"Ragged Isle" episode twenty-two, "Exit," (the series finale!) is up at The Entertainment Experiment web site. If you haven't already, go watch it now. After you've seen it, read on for a behind-the-scenes writer's commentary, which will (of course) include spoilers. So if you haven't watched, stop reading now. Seriously. Now.
When we were shooting "Ragged Isle," whenever we finished a particularly challenging sequence (the "man overboard" scene from the pilot, for example, or the lobster festival from the season one finale), Barry and I would turn to each other and one of us would say, "Hey, Barry" [or "Hey, Greg," if it was Barry talking]. "We just finished the [really hard thing we weren't sure we could do]."
Hey, Barry. We just finished "Ragged Isle."
So, wow. Huh. That was something, wasn't it? I'm a little emotionally drained, to tell you the truth. Let's talk about this episode. But first let's talk about how it came to be.
Our first writer's meeting, in January 2010, with Barry Dodd, Karen Dodd, Rick Dalton, Jake Lear, and myself, was blue sky. Anything goes. No thought of budget or logistics or anything. Just throw everything out on the table. The second meeting, we zeroed in on some of the core ideas that eventually made their way into the show: A group of five immortal beings possessing island residents. A sixth one exiled to an underwater cage for decades. Murder. Mayhem. Mysterious, impossible drownings. We hammered all of that out.
In our third meeting, we were talking about "the jump," the moment the entity transfers from one body to another. Jake said, "We should have a moment where there are two people right in front of the creature, and maybe it's dying and has to decide which one to jump into. And maybe it decides not to jump at all, just to let itself die."
And we all stopped. Because that was our ending right there. Rick got so excited he got down on the floor and acted out the action Jake had just described. Right then and there, we knew it had to be Rick as the final host. Everything that has come before was reverse-engineered to arrive at that moment.
Sorry, Sheriff fans. We hate to see him go, but he turned out to be the hero of the island, didn't he? (We've joked all along that "everybody dies on Ragged Isle," but today we came close to having that not be a joke.) Rick brought tears to Barry's eyes on-set with his utterance of his final line, and I suspect he'll bring tears to the eyes of a few audience members as well. He's always been very, very good in this role, but in this episode, he takes it to a new level. (Also, the sly look on his face when Paul and Vicki call to him may be the most hilarious thing I've ever seen.)
Okay, I'm jumping all around. I'm a little excited. Let's back up.
A lot changed in the scripting process, or course. Many tweaks and changes and top-to-bottom rewrites along the way, but one thing that's never changed has been the final showdown would be between the sheriff (played by Rick) and storekeeper Gus Hendershot (played by Brent Askari). Brent was one of our secret weapons. Someone we seeded in the lobster festival crowd scenes in season one and then introduced as a minor player in season two. But anybody who knows anything about the local acting scene knows that Mr. Askari deserves more than background player status. But we had this scene in our back pocket all along. I have loved it when we've been able to do this -- give a juicy scene to an actor who's been present only on the fringes of our story in previous seasons. (A special shout-out to Eric Anderson of The Shoggoth Assembly who supplied Gus's post-crash makeup, as well as the knife-in-leg special effect. This guy's a local treasure.)
A word about that crash. There was a draft, very early on, in which the sheriff shoots Gus, several times, and that is the source of his injuries. But the no-guns decision eliminated that option, so we went with the classic stepping-back-into-the-road-and-getting-hit-by-a-car gag. This has been done time and time again, we realize. But the reason it's been done so many times is that it still works. And although it's not explicitly stated, I like to think that Deputy Dan hit Gus on purpose because he realized what was happening. (His annoyed "I wasn't going to" to the sheriff's warning not to touch the body tells us that Dan is completely up to speed.)
I love the quiet moment between my character and the dying Gus. It's very quick, but perhaps helps to contribute to his decision moments later. I also love, love, love Erik Moody's line-reading of "you've got a knife in your leg." Just superb.
Okay, I've gotten ahead of myself again. Let's back up one more time.
The episode begins in the basement. Again, this is my basement, and it really is that creepy, even in real life. We don't have a lot of special effects on this show, so we try to make the effects we do have, well, kind of special. Rose's spider-walk across the basement ceiling was one of the many things we conceived of with no real idea how we were going to pull it off. I love the way this bit came out (h/t to our composer Richard de Costa, who pitched in on some of the effects shots in this episode), but it's the reactions (Paul's scream, the sheriff's jaw-drop) that seal the deal.
A couple of episodes ago, we learned the significance of Madame Clelia's gift to Dr. Hoffman (the knife, used so handily to dispatch Vance Trundle and then later by the sheriff to dispatch himself and save the island). In this episode, we learn the significance of the key given to the sheriff in season one. I love that we flashback to the moment the sheriff gets the key, and that within the flashback, the sheriff seems to realize the significance. Because that's how memories work, isn't it? When you remember something, you put yourself back in that moment, but now with knowledge you bring with you from the future. What a clever visual way to convey that. Man, that Barry Dodd is a smart little bugger, isn't he?
We've known the significance of the locket, given to Vicki in episode two, for some time now. But now we know why it was given to Vicki, as the sight of it finally brings an end to the dissident's blood-soaked quest for vengeance. I can't emphasize enough how much Rick sells that moment. Love it.
Then we get one last check-in with the remaining survivors. While the Paul and Vicki romance has been foregrounded for much of the series, the Dan and Julie romance has long been simmering in the background. And in this episode, the two of them, each having lost a mentor, give themselves to each other. Paul and Vicki, meanwhile, also still raw with grief, seem almost tentative with each other. Even Dr. Hoffman and Agent Thorne share a moment, perhaps a new beginning. (There's nothing like the threat of imminent death to prompt people to pair off.) As a writer, I wish I'd included one more exchange between Agent Thorne and Dr. Hoffman, something along the lines of: Thorne: "What do you mean it's over? Isn't there one still out there?" Hofman: "Too many people know the signs now. She won't stay around here." (Barry tells me to save it for the novel.) Maybe we don't need it, because there's Rose, one last time, saying goodbye to the island and rowing away. Where is she going? Will she be stopped by the blockade? Will she get through?
Well, we had to leave some lingering mysteries, didn't we?
The final montage of cast and crew brings back so many memories, of course, as well as conveying the rich community of artists Maine has to offer. I am so incredibly moved and grateful to be a part of it.
There's more I want to say. A lot more. About this episode and the series as a whole. But for now, I think I'll let both the episode and series speak for themselves (aside from the above ramblings). I do hope that Rick and Barry and Karen and Jake weigh in, either in the comments below or in posts of their own.
In the meantime, what did you think?