“Immortal Sins” by Jane Espenson
Warning: Lots of spoilers ahead.
This week’s episode is one of mine – the last of the three I penned as a solo effort. This one may be my favorite of the three. I love a flashback and I love a roadtrip and this is both. This is an episode with a lot of talking and a bit of romance and a hint of the kind of Torchwood activities that were featured in the show in its earlier seasons.
We start in a beautiful recreation of Ellis Island in 1927 – look at the gorgeous costume work here by Shawna Trpcic. I had to do some research for this whole part – this is a little later in the history of Ellis Island than you usually see depicted in drama. The system changed in 1924, so it was no longer a chaotic open door, but it was still there, still gorgeous, still this symbol of opportunity.
That’s Daniele Favilli doing a great job for us as Angelo. We were very fortunate to get an actor who really is (and speaks) Italian, and who gave us such a subtle and emotional performance.
Daniele Favilli as Angelo
Next, the bathroom scene with Gwen, in which we continue the scene from the end of the previous episode. This was originally the opening of the episode and we went from there to the Ellis Island sequence, but in editing it was decided to reorder it, which I think was very smart. There’s something about starting in the flashback that makes that story feel more immediate, and sets the tone for this episode. Anyway, back to the bathroom, where we learn that Gwen really does have a bad situation on her hands. They really do have Mom and Rhys and Anwen.
Esther and Rex talk – I have to admit to being proud of Rex’s bitter “Go Spurs.” That’s a rare sports franchise joke from me. There’s some very pretty direction here from Gwyneth Horder-Payton. Look at the pretty effect she gets with the beam of projector light. And here comes Gwen and she means business. Ow.
Back to 1927, where things are about to get hot – I mean, romantic. In this scene, Jack and Angelo talk about their attraction to each other in terms of Jack’s hypothetical seduction of a woman. This was a dynamic that Russell T Davies suggested, and I think it works well here – it’s sexy but it lets Angelo keep a little sliver of shyness and distance. Then it all goes all naked.
“Keep your hands down.” I like Angelo’s worries about appearances. They seem very 1927.
It’s the Fourth of July. In some earlier drafts, I gave them a scene a month later, on August 15th, so that they could listen to radio news reports about the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, fueling Angelo’s desire to rise above his vulnerable immigrant status, but we weren’t able to keep that.
There were other scenes in earlier drafts too, that gave us more of a glimpse of exterior New York – the two of them running around with neighborhood ne’er-do-wells, pitching pennies and running shell games, but it turns out that “EXT. NEW YORK CITY STREET – 1928″ is a very expensive slug line, and we weren’t able to keep those scenes. In the end, it was probably good, as it was too easy to get lost in the time and lose sight of the clean bones of the story.
This episode went through a lot of rewrites overall – not just because of budgetary changes, but also because Russell kept telling me to go deeper. If you are an aspiring writer, try handing your own work back to yourself a few times with just that instruction. It’s a pretty magical request that can send you down through the emotional layers.
The Jack and Gwen exchanges got better the more I thought about what these two really want and need from each other, and how hard they’re both willing to fight when their needs conflict. The conflict in this episode forces them to clash like steel blades, but it took me several passes – and a few assists – to get down to the steel. By the way, the “He always lies” message on the lenses was something that Russell had in mind from the very earliest versions of the story, back before even the outline had been written.
The mobster here, Salvatore Maranzano, I named after a real New York gangster of the time who ran a bootlegging operation. In earlier versions of the script, he was supplying liquor to The Cotton Club in Harlem, and our heroes paid a visit to the club and watched a very young Cab Calloway perform. Ah, if only we had the money.
I put in the Doctor Who reference here – I liked the idea that Jack was serious about letting Angelo into the secrets of his life, and the similarity kind of leapt out at me. What does commitment look like for Jack? I think talking about the Doctor is about as open as it gets for him.
The acting from Eve Myles here is so good, and then John Barrowman matches it – I’m so impressed with them here. Blown away.
And it’s 1928. And Jack is telling the rest of his secrets.
The sequence here in the basement of the butcher shop – I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this cut together in its final form with music. Wow. This is the stuff a first rate production can give you – this is so much more beautiful and aching than it was on the page.
And an exit. When we “broke” this story in the writers’ room, we thought Jack would use the wrist strap to help him disappear off the rooftop. It wasn’t until I was writing the scene that I realized he had another, much more painful way to exit.
The brief shot in the stairwell, of Angelo running down toward Jack’s body – this was a shot that we kept almost cutting – it’s such a short shot, and it would eliminate a whole location that doesn’t occur again in the piece, but in the end the effort was made and it was kept. I’m so glad, because I think it really takes us inside Angelo’s head for those moments when he’s trying to get to Jack.
That’s Nana Visitor – yay! And Rex and Esther being smart, and Rhys and Mary and Andy being bloody marvelous and little baby Anwen turning in another ridiculously good performance. And… who’s waiting for Jack? Angelo? Oh boy!
Come back next week for Episode 8, which I co-wrote with Ryan Scott.