Thursday, February 12, 2009

Director's Notes 3.2: "Addicted"

In “Mirrored,” the fifth episode of The House Between’s first season, a mysterious mirror exposed the buried and neglected aspects of the denizens’ personalities.

Arlo became violent and abusive. Astrid grew…uh…sexually expressive. Travis became sensitive, kind and empathetic. And Theresa’s facade of emotionless discipline dropped away, revealing a very sweet, lonely, young person.

Bill T. Clark, the scientist and traditional hero-type among these denizens, held himself together (even though the mirror forced him to reckon with his own fear of mortality…). And Bill made the others regain their senses too before episode’s end, starting with a resistant Theresa.

When we shot “Mirrored,” I mentioned to Tony Mercer (who plays Bill), that, one day -- -- if the show lasted -- we’d have to do an episode of The House Between in which Bill gets his turn to go off the reservation, so-to-speak. You know, a version of Star Trek's “The Paradise Syndrome,” in which our own steady hand becomes…unsteady. I could see Tony playing the part in my mind’s eye, and knew he would be great and the episode would be unforgettable.

But it had to happen at the right time and in the right way. It almost happened near the end of season two, with a slightly different focus. When mapping out the seasonal arc, Joe Maddrey and I knew we wanted the episode before "Ruined" to find all the denizens at odds with each other, locked in separate fantasy worlds of their own making. Realizing the house was under attack from outside, Theresa would then have to venture into each personal domain (a reflection of each character's desires and individuality), and sort of forcibly yank them back to reality.

Bill's fantasy world was to have been a family Thanksgiving dinner. Set in a dining room over a holiday meal, Bill would have been carving the roast for Samantha, Sam, Katie, William and a "version" of wife Laura that was mostly Astrid. Theresa would show up, slap him around a little, and bring him back to his senses. Ultimately, we went with a more abstract, introverted approach and Joe devised the brilliant, cinematic "long night of the soul" approach of "Caged."

But I never let a good idea go. Some of that prospective material finds life again with the second episode of The House Between's third season, “Addicted.” It’s a mirror version of “Mirrored” in some important senses too.

However, as you’ll see…even when Bill is off in fantasy land, his scientist’s brain is still ticking away, resisting.

So even when Bill is off the reservation, he isn’t totally off the reservation. His intellect is always at work and the episode, I think, comes down a battle between the voices in Bill’s head…the voice of reality…and the voice of denial.

“The Paradise Syndrome” is an obvious parallel to “Addicted,” but there are others. Picard finding happiness inside the Nexus in Generations, or living a different life all together in “The Inner Light .”

The story archetype doesn’t just appear in Star Trek either, it goes back as far as Homer’s Odyssey. The idea of a man waylaid on his way home by a “reality” that seems appealing and wonderful…but is actually fatal. In The Odyssey, it was the sirens doing the tempting. In The House Between, Bill also encounters a siren of sorts.

In terms of influences, I also appreciated a conceit from the second season episode of Space:1999 called “The Bringers of Wonder.” There, monstrous aliens were able to grant the Alphans a belief in any illusion they desired. The unhappy Alphans could be with family and friends again, they could be on Earth…anything was possible. The price for these illusions, however, was searing death: while the Alphans’ minds wandered happily, the aliens planned to detonate a nuclear power generator.

What cost paradise?

If someone told you that you could live the rest of your life in utter bliss…but that your life would only last twenty-four hours, what would you do? Cling to “reality,” which is often sad, and in which there are no guarantees anyway? Or take the bliss and know that -- at least for one day -- you were truly happy?

My friend and cinematographer Rick Coulter tells me that “Addicted” is actually about levels of reality; about what is “real” and what is -- for lack of a better term -- “The Matrix.” Perhaps so, but for me the trenchant issue here is that one man’s bliss is another man’s prison. Bill’s perfect, idealized world is actually a trap, and perhaps (or perhaps not…) that’s a comment on contemporary suburbia.

There’s so much happening in “Addicted,” and Rick also informs me it is a very Buddhist episode in tone and meaning, one about the cyclical nature of life; and the path to true enlightenment. As smart as Bill is, “Addicted” -- for him -- completes a cycle.

Shooting “Addicted” was a delight in every way. We shot the third season of The House Between in just five and a-half days, leaving only a half-day for “Addicted,” those scenes involving the Dark Place, specifically. There, Brick finds out that the new Lar has a nasty temper; and Astrid uncovers a mystery. Meanwhile, Travis is up to some of his old manipulative tricks…

There was a fun action scene between Craig and Jim that I enjoyed filming, and another great, emotional sequence between Alicia and Jim that balances, in a strange way, the Astrid/Bill material. The capper of the episode is a heartbreaking moment that Kim and Tony played to perfection, and which brings the Astrid/Bill relationship full circle. I'm still amazed they brought all this to the table...on the first bloody day of the shoot.

The remainder of “Addicted” was filmed at a later date by Rick and me (in a different location…), with Tony, Kim and Alicia in tow. It is ultimately for the audience to decide, of course, but I believe with all my heart that these three actors achieve a special magic together in “Addicted.” They’re better than they’ve ever been before, and that’s really saying something. They should all be big stars…I just wish I had a bigger budget to showcase them.

I also had the distinct pleasure of resurrecting Sam Clark for a few key scenes in “Addicted”, though it was difficult at first remembering who the hell the guy was. Tony offered me some key acting advice, after he said he kept seeing "John Muir walk through the front door," and not Sam Clark.

He told me, specifically, to remember Sam’s leather pants.

That brilliant bit of insight was the key to reclaiming the character and his particular state of mind. Almost as soon as Tony offered that wisdom, I was able to find Sam once more.

Although I don’t think Tony actually said “leather” pants. I think he said “sassy” pants. And Sam is, after all, Mr. Sassy Pants.

Mateo’s incomparable music also adds new, impressive colors to “Addicted.” His piece, “Addicted to You” is one of the most beautiful compositions in all three years of the series (and among all two hundred pieces). Mateo has also composed a new main title theme song, and it is a fantastic, compelling, “muscular” re-vamp of the trademark tune. It premieres in “Addicted’ with the new third season credit montage. Additionally, Mateo contributed another great tune too, but I can’t give away the name, because it will spoil a special moment in the show.

Cesar also came back to The House Between for the first time since the first season to offer a great guitar theme for Bill, one that showcases his vulnerability and uncertainty. An action scene in "Addicted" features library stock music.

While I’m on the music front, Kim Breeding also wrote -- and performs -- a haunting melody here which, for me, evokes The Twilight Zone’s “Come Wander with Me:” a perfect homage for an episode concerning a repeating cycle, sirens, new love, old love, doomed love and endless love.

So that’s the story of “Addicted.” Tune in tomorrow and let me know what you think. If all the bloomin' uploads work...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:11 PM

    I don’t know how much enlightenment is attained in the end, but the episode definitely comments on how “normal” social patterns often become addictions that keep us attached to a seemingly pleasurable cycle; and, of course, that we all have to figure that out for ourselves.
    You are the one Neo. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.