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


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

Well, how are we doing X Company fans? If you’re anything like us here at The TV Junkies you’re probably picking your jaw up off the floor and drying your eyes after “Promises,” written by Nicolas Billon and directed by Paolo Barzman. The episode proved once again that it’s hard to find a series giving us better TV than X Company, showing off everything the show does so well from writing, direction, technical skill and the top-notch performances. This is the CBC drama’s last season, and creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern weren’t kidding when they said they wanted to go out with a bang.

In an extremely powerful and emotional sequence that saw a train full of prisoners attempting to escape, one of the team’s own, Harry (Connor Price), took a fatal bullet and now the team is faced with moving on from yet another crippling loss. Perhaps hit most of all by the loss of Harry will be Neil (Warren Brown), who is still dealing with the huge loss of both Miri and Tom. Can he come back yet again? It’ll be even tougher now that he, Alfred (Jack Laskey) and surprisingly Faber (Torben Liebrecht) are being held captive by Polish resistance fighters.

Meanwhile, Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) now finds herself headed to Poland and with a brand new job thanks to Heidi Adler (Madeleine Knight). What all that entails remains to be seen? Thankfully, just as they do every week, X Company creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern spoke with us to preview what lies ahead for Aurora, how Neil can move and the loss of Harry.


The TV Junkies: HARRY!!! Oh man, I was NOT expecting that. First Miri and now Harry. I know this is war, but it sure feels like this season more than the others that mantra ‘no one is safe’ is especially true.

Mark Ellis: Well it’s part of the reason it is where it is. If you’re going to sacrifice a beloved character it should be done in the most emotional, affective and unexpected way. We and Connor knew in advance of the season that this was going to happen, and we were both on board with it together.

Stephanie Morgenstern: Radio operators traditionally have the shortest shelf life in the field so we wanted to respect those facts as well.

ME: I don’t think we could have written that episode and told the story of what happened to that train full of Jews without there being some consequence for one of our own as well. It would’ve felt too TV to not go there.

TTVJ: Speaking of those scenes on the train, they were very upsetting and then the escape with the voiceover of the stories of each person was so powerful. How did you guys come up with the idea for that?

ME: It was the writing room that created that sequence and it was Nicolas Billon who created that very special dynamic between Henri and his son. That image is powerful and potent and it keeps recurring throughout the season for Alfred. It was a very conceptual scene and it’s a difficult scene to write because it’s so dependent on how it’s going to be directed, edited and how the sound team is going to bring it all together. It’s the kind of scene you can only do once you know your team very well.

We knew what they were capable of and we knew they’d be able to pull off a complex sequence that has so many voices, a rich score, a gun fight and it’s amazing how many technical elements have to come together to pull it off. We knew that if we did it correctly it could wind up being one of the more emotional ones of the series. It’s a seminal one too because we’ve always felt that Alfred is the memory vessel, not only for this team, but symbolically for this war. Everything he sees is never forgotten, and 50 stories told to him on a train are nothing compared to the 6 million that are out there, and it should be a reminder that there are 6 million others.


TTVJ: How does the team handle Harry’s death?

SM: Well, they don’t have a choice. After every loss we have to fight on. Everything we have lived, everything we have survived, we just have to fight on. It doesn’t make it any easier, especially for Neil, this is a record breaking number of losses for this man to have all in a row.

TTVJ: What did he do to hurt you guys?

SM: [laughs] Life in the field is just not fair. We gave Neil that burden to carry. As we wanted to give a fragile moment of happiness to Alfred, we also wanted to give to Neil a chance to break through a mountain of tragedies and get his mojo back in a serious way. He finds himself among like-minded people, among fighters, among a group of people where he can be a vital part of the spark that makes them stronger. To see him come to life again is something we were really looking forward to.

ME: It also starts off a storyline between Neil and Sinclair. Sinclair in a way, is to blame for Harry’s death because he wasn’t able to successfully arrange safe transport for his team. Had he been able to do that, then they might have arrived safely and in one piece. Sinclair let his own emotions get the better of him and his emotions overruled the spymaster he should’ve been. The team pays a price and recognizes it and will call him on it throughout the season.

TTVJ: After this episode and last year’s Episode 208, I have to ask, what is your fascination with trains?

ME: We’re really building towards our next series that is set on a train. [laughs] There’s something delicious about trains where they create momentum and a natural tension. They are drawing you towards a destination somewhere and you’re not sure what it’s going to be.

SM: They are the physical incarnation of a ticking clock. If you are on a train and you know you’re going to Auschwitz, and there’s only so many miles left between you and that destination, you are literally running out of miles to find a way off that journey. This wasn’t exactly a bottle episode, it was two parallel bottles at the same time, and those are sometimes the most exciting things to write from a character point of view because everything is under the pressure cooker, not only of time, but also space. There’s nowhere to run to if you’re facing your enemy and you’re in a locked room. There’s nowhere to run to if the cargo train you’re in is locked from the outside and there’s no way out except to set it on fire. As a writer, that’s a really fun constraint to have that really brings out the writing.

ME: It also brings out the directing. They are very difficult episodes to direct technically and Paolo Barzman did a beautiful job.


TTVJ: What’s next for Aurora, Sabine and Heidi since they were left behind?

SM: Well they arrive in a new town where Heidi works and operates under the same roof as Obergruppenführer Schmidt (Morten Suurballe). It’s a new beginning for Aurora who is starting from scratch. She has just been given the job that is going to get her potentially access to a lot of inside information, but also a lot of very dark responsibilities that she hadn’t counted on.

ME: The next episode will begin a few hours after where everyone is sleep deprived, Faber is missing, Schmidt and Sabine are in a panic, but business has to go on for everyone else.

TTVJ: Krystina obviously wants to do more and that’s something Sinclair realized at the end of the episode. What can we expect to see from her in the field?

SM: It’s not going to be quite so simple.

ME: Krystina’s journey into the field is not going to be a straight path.

SM: We’re going to be seeing the fruition of some of the relationships we’ve seen developing between herself and some of the young recruits from Camp X. Those are going to spring into a new direction.

ME: Don’t forget there are two new trainees at the camp as well.


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