X Company is set in WWII and features the thrill of being resistance fighters in occupied France as well as exploring the little-known Canadiana of Camp X, the secret Allied spy training school.
TARGET APPROACH // 1847 HRS: 43.64 -79.39
I got off one stop early, just to be sure, and mingled into the evening crowd of the waning rush hour. The area was well-known to me but this also meant I could potentially be spotted by someone familiar with my face. My contact sent a message. He had arrived at the rendezvous and was going to acquire target items before I arrived. I hurried to get there in time.
I could see the building's north face but I needed to gain access through the south in order to complete the mission. There was no telling how many would be laying in wait. There was no telling what sort of resistance there would be. This was a last minute mission and things had already gone wrong as they always do. You can't make a mistake-proof plan. You can only hope those in the operation maneuver around the mistakes.
So it was a relief to quickly gain access to the building, bypass security, and make my way to the second floor where my contact stood holding the target items. With a nod, I made my way over. He handed me the mission gear. He was the Man With The Golden Beer.
ENEMY OBSERVATION // 1915 HRS: 43.40 -79.38
First off, this is the second time I've been to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to watch a television show. Fittingly, the last time here was for the finale episodes of Flashpoint, whose co-creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern were on hand to present the premiere of their new show.
Beyond that, I highly recommend you take every opportunity to go to events like these (if your city holds television show screenings at movie theatres). Not only is it nice to watch a TV show with an audience, it is also great to see it on a big screen. This is the age of High Definition so there is little to no picture quality issues. This ain't no 240p on your 4K. If the show's cinematography is gorgeous then it'll be gorgeous on the digital silver screen, too.
Moreover, if these events are accompanied by introductory talks and Q&As, it's simply engaging to be there and take part. Luckily for fans, this event was hosted by the Writer's Guild of Canada and the audio will be published as a podcast after the show premieres on broadcast.
So, I won't go into detail except to say that Mark and Stephanie continue to be inspirational to not only Canadians but also to those looking to break into television writing. Full disclosure: I got to know them in being involved with the social media front of Flashpoint, first as a fan and then as the unofficial official graphic artist. Great times, great people, and a great honour.This is not so much a review of the X Company pilot, as it is a rambling post disgorging some of the many thoughts stirred by watching it.
TLDR: I loved it, I want more.
REDACTED INTEL // 43.40 -79.38
What is it about? Well, from a different event, here's a description from one of its creators.
This is a spoiler-free zone because (a) I don't like spoilers and (b) neither does the show.
What is the show like, though? Technically, it's proficient in all areas. It's a well-produced period piece set in the throes of WWII with Nazis and old cars and appropriate fashion. There is little to talk about on that front beyond the steady, experienced hand of David Frazee, another Flashpoint alum and one of Canada's premiere TV directors, who helms a taut pilot that moves along at a good clip while still giving us a taste of the players involved. The trademark Frazee Dissolve/Resolve is there.
The pilot is a pretty thrilling self-contained 'mission' story interwoven with the arrival of a new recruit and the seeds of a longer tale being sown with his exploration of Camp X and its partially fictionalized operations (in reality, the base was only a training ground not an ops centre).
The story covers old ground. We know Nazis were not history's nicest people. We know the Allies and the French Resistance coordinated efforts when they could. And we know many sacrifices were made during WWII by both willing soldiers, brave agents, and even civilians swept up in the madness of the day.
So, what new ground is there? Plenty.
First, the reason the show is called X Company is its connection to Camp X. In fact, the show was called "Camp X" early on in development. The history is all there for you find online or in those ancient artifacts called books. Sally forth and find out about the place where Sir Ian Fleming and 'Wild Bill' Donovan (not the hurler, the spymaster) passed through. Perhaps io9 will write a bittie about it during Spy Week. Mind you, in order to avoid being trapped by historical mile markers, the show will generally avoid the inclusion of these historical figures. But you can imagine Intrepid himself is wandering in the background, his cover legend secure as he passes unnoticed through the camp.
Second, as showrunners Mark and Stephanie mentioned, you could read about the nitty gritty details and personal stories of WWII for a long while and not run out of material. Both of them, I know, have personal connections to the war — as do most people, whether they're aware of it or not. However, it is Stephanie's which is intriguing in the pilot as a family story of a progenitor who, as a little girl, caught the eye of a Nazi officer. To him, this girl reminded him of his own daughter at home. As one would imagine, there is drama to be mined there.
The other half of the showrunning team is Mark Ellis. And he is a villain.
He is a villain because he ruined TV for me. Oh, I'm sure his wife and creative partner Stephanie had an equal hand in it but it's easier for me to put that mantle on Mark's shoulders. You see, before I watched Flashpoint, I was perfectly happy watching American television blast away Bad Guys like they were nothing. Paper people, one reviewer here calls them. Then, after Mark humanized 'bad guys' in the cop drama, I couldn't stomach much of American television. Sure, the paper people Bad Guys were palatable and all that. But when the heroes blow away bad guys and then quip over the dead bodies I have a hard time finding the good guys, well, good. My appetite for that is waning. So, goodbye NCIS:LA (which, outside of Linda goddamn Hunt, didn't have much going for it anyway).
Suffice it to say, I expect him (okay, fine, them) to ruin Nazis for me. And given the brief after-showing conversation we had, it looks like this is going to happen to a degree. It turns out, if you dig deep enough, you'll find that German soldiers of WWII were people, too. I kid that this is a discovery as we've seen many examples of this in literature, movies, and television already. The discerning historian is well aware of the hows and whys people — otherwise good people — wore the Nazi uniform. However, we need to be reminded of this from time to time.
So this 'criticism' is really a compliment. In a world filled with 'othering', the dehumanization of people whose causes do not align with our own, narrative threads which humanize 'the enemy' are important, in my view. Sometimes a Bad Guy is really a bad guy. This still holds true. However, we need to be mindful that sometimes they're not so bad. Sometimes they're actually salvageable. Sometimes, they're even victims.
WWII is considered by many to be the last 'good' war, if such a thing exists. If you spend any time talking to the few remaining survivors, whether soldiers, spies, or civilians, you'll find that even in the war we consider plainly-delineated between good and bad, those veterans know that the world is much more grey than that.
The Nazi leaders? They're the one who dealt in clearcut blacks and whites, good and bad, us and them. It's what allowed them to commit the atrocities they did. And the Allies were not morally pristine in this regard, either. So, remembering there is a human inside the enemy uniform is, to me, an important strategy in not becoming the next Nazi regime.
AFTER ACTION REPORT // 43.40 -79.38
We can be entertained by stories of war, and fighting, and deception, and death. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet there is still room for compassion for the enemy. There can still be entertainment which explores the other side. There is, I think, a need for it. It shouldn't hamper the desire to triumph but it should temper any glee in the achievement of that triumph.
In the glamorization of WWII era espionage, it is easy to default to Good vs Evil. It is harder to accept the nebulous morality and often tragic consequences of who aligned with what side. If we truly have compassion for those we regard as heroes of WWII, then it is incumbent upon us to remember that they didn't fight paper people Bad Guys. They didn't struggle against purely evil beings devoid of humanity. And that weighed on their minds forevermore in one form or another while the big band played and post-war euphoria set in. For soldiers, this was true.
Now imagine what it was like for the spies and saboteurs who didn't just shoot strangers on the battlefield. Imagine what it was like for them to get to know the people they would eventually help defeat or even have to themselves kill. That is the emotional danger of the spy business. And all the training in the world will not tell if, when the time comes after months or years of living among the enemy, any given individual will be able to 'complete the mission' at the cost of killing someone who believes themselves to be a friend.
So, if X Company can weave its tale with the requisite tension and drama of saboteurs and spies behind enemy lines while still touching on that complex emotional minefield, then I'll gobble up all eight episodes of their first season.
* X Company will be distributed internationally via Sony. Dates and broadcasters to be announced.