#34: Notes On A Scene
I’ve said it before: dog bless anyone doing anything creative anywhere … but —
I’ve found myself watching clips from the second season of Star Trek’s Picard, and I have some notes. I could offer up these notes on multiple clips I’ve come across, but I want to take a second to flag a few things in this interrogation scene from Episode 8.
Why do we have one character asking another what their ‘traumatic motivation force’ is — “What am I to you?” — and why is the interrogator literally telling the other character what he represents to him? Why make the subtext of the character’s ‘want’ such an artless part of the text? And why are there no pauses where someone takes a moment to think about what the other person has said while thinking about how they might respond? (It takes three seconds for the character to respond to Picard in the scene once Picard is done talking, though it feels like less.)
In more artful hands, we could go one of three ways: we could focus on letting the characters resonate, we could head in something of a Brecht-like direction (which would be a wonderful challenge, given the genre of the show), or we could focus on what the language could give us. “You’re the monster in the dark” is such a wild thing to say to Picard that I almost want to save the line by expanding upon it, doubly so if we assume that the interrogator has some basic, passing sense of being able to read the emotion/tone of the person sitting across the table from him, but if we really lean into where that line can go, we can give the interrogator a kind of expressiveness that can then translate into a truly terrifying flashback, a Welcome to Night Vale without the comedy, and that might make the scene a little more interesting than it currently is.
So what makes a good interrogation? And how do we make it look like the story isn’t merely playing chess against itself out in the open?
All the positive examples that come to mind — and one way to answer the question posed here — strike me as not entirely obeying the form in some way: Columbo, a sketch by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, and the scene from The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter.
With Columbo, we have the affable working class man who almost always knows the answer in some form to the situation at hand — whether that’s literally or in the form of some figurative melody line — often before the other, almost always upper-class character is even aware that the power dynamic between Columbo and his suspect is almost already resolved. The idea of there being equal stakes in the interrogation is almost never on the table. The equalizing agent between Columbo and whomever else enters the Columbo universe is that the titular character has his head in the clouds, perhaps even as far as Berlin.
Where do you keep your suits? What would your old Mum say? What wife? What about Ireland? Who had the nails? What makes you think you exist?
What if the purpose of a good interrogation scene is that we’re reminded that power isn’t really where we think it is?; that we have to keep looking, looking, looking?; that we have to ply a careful eye, and that — even then — we can’t be really sure? What if that’s all it is?
ELSEWHERE IN THE HOBART CINEMATIC UNIVERSE — “i'm in love with the thousand yard stare / deeply towards the worn fold / of the catcher's glove” / “I pick up Henry after work and we drive 65 miles to the first game of Colin’s fall AAU league.” / “I’m reading on the beach when the day / campers arrive, heralded by a boy shouting / the lady with the braces has syphilis!” / “You woke me from a drool-deep nap, six pm creased on my cheeks, and told me news that was truly news …” / “I do not know why I am unbuttoning my shirt in the middle of the crowded sidewalk.” / “I am rushing to meet you.” / “I pull my niece through the neighborhood …” /