I frikkin’ loved getting to the point at which I could write this episode. I’d been building up to it for the past seven and finally, the audience gets some fantastic pay-off after listening to plot points introduced in the admittedly less-than-stellar first 3/4 of S01E02.
The title comes from the old story that most middle-schoolers in the States have to read. A man marries a woman with a black velvet ribbon around her neck, who cannot take it off – for reasons very similar to the reasons that a certain character in this episode is unable to remove a similar chain. Very Halloweeny. This title didn’t come to me until the episode was written, as you’ll see why below.
The plane ride wasn’t intended to be a callback to Shatner’s greatest moment on the Twilight Zone. The purpose was, Len and Scottie needed to be in an enclosed space, and I needed to establish/foreshadow the true horror of the Big Bads of the episode, specifically their power:
“It also poses a danger if allowed into a room with a fresh corpse; a [Big Bad] is believed to be capable of reanimating a body by jumping over it.”
The inspiration for the Big Bads, as with most other things in my life, is in fact the Shin Megami Tensei series. I have been trying to get Shin Megami Tensei demons in everything I’ve done with PMRP and Neil, to my constant frustration, keeps taking them out. (For example, I had Decarabia in The Sirens of War in PMRP’s 2010 Tomes of Terror show, but Neil and Jess took him out.)
So, we start with the airplane scene to establish with the Big Bads can do with the chicken meat, and to teach the listener to expect a lot more “Uth, uth uthing” in the future.
The next scene, Dot’s back. Come on, if you’re going into the supervillain’s lair, you have to meet The Dragon again, particularly if you never saw her die. I wanted each of the churches to have their own type of demons, and I thought that the Mammons would want some mind-control ones. The fight-or-flight response is bred into us so having the demons tap into that was the natural course of action. Naturally, Huginn and Muninn couldn’t speak directly (what creature from other world could?) so they speak in mashed XTC lyrics. Have I mentioned that XTC is my favorite musical group in all of existence? That I’m a tremendous fan of Andy Partridge‘s works? Listen to this and tell me you don’t feel smarter and better off from having heard it afterwards. Anyhow, unless you’ve listened to their catalog dozens of times, you won’t figure out which songs each of these mashed up lyrics come from.
I was waiting to do the reuniting scene with Bob Stroud for a long time, although not as long as you might think 🙂 James Scheffler had announced he was returning to military service in January 2010, before we have released S01E05, and so I was like, ohshitohshitwehavetorecordallyourstuffnow. So James braved through a marathon six hour recording session to record everything in S02E03 and S02E04 at once. He had a cold and by the end of the afternoon he had no voice left. Please be upstanding for the bravery and tenacity of James. He did an incredible job because, he doesn’t sound like an old guy. He sounds like a young guy doing an old guy’s voice. And yet he completely pulls it off. He sounds every bit as jaded and burnt as I envisioned Stroud at that point.
Also, for all you budding radio drama engineers out there, quiet scenes like these are just as hard to program as more complex ones. You have to add the physicality of the presence of the voices in your quiet scenes. Sure, I could have had all of the characters as talking heads, but I added their footsteps, the rustling of their clothes, their shifting on the leather couches, all put in at such natural points that the listener doesn’t hear them – tunes them out. You add so much to a scene by doing this, and as you probably know already, it’s very hard work to make scene elements so natural that the audience won’t notice them at all.
(Also fyi – the scene fragments with Dot/Jennifer Pelland were recorded months later, but they integrated great so you can’t tell.)
Anyhow, they go back to Bob and he can’t help them. If you’ve read my novel Provincetown, Ho!, you’ll notice that this is a familiar theme in my work. I could have sworn that I was influenced by this theme from a Steinbeck novel in which a boy who grew up with only his mother goes on a long trip to find his father, and then meets him in a pool hall, all expectant to finally be able to bond with him, only to find that his dad is a selfish bastard who asks him if his mother sent him over for her alimony. I could have sworn it was East of Eden but the internet is telling me otherwise. No idea what book it is then.
Ah, The Shivers of Highway ’61. Yes, I was watching TCM and yes, Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” was on. I am really a simple soul. I hope you enjoyed “The Rolling Stones” joke as “The Wild One” spawned The Beatles. Also, a bit of Rosie and Pig’s dialog was improvised by Mike and Jenny. I had to keep it in 🙂
After that, we have a scene in which Dot has a moment of intimacy with Scottie. I wanted Scottie to understand how well someone can get under her skin and how out-of-her-league she was. I often feel that way myself, being functionally developmentally younger than my actual age (as is the case with most autistic-spectrum people). That’s why we connect with animals so much, like Temple Grandin – we’re not as “developmentally mature” as you all are.
So, off Len and Scottie go when the Big Bads attacked. The whole “Focus, Pray Offer” schtick was created when I was writing these set of scenes. I needed for Len to be able to get a one-up on the Big Bads and I had to have established it in earlier episodes. So I had to go back through all the episodes in which Len interacts with the Big Bads and add the whole “Focus Pray Offer” schtick. Sorry about that. Had to do it. Didn’t want to. Boss told me to.
The scene in the liquor took me a month to do. I’m not kidding – it’s about 25 tracks and everything in hand-placed. At first, the puppet’s footsteps were sounding off so I had to move each one in relation to their grunts. I had to go through all the actors’ grunts and sort them and pick only the best. This was a very tedious scene to do.
Julia and Kerri sang the minor-key Alouette on the spot, way back in 2009 when they were first cast. I’m very proud of their work.
Andy (Len), whose voice work is so spot-on that I generally don’t mention it here (what was that I was saying about work so good that you don’t notice it?), had some confusion about how to do this scene initially. He did the initial takes playing the lines for laughs, and I had to keep telling him, no, this was a serious and scary scene. He replied that the lines were funny, which they are in one context but not in this one. Len had been hit in the head, had significant blood loss, and was in full-on insane-prophet mode. After the first take, Andy asked me to explain exactly what I wanted, and I said, in this scene Len is entirely hindbrain. He’s saying the first thing that comes to his head. He’s not entirely in control until something happens that brings him around. (And Andy did fantastic once he started thinking like that.)
With regards to the something that happens (no spoilers), I wasn’t planning it. Just when I was writing that scene, thinking about the Big Bads’ motivations, I couldn’t think of a single reason why they wouldn’t do what they did. So they did it. And it turned out to fit very well, thematically.