Dan Knauf Interview • February 15, 2005
Beth Blighton: Ben is starting to see visions of the Bomb blast and Trinity, and all of that. Can you tell us anything about how the Bomb and other world events are beginning to fit into the show?
Dan Knauf: Ah… It’s still a little premature, as far as the Bomb goes, obviously. But I think we can state conclusively that it’s our intent that we’re in early 1935 and, given that, the Bomb is some way off. And we all know that the Bomb exploded. What part the Bomb plays in the story overall? You know, I’m not spoiling anything… What’s said right at the top of the pilot is that the Bomb was the dividing line, the explosion of the nuclear bomb was the dividing line between magic and reason. Once man achieved God-like power, we’re sort of on our own. Our fate is our own. And that Bomb is a defining point in the story. We know it’s going forward. I think the biggest clue in the vision of the Bomb, to me, what I wanted to get across is that it wasn’t the deployment of the Bomb that defined us as a species. It was the actual successful explosion of the Bomb.
Beth: The creating of it?
Dan: We don’t see it blowing up over Hiroshima. We see it blowing up out in the desert.
Beth: So it’s with the actual creation of it that we took from the Gods, basically.
Dan: In a way, it’s sort of the ultimate Prometheus story. “Prometheus Unchained” or “Prometheus Unbound”. No wait, somebody else did that…
Beth: Well, you do sort of have you own kind of monsters running around in this story.
Dan: But the Bomb, that event, certainly, for the Avatars, is a profound event.
Beth: Yes because, if we’re trading wonder for reason, aren’t we making them obsolete?
Beth: And who would like that, if they were an Avatar?
Dan: No, no! Nobody likes to lose their job! Nobody likes to be redundant.
Beth: Nobody wants to be fired, especially by their own creations.
Dan: Mm-hmm, that’s a little insulting. (chuckling)
Beth: (laughing) Yeah, that’s not exactly grateful, is it? And I see Justin is starting to drag in some of the Father Coughlin rhetoric, and the Hitlerian rhetoric. And is that all coming into play, too? Is he filling a role as Father Coughlin did, or Lindbergh, or the people saying “Stay out of it, just let it happen,” in World War II, and that sort of thing?
Dan: He’s very much a man of that time. It wasn’t an accident that we chose…that we have, Stumpy… Though, most of the carnies are, by today’s standards, racists, because most everybody was then. Most everybody who was white protestant back then was. And it’s not an accident why we sort of chose Stumpy to be the one that you really notice, where it’s actually part of his story rather than just background buzz, because Stumpy is one of the most likable characters on the show, in a lot of ways.
Beth: Right, because, if he can do it…
Dan: He’s almost comical, and yet you put this dark thread into his character, and people are surprised. But he’s always been that way. I mean, we saw it in season one. People just really didn’t notice it until the fight episode. But he’s been saying nasty things about people of color forever.
Beth: He’s not an altogether nice guy. He’s a likable guy, but that doesn’t make him a NICE guy!
Dan: Well, he’s an ignorant guy.
Dan: But he’s also a product of his times. I mean, twenty years from now, people we think of as maybe being insightful today may be considered ignorant. Who knows? And so it was really important for us to inject that into the milieu, as far as race and racism, and attitudes, in order for us to convey what kind of fertile ground Brother Justin has to start sowing his seed.
Beth: Right, because otherwise, then it’s just HIS congregation that’s made up of the ignorant, etc., when it’s EVERYBODY who’s open to this kind of influence.
Dan: So we kind of have to put that lens on our camera, because people, otherwise, would be looking at it through a twenty-first century lens. And we have to say, look, this is the way it was. They had like the Million Cracker March. They had people with white KKK robes, by the thousands, marching on Washington. And it’s outrageous when you think about it. They had Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden, and they were well attended! So this was really the norm. This wasn’t sparking outrage by any stretch of the imagination. There were some good people who were really upset about it, and on a Federal level, thank God. But even somebody who would have been considered… Ya know, I read something that was really, to me, encapsulated those times, and it was a book about early California. And this was like the head of the horticulture department at Berkley.
Beth: Of all places…
Dan: At Berkley, back then. And he stated in some paper, he was quoted in some paper, talking about why… There was a lot of cotton being grown in California, and how the “delicate fingers” of the Asians, who were their normal agricultural workforce, weren’t really up to picking cotton. And he thought they should import some of those blacks from the South. I mean, this was like a caveman! And this guy just happens to be the top guy over at Berkley! He’s respected, and everyone is going, “Uh-huh, uh-huh… of course!”
Beth: Well, yeah. I do estate sales with my sister-in-law, and we were doing one for a very old and well respected family in town, and they had old books there from the thirties and forties that were talking about eugenics, and the “superior races,” and all of that.
Dan: Oh, eugenics was HUGE then! Just huge! And it was just accepted, too. It wasn’t just a theory, back then. It was a given! It was like, “Oh, of course!” And there were some people who were big spokesmen for eugenics that you would never dream of, who were highly educated people! So, we needed to sort of set the milieu. And again, in the course of a story, you have to kind of look at things and think, “How can we convey that?” And we thought the Baer vs. Louis fight was a really good way to convey it, even though we had to fudge up the time.
Beth: Now, the one thing that I thought you guys had done that was very clever -- one of the many, but one specifically. During the first season, you kept people guessing with the big question of, who’s evil and who’s good -- Justin or Ben? But now in the second season, now that we think we’ve got that one all figured out, you’re keeping us very busy with the question of who’s evil and who’s good between Scudder and Management? Or maybe even between Appy and Sofie.
Dan: I think that the latter questions are much more up in the air than the first question. I think the thesis of who is the Creature of Darkness and who is the Creature of Light, that thesis is made in the first episode of the first season. To me, there is no question, on a cosmic level, who the Dark One is and who the Light One is. Now, on a human level -- and I think this is where it kind of probably gets confusing – they’re also humans, and humans make choices. And sometimes people who are really, really good people on a very specific level make cruel choices, and they commit sins. And people who are extremely evil in the big picture, when you dial it down to specifics, they are actually capable of acts of kindness.
Because everyone is the hero of their own story. Brother Justin is the hero of his own story. There’s a reason why, when you read about John Wayne Gacy, and it’s like, “Gosh, he kind of kept to himself. But he was involved with community activities.” He was involved, he’d go down to the hospital and dress up like a clown, and perform for all the kids. I mean, does the fact that John Wayne Gacy used to dress up like a clown and perform for charity wards for sick kids, does that make him a good person? I don’t think so. He’s a very evil man who probably… Does the fact that he made a sick child laugh -- is that a good thing? Yeah, that is a good thing. But that doesn’t change who he is.
Beth: And maybe that has something to do with our perceptions as we watch the show.
Dan: We’re presenting these two characters in a very, what I like to think of as a very realistic way. And we’re painting them in very subtle colors that you normally don’t see. So, I think that the question, and I think I said this in our last interview, the question of who’s the “good guy” and who’s the “bad guy”… I think, when you see a guy and he lays hands on a little girl and heals her, HEALS her, and with no self-interest whatsoever. When somebody does that, and you see this great power… And then you see this other guy who lays hands on this little old lady, and throws her into basically a nightmare, I think you kinda know who’s packing what kind of power! (laughter)
Beth: (laughing) Whatever kind of punch each of them has.
Dan: But at the same time, Brother Justin, when that happened, he’s horrified by it! He’s as horrified by it as the woman is. But again, does that make him, on a cosmic level, does that make him a good man? No, it makes him human.
If I found out tomorrow… If I was driving down the road and somebody cut me off, and I said, “Boy, I wish that asshole would die.” And he just dropped dead at the wheel of his car, I’d be horrified, too. And ya know what? I’d be horrified, but I’d wonder, was it a coincidence? But then, when it happened AGAIN, I’d begin to maybe put it together. I’d think, “Oh, God, I’d better not do that. Oh, my God!” I wouldn’t be thinking, “Wow! What a great blessing God has bestowed upon me, the ability to kill people with my brain!” What I’d probably be doing is thinking, “God, I can’t ever let that happen again!” But then, there’d be the temptation… Like, what if I go and kill somebody who’s saying terrible things at a rally? What if I just sort of wish him dead?
Beth: Or some child rapist…
Dan: Yeah! Or a serial killer? What if I wish HIM dead? It would be tempting… But it would not be good, this wouldn’t be a good thing. You can’t look into that person’s heart. So the question really is, which one is carrying a negative power and which one is carrying a positive power?
Beth: Along the same lines, one thing I read not long ago, which may be why we’ve had this debate to such a degree, said that in our present culture, we’re losing the meaning of what a Monster is. The meaning of what a Monster really is, is being lost.
Dan: In a lot of ways, yeah, I think so.
Beth: Because we can see a victim in anybody and in everything we look at, and excuse the inexcusable because of “root causes” or whatever. So much so that our culture is beginning to lose the awareness of what a Monster really truly is.
Dan: And we also don’t understand what a hero is.
Dan: What we’ve done is we’ve actually raised-up victims to a level where they’re mistaken for heroes. We always say, “Oh, he’s a survivor – he’s a hero.” Well, no, he’s just a survivor. The fact of the matter is, most of the time, heroes don’t survive. Heroes AREN’T survivors. Heroes are sacrificers. And by elevating victimhood to some sort of… I dunno, people call it the Oprah-ization of America.
But I think it’s safe to say, at this point of the game, without spoiling anything for everybody… As far as Ben & Justin’s destiny is, which really doesn’t mean a damned thing because, again, there’s always choice, there’s always free will… But as far as what’s planned for them? The creature of Darkness in this generation is Brother Justin, and the Creature of Light is Ben.
Beth: Ah… but what about the last generation, though?
Dan: The last generation? That remains to be seen…
Beth: Yes, it does. But how much should we take at face value Samson’s opening monologue in the second season?
Dan: I’d say, when we say something, we’re saying it. I’m not out to deliberately trick people (chuckling.) Samson lays it out, and it’s another thesis laid out in the second season, and people should take that for what it is. It’s fairly literal, so it probably should be taken literally.
Beth: I think it’s possible that this season, more than in the first season, people are starting to interpret things the opposite as they are presented, thinking that is the way to beat the game.
Dan: I think what that is may be an intellectual contrarian approach. What’s funny is, when I was talking about just watching the show as just being ONE way to watch it, I guess what I was trying to say in my own stupid way... It’s not telling people, “This is how to watch the show.” I mean, you watch the show any way you want to, in whatever way rings your bell. And yes, I think the show should be watched and subjected to a certain level of analysis, because we’re asking you to do that. The show’s designed to operate on more than one level. But don’t forget to just…
Look, it’s awfully hard to identify a dog by looking through a microscope at its DNA. (laughing) It’s a better idea, if the dog comes walking into the room, to assume it’s a dog. If there’s a big picture that says, “Here it is. Here’s the dog.” And then you go, “You know what? I’m going to subject this dog to microscopic analysis.” And if you happen to find some monkey DNA in the dog, well then, maybe it’s another thing.
Beth: Maybe it’s a monkey in a dog suit! (laughing)
Dan: Or maybe the dog just had contact with a monkey, and the monkey left a monkey hair on it. (chuckling)
Dan: But the main thing is… If you’re going to deconstruct the show, you have to start from the big and work your way down to the small. You can’t really start with the small, because then you can’t identify what you’re even looking at. I think one of the ways people are cheating themselves, in some ways, is by immediately subjecting the show to just really, really super-intense analysis without sort of looking at the big picture. And then things just sort of, obviously, they fly under the radar, and then people don’t get it.
Beth: Plus, you have a story to serve. You have a story, and the story has to be told. A collection of little details is not a story. Those details have to serve a bigger purpose.
Dan: And it’s a tough story, and it can be confusing. But I think sometimes people make it more confusing for themselves than it needs to be. Sometimes things are stated in a very clear way. I mean like, there’s been a big question, “Who’s the Tattooed Man?” And “Who’s the Usher?” And in the very first episode of the first season, who do we see in that cornfield that we recognize, with a tattoo on him?
Beth: The Tattooed Man?
Dan: Yeah, but we also see one of our characters, and people have even done screencaps and discussed this.
Beth: Well, I saw Justin.
Dan: Right, they’ve seen Justin!
Beth: Yeah, I saw Justin, but then I’d recognize Clancy’s profile from a hundred paces! (laughing)
Dan: Yeah! (chuckling) We didn’t do that just to mess with people! We did that, although we do it quickly and with flashes, to sort of start a clue going. And then later, we see that same creature raping Apollonia.
Dan: And in that scene, who do we see?
Beth: We see him turn into Brother Justin.
Dan: Yeah, we see that! It’s been posted. People have talked about it. But again, it’s done in flashes, and it’s done almost to an abstraction. But it’s there and people have commented on it. But now they’re wondering, how can one person be another thing? And again, we find out in season two that this Tattooed Man is really a spiritual representation. In different dreams and visions, he’s a spiritual representation of a creature whose appearance has been foretold since antiquity – who’s the harbinger of the Apocalypse. I mean, two people say that in the first episode of the second season – Management and Talbot-Smith. As a matter of fact, Talbot-Smith is sitting there, and he’s going “You will know the Usher by his words, ‘Thou shalt be strong,’” just as Brother Justin on the radio says, “Thou shalt be strong.”
Beth: So you know, there he is!
Dan: By then, it’s like, “Oh, okay.” But by episode two, we practically hang a lantern on it when we do this huge big dramatic reveal of Brother Justin with the tattoos. (chuckles) There he is.
Beth: There he is, he’s the Usher now.
Dan: And he’s becoming this thing. And then Management goes on to say, “Oh, my God! HE IS FLESH! He’s here. The Usher is here.” This isn’t just the normal Avatar. This is the Usher!
Beth: This is worse than an Avatar.
Dan: This is like… ALL Avatars are powerful. All Avatars have meaning. But this one is kind of like an uber-Avatar for the Dark Side. And that’s all very clearly… kind of laid out pretty big. I think the fun of the show is thinking maybe some of the things aren’t answered, and we get to guess. And there’s a lot of white space for us to play in. And yeah, of course, that’s part of the design. But when we practically hang a bell on it and say, “Okay guys, we’re answering this one for you, because you’ve been asking since last season.” Wondering, and wondering, and wondering… And when we wrote it, we wrote it as, “Oh, my God! They’re gonna be… THIS one really, really lays it out for them. This is where we answer that question.” But then afterwards you’re reading, “Wait a minute, then who’s the Usher?” You go, “Wait a minute… Maybe we’re…” And maybe it’s a fault of the writing. I don’t know. But sometimes I think, what it boils down to, it’s hard to see things when your nose is pressed up against it.
Beth: Well, I think that the question people have with the Appy rape is, how could Brother Justin have been there to do it? And there are questions about whether it’s symbolic for something that’s coming in the future for Sofie? And is Appy trying to show Sofie, “This is going to be YOUR fate, baby,” do you know what I mean? I think that’s the part, right there, that we’re getting hung up on.
Dan: And it could very easily be both. I think it could very easily be both. It could be a vision of things that are not only the past, but again, a harbinger of things that could happen in the future.
Dan: So yeah, I look at it as… How can Brother Justin be there? We’ll, we’re showing him there. So, he’s there.
Beth: So, you’ve seen it.
Dan: Look, How’d he…? He took a street car. (chuckling)
Dan: Those questions are answered more explicitly later in the season. (chuckling) But like I said in our last interview – sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Beth: Yes, and sometimes a bear is just a bear! (laughing)
Dan: Exactly. So, sometimes we will say, “Okay, folks, you’ve been really neat, and a lot of you figured this out already.” But we don’t want to wait until everybody’s figured it out before we reveal something. (Chuckling) Everybody would HATE us!
Dan: It would be like the Tommy Dolan twist. People were on top of that before we got to it. Now, I think a part of that might have been the promos, showing him getting arrested. But I think that, even if they hadn’t had those promos, people would have been on top of it. And I think people were a little disappointed, and we sure don’t want people to be ahead of the story, before we reveal things. But once we reveal something, it’s awfully hard to enjoy what happens afterward if you’re not willing to accept that, well, we put a pin in that one and now we can move on.
And I think, in a way, because the show can sustain that kind of analysis, I think we have kind of, in a way, made our own bed as writers. In that, that’s the magnification people are going to be looking at the show through, because you kinda have to, to get it. But I think, if you’re watching it more than once, it’s good to just look at the obvious, before you start delving into what isn’t so obvious.
Beth: Yeah, in my first viewing, I try going for the things that first jumped out at me while I was watching it. I go with those, first, since those are obviously the things you wanted us to know.
Beth: And then we can move deeper from there.
Dan: And I’m actually very… when I’ve read your “First Impressions” posts, you pretty much always get it right.
Beth: Oh, good! (laughing)
Dan: You really… I think, God, I’m so glad she’s doing that, because by just stating the obvious things and kind of taking them off the table… And you’ve never taken anything off the table that shouldn’t be taken off the table.
Beth: That’s good! (laughing)
Dan: But by doing that, it’s kinda, “Oh, good…” Cuz there’s a holistic approach to watching the show and then there’s a piecemeal approach, too. And, by the way, neither one will tell the whole story by itself.
Beth: Right, it won’t get you all the way there.
Dan: You have to approach it in both ways.
Beth: I do like to go back the second time through, and give it some more thought. I just haven’t had the time lately to go back and look through it that third or fourth time. So I feel like I may be missing some things.
Dan: But the thing is, it’s gotta work without analysis, too.
Beth: That’s true.
Dan: On a certain level, otherwise… A lot of people don’t want to do that. They just want to watch the show.
Beth: And a lot of people WILL only watch it once, so it had better be direct enough so they can catch on.
Dan: It’s gotta make some kind of sense. It’s hard enough when you’re doing a serial, because when you start with episode five, you’re gonna be kind of confused. It’s like starting a novel in the middle.
Beth: Now, we’ve talked a little bit about this already – the ideas of free will and sacrifice in this story.
Beth: Because Justin is really getting into this sacrifice idea. And where will those two themes play out?
Dan: And he’s really good at having other people do sacrifice! (chuckling)
Beth: (laughter) Isn’t he?
Beth: It looks like there are some big sacrifices coming, I’m thinkin’!
Dan: He’s quite a demanding guy… Of course, he can’t keep it in his pants when it comes to the maids! (chuckling) So, you’d think he could do a little sacrificing of his own…
Beth: Well, ya know… He’s been holding it in for a long time. (laughter)
Dan: (laughing) But what was the question again?
Beth: Just where does that free will come into it, and where does the theme of sacrifice enter into the picture?
Dan: Free will, will always enter into this story, and the characters will continue to surprise us. Just like our friends continue to surprise us. You know, everybody we know surprises us.
Beth: That’s true.
Dan: We meet people who are really smart, but then they do something really stupid, and you go, “Wow! What were you thinking about?” (chuckling) And then we have friends that we sort of don’t expect a lot from, or people who seem kinda dim, or shallow or something. Then all of a sudden they’ll make a statement of such incredible wisdom that you’re just… It takes your breath away! Like, “Wow! You’re right!” People continue to surprise, and the characters will continue to surprise.
Beth: I’m just watching your story careening toward some ultimate sacrifices, in the end.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, everybody’s on deck. Anybody can die.
Beth: It’s wide open! (laughing)
Beth: So don’t bet on anybody.
Dan: I mean, I LOVED Lodz! I adored Lodz. Lodz was one of my favorite characters. Samson, I think, is my favorite. But Lodz was right up there. And killing him off was not easy. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. But, first of all, it served a purpose to the story, and it was planned. But, second of all, it tells people, “Look, all bets are off.” If somebody this compelling and this important can die in the first season, when you least expect it… Anything can happen on this.
Beth: Now, we are starting to see… Well, I thought it was a nice touch, the upside-down cross on Brother Justin’s pulpit. I think one person mentioned that, and when I looked again, it was there.
Dan: That’s weird, because I haven’t seen that! I know that Dan Bishop, what we did… the only thing… I’ll have to look at it again, because I don’t think it is. Was it maybe the camera angle on it?
Beth: I dunno… It looked like the small part of the center beam was on the bottom, and the larger part was at the top.
Dan: Ya know what? That slipped by me! I know, if you look very closely at the cross, you’ll see a diamond shape in the middle, though.
Beth: Really? I missed that! The big cross behind him reminds me of a Luftwaffe plane or something. But that might just be my imagination filling in the blanks.
Beth: But the one on the pulpit was like a mirror image of the bigger one, only upside down.
Dan: I’ll have to look at that again, because Dan Bishop is just as much a part of the storytelling process as production designer… And he’s sort of peppering things in there, too, as you can see.
Beth: And I found it interesting that, up to this point – other than bragging to Norman about how he was gonna do things even better – that Justin has left Jesus out of this. But now, from the previews, it seems like he’s going to start pulling the name of Jesus in for his own devices.
Dan: Well, he talks about the Lord a lot.
Beth: Right, but he never says Jesus or Christ. And I was thinking early on, well, there’s a big hint! He’s NOT talking about the competition.
Dan: Listen, if you’ve got a clergyman, and he’s doing speeches, he’s doing sermons, as many sermons as we’ve done with Brother Justin, and you’ve never heard him say the word Jesus? That’s a big deal!
Beth: Exactly! And I’ve said this all along. I’m sorry, he’s supposed to be a Methodist minister. In that faith, you cannot find salvation without Christ.
Beth: Maybe in another religion, but not if you’re a Methodist!
Beth: So, to me, that was the biggest hint we got about him.
Dan: Yeah (laughing), I think that’s important, too. Definitely.
Beth: (laughing) Okay. And now Justin is starting to drag that all in, but to his own purposes.
Beth: Which ought to be interesting to see what perverse things he’s going to say and do.
Beth: To keep that crowd in the palm of his hand. And, even if people knew it was coming, I did like the way he threw Tommy to the wolves. I just sat there talking to the TV screen, “Tommy… Tommy, what were you thinking?”
Dan: Yeah! Well, again, we set that up with the psychiatrist. And I think what was fun about it was that he was writing that, even as he was writing her confession.
Dan: It wasn’t like Iris was sitting there dictating, “Well, I wanted to pursue a story.” He makes some comment about “furthering my career.” I don’t think that’s what Iris is telling him.
Beth: No, I don’t think so either.
Dan: He THOUGHT he was writing down what Iris was telling him. But what he, in fact, was writing down was his own confession.
Beth: Right! So Justin knew RIGHT THEN exactly what he was going to do!
Dan: He was taking dictation from Justin. He was not taking dictation from Iris.
Beth: Which, I know a lot of people are wondering, did Justin change his mind about what he wanted to do with Iris once he heard there was no way a woman would hang. But maybe he was just delighted to hear that extra bonus fact that, if Iris wouldn’t be hung, Tommy would.
Dan: No, I think Justin was very deliberately putting his sister through an incredible crucible.
Dan: And making her pay. And the really evil thing about it is he’s making her pay for being who she is. Who she is, is somebody who supports him no matter what.
Beth: And yet he thinks he’s somehow insuring her loyalty with this.
Dan: Yeah, and to me, that is the definition of evil. Evil is about destroying things. It’s not about creating things. And we really haven’t seen Justin create much. And even to the point of destroying not just the people around you, and punishing them for loving you, but destroying yourself -- which is, ultimately, why good usually kind of works out in the end.
Beth: Yeah, and he’s bringing all sorts of trouble into his own house.
Dan: Yeah, it’s the old saw about the frog and the scorpion.
Beth: What’s that one?
Dan: The scorpion comes up to the frog and asks, “Look, can you carry me across the river?” And… I’m trying to think of it now… And the frog says, “No, you’ll sting me to death, and I’ll drown.” And the scorpion says, “Don’t be an idiot! I mean, if you drown, I’M gonna drown.” And so the frog goes, “That makes total sense.” So the scorpion crawls on his back and the frog hops in the river, and he’s swimming across, and all of a sudden, the scorpion starts stinging him. And the frog says, with a bit of dismay, “What are you doing?” And the scorpion says, with a bit of dismay on his own part, “It’s in my nature.”
Beth: (laughing) Yes.
Dan: (laughing) “This is what I am.” So again, free will… The scorpion could have chosen not to sting the frog, but his default, like a person’s character, is a very powerful thing. If you’re not thinking, if you’re not paying attention, you’ll always fall back on that autopilot. And if that autopilot is set in a dark place, then you’re going to be doing some pretty dark things.
Beth: Now Sofie, we’ve seen her story start to get activated here…
Beth: Are there any hints you can give us about where she’s heading in this game?
Dan: Well, I think I can tell you what HAS happened.
Dan: I’ll be cute…
Beth: Go ahead. Be cute. We like cute.
Dan: I’ll make it all questions… We all know that Apollonia, when she was alive, exercised INCREDIBLE control over her daughter. And she really kept her daughter under tight wraps. And she’d done so since she was a baby, cuz she’s lived inside her daughter’s head. And so, when did things go wrong? When Sofie began rebelling against that. And once she couldn’t control her daughter anymore, well, what did she do? First, she tried to drive her mad, maybe drive her to suicide. And when that didn’t work, she tried to kill her.
Beth: Just take Sofie out of the picture completely. Kill herself, if she has to, doing it.
Dan: Now, assuming that Apollonia loves her daughter, and I think that’s a safe assumption, cuz we never really said that Apollonia hates her daughter, or shown her hating Sofie. Assuming she DOES love her, what would drive a mother to such a monstrous, desperate act?
Beth: Right. There’s a reason.
Dan: Yeah! And might it have something to do with Apollonia’s ability to see the future, and Sofie’s role in it?
Beth: Exactly. And knowing, if indeed, Justin is what we think he is, also knowing where this all came from.
Dan: Maybe, yeah. And also, I think that’s pretty much stated in the narrative. It’s there. So, here she comes back, she’s reaching literally from beyond the grave, to complete after death what she started in life. And that is to destroy her daughter.
Now, we’ve also set up that Ben has not just than one power. He has two powers, and they’re distinct. It’s about his ability to heal people in body, and he has the ability to heal people in spirit.
Dan: There are two facets of that power. And these really aren’t spoilers, because they’re there. If we’ve seen it, it’s fair game. Now, why would we go to such lengths to establish that ability? I mean, first of all, we know the rules are very clearly stated in the first episode with the mother with the dead baby. He heals her spiritually. Later, in this season, we have the Stooped-over Man. And those are very parable-like. Those are little sequences that are self-contained. You could pull those out of the story completely. Usually, when things are embedded in a story like that, at least to me, it’s like, “Okay, listen up here. Look what he’s doing here.”
Dan: And okay, there’s this other thing he does. It’s not just about laying hands on people and making them walk. It’s about healing people’s spirits. So we’re really, really going way out of our way to set that up. We’re setting up the rules. You don’t see anything die when that happens.
Dan: Well, the reason for that is because life force is energy, and energy is subject to the laws of physics. So, it’s limited. It’s a limited resource. Whereas healing a spirit is about love, and love is unlimited. It’s not subject to the laws of physics. So, given that love is limitless, there’s no reason to draw out of anything. You don’t have to… If you want to start transferring energy or life force, you have to get it from somewhere. It doesn’t come out of thin air. Whereas love and spiritual healing IS something that’s limitless, so you don’t have to draw it down. You can create it from thin air.
I have three children. I had my first child, and I said, “My God, I couldn’t love anybody more than this, or even as much as this.” And then you have a second child, and you love them exactly as much, and then you have a third child. It’s not like all of a sudden you love each child a third as much, because you have three kids. You love them just as much. And love is an unlimited resource. So that’s really, that’s the rule we’re setting. It’s, “Look, when he does these spiritual healings, there are no repercussions, there is no negative side effect.”
Well, when he’s in the car with Sofie, and she’s obviously, spiritually, being tortured by her mother, and he lays hands on her and he exorcises her… Sofie says “She’s gone. My God, what did you do?”
Dan: It’s there. It’s right there. And now, okay, think about Apollonia and what she’s been trying to do, and more importantly, WHY she’s been trying to do it.
Beth: And now that’s gone!
Dan: She’s been thwarted by the very person she’s trying to help.
Dan: (laughing) She’s screaming “No!” because, “Oh, shit! Don’t do this because I’m the only one who’s trying to protect the world from this person.”
Dan: And this is all fair game because I don’t think you have to dig very far to see it. So really, the big scream, the big “No!” thing… What’s she’s really saying is “Don’t!”
Beth: Yeah, she’s saying, don’t do this.
Beth: She’s trying to prevent something.
Dan: And Ben has very unwittingly, out of the kindness of his heart – and I really don’t think he knows… He’s healing her spirit. That’s all he knows. She’s troubled. I don’t think Ben really even knows about this power, himself. There’s no real physical… Fields of crops don’t die. People don’t die. Things don’t happen.
Beth: So he’s not aware.
Dan: No! That’s a tough one for even him to see. If you were walking around…Again, we kind of use the analogy of making people die… Well, if you were walking around and healing people’s spirits, making them feel better, you’re not going to be… Even if you were aware of it, even if you were acting in the role of a therapist, you’d say, “Wow! I’m a pretty good therapist.” You wouldn’t attribute it to some supernatural power. More likely, if you’re like Ben, then you’re just moving through life and empathizing with people, and trying to help them because they’re troubled. And you relieve them of a burden, you’re not gonna… The thing with the Stooped Man? When that happens, I don’t think Ben’s aware it’s a supernatural event that has happened.
Beth: No, he just thinks he’s talking to this guy.
Dan: Yeah! He just thinks, “Don’t do this again.” Meanwhile, the profundity of what has happened is just totally apparent to the old man. He can feel the scales falling from his eyes. He realizes, “Oh, my God! What am I doing?” And yet, to Ben, it’s invisible. And I think what he does with Sofie, I think it’s almost inadvertent. I think, when he heals people physically, he actually has to make an effort to do it.
Beth: But spiritually? Not so much…
Dan: Spiritually? No, I don’t think so.
Beth: So he may not even realize what he’s done to a few people.
Dan: No. He maybe took for granted that everybody can do that. Cuz there’s nobody around him to say, “Wow! I can’t believe you did that. What a miracle!”
Beth: Now, we had this conversation the last time we talked, about how much Iris is like Martha Stewart. I think that was a wonderful Martha Stewart moment when she was just hacking away with that knife.
Beth: That was “The Today Show” all over again, with her hack, hack, hacking on that cabbage while Katie is trying to get her to talk about the stock scandal.
Dan: (evil laugh)
Beth: (laughing) She is just furious with Justin.
Dan: (laughing) That pot roast is just gonna be a mess!
Beth: Isn’t it?
Dan: Oh, God…
Beth: I mean, how many fingers ended up in that thing?
Beth: I was really waiting for her to just throw that knife at him, at any moment.
Dan: Well, I’ve been so happy with this season. It’s so nice to… I’ll tell you something, setting up dominos is very tedious…
Beth: I bet.
Dan: But watching them flip down is a LOT of fun.
Beth: Yes, it is!
Dan: This is where the dominos have started flipping. So the first season was really all about the anticipation of what this season would be. And there was really no other way to do this kind of storytelling without all the pipe we laid in season one.
Beth: But he’s definitely bringing trouble into his own house. He’s got Iris furious. He’s got Balthus furious, and knowing, and sitting there like furniture, like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what HE sees!”
Dan: (more evil laughing)
Beth: Well, Justin, it probably does matter what he sees… Since he’s your FATHER.
Beth: In fact, you have a couple fathers in this scenario, who might just go all Abraham and Isaac on you!
Beth: But keep pissing them off, Justin. You’re all powerful, after all.
Dan: And you know I mentioned the stain on the ceiling?
Dan: I said it was sort of a nod to Lynch. It really wasn’t any… Sometimes we’ll do things where it’s like, I know it’s very Lynch-ian, but I’ve never seen it. And I’ve never seen a stain like that. Actually, it wasn’t just Lynch. It was Robert Wise, did a movie called “The Haunting” where, to great effect, he would start to do these really slow pushes towards some very ornately carved wood. And it would go on for a real long time, and you’d begin to actually SEE things in the wood, just because the camera was hanging on it for so long. I LOVE stuff like that!
Beth: Well, the stain just being a stain, in that particular place and time, was disturbing. You know? Your mind just starts working…
Dan: Well, the stain was there when they moved in…
Beth: Oh, yeah!
Dan: It wasn’t spreading… it looks old. It looks like a little thing up there. But you start to see things in it.
Beth: And your mind starts to think…
Dan: And people got so upset about what was going on up there, and yet, we showed nothing! It was purely in sound design. See, when you do that… and it’s scripted, in that sequence…When you do that, you create an immense… When you just point a camera at something and there’s nothing happening, whether it’s a person or whether it’s an object, and you do a slow push, and then you have sound… It’s insanely tense. They did it in “The Exorcist” all the time with the door. You’d hear these horrible things behind the door, and they’d be doing these pushes on the door. And what happens is that people start to see things in their own head.
Beth: Oh yeah, definitely! And my imagination is WAY worse than anything you could show me!
Dan: Oh, yeah! And I was so pleased to see that it worked! People were saying things like, “Oh, my God! He raped that woman! All the horrible things he was doing to that woman…” And some people were even saying things like, “I don’t even like this show anymore. It’s too explicit.”
Beth: And yet you saw nothing. So, it just goes to show how well you all do your jobs!
Dan: Oh, and I’ve got a piece of trivia for you… This is how SICK I really am.
Beth: (laughing) Uh-huh…
Dan: Ya know Evander Geddes? Ya know the mask he was wearing when he was taking the cast of Ben’s face?
Beth: (afraid) Yes…?
Dan: That mask is my son, Johnny!
Beth: (laughing) It just had to be your own child, didn’t it?
Dan: (evil laugh)
Beth: Thanks, Dad! That’s just how sick and twisted you are… (laughing)
Dan: (laughing) Just think of the therapy bills I’ll be paying!
This interview is Copyright © CarnyCon and Beth Blighton, 2005.