Coroner: Shannon Masters and Charles Officer Talk “One Drum”

CBC
CBC

*** Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Coroner Season 2 episode “One Drum” ***

This week’s episode of Coroner was a tough one to to take. We say that, of course, knowing that most episodes of the CBC drama are hard to take since it routinely focuses on tackling the hard issues. Even knowing that though, “One Drum,” written by Shannon Masters and directed by Charles Officer, really dove extra deep and tackled not only a mass shooting, but the abuse of two young Indigenous boys by their foster families. As often is the case on Coroner, things go so much deeper than what appears to be happening on the surface.

“One Drum” provided an excellent vehicle for viewers to learn more about fan-favorite Alison (Tamara Podemski), as she bonded with the young boy, Ennis (Zeegwon Shilling), and revealed to him why she joined the coroner’s office in the first place. Jenny’s sleepwalking also almost reached a tragic conclusion as she took the gun from the shooting out of the safe. Luckily, everyone was unharmed, but it was the catalyst that finally propelled her to seek help and check into a sleep clinic by episode’s end.

In this week’s postmortem chat about the episode, The TV Junkies spoke to both Masters, who has written on shows like Cardinal and Burden of Truth, and Officer, who has directed on Ranson, Private Eyes, and Saving Hope. They joined us to talk about joining Coroner in Season 2, as well as how they made sure the issues in the episode were handled with great care. As Officer pointed out, this was “a story that is real and uncomfortable, and one we haven’t really seen at that time slot.”

 

The TV Junkies: You both joined Coroner here in Season 2. What was it about the show that drew you to it and made you want to be a part of it?

Shannon Masters: I really wanted to be a part of the first season and wasn’t able to. So when the opportunity for Season 2 came long, I jumped at the chance. This isn’t a normal procedural. It’s very emotional and Morwyn [Brebner, showrunner] takes a lot of risks with her character choices, and that means it’s a very exciting show to watch. I was intimidated walking into a room of writers that had been together for so long, but I was welcomed with open arms.

When I met Charles for the first time, it was like we were siblings in a long lost family. We just worked so beautifully together. I pinch myself every day because it was such a charmed experience.

Charles Officer: I am a big fan of Adrienne’s [Mitchell, EP and Lead Director] storytelling and creativity. I worked with Morwyn many years ago on Saving Hope and just had immense respect for these two amazing creators. In the first season things just didn’t work out, but I took in the show and loved the writers that were working on it. When the chance came in Season 2, I made sure I was around and available. Then, as Shannon said, we found an amazing energy working together. It was really rare to have that experience. 

TTVJ: This episode tackles some very sensitive and timely topics, a mass shooting and violence against and abuse of Idigenous youth. How did you both go about approaching those topics and ensuring they were given the necessary care?

SM: Coming into the team late, the writers’ room had already figured out the cases for each week. So when I walked into the room, they knew it’d be a mass shooting episode. But one of the beautiful things about a second season, is that you’re allowed some leeway to go off and explore the secondary characters.

I really wanted to explore the character of Alison because she’s this amazing Indigenous character who brings levity to the show. But when Tamara Podemski created the role, she gave herself a backstory for why Alison would’ve wanted to join the coroner team. I heard that story and built upon the mythology she created so we could explore it. I also wanted to look at foster care and how it fails our youth, but from the different perspective of a kid in trouble who wants to save their sibling. In seeing that amazing young actor playing the piano, it really just made the whole story come together. Charles is also such an amazing director when dealing with young, raw talent, and he brought so much out of these young men.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: You mention the younger actors, and I did notice that there were a lot of intense scenes with Ennis. What is it like working with him through types of scenes?

CO: The thing about young actors is that you can only take them so far and need to work with what they naturally have. Our gift was that we had a young boy who is an old soul. He feels things differently and is an artist. He feels through music and sound and can connect with things. I spent a little bit of time on the phone with him before he came to set, and we just talked about the character and made sure he was safe going into it. That was a priority, as well as providing him any support he may need. The acting came second, but I just wanted him to understand the emotional context of the scenes. He immediately did because he is that old soul. 

Technically, he was blessed, and we were blessed, that he had incredible scene partners. They also looked after him and he learned from them. He really welcomed talking through stuff so that he wasn’t just left hanging out there. You have to take those liberties with young actors. The actor who played his brother (Joshua Odjick) was also such a beautiful soul with so much to offer. We tried to take care of them because they really wanted to learn and absorb everything. I love working with young actors and it excites me, but we were also just blessed.

SM: It was really sad that the older brother had to die in the show. He was so beautiful and talented that we wished we could’ve rewrote it so that he lived. But I guess the show is called Coroner

TTVJ: One of these weeks I will stop being surprised by how great the guest stars are — I mean you had these boys this week, and Walter Borden was excellent last week. 

SM: And Nicola Correia-Damude who plays Kelly is just amazing.

CO: She is just excellent. 

TTVJ: Well since we’re speaking of her, Liam learns this week that Jenny has enlisted her help to take care of Gordon, but he’s a little confused at how she’s acting at the end of the episode. What’s Liam thinking about the whole situation right now?

SM: In the big picture of his situation, he’s really suffering right now and going through a serious trauma. He’s also recognizing that Jenny is in her own world of hurt and not in a position to hold space for him. Suddenly, he’s faced off with this extremely attractive, very charismatic woman who is in the home, kind of available, and reaching out to him in a way that feels pretty darn good. He doesn’t know what to make of that, and his reaction is, ‘I need to take a step back and try to reconnect with my actual girlfriend.’ That’s why he then prepares that beautiful dinner that sadly goes to waste because Jenny is on her own journey. It’s a conflict for him for sure. It’s fun to write. 

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: That scene was pretty funny though with Ross and Gordon coming in and ruining the dinner. The look on Liam’s face was so good.

SM: Yes! Charles did such a great job of not only capturing family dynamic, but getting the humour, as well as the pain of our characters. I feel so lucky that I got to work with you, Charles.

CO: It’s just so wonderful because the stuff is there on the page and these actors are so great. I found myself on this show just really leaning into the monitors. It’s a blessed situation.

TTVJ: We’ve seen all season how Jenny’s sleepwalking keeps getting more and more dangerous, but that went next level this week. Can you discuss what was behind having her take the gun while sleepwalking, as well as the realization that she needs to check herself into a sleep clinic?

SM: We really felt that at this point in the season we needed to create real stakes. For Jenny, in her mind, as she’s putting herself accidentally in danger — in the middle of the road, with her head in the fridge — she continues to ignore it and think she can handle this. She has a shrink and meds and thinks she can take care of it. At the start of the episode, she sets the kitchen on fire because her subsconscious is screaming at her that she’s missing something. So putting her family in danger is the first straw that’s going to break the camel’s back. Then, the sleepwalking spills into her work environment and she puts a child in danger, jeopardizing her whole livelihood. That’s a wake up call that cannot be ignored. We really needed a moment like that at this juncture in the season. 

So we thought a sleep clinic would be a cool thing to do. One of our crew members, Gord, had been through a sleep clinic so he talked to us about his experience. We also spoke with some consultants and came up with that at the end of the episode. 

CO: It’s such a strange, interesting world, but when I read this script I thought it was all going to change by the time we got to shooting it. It felt like a tease because there was a beautiful opening with a fire, the shooting, and all these things that really resonate with me. When I found out that, ‘Oh shit! She took the gun?’ It’s like when you’re reading stuff and have a moment where you yell out loud. I had like two to three moments with Shannon’s script that were like that. That’s just awesome because then I have to think how to make that ‘oh shit!’ happen for other people. It’s pretty bold storytelling and I’m down for that. 

SM: All of that boldness really does come from Morwyn. She doesn’t hesitate to take chances and risks. She allows us to follow our instincts, and she’s such an amazing person to work with and for. 

CO: She’s brilliant and having Adrienne then handle the director team, she’s always saying ‘Yea push that! Go there! Don’t hold back!’ It feels like someone is playing a trick on you, but then you realize she really wants that. It’s awesomely rare and so empowering for everyone to bring themselves and challenge the way you think. It’s so damn rare. 

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: Was there anything else about the episode you wanted to touch on?

SM: The one thing that was so exciting for us as a team was to create the show within the show, the 1970s coroner show called Fernandes. It’s in honor of our Season 1 consultant, Dr. John Fernandes, that our team absolutely adored. It’s such a small, cool little clip that we see, but is something that will be explored in next week’s episode. I think we all want to see a Fernandes spinoff though because it was so fun to shoot.

CO: It was so exciting and we wanted so much more of it, but just getting to do that was so fun! We haven’t given up and we just have to do a spinoff. [laughs] 

SM: It’s a little bit of emotional balm in such a dark episode. 

CO: It all came from the inside out over this real person who worked on the show that everyone really loved. They find a way to hold his spirit and is just so great to have that power in storytelling. Again, the way that Morwyn thinks is just a rare, beautiful way of working.

I’m so grateful that the story in this episode was given the space that it deserves. It always takes someone at a position to say, ‘We have to say something about this and do something.’ If folks at those positions aren’t taking that stand and doing that then this story, as hard as it is with abuse and the system failing these boys, it doesn’t get told. It takes someone saying, ‘We want that to be a part of our show.’ 

How else are you going to develop young, diverse talent? We need people in the writing rooms to speak and share those stories. Then we get to cast and look for these actors and artists for those roles. They need these opportunities to develop but no one ever seems to write for them. It’s not just this little role or little part, but it all has a bigger impact on community and what we’re saying as Canadian creators. For me, that’s an amazing thing and they brought in the best writer to tell that story. It always takes someone saying, ‘Yes, this is important and we want it to be a part of what we’re sharing.’

SM: I’d also add how exciting it was for Anishinaabe actors to be able to speak Anishinaabemowin in a modern context. That was a really big deal for us. We had a language consultant on set the day we were speaking those lines, and there was just a hush that fell over set knowing that it was kind of a historic moment that was.

 

Thoughts on this week’s Coroner? Share them below!

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

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