X Company: Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern Talk “Naqam”

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CBC

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

Tensions continue to mount and the stakes have never been higher as X Company steamrolls towards its conclusion. In this week’s episode, viewers saw Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) finally get some much welcome revenge on Heidi (Madeleine Knight), as the German woman threatened to expose Aurora’s cover. Thankfully, Aurora was able to escape. She has now arrived in Berlin, albeit in a dangerous predicament, but closer than ever to Obergruppenführer Schmidt (Morten Suurballe).

As if hunting people wasn’t horrible enough, this week Schmidt proved that his level of horribleness can indeed go up a notch. At least his daughter Sabine (Livia Matthes) finally saw her father for the monster he truly is, and as the Faber family arrived in Berlin she seemed resolute to remain defiant of his wishes. Franz (Torben Liebrecht) almost had problems of his own with Schmidt when his subordinate Edsel (Basil Eidenbenz) went behind his back. Thanks to some quick thinking, Faber’s cover is still in tact, though it may spell huge trouble for Sinclair (Hugh Dillon) and his recently captured son.

But before we all get ready to head off and join the X Company team in Berlin for the final two episodes of the series, creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern joined The TV Junkies for our weekly postmortem chat. The pair co-wrote the episode with Julie Puckrin and it was directed by Amanda Tapping. They provide insight on Heidi’s torture techniques, the history behind Schmidt’s language and whether or not Faber can be trusted. For more information on this week’s X Company and Heidi’s fate check out part two of our interview with Madeleine Knight.

 

The TV Junkies: Heidi did put to use the information she learned at the end of last week and we got some great chess match scenes between her and Aurora. Madeleine and Evelyne were so great in those scenes so how fun is it for you as writers knowing you have those two to work with?

Stephanie Morgenstern: Well you know you can get away with a lot of subtext. You know that you can afford to understate things because both of these actresses are so extraordinary. So something that reads very simple on the page like ‘Oh I thought I heard something,’ can be so loaded with threats or a counter strike. I like you describing it as a chess match because it really is ‘I can do this. Then you can do this, but if you do that it’s going to bounce back onto you.’ That kind stuff is such fun to write and to know you have actors of that caliber that are going to be delivering it makes you feel very free as a writer.

TTVJ: A new week, a new horror. How did you come up with the spike method for the confrontation between Heidi and Aurora in the jail cell?

Mark Ellis: We were inspired by some stories we had read about schools for Hitler youths and how the instructors would allow the boys to pit themselves against each other. They were all about letting the pack eliminate the weak among themselves. It was something you tended to see among the boys’ organizations so we extrapolated that the girls would have done similar things. I hate to say it, but I think we thought of the spike. [laughs] It was opportunistic moment when Heidi sees it on the desk.

SM: Also we want to make sure we don’t repeat ourselves in forms of interrogation, and she’s locked Aurora in a way that has exposed her arms. She’s not going to beat her, kick her, threaten her with a gun. There’s only so much she can really do. It’s also in her interest to keep it quiet. You’ll notice she didn’t signal the great catch she’s made to her boss yet. She’s trying to keep it quiet. So this is a really understated form of extremely painful threat that was well adapted to the environment she was in.

ME: I think Aurora could’ve withstood the spike a lot longer, but by that point she was playing a character that would break.

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CBC

TTVJ: I had really been looking forward to the fight between Aurora and Heidi and it didn’t disappoint. I loved how it went down and how Aurora did it with the line about ‘You were killed by a Jew.’ I also loved the fact that they were in high heels in the woods.

SM: It is one of my favorite moments when Alfred and Neil catch up with her, the deed is done and the first thing Alfred does is hand her the discarded high heel.

ME: Some lines write themselves in the writers’ room. Aurora’s line to Heidi about being killed by a Jew was one that we all embraced in the room, and one that once you hear it said out loud, the whole episode builds itself around it. I also get satisfaction knowing that Heidi’s body is going to be hidden in the mass graves. It’s fitting justice.

TTVJ: Aurora is now in Berlin and things have gone to the next level with Schmidt. What is next for her?

SM: This is going to be the only window of opportunity she will have to get close to the target, which is the professor. The closer she can get to Schmidt the better. It’s not a full on seduction, but it’s definitely pressing all his buttons of ‘I am the perfect Aryan woman. People underestimate you.’ She has set herself in the strongest possible position, she hopes, for being in his trust. She doesn’t know where it’s going to go, but she needs to play those cards with her full body and soul. It’s a very uncomfortable prospect for anyone watching.

ME: We were really interested in creating this image of Aurora walking into the belly of the beast at the end of the episode. We see her hand swallowed up in Schmidt’s hand as she gets in the back of the car with him. We see Sabine arriving on a train station platform that’s crowded with huge, imposing Nazi banners. We wanted the audience, along with Aurora, to feel that she truly is walking into the belly of the beast and there may be no turning back from what she’s trying to do.

TTVJ: Schmidt’s awfulness goes up a level every week, but thankfully, because of some of the horrible things he said, Sabine realized that this week. She claims to be “a big girl now,” so can we expect her to continue to stand up to him in Berlin?

ME: We really wanted to create Schmidt’s character through Sabine’s eyes. He comes across as quite sympathetic and fatherly in the first few episodes. We sense that he has a love for Ulli, and although he wasn’t grief-stricken over his death, it does hit him. He cares for Sabine and we wanted to unravel his anti-semitism through her eyes. She doesn’t know the extent of how horrible of a man he is until she sees what he does, until she sees what’s happening to the people around her in Poland and until the words actually come out of his mouth in that episode.

We wanted to construct a scene where Schmidt snaps, and he finally has enough of indulging his daughter and says the things he’s been thinking since the beginning of the season — that her down syndrome son is a weed and burden on society and he felt no love for him at all. The challenge for Sabine now is what does she do with that information? It’s not the last we’ll see a scene between the two of them again.

TTVJ: Where do you guys get some of the language Schmidt uses? It was downright awful this week talking about “parasites” and “items for disposal.”

SM: That’s quite accurate. In the Nazi worldview you have to dehumanize those that you are trying to purge from the glory of the future. You don’t have to share with them. They are subhuman and from their point of view, scientifically not even people. They need to be pruned like any good garden needs to be pruned. In the name of the future they don’t belong with us. When you read about the Aktion T4 program, that was a systematic attempt to purge society of the ones they called “parasites” and draining the resources that the country urgently needed to rebuild itself. It wasn’t just people they considered mentally or physically defective. They had institutions where they were put to death — they were called “mercy killings” — but they were put to death.

The way that he spoke is very consistent with the documents of that time, the posters and propaganda campaigns of that time. This was a worldview that was very persuasive to its people. It had its own unassailable logic that the future is glorious and there’s room for some of us and not room for others.

ME: We think we’re so much more virtuous and sympathetic today, but these days we’re seeing programs that support people like Ulli being cut away. It’s disturbing to see that stuff surface again.

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CBC

TTVJ: Edsel played a huge role this week going behind Faber’s back to Schmidt. What should we make of Faber’s speech to Edsel? Are you going to keep us guessing on Faber’s loyalties right to the very end?

ME: Faber is wise to keep Edsel close to him because he knows that Edsel is incredibly devoted, and he is someone that can be used in a strategic moment. This is Faber the spymaster at work in these scenes with Edsel. We saw it after the death of Rigaud, and we saw it after his confrontation with Schmidt where he revealed that he is a triple agent. Edsel is a very bright young man and he’s learned a lot from Faber. His journey is not complete yet and he has some extraordinary scenes coming up in the finale.

We will have to keep guessing whether Faber is betraying us, or whether he is playing yet another angle. I don’t think Faber knows at this point.

SM: Exactly! He has to keep responding and thinking on his feet to threats he had not anticipated. The way he’ll respond to the accusation from Schmidt that he hadn’t counted on means he has to think fast and do another chess move. He is going to have to keep doing this and sometimes his moves seem to favor our guys, and sometimes they seem not to.

ME: The scary thing is that he’s always in a moment of truth when making these chess moves. He could actually play the role of triple agent quite effectively from this point on. There are some golden opportunities for him to rise out of the mess of his war in quite an elegant fashion still to come.

TTVJ: What can you preview about how Faber is going to use Sinclair’s son now that he has him? Will we see Sinclair come to Berlin?

ME: It remains to be seen how Faber will use his son. Faber has also let the cat out of the bag with Schmidt.  So we can expect it to become known in the higher Gestapo circles that Faber has caught this asset. The question is not only ‘What will Faber do?’ but ‘What will the Nazis and Gestapo do with this information?’ It’s a dangerous time for Sinclair, so we can probably anticipate him responding quite urgently to that message he got from Faber on the radio.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: A scene that was very small, but that I really loved, was the moment between Aurora and Neil. We don’t see a lot of one on one moments between Evelyne and Warren and I loved that it was included.

SM: It’s true, we haven’t spent a lot of time in the relationship between the two of them in isolation. The two of them have this wonderful brother/sister relationship where they acknowledge the strength that the other has, and that they don’t know everything there is to know about each other. But their loyalty is extremely powerful. The kiss that he gives her on the forehead before leaving, that was his own idea. That was not scripted and I just love that he did that.

ME: There’s two scenes that really make me scared for Aurora as we come to the end of the series. One of them is the moment between her and Neil in the train station, and the other is about to come in Episode 309.

TTVJ: Why did Aurora not go into more detail when Alfred asked about Faber? Doesn’t not saying that they just kissed make it seem worse for him?

SM: That’s her following the rules much against her heart. It’s exactly the same thing she had to do to Alfred at the end of 303. It’s important for the security of the team, according to conversations with Sinclair, that any kind of intense romantic relationship between these people, who are comrades in the field, is to be discouraged because it makes them all vulnerable. So she lets that misunderstanding happen as much as it tears her apart because it is her duty. She can’t say ‘don’t worry, I really care about you.’ She can’t say that.

ME: She’s also disgusted with herself and finds it very difficult to speak about.

SM: There is a side of her that is so sickened by what she’s done and what Helena has done. There’s almost an instinct to self punish and she’s not going to make any excuses for it.

 

What did you think of this week’s episode? Got any predictions for the last two episodes? Share your thoughts below!

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

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