so much at stake with trying to stop the oil spike in order to put an end to the war. They have to do what they have to do to get information, and I think that Aurora is going to be pushed to the limit of what she’s comfortable with.

Speaking of Race and Resettlement, Heidi Adler is a character I find both fascinating and increasingly horrifying. What can viewers expect from her character in upcoming episodes?
Heidi came across at first as a woman who was ‘unaccompanied’, on her own, making her own way in the East. She’s someone that both Sabine and Aurora can’t help but admire a little. She seems fresh, funny, powerful, irreverent–and that was fun to write. But there is no doubt that Heidi has a more … serious side. She’s in Poland to do a job, and Aurora is going to learn more about just how serious that job is.

She was one of my favourite characters to write for in this particular episode because I felt like she has a very mysterious veneer, and you don’t quite know where she’s coming from or what she wants, but you want to know, and she’s very enticing in that way.

Neil seems to be making some strong connections within the Polish Resistance. Is he going to continue working with them in upcoming episodes? 
Neil has always wanted a real, armed, organized group to fight with, and we saw a bit of that in Season 2.  I think Neil feels a real kinship with Janowski and wants to do right by them for letting Faber go. We’re definitely going to see more of this duo!

Alfred was put in the tough position of protecting Faber both from Neil and from being beaten by the Polish Resistance. He’s really grown since the first season. 
In Aurora’s absence, Alfred was pushed into being a de facto handler for Faber. Alfred’s trying to keep a lid on everything that’s going on in the forest and keep a lid on his own very painful experience with Faber. He does an excellent job at managing the situation and looking past his own pain at the bigger picture. I think we’re seeing so much growth and bravery from Alfred this season, but of course, it is a blessing and a burden to have a perfect memory.

The gun fight during the prisoner exchange for Faber was very intense and complicated. What is involved in writing an action scene like that? 
It was really fun. We had wanted it to be extremely tense because Neil is being forced to look out for Faber, which makes Neil so vulnerable in that scene. He’s surrounded by people he wants to be allied with, but they are the same people who could shoot him if they saw him pass Faber a knife. He has to secretly disappoint his fellow resistance by freeing Faber, for the sake of his mission. The scene is really a complicated dance that has to be pulled off perfectly for Neil and Faber to get through it, unscathed.

Then on the other side, Neil knows that this whole thing is a fake set up, and so you have that layer of ‘Is he going to tell the Polish Resistance what’s happening for real?’ And then on top of that, you’ve got Janowski waiting in the wings, hoping against hope to see his friends again. So there’s a lot of emotional levels of alliance and dread and fear and thrill. And on top of that, you have the fun gun fight where all of the choreography is coming together, and you’re watching Faber desperately trying to get those binds off to run in the opposite direction.

I really loved that scene because I felt that it was a perfect storm of tensions for all the invisible alliances that were happening at the same time.

Was the battle your favourite scene to write, or was it something else? 
I think one of the most emotionally interesting scenes for me was when Aurora gives the sandwiches to Jana and the other Jewish workers. She’s doing something good, but at the same time, she’s doing it because she needs to get into Heidi’s desk. So I feel like there’s always this sort of push and pull in the episode, and it’s really sort of interestingly played out in that scene in particular, where she wants to help, but she has an ulterior motive. Then when Jana comes back, it’s that moment of, ‘Are you going to tell on me, am I busted, or are we going to keep this between ourselves?’ And it’s just a look between them, and you don’t know what the answer is, and it’s very tense, and I feel like that was one of my favourite scenes to write and also to see it executed on screen.

What can you tease about Episode 306?
I definitely want to see what happens to Aurora in that office now that Edsel knows that there’s a mole. I think that’s a very tense cliffhanger, and I feel very afraid for her!

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

Images courtesy of CBC.