X Company: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern Talk “The Hunt”

CBC
CBC

*** Warning: This article contains major spoilers for the X Company episode “The Hunt” ***

After watching X Company for the better part of three seasons many of us viewers start to think we’ve seen it all. There have been raids, the loss of beloved team members and moments that have shown us how truly awful the Nazis and human beings could be to one another. Yes, we thought we had seen it all, but oh how very wrong we were as Obergruppenführer Schmidt (Morten Suurballe) and Heidi Adler (Madeleine Knight) served up a fresh new set of horrors in this week’s episode, “The Hunt.”

Set against the backdrop of a lovely party at his estate, Schmidt pushed Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) to the extreme as she not only had to help Heidi ready local children for a raid, but then faced the horrible test of having to execute a Jewish man in the name of “sport.” “It’s an episode we worried about on many levels,” admits X Company creator Mark Ellis while joining The TV Junkies for our weekly postmortem chat with co-creator Stephanie Morgenstern. From the horrors taking place at the party, to the resistance fighters trying to hold the local town from German control and ultimately, Schmidt “gifting” his daughter and son-in-law with a new child, there were atrocities at every turn this week.

Unfortunately for Aurora, Alfred (Jack Laskey), Neil (Warren Brown) and their fellow resistance fighters, things seem like they are going to get far worse before they are better. Heidi is more dangerous than ever after overhearing that final moment between Aurora and Faber (Torben Liebrecht), and Aurora is headed to Berlin with Schmidt. As they do every week, Ellis and Morgenstern break down the episode, written by Sandra Chwialkowska and directed by Amanda Tapping, and discuss why it was so important to include these difficult stories, what’s next for the team and if Alfred, Faber and Aurora will soon be buckling from the immense weight they are all carrying around.

 

The TV Junkies: Jumping right to the end, if we didn’t already know Heidi was dangerous before she just got about 5000 times more dangerous. How scared should we be for Aurora and what is Heidi going to do with this information?

Stephanie Morgenstern: Very scared. I don’t want to give too much away about what she wants to do with it. But Heidi is someone who is very sensitive to power and control, so it’s very tempting for her to make the most of knowing this.

TTVJ: I loved the end shot to Heidi lurking in the shadows and then the other one where she’s just seething with rage as Schmidt is inviting Aurora to Berlin.

SM: They are at a definite crossroads in their relationship. If we ever had any aspect at all of Heidi that Aurora would admire, for being a person that forges her own destiny and is strong and knows what she wants, this is where we see the darkness that comes under it. The image from the hunt is what triggered this whole season.

ME: We walked into our first conversation with Temple Street, then with CBC and then in the writers’ room, pitching that scene with a group of Germans, a bit giddy from conversation, good food and too much to drink, out riding and transitioning quite gracefully from shooting game to shooting Jews. We wanted to expose that scene because it’s based on a true story, but we also felt that it was an incredibly potent place to test Aurora’s journey and where she’s at with her own sense of self and how far she’s willing to go for the bigger picture.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: It definitely was quite the transition going from that absolutely gorgeous estate, and the beautiful visuals of that party, to shooting people. I figured that unfortunately, this story came out of real events, but did wonder how you decided on telling it.

SM: It was also how the horseback aspect and how aristocratic and gentile it is on one level, but also that we might see a hunt happen, look up and realize a woman is a part of it. And is a very willing part of it. That locked us into the character of Heidi and we worked backwards from there. How can we engineer a very positive first impression with this as a dark undercurrent all the way through and make it not for shock value, but just a very slow unfolding of what has made this woman who she is and at what cost to other people?

TTVJ: While the horrors that you guys are depicting are definitely hard to watch, for me personally they never come across as being done for shock value.

ME: Well, it’s a scary thing to write those kinds of scenes because you’re very afraid of it coming across as sensational. We’re also very worried that Aurora’s complicity in that scene would turn viewers away from her as well. So we were very careful to construct it in a way that we felt we were always with her.

If we weren’t completely confident that we had an actress that could pull off the nuance of that scene then we wouldn’t have written it. We knew that Evelyne could portray the necessary anguish and torture belying her actions.

SM: It’s a moment that’s obviously going to be overshadowing everything that follows in the next couple of episodes. It stays very much with her and is not something you can shake off.

ME: I remember when the actor’s got that script and we had given Evelyne a quote that appears on the front of that script. She knew something was coming but didn’t know what was coming. I remember being a little nervous that as an actor and someone who is closest to that character, that she may balk at participating in that scene. To our relief she really understood where we were coming from and did immeasurable justice to it.

TTVJ: So let’s jump back to the end and the moment Heidi overheard between Aurora and Faber. What was behind that kiss and why did it happen?

SM: I don’t know if you can trace it back to a single trigger, but certainly in Aurora’s case the pressure has been mounting in a very cumulative and steady way of having to perform this role, having to be convincing to the environment around her that she believes things she doesn’t believe, and this was her tipping point. This has sickened her so deeply. She goes to join her comrades at the Polish resistance camp and she can’t even speak to them after what she’s done. There’s only one other person who has ever had to do a deed that probably tears them apart as much as this deed has torn her apart. So she and he feel a flash of complicity and understanding for each other that they would not have anticipated and that no one else can understand.

He has been facing the consequences of his own choices in a particularly brutal way. He and Janowski (Florian Ghimpu) had a bond that is hard to explain. He really respected Janowski and it sickened him to have to take his life. He put himself in a position where he really had no choice — Janowski reached for his gun and he beat him to the shot. To then be presented with the fruit of that battle, a child that has no village, and have that all be a part of an upbeat and cheerful plan of Schmidt’s, he is so profoundly disgusted that he has to go and be alone. We’ve never seen him drink that heavily before so it really is a moment of extremely raw confusion, anger and self disgust. The two of them happened to hit that point at the same time.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: I feel like Faber, and I go through this as a viewer, where I think he views himself as not as bad because he’s being a double agent. But Janowski did remind him that just because he’s not doing these horrible things, he’s leading men that are.

SM: Janowski is a very smart character and keeps pushing his buttons. So every time Faber says something like, ‘Well this is war and this is what we do,’ he will say ‘No, you don’t hide behind your uniform. You don’t let your uniform make decisions for you. You are a man and you’re accountable.’

ME: In a way it’s a test because if Faber had let Janowski shoot him he would’ve passed his humanity test in that moment. What he chooses to do is wait until Janowski draws his gun so that he can shoot him in self defense. Faber resorts back to his instincts and mechanisms that have been driving him for three seasons — protect my family, protect myself. If I’m protecting myself I can pull the trigger. His words have landed very deeply within him too and the question still remains ‘Will he pass whatever final test he faces?’

TTVJ: Moving to Schmidt and the creepiest gift ever, we learned that there was a reason behind Heidi and Aurora selecting the children in the school. Faber does not seem so happy about his family’s new addition, so what’s next for this now family of three?

ME: Well it’s incredibly difficult for Sabine and Faber to accept a replacement for their son, especially one that’s been plucked from such harrowing circumstances. It’s going to truly test Sabine’s relationship with her father. We should be very curious to see what the next step is in their relationship from here on out. The question is what will it do to Faber and Sabine and how will they negotiate having that girl among them?

Going back to the hair and eye test, I saw those about a year ago at the London War Museum. They have the originals on display so I took pictures of them, and showed them to the writers’ room and said it was something we should work in because it’s so shocking these things existed. It’s equally shocking when the props department manages to make one!

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: With all the horrible things happening this week I really could relate to Alfred’s breakdown. Is the weight of everything bearing down on him something we’re going to continue to see?

SM: Yes, we had talked after the second season about how he seems to have become the master of his perceptions, his memories and he’s sort of effectively transformed it into a superpower. In this season, as we’re seeing, there are two sides to that sword. It is a big part of his increasing vulnerability so we are opening space for a bit of a mystery with ‘How is he going to cope? How do you emerge from a battle like this with your own mind without breaking down?’

ME: Every soldier carries the curse of having to remember what he’s seen and in Alfred’s case there’s no selectivity. He can’t push aside his own memory. He can’t try and forget. What’s distressing for him in these moments that we are seeing start to occur, is that he’s not able to control when the memories occur. I think it is like PTSD but multiplied because of Alfred’s condition. We wanted to create him as a character that is a memory vessel for this war, and how he is able to deal with that by the end of the series is an ongoing question.

TTVJ: Neil and the resistance fighters were able to hold the town, but they suffered some pretty big casualties. What’s next for them after they regroup?

ME: They have to press onwards. We’re inspired very loosely by the true story of the Germans trying to colonize a very fertile area of Poland during WWII. How they thought they were going to be able to just walk into these towns and villages and take them over cleanly and easily, and how the Polish resistance made them think twice about it. In fact, they fought back for about two years until the Germans finally gave up and withdrew. It was a tremendous testament to the will of the Polish people during the second world war.

So their story is ongoing, and ultimately Neil is going to have to make a choice of whether to stick to the bigger mission or to stay and help the people he’s becoming closer to. I think it’s going to be very hard for him to contemplate leaving Zosia (Aylin Tezel) behind to fight on her own, especially now that Neil is desperate to protect the people that have come within his orbit. But they are very brave and resilient types and we’ve constructed a very cool character in Zosia who is fearless and has great integrity. I think she’ll be fine no matter what happens.

As always, we want to hear your thoughts about this week’s episode. Add them in the comments section below!

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

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