X Company writer on the struggles of seeing both sides of the war

Bell Media
Bell Media

The team on X Company is slowly but surely gathering its strength back and upping its numbers as it prepares for the allied mission at Dieppe. After helping to break out some POWs from a camp last week, this week the team goes about training these new troops. In addition to the new soldiers, we were also introduced to Miri (Sara Garcia) who was hiding out in the convent and tagged along with our team. Meanwhile, Franz Faber (Torben Liebrecht) and his wife Sabine (Livia Matthes) are still trying to gain some closure after their son’s death.

This week’s episode, “Nil Nocere,” written by Denis McGrath and directed by Kelly Makin, sees Tom (Dustin Milligan) reuniting with the team in the field as they go in search of a doctor rumored to be helping Jews escape France. Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) also begins to get closer with Sabine in an attempt to learn more about her husband. McGrath recently answered a few questions from us here at The TV Junkies about the episode and previews what viewers can expect as we hit the halfway point of the second season.

The TV Junkies: The season has really been going full steam ahead, but this week there’s a noticeable slow down. What’s behind that change of pace?

Denis McGrath: When we were breaking the season, we saw it in three sections–The first three were about springing Alfred (Jack Laskey) and the implications raised by Season 1, 4-7 were about trying to pull together the raw materials for their upcoming major mission, and dealing with the growing weight of their lives on their friendships and working relationships, and then 8-10 were going to be the race to the end and the big mission.

We have a really compressed timeframe this year–only five weeks, and some of our episodes take place hard upon each other. In 5 we’ve taken our first few days break–you see early in the episode, time has passed since the end of Episode 4. It’s meant to be more reflective: where are they right now? What happens when there’s a moment to breathe? How are they dealing with the new iterations of each other? How have they changed? And more importantly, the question that proceeds from all that: how far are they willing to go?

TTVJ: We’re also reaching the halfway point in the season here. Did you feel a responsibility to set up the second half of the season?
DM: We think the more you see the second half the more you sense the tumblers falling into place…even if you can’t see what they are. We like to zag instead of zig. There’s also a note of real tragedy looming, because we as the audience have a luxury of hindsight that they do not; they look on the upcoming Allied raid as the turning of the tide. We, of course, know it’s only 1942, and Dieppe was anything but. So you’re going to start to feel the mounting tension and dread and suspense from that.

TTVJ: How are particular episodes assigned? Are they random or was there a particular reason Mark [Ellis] and Stephanie [Morgenstern] assigned this one to you?
DM: It’s much less romantic than that, sadly. We had Hannah Moscovitch back–but she was pregnant and was only with us til June, so she got Episode 2. Then it comes down really to matching the people who were going to see it through production, so we had the two new writers (to the show, not new writers, they’re both very experienced) go next. As the season goes on you get less and less time to write drafts, and since I had the comfort level from Season 1, and I was staying on right through the end, that slotted me in the five spot. It was weird, though, watching everyone else go first. I haven’t written a first episode as late as 5 for years. I usually find myself writing 3 or 4. It got to be kind of like, “come ON already!”

TTVJ: The writers joined cast and crew on the Hungary shoot. What was that experience like and how does it help you use the location almost as another character at times?

DM: We learned in Season 1 that Budapest really seeps into you. One of the interesting things I got to do when I got there last summer–because I wasn’t one of the first scripts up–was to dive a little bit more into researching Budapest’s experience during the war. It’s brutal, and we never hear about it in North America because it’s the Russian side of the war. But Budapest was under siege. By 1945 they had both Germans and Russians shooting at them. They blew the bridges. People starved, they couldn’t flee, AND there was one of the most brutal purges of the Jewish population–WWII is not a theoretical construct in Hungary. You see people of a certain age, and you know they lived through it. You see the bullet holes in the building left over from the war, or 1956. And then of course you’re there in 2015 and there’s the great the refugee migration, and you can’t help but see the parallels, so…let’s just say that the echoes of the era, and people’s attempts to survive and maintain their dignity…all of that is very much part of the DNA of this episode, and the season as a whole.

TTVJ: It feels like everyone in the cast has really upped their game this season as well. How much of a luxury is it for you all as writers to have that caliber of talent? Does it put pressure on you guys to step up your game as well?
DM: Well, which comes first?

If it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage, man. Seriously, we know how well cast this show is. And it’s lovely having Season 2 to play with because you know the voices better. You know the difference between a Tom quip and a Neil (Warren Brown) line. You get to track in a real way the loss of innocence a guy like Harry (Connor Price) is going through, and you hand that stuff to Connor and you know he’ll land it. It’s funny, but it’s really not more pressure, it’s less. First seasons are hard because you and the actors both are finding the show and the characters together. By Season 2 the dialogue and the dialectic (10 dollar word) between performer & page is much richer. You’re both bringing better music to the table.

Bell Media
Bell Media

TTVJ: Tom rejoins the team in the field this week. How does that reunion go and is he still good with his decision to return?

DM: Tom’s the hero now that he always saw himself to be in his own head, I think. But now he’s got that hard won wisdom, and a brush with mortality, and has really committed to being there. But there’s also alarm bells for him–he hasn’t been gone that long, but just long enough to be able to see with an outsider’s eye that there are some serious fault lines forming within the team.

TTVJ: Aurora begins trying to get close to Faber’s wife. Why is that so important for the team’s effort and what can we expect to see from those two?

DM: What interested us about these two is that whole, “if not for a whole bunch of things between us that we’re not going to talk about, maybe we could have been friends.” Aurora has a longing for her German side that can’t be expressed. And Sabine is alone in Paris, and grieving the loss of her son. It’s an exciting pairing because each is raw with grief that they can’t share with the other. They have to find comfort in each other while still living their lie.

TTVJ: The show has done a wonderful job of humanizing the Germans through the Fabers, but is it ever hard to write those characters since you know all the horrible things done by the Nazis?
DM: Mark and Stephanie’s passion is always exploring the grey, and the humanity in the antagonist. That sets the tone, and the bar. And it’s a challenge. It’s incredibly hard. And odd, sometimes. There was a time when we were breaking story where I think I said, “Guys, I think we’ve all kind of fallen in love with Faber, and maybe we need to examine that.” Part of it is Torben and Livia, who play Faber and Sabine, are simply wonderful people and give such heartbreaking performances. Julian (the late great Viktor Forst) too. But there’s something that always pulls you back to ground you. I remember being on set in Season 1 and laughing with Torben about Degrassi and Joey Jeremiah’s band The Zit Remedy, and then clocking all of a sudden, “oh right, he’s wearing a Gestapo uniform.”

I visited Berlin one weekend last summer, just to soak it up a bit and marinate and hang out with Germans and the amazing thing is–I learned this from Livia–every year in history class, Germans learn about the Nazi era and explore culpability and responsibility. Every year. They build in the study in blocks, each year returning to material that’s age appropriate, so they’re actually quite articulate and clear eyed about that era. I think you see it inform much of modern German views on issues like refugees, for instance. They have a perspective on their terrible cultural inheritance and legacy.

We kind of keep it at a distance in North America. We like the comforting Nazi cartoon. They were evil. We beat them. Good guys win. The end. But it’s far more unsettling when you peel back the darkness and see that humanity underneath. It’s comforting to think of your enemy as monsters. But they weren’t. When you connect to them as people, as similar to you, then when they commit atrocities or prop up that sick and evil ideology–that creates a big pile of dissonance. You relate to them, but look what they did! You’re in essence asking the audience member to crack open a little bit of the darkness in themselves. And what does that mean for right now? There’s plenty that WWII and the rise of Nazism in Germany can teach us about how people go down a dark path. It’s important.

I don’t fear the Nazi cartoon, much as I love a good, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark Nazi. But it’s the thought of all those ordinary Fabers living ordinary lives that gave me terrible Nazi dreams for four months.

TTVJ: Last week we met Miri. How will she fit into our group?
DM: Aw c’mon. Can’t give that away. That’d be telling. Let’s just say she really shakes things up.

TTVJ: Anything else you’d like to preview about what’s to come this season?

DM: Episodes 9 and 10 are going to break you. That’s if you make it out of Episode 8. You heard it here first.

Oh, and total shoutout to Connor for this one–there’s a scene in this episode (not to give it away, spoilers) where Connor does something visceral and dark and real–and it’s actually too real. Poor guy went to the hospital after. Like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, there’s a guy who gives it all for his art.


Are you enjoying X Company? What are you most looking forward to seeing in the rest of the season? Sound off with all your thoughts and comments below!

X Company airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

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