Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X CompanyÂ Episode 307, â€œThe Hunt.â€
Aurora Luft (Ã‰velyne 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.Â Howeverâ€”morallyâ€”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 ObergruppenfÃ¼hrer 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 innocentsâ€””Strategy,” as Neil (Warren Brown) explained to Janowski (Florian Ghimpu) earlier in the episodeâ€”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 kissâ€”brief, desperate, full of anguish. But it is the moment just before that is remarkable. She touches his scarâ€”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 Liebrechtâ€”who have always had crackling chemistry with each otherâ€”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 aÂ tremendous personal cost to her. Did you do a lot of research into the psychological impact undercover work has on agents?Â
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 RenÃ© (FranÃ§ois 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 BrigadefÃ¼hrer 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 thatÂ 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?Â
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 savvyâ€”or at least she thinks she isâ€”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?Â
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 itÂ 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.