Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Episode Thirteen... and behind-the-scenes writer's commentary

"Ragged Isle" episode thirteen, "Drowning Man," is up.  Check it out, and when you're done, read on for a behind-the-scenes writer's commentary.

Have you watched it?  Because there will spoilers in the rest of this post, for this episode and everything that came before.  Fair warning

You know what my favorite thing about this episode is?  I got to take a power drill and drill a hole in Sebastian Carlsen.  Hell, yes!

(Okay, maybe that's not my favorite thing.  But it's pretty damned awesome.)

This episode endured a number of rewrites, many due to logistical concerns, though all the changes ultimately benefited the show, I think.  (One of the rewrites -- of season two as a whole -- actually conjured this episode into existence.  More on that in a moment.)

For example, as scripted, the first scene, between Paul, Eric, and Louis, originally took place in a big office that had belonged to Louis's mentor, Harrison Shaw (played in season one by Todd Manter), the idea being that Louis would look very small behind Shaw's enormous desk, which he has inherited.  But we couldn't secure a decent office location (or a big enough desk), and the scene was moved outside, which I believe works much better.  First of all it looks great, showing off once again Maine's beautiful outdoors.  Plus it puts Paul and Eric in an environment in which they're pretty comfortable (but Louis isn't), and it gives us another glimpse of the island blockade, reminding us of this season's raised stakes.  There's some nice work from all three actors in this scene.

The second scene, between Rose and Julie, originally took place in the grocery store.  But we had too many scenes set in the grocery store, which had to remain open while we were shooting, and we just couldn't cover them all in the limited time we had available.  So the scene was moved to Rose's kitchen, and it ends up being a much more intimate setting for Julie and Rose to discuss Julie's interrogation.  I'm in love with all of the acting in this episode.  Beth Saufler and Amie Marzen serve up a nice snapshot of the intimacy between Rose and Julie, as well as some barriers that still exist between them.

The autopsy scene never changed locations, but there was a lot of back-and-forth about what exactly the audience would see.  Barry really wanted us to have a "Twin Peaks moment," like when Agent Cooper stuck the tweezers deep beneath a dead Laura Palmer's fingernail to retrieve a clue.  For our scene, Barry envisioned a close-up of oversized cotton swab being slowly pulled from a hole in a victim's chest.  (We even discussed -- at length -- just how much blood and other bodily goo should be clinging to the swab as it is pulled out.)  I did some research into tests for drowning, and came up with the diatom test, which compares bacteria found in the victim's lung to bacteria found in the local water supply.  The lung isn't usually reached with a power drill of course, but I figured that on an island without a lab, locked down and with few available facilities, the doctor would have to improvise a bit.  This may be wildly unsound, but I'm keen on the effect of the drill and the cotton swab.  And let me tell you something, that drill was fun to wield.  Our special effects wizard, Eric Anderson, rigged up a rubber torso, and poor Sebastian had to crouch at the end of the table, leaning his head way back to complete the illusion.  There was a Styrofoam cup full of fake blood directly beneath the spot I had to drill (and dip the swab).  I hope we achieved the "ick" factor we were going for without being too stomach-churning.

This sequence also features the first face-to-face encounter between Sheriff Dalton and Agent Thorne (something that fans have been anticipating since the season began), and it does not disappoint.  The sheriff's great line, "Control the lobsters, control the world!" came directly from the mind of Rick Dalton, and I love love love the way he delivers it.  We also get to meet the great Cathy Counts as Ragged Isle resident doctor Gail Monroe.  We'll see more of her.

In this episode, we see more of Vicki's investigation, as she digs up old archived Ragged Isle Star articles—which I like to imagine were scanned somewhat haphazardly over the years by Vance Trundle, who probably didn't catalog or cross-reference his work very thoroughly.  So Vicki's search for relevant stories probably amounts to sifting through tons and tons of fine sand in the hopes of turning up the occasional gold nugget.  Which is the definition of good journalism, come to think of it.  We'll see more of the fruits of her investigation very soon.

If you freeze-frame on Vicki's computer screen, you might be able to read the text of the two articles  Vicki has pulled up -- one an archived story from 1937 about the death of a factory heiress, and one a contemporary story Vicki's working on about the island lobstering ban.  The first one's a clue, obviously, more of Vicki's investigation into what exactly's going on.

Again, I love the acting in this scene, as the tension just rises and rises.  Oh, and  Vance's line, "You're a good man, sister," is a direct lift from "The Maltese Falcon" -- a little present for people who love that movie (as I do).

After season one aired, the decision was made to split the already written ten-episode second season into two separate seasons of six episodes apiece, which meant writing two new episodes and tearing apart all of the existing episodes, and pasting them back together in ways that made sense.  Episode thirteen was one of the "new" episodes (though it contains scenes that had been in earlier drafts of season two).  After my first pass on the episode, it was running a bit short, but I realized we didn't have enough Madame Clelia in this season.  So I added the scene on the street, which is a nice showcase for Kathryn Coccyx and further illustrates how divided the island has become.  It's a nice showcase for Louis too, as he takes control of a situation in a way we haven't seen before.

In case it hasn't become obvious by now, the title of every episode of "Ragged Isle" is also the title of a U2 song.  I'm particularly fond of how well this title, "Drowning Man," fits with this episode, which features Louis drowning in his new responsibilities, Sebastian apparently dead by drowning, and Vance Trundle drowning in a sea of Homeland Security questions.  Each of these characters is, in his own way, the drowning man of the title.

I like the camera perspective we get at the beginning of the interrogation scene, which gives a different flavor from the Julie interrogation scene of the last episode.  Still, Agent Thorne continues to prove her badassery.  Her cold stare at Vance Trundle after he attempts to cut the interview short is a joy to behold.

The interrogation scene and the evidence room were both shot at the Baxter Memorial Library in Gorham, Maine (where we shot the library scene in episode six last season).  They were unbelievably gracious and generous letting us use their facility, and the payoff for us is an incredibly cool-looking, authentic set.  We are so grateful to them.

That's actor Benjamin Row as the agent who answers the phone in the evidence room when Thorne is looking for Griggs.  Ben was one of the people who showed up when we put out a call for extras to play agents.  And then he kept showing up, helping out in about a thousand different ways.  Whenever we needed an agent extra, Ben was there.  Whenever we needed something else, Ben was there.  He became such a fixture on the set that we started giving him lines.  "You've got Murphy," and his mispronunciation of "Katsarakis" last week.

Ben's also a stage actor, and during a recent run of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," he wore his Ragged Isle t-shirt every night on stage.  He is a "Ragged Isle" hero.  Thanks, Ben!

Have I covered everybody?  Probably not.  But I want to say again that all the actors in this episode brought their A-game, and Barry brought his A-game to shooting and cutting it.

And the music!  Again:  So, so good.

I love this episode.


  1. Definitely agree - LOVE this episode! It is A-game all the way!

  2. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts on the episodes. I love reading these things!!

  3. Loved the episode. I think it is getting better over time. I also get my Maine fix, from Minnesota, so the scenes outside really appreciated.

    1. Glad we can provide a little taste of Maine for you Sandy! It's also nice to see you think we are improving!