Tuesday, July 24, 2012

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

"Ragged Isle" episode fifteen, "Moment of Surrender," is up. Check it out, and when you've seen it, read on for a behind-the-scenes writer's commentary.

Have you seen it? This is where I start spoiling the episode, so if you haven't watched it, you should probably watch it, or come back later (after you've watched it).

Some of my favorite TV series are serialized, telling a long story via individual installments. But even the most heavily serialized shows occasionally present a stand-alone episode, one that advances the larger narrative but also tells a self-contained story. That's cool too. Last year, we had a nifty stand-alone episode in the form of the Ragged Isle talent show, which was really Barry and Karen's brainchild. Next year, we've got a doozy of a stand-alone (just you wait!) with a core concept that sprang from the mind of co-writer/prop maker/poster designer Jake Lear. This year's stand-alone (well, mostly) tells the story of Gertie Kendrick, and came out of an idea I had long before we had cracked the story for the rest of the season.  I wrote the Gertie scenes very early on in the scripting process, before we even knew where they would fit.

The Gertie scenes tell a macabre short story by themselves, but they also open up our understanding of the mysterious drowning deaths that have plagued the island.  As the newspaper articles on Vicki's conspiracy wall broadly hinted last week, certain entities (whatever they are) are passing their consciousnesses from one Ragged Isle citizen to another, usually from mentor to protege, leaving behind "drowned" corpses in their wake.  This is the first time we've gotten a good look at this process, though we've certainly seen glimpses (and the aftermath, obviously).  I wanted to convey just how seriously these creatures (whatever they are) take it.  Jumping from one body to another is not something they do lightly, or often, and like Native Americans with their kills, they observe certain somber rituals of gratitude when they do make the jump.

Except one of them is not like the others, and is plowing through Ragged Isle residents as if they were items in an all-you-can-eat buffet.  I expect we'll find out what's behind that at some point, just maybe not soon.  We'll see.

The were some character gender changes in the revision process of this episode (and the last).  Dr. Monroe was originally a man, but then I decided there was no reason that character had to be male, and I wanted every episode to at the very least pass the Bechdel Test, if possible.  There's a shortage of strong female characters in movies and TV, especially strong female characters who don't serve exclusively as love interests to the central male characters.  I think it was important to all of the writers plotting out the story (Barry, Karen, Rick, Jake, and myself) that we have a wide variety of interesting women on the show.  Also, the great Cathy Counts really delivers in this role, both as the kindly doctor and as the vengeful whatever-it-is.

On the other hand, Gertie's assistant was originally a woman. But then, pretty late in the scripting process, I got the idea that the dynamic between Gertie and her protege was too similar to the dynamic between Rose and Julie, so we made a swap, and were lucky enough to land Justin C. St. Louis for the role of the doomed Trevor Stebbins.

As I mentioned last week,we shot the Gertie scenes on the very last day of principal photography for "Ragged Isle," as our "summer" shoot lingered into the end of November, 2011.  These were some of the scenes I was most excited about (and also some of the scenes I had written earliest), so it was a long, long wait to see them play out.  But boy was it worth it.  As I've mentioned on this blog once or twice (or three times), it was such a joy watching actress Suzanne Rankin perform as Gertie, and everyone she shares a scene with in this episode really shines as well:  Beth Saufler as Rose, Denis Fontaine as Vance, and the aforementioned Justin C. St. Louis as Trevor.  I love everything about this storyline, including the grisly surprise ending.  (At least, I hope it was a surprise.  Last week, the doctor rang the doorbell.  This week, she knocked.  That was your clue that she was a "changed" woman.)

But the Gertie scenes are not the only scenes in this episode, so there's more to talk about.  After the success of last year's scuba diver monologue, I felt a little bolder this year placing longer speeches in the mouths of our characters.  Hence, Agent Thorne's monologue about lies and poker, Rose's monologue about Gertie's many life experiences, and even my mini-monologue about the grieving process.  As always, I'd rather not spend a lot of time lingering on my acting, but I'm quite pleased with how Kathryn Perry and Beth Saufler delivered Agent Thorne's and Rose's monologues, respectively.

Way back when, Rick wrote an early draft (the first draft, in fact) of episode eleven, the first episode of the second season (back when we thought there were only going to be two seasons).  Rick's draft dealt almost exclusively with the meeting between the sheriff and Dr. Hoffman (my character).  It was pretty great, but it had to be pared down extensively when we revamped our plans for the season and introduced new plot threads and characters (like Agent Thorne).  The exchange in episode fifteen (this one) between Rick and myself emerged out of Rick's old episode eleven draft, and I like that we can still see the lingering effects of the sheriff's grief.  We saw how devastated he was in the first episode of the season, but he has been pretty much all business since, even cracking a few jokes (good ones too: "Control the lobsters, control the world!").  In this episode, we can see that the sheriff's grief is still there, just pushed beneath the surface so he can do his job.

The ending of this episode is just about the grisliest thing we've seen since Harrison Shaw's death way back in episode five. And so, another one of these creatures (whatever they are) appears to have met its end. Who (or what) are they, and why is someone or something (whatever it is) going around carving them up?

The answers to those questions will have to wait for another day.


  1. Awesome, and interesting, as usual. I love these writing origin tidbits. That time machine line was inspired by my last real life breakup. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to just skip to the end of a grieving process! Every time I see Hoffman on the screen, I'm floored by your handsome face, sexy beard, and beautiful blue eyes. And you have a great voice, too. Don't worry ladies, all two of you, I can recognize these things and still be a heterosexual.

    1. I'm glad we had so many scenes together, Rick, because it was so much fun acting across from you.