X Company 310: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern on “Remembrance”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen X Company Episode 310, “Remembrance.”

In X Company Episode 307, “The Hunt,” Franz Faber (Torben Liebrecht) and Aurora Luft (Évelyne Brochu) shared an anguished kiss in a scene the writers’ room referred to as The Monster Mirror, because Aurora—horrified and guilt-ridden over killing a Jewish servant—came face to face with Faber and saw her own sins reflected back at her.  In last night’s series intense and moving finale, “Remembrance,” Faber and Aurora once again stared each other down, but this time Aurora, now full of conviction and clarity, reflected Faber’s own words back at him and showed him who he really was—or who he still had time to become.

Stunned by his confrontation with Aurora, Faber chose to sacrifice himself to kill Voigt (Kevin Griffiths) and end Operation Marigold, and in that moment, he finally stood up to the system that pushed him to kill countless innocents, including his own son. It was the ending that series creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, who wrote the final episode, felt made the most sense for their conflicted antagonist.

“It felt like [Faber] had to make a sacrifice,” says Ellis. “He’s always been about self-preservation. He’s always been about protecting his wife and himself above all else. We’ve seen him commit unspeakable acts in the name of self-preservation, and we wanted to see him finally put himself on the line, to truly cross over to the side of good.”

While Faber’s end was tragic, the finale allowed the remaining X Company characters satisfying, hopeful conclusions, with Aurora continuing to work as a spy, Neil (Warren Brown) reunited with his niece, Alfred (Jack Laskey) and Krystina (Lara Jean Chorostecki) training agents at Camp X and—in a wonderful surprise—Sabine (Livia Matthes) joining the Polish Resistance.

In our last X Company postmortem interview, Ellis and Morgenstern join us to discuss Faber and Aurora’s stunning showdown and break down the rest of the emotional series finale.

I think the finale is about as close to perfect as you could get it. Is it everything you hoped it would be?
Stephanie Morgenstern: I think it was. There aren’t any moments where I think, ‘Ah, if we could have just gone back and adjusted that or fixed that or written that differently.’ I don’t think I’d be brazen enough to say it’s a piece of artistic perfection, but I would say I can’t think of what I would change if we had the chance or more time. I’m happy with it.

Mark Ellis: I’m missing the faces that were so familiar along the way. Like I would have loved to see Tom or Harry or Sinclair go on. I would have loved to have been able to construct what the future was for them in that final montage in the same way that we did for the other characters. But you can’t have your cake and eat it. I feel really proud of it. I felt like this was a really great collaboration on all levels, from the creation and the writing of it with our writing team through to our crew, who really poured their souls into it, not only in making these two episodes but also in supporting Stephanie, who directed it, and through to post production.

Was Faber’s death always planned, or did that conclusion develop slowly over time?
ME: I don’t think we knew it in the first season, but I think we definitely knew it going into the last season. We were at a crossroads, and you can sort of resolve his storyline and have one of the ultimate Gestapo Nazis converted to the side of humanity and morality and to the Allied cause, or you can continue to play him as a nemesis. And we were more interested in what it would take to turn someone in his position. It felt like he had to make a sacrifice. He’s always been about self-preservation. He’s always been about protecting his wife and himself above all else. We’ve seen him commit unspeakable acts in the name of self-preservation, and we wanted to see him finally put himself on the line, to truly cross over to the side of good.

I think if the series had continued after that character’s resolution, we would have had to really reinvent the wheel in some way. Maybe we would have had to fast forward in the war and have troops on the ground already. We would have had to invent a new adversary, and it somehow felt a little dishonest to do that. Most people who went through the war have a story, you know? ‘Here’s my war story.’ And these characters have already gone through so many stories in these three seasons that to continue to lump and add them on felt a little too ‘TV,’ and I felt it didn’t do service to what some of those spies actually did go through.

SM: Yes, I think it would have been difficult to surpass the sense of everything coming to a head, the showdown between Aurora and Faber. It would have been hard to sort of top that, considering that he’s been on a collision course with them and with the team for a long time and constantly negotiating his position within his home and between them and between him and Sinclair. To have continued the story beyond that act of sacrifice, it just wouldn’t have made much sense.

ME: I felt like this season was very satisfying for us to write, and it was all constructed on character and what’s going to happen to these people. And I think that if we went for another season, then we would have had to construct based on plot. I don’t think it would have been as good.

Tell me about writing the showdown between Faber and Aurora. It was so powerful. 
ME: It’s interesting because Stephanie and I both wrote that scene. We both took different passes at it, and Stephanie felt that it was very important for Aurora to evoke Faber’s speech that he gives at the celebration in Episode 302 of this season.

SM: ‘I know now what my true duty is, and it’s to do the right thing no matter what the cost because of those we have lost that are looking down upon us now.’ And he’s thinking of Ulli, of course.

ME: And then my contribution to it was that I wanted her to recall his words at the end of Season 2, where he talks about the agony of knowing his son can feel only one thing at a time. So she invokes both of those moments from Faber’s backstory very masterfully and skillfully and in a way that I think truly reflects the journey she’s gone through herself.

SM: It’s interesting because they complement each other in many ways, and what we did not want to do was to have Aurora come up with an impassioned patriotic and humanitarian speech entirely of her own, like getting the last word in. In a way, the strongest thing she could have done would have been to hold a mirror up to him and say, ‘These are your words. Do you stand by these words you have spoken? In the name of everyone who has died to bring us where we are right now, can you do something that makes us proud?’

I thought that Évelyne Brochu and Torben Liebrecht knocked it out of the park. 
ME: These two actors have continually transcended what we write on the page, and they continually surprise me. I wasn’t in Budapest when Steph shot that scene, so the first time that I watched it was when it was a little bit patched together. The moment that [Aurora] puts the gun to her chest was a moment that we really thought about a lot while writing it, and even though it’s Évelyne Brochu, I didn’t think she could bring that level of intensity and truth that just knocks your socks off. I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is a woman ready to die.’ I truly believed her. It was extraordinary.

The explosion sequence—with Aurora in a yellow dress as the bomb blows out an upstairs window—was reminiscent of the explosion in the series pilot. Please tell me that was on purpose!
SM: Exactly! Well, [Andrea Flesch] had the perfect golden yellow dress. That was partly chance, but she knew that yellow was Aurora’s special colour. But, yes, that scene was deliberately engineered to echo the first explosion that she dealt with in the field and to kind of bring back the sense of how far the team has come since then, how much has been learned and how much has been lost.

ME: We also tried to echo the scene with Tom and Neil in the pilot episode, when Tom is sweating over having to strangle a Nazi, and we wanted to echo that with Alfred and Neil and show how far Alfred has come and how seamless that task is for him now.

I thought the interrogation scenes with Neil and Edsel were fascinating. What were your goals when writing that interaction? 
SM: It is, in a way, the culmination of Neil’s journey. He entered the series as a warrior, as a man of action, a man of rage, motivated by the darkest impulses against the enemy. As he has navigated through the seasons, he has discovered that the world is a lot more complex than that, and he’s been sometimes confused, sometimes lost, sometimes haunted, and by the end, when he is face to face with the enemy, his strongest weapon, as it turns out, is his mind and his persuasiveness and his ability to look into the eyes of a person and guess exactly what they need to hear in order to get what he needs from them. The most impressive fight that he waged was one without a weapon in his hand and his hands still in chains. He actually talked the enemy into letting him go free, and he made it persuasive at every stage of that by playing every card that he had.

And Warren Brown is such a brilliant actor, and so is Basil Eidenbenz, and it was great to see the two of them. I was a little worried at first. These are very long and very verbal scenes, and there’s not a whole lot for the camera to do and not a whole lot to distract with. It is really just about these two men and their words, and they carried it off so beautifully.

ME: One of my favourite lines in that scene is when Neil says to Edsel, ‘I mistook you for a spy, not a soldier,’ and I think that, in a way, Neil began the series mistaking himself for a soldier and not a spy.

Sabine joining the Polish Resistance really surprised me. What made you decide that was right for her?
SM: I think it grew on us slowly, the idea that this woman who is at first a pampered and sheltered creature who hasn’t really taken the trouble to learn the truth about what’s going on around her, to take her journey to its full opposite, which is a slow awakening and a slow coming of age, being able to fight back and take her own destiny in her own hands, being able to rebel against her father and rebel against her husband even. And she has come to a point of complete ethical clarity by the time she’s holding little Ania on her lap and she turns and looks at her husband and says, ‘Maybe you’re just thinking too small.’

In a way, she has the luxury of being a new convert to the cause, and you see everything very clearly and you know what you have to do and you know that you can’t behave because behaving perpetuates the evil. She hasn’t had to fight the way Faber has had, and he’s also become torn between different ethical forces more than she ever has, but she is still at that point of complete, lucid, pure certainty about ethics. And rather than disappear, she wanted to bring Ania back to the people that she belonged with and bring herself to the cause as well. And the writers’ room has always wanted to see her let her hair down . . . And I think the scene between Sabine and Aurora brings a really nice closure to the story of their friendship.

Stephanie, what was it like to direct the finale and guide these characters that you and Mark created so long ago on their final mission?
SM: It was like a pendulum between being petrified and being so happy and feeling like what I’ve been learning since I started wanting to be part of the film and television writing world was all coming to fruition at the same time. I felt ready. I felt it makes sense that I would be the one to escort this story to its close because I knew it more intimately than any guest director might have, no matter how experienced they might have been on other shows. This was ours, and these are characters that have been in our souls for about 15 years. So it was thrilling, but I do have to admit it was terrifying because the stakes were very, very high to not want to drop the ball and let anyone down who trusted me. It felt like everyone converged and gave me the gift of their faith, and it worked out. I’m very proud of it.

I felt a very special bond with the actors, partly because it was ending and we were all kind of saying goodbye to something that’s been so close to us for so long, but I feel like they really threw themselves in with complete trust and abandon and complete love. I felt that in every scene, so I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that it felt like the years of working increasingly closely with them were paying off in what we were able to offer each other in the last two episodes.

Do you have any ideas about what becomes of Aurora, Alfred and Neil after the war?
ME: I always picture Alfred as an older man, and I see him as the antithesis of those brave soldiers who are reluctant to talk about what they’ve seen. I think that the reason that Alfred chooses to go and train rather than continue in the field is because he feels he might burst. The way he recalls memory is so much more profound and sharper and deep than anyone else’s, and I don’t think there’s much more that he could bear. But I think that withdrawing from it, he also carries a responsibility to retell those stories in as vivid detail as his memory describes to him in his own brain.

SM: I think that we felt that both Alfred and Aurora would end up in the place where they are most needed, and where Alfred is most needed is where his particular strength and his condition can be made most useful, which is in telling stories and witnessing what he has seen and sharing it with this small group of people, these training agents, who he is actually free to speak honestly to. Because once the war is over and they’re out as civilians, they’re not supposed to speak about that anymore. His function is as a vessel and a storyteller, and that’s where he serves it best. And Aurora, we had trouble imagining her retiring before the job was done. Before the confetti falls in the streets and people can embrace each other and greet a new time of peace, she would just keep on fighting.

ME: I always feel very torn about what Neil’s story is after he drops out of the plane, and his drop out of the airplane is very poetic, it’s non-specific. It sort of violates the timeline and geography in a way. So he may go on to train others, or he may spend his weeks with Mags and remembering why he’s fighting the war and then going back into the field. We purposely left it vague. But I think the far future for him sees him surviving the war and sees him fulfilling his promise to take care of his last remaining relatives.

And do Alfred and Aurora see each other again after that final jump from the plane?
ME: I think they see each other again.

SM: I think so, too. I think after the war, they run towards each other in slow motion, and they start their life. It would be hard to ever develop a romance or a lifelong partnership with someone you’re going to grow old with if they don’t know any of what you’ve been through, and they have so much that they don’t even have to talk about because they were there together.

What’s next for you now that X Company is over?
ME: We’re regathering ourselves and our ideas and taking our time with the next project.

Images courtesy of CBC.