First, the good news: X Company has been renewed for a third season. The bad news? Our favourite Allied spy team is up to their necks in trouble heading into Wednesday’s second season finale. Will Aurora and Alfred be successful in turning Franz Faber? Will the squad be able to help the Canadian soldiers stranded on the beach at Dieppe?
We spoke to X Company‘s writer/co-executive producer, Denis McGrath, about what’s in store and the stunning real-life story behind Episode 8, “Butcher and Bolt.”
Congratulations on this season of X Company. It’s been spectacular.
Denis McGrath: You never know how good it’s going when you’re doing it. In the beginning, you’d see footage of Torben [Liebrecht] and think, ‘Oh my God, he’s taking it to the next level,’ but it doesn’t really connect until it’s finished. We all see the episodes when they’re in their rough cuts, and the music isn’t complete and the editing is still a little wonky. It’s takes a lot to get a jaded television professional to watch the finished version and go, ‘Oh my God!’ I’ve been doing that this season.
Was there anything that showrunners Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern wanted to explore specifically this season?
We wanted everyone to be a little more bashed up this season. The reference points we kept going to were the amazing pictures of soldiers before they went to Afghanistan and then one year later when they rotated back. It was haunting because you could see in their faces that none of these guys would ever be the same again. We wanted that sort of aspect to it. And the main thing they brought to us—and I was skeptical about it at first—was that they wanted to have a very compressed timeframe because they wanted to start with the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of the Jews in July of 1942 and end with Dieppe, which is a little over a month later. That’s very compressed for 10 episodes and we had to figure out the timeline.
We actually had a calendar up in the writers’ room that was the summer of 1942 and we penciled in, ‘Episode 1 takes place here and Episode 2 takes place here.’ The other thing that they brought—and we loved—was Sinclair in the field. There was a good mix where they came in with a backbone and then from there it was pretty easy to fill the bones in. We locked in very early with what we were doing.
What does the Episode 9 title, “Butcher and Bolt,” mean?
The more you look into Dieppe, what’s cool about it is that that 75 years later or whatever it is, there is still a legitimate argument about what the hell they were thinking. David O’Keefe’s book, One Day in August, basically said that the whole Dieppe raid was a cover for an intelligence operation and they were trying to get an Enigma machine. All of the books seem to agree that no one knew what the Allies were going for with this raid.
What was supposed to be a bigger invasion was scaled down to what it became and they changed the name of the operation. There is a line in the communications somewhere where Churchill refers to it as a “butcher and bolt” operation, which is a bit of cockney slang in there. To take a butcher is to take a look, so it was to go in, take a look around, and then get the hell out. That was the whole plan.
“We always said in the writers’ room that if anyone felt safe, we weren’t doing justice to the era.”
Talk about the radar part of the storyline.
We kept circling back to the radar thing because there is a truly amazing story. It happened with a real Canadian named Jack Nissenthall, who actually did the mission that our guys do in Episode 9 and 10. He was a guy who knew about radar and his job was to hook up with a group of soldiers and he was supposed to infiltrate the German radar station and get their secrets and then blow it up. Things went south and they couldn’t get there, but at one point the literally found themselves on top of a tank and had to take it out. In the end, they didn’t get into the radar station, but they got the intel in a different way, which we will show. Essentially, the mission competed by the X Company spies really happened.
What can you tell me about Scuba Man? He created the diversion at Camp X and then nothing.
[Laughs.] The only thing that I will say is that we do leave some threads hanging.
What can you tell me about the season finale, “August 19”?
There is a sense of finality. We do close off the story. There are a lot of scenes of closure that were inevitable and some horrible stuff that happens. There is some amazing stuff that causes you to think, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen in the next chapter?’ It’s a tough watch, man. We continue to do what we did to the audience all season and that’s to drive a lot of emotion, action and the feels.
Is there a chance someone from the core group doesn’t make it?
What I will say is that we always said in the writers’ room that if anyone felt safe, we weren’t doing justice to the era.
X Company‘s season finale airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC.