Posted through the wifi connection on Virgin American 30,000 feet up. Welcome to the future.
Right, so here we were. Gina was willing to work right up until the delivery date, but we realized that plot-wise a pregnancy didn't work, and shooting around her was not just getting difficult but was kind of an insult to the character and the actress. We accelerated her arc so that she left at ep #207 for good, valid story reasons -- and in a heckuva episode to boot.
But one of the things we were obsessive about -- okay, Downey was just thorough, I'm the obsessive one -- in designing the show was making sure it was a true five-hander. We didn't want Genius McCranky and the Con Sidekicks. Thankfully, in a con crew the jobs are highly specialized, leading us to very character-specific obstacles and story missions. Each Leverage character served a specific niche in the crime world job set. A very specific niche. No (or minor) crossover means we know what everyone is doing in every job in every episode.
So what happens when you lose one? You lose your grifter on a con show?
None of the other characters could fill the slot. I mean, the actors could -- each is very entertaining when running the grift. But they're entertaining in very specific, character-oriented ways.
When Parker's on the grift, the fun is in anticipating when her ability to interact with humans will break down. Nate, it's all about the Mean Guy persona. He can do the other personas, but they don't really feel like Nate. Not only that, we had a specific arc for the back half of the season for him, which involved keeping him on the Mastermind train as much as possible. Hardison's weakness is that he always goes to far in the grift, and Eliot ... well, Kane's done a fantastic job making Eliot more than we originally anticipated, but the Hitter has to stay outside, protecting the weak side and making sure there's always a clear escape route.
Complicating this was the fact we knew Sophie would be coming back. A new grifter -- female to help maintain the balance of the show -- was a substitute, not a replacement. She couldn't be too close to Sophie, or the audience might believe the change was permanent. Also, similar made the writing boring. The team was comfortable with Sophie, and if conflict is the spice of TV then we needed to ramp up the difference to ramp up the discomfort.
This lead us to design the new grifter in a very specific way: although she'd be doing Sophie's job, she'd be the opposite of Sophie's persona. Where Sophie's European and genteel, Tara's ballsy and physical. In one email I sent Downey while we were designing the character (I was up in Portland shooting #207) I wrote "While Sophie still exchanges Christmas cards with some of her marks, the end of Tara's cons involve running out of burning buildings carrying metal briefcases full of blood-stained money."
We have an entire backstory for Tara and her friendship with Sophie that you'll never see. The origin of her skills are hinted at in a few episodes, if you watch carefully. One might deduce that her education involved some of your tax dollars at work.
At the same time we were designing the character, TNT was floating names by us. As the network they have a fair amount of say in casting, and in particular replacing a show lead. Jeri's name came up, we all dug it, we talked to her on the phone and sent the character breakdown -- bang bang, done in a week.
I want to say this right now -- she's amazing. Not only is she a fine actress, she came in at a very stressful time, set everyone at ease and very quickly became part of the Portland Family. I've rarely seen a show do what we did in mid-season (only Life comes to mind). There are a lot of issues involved in bringing in a new human to an ensemble cast, particularly one with the very family-style chemistry our cast has. She's funny -- which you almost never see because of typical Hollywood typecasting -- and she hung off a roof with the best of them. I'd work with her any time, any place.
As far as the Tara character, yes, she did pull off a con on our team -- by cheating. Sophie's inside info gave her this one shot. After this, you'll see, again, Tara's skill set is precisely defined. She's got the odd surprise up her sleeve, and she can (and does) fail when things break the wrong way.
This episode is actually the second we shot with Jeri. #210 was shot first due to a script overlap. So we kind of shot the team's reaction to meeting Tara before the actual meeting. This hiccup actually gave us the inspiration for the show's con structure. So, if the team didn't react to meeting Tara until #210, that gave us the interesting idea of ending #209 with that meeting. But that meant they couldn't know Tara was the replacement ... and so the lawyer character was born, giving us a nice con to overlay on the crime story.
The plot itself is one of our most Rockford-y homages: the lost will, the Jimmie Joe Meeker style attorney, almost more detective show than con. As a matter of fact, in the first version of the story, the girl wasn't actually the Lost Heir. We just kind of fell in love with the idea of highlighting Nate Ford's detective skills over his con skills for an episode. (Playing with Nate's identity is a major part of this year, and the focus of the winter arc)
We got ridiculously lucky with the villain. This ep really put the villain and Nate head-to-head more than most. Peter Riegert's a friend of Tim's, he dug the script -- and we got one of our best villains. The fun for us in most episodes was watching the villain unravel because of our team;s machinations. The fun for this one was having an absolutely cold-blooded, dead-eyed bastard in the driver's seat. The moment where he shoots his Busey still makes me laugh on the hundredth viewing.
The episode also includes one of my favorite stand-alone sequences: Eliot and Parker vs. the cops. Kane and Beth had really advanced their characters' relationship over the year, and it was fun to watch Crazy Parker re-emerge in an adrenaline situation. She seems genuinely delighted at the prospect of watching Eliot deal peacefully with the cops ("I look forward to watching you do that"). Good lesson for writers, by the way. That line was meant to play as frustrated. Beth brought out kind of a buzzed, kinky vibe to it that was utterly unexpected, and it works 1000x better.
Hokay, to the questions:
@Taima: I do have a question though. Did Nate know from early on that Ruth was Kimball's daughter? Or did he come to that conclusion while he was in court?
He actually suspected it when he saw the mother's driver's license ("color blindness" is up there on the screen, for all to see). Even when he tumbled it, he tried to go through with the Lost Heir scam because a.) he didn't want to endanger the real daughter if he could help it, b.) he wasn;t sure about the moral ramifications of telling this woman the truth and c.) that gave him a backup he could spring when his opponent was least expecting it. Revealing the real daughter was Plan M.
@Jocelyn: Great side arm throw from Christian with the rock and according to him that was all real. How many takes do you have to do to get that just right?
First take, I think. Can't believe he kept it in frame for the whole slo-mo shot.
@ita: Are you pissed at TNT for spoiling that Jeri's character was a grifter just before the last segment? Are you allowed to say if you are?
We were ... not happy. Not angry, but not happy. To be fair, I believe the promotions people cut the promos without knowing it would run in the penultimate spot rather than before the credits. But we had a chat, and they were incredibly apologetic, so we'll just have to communicate with them better. TNT has sold the hell out of the show, and that was a pretty minor hiccup in two years of kick-assery on their part.
@Thomas: Does Beth Riesgraf do her own stunts or do you use a stunt double?
Beth does everything the insurance company will let her do. In the finale, for example, she's the one on the line rappelling, but for the feee-jump she had a double. In #205 getting hit by a car is actually a very specific skill, so it was her double. She walked the ledge in #214 though.
@Barb: If the lawyer is listed as a beneficiary, he shouldn't be legally able to be the executor of that will. ...not trying to stop the fun train, just wondering how ya'll decided to make that play
Executors can be beneficiaries in most cases. This story is actually based on a real case -- he's abusing his powers as executor in a very specific way. Annnnd I'm pretty sure if I reveal more I'll wind up getting sued. Just, ah, once again, we are as accurate with the law as House is with medicine. Take that as you will.
@Catchester: She was just too good. She can create a fake ID good enough to fool Hardison (who can create CIA level fake ID's so should know what to look for). She can grift well enough to completely fool the everyone on team. She can pick locks (i assume they didn't give her a key to the apartment). Added to that she's beautiful, confident, more skilled than Sophie (since she obviously avoided being on Nate's radar) and ends up laughing at having pulled the wool over the team's eyes. I'm just surprised you didn't have her disarm five armed thugs and mastermind the whole thing.
You're kind of looking at it backward. It's not "How is that character so superbly skilled?", it's "Why does that character seem superbly skilled, and what does that tell me about off-screen stuff?" Simply put, again, Tara cheated. Sophie helped her with the con; there's a reason her fake ID is that good; she didn't cross Nate's radar because she worked a different kind of crime, and she used Sophie's key to Nate's apartment.
But we really felt she had to prove herself. You don't get to join the Leverage team just because you asked. You gotta impress them.
And "It took you long enough", watch for that phrase to recur ...
@MelodyAnne: 3) This is doesn't really have anything to do with the episode.. but are you guys considering doing more viewing parties for the season 3 premier? I took my mom to the one in Tampa, FL for her birthday. (She is a HUGE fan and I wanted to say thank you because I totally gave her a better present than my brother. haha! And I got to ask you a question via skype! I still annoy my friends constantly with that story...)
Not for the winter premiere, but for Season 3, absolutely.
@pogo9200: I also noticed that Parker is getting sexier while crawling through air ducks. Off the shoulder top and hair down with loose braids. I kinda miss the old Parker.
@Chris Ayers: But she also seemed especially comfortable in social situations, more so than usual. While this has been a nice character progression, I kinda miss awkward, slightly "off" Parker. I hope she's not gone for good.
They were a man down, so she needed to be in civvies for backup -- which was fortunate. (Nate really does think of everything) I don't think Parker's changed that much. Look at the cop/hallway scene, and of course the fight in #211, and the truly horrible moment in #215 ... oh wait. Never mind.
And if you think "I looooove the meth" is her being comfortable in social situations, you have set a very low bar.
@SueN: Speaking of Eliot, I did have a moment of "What?" when he said he wouldn't hit a cop. It just seemed a bit … strange? Especially for a career criminal whose career is, well, hitting people (among other things). So my question is, why?
@Codger: My question has to do with Eliot refusing to hit cops, yet in the pilot episode, after the explosion and when they were handcuffed in the hospital, he suggested to Nate that he could take out all the cops so they could make their escape. Until Parker vetoed that and said that if he killed the cops it would ruin her getaway. Kill or not, he certainly didn't have any reluctance to hitting the cops then. What changed?
You have to remember, Eliot sees himself as a negotiator who is occassionally required to resolve situations with short, sharp applications of physical force. He doesn't hit people unnecessarily, and he doesn't enjoy it. Hitting some honest citizen just doing his job brings him no pleasure -- not to mention a fair amount of local heat.
Parker's the one in the pilot who assumed he meant "killed." And, to be fair, two factors: there was a big difference between handcuffed Eliot about to go down for ten years and Eliot-with-options b.) we just see the character in a slightly different light now that we've lived with him. Kind of like Nate getting into the cons. It happens as a show evolves over the years.
@Patrick: And my question: what's the secret web address for the streaming video of the remaining episodes? I mean, there is a way to see them before next year, isn't there? Tell me!
Sure, there's our editing website, where you can -- what? Oh, sorry. Never mind.
Besides, who on the internet likes spoilers, anyway? ce.
@Monica: 1.) Poor Sophie, seeing Nate outside her door and her first question is who died, kinda like that reaction you get when the phone rings at 3am. This makes me said because she's worried about her 'kids' and daddy's ability to keep them safe. 2.) My question: Any chance that you could publish some Leverage books? Imagine the cons, locations, and explosions you could do without the worry about expenseive CGI.
1.) Oh, that's a big motivator for Tara's arrival. Watch for a throwaway line in the conference call in #210, the winter season opener. 2.) we're talking seriously about Leverage tie-in novels.
@Nato: is "Tara Cole" in any way a reference to "Tara King," the replacement for Diana Rigg's inimitable Emma Peel on "The Avengers"?
Ding ding ding.
@Nicole: My other question is this: How long til you guys have to start breaking season 3? I know y'all were rushed when season 2 was announced. Will any of the writing team be working on other projects we should tune in for in the meantime?
Everyone's scurrying about on other projects until February when the writing room returns, but nothing coming up for broadcast. The exception is Berg, who is now one of the big kahunas on Eureka. Trust me, you are going to want to tune in to a Berg-toned Eureka.
Thank God we get a little breathing room this year --the last two years rolled out like one long season. Chris and I will have to start a little earlier to get the first few eps outlined in mid-January, but that's the timeline. We won't have quite as many in the can as we did first season (three scripts and three outlines) but close.
@CindyD: OK, we've had the summer finale and I still don't know the reason Eliot sawed that new door into Nate's apartment in 201. WHERE does that door lead? WHAT is inside the room through that door? WHY did Eliot need access to it? The possibilities are endless. Will my curiosity ever be satisfied?
That room is where the fanfiction comes true. You must never look in that room. DO NOT EVEN LOOK AT THE DOOR!
@buzz: Question: I didn't understand the ending. Tara gives the team an invoice for "my share of the inheritance" and then says "We're making money already!" Nate gives his incredulous team a look of resignation.What does this mean? The team doesn't charge clients for what they do, and are ot getting any of the inheritance, so why does Tara lay claim to a "share"? Is the incredulity and look from Nate more about Tara maybe not understanding that the team does not do this for the money? I just didn't get it.
Tara's a criminal. She gets a share of the score. Whether the team takes their share or not, somebody's paying her for her work. If the team wants to foot the bill instead of taking it out of the inheritance, that's their problem, not hers.
@Anonymous: 1) Sophie vouching for Tara's skills, combined with the element of surprise to pull a fast one on the team have, for now, sold me on her being able to keep up with Team Leverage. However I'm curious. Why did Sophie choose to send someone who is the complete opposite from her when she knows that they need someone who would be more open to being a team player? Of course, grifters are loners, but the way Tara conned the team was just about the worst way to build a working relationship with the team. Sophie must know from the way they called her that they need someone to hold them together not create more conflict because of differing priorities. Couldn't she have found someone with less of an antagonistic personality?
2) Since Tara's tentative acceptance on the team depends mostly on Sophie vouching for her, are we going to find out what their relationship was/is? Is this strictly a favor to Sophie or does it have more to do with Tara wanting to work with the "nastiest crew on the East Coast" and scoring really big?
1.) Sophie's concern is for her team's safety, and that means the best. Even if the best is a little .. spiky. She's trusting the team -- and Tara -- to work out the rough edges.
2.) A favor for Sophie, in return for a big, big debt and a longstanding friendship that started in a very odd fashion.
@scooter5203249: You had me worried for a bit. I thought this might be the ep where, as predicted by Sophie, Nate loses control of the situation and has a melt down. A Sophie no-show, a chaperon, an attempted hit on Parker, and Nate looked out of control running for the courtroom, but in the end he pulled it off. My hero.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
@Ashley: Quick question! Who came up with Nate's lawyer name? Another one! Will any of the old clients ever come back for blood?
Downey came up with Papa.. Papa ... the name. As far as old clients, Saul Rubinek keeps pitching his return as the Lex Luthor of the League of Evil Leverage Marks, but Warehouse 13 is keeping him busy.
@SueN: We know so much about the others' skill sets and why Nate would have chased them. But what exactly did Eliot do to have an insurance investigator come after him? Obviously not his mercenary stuff, and most likely not the hitter stuff. So, as a "retrieval specialist," what, exactly, did Eliot "retrieve" that had Nate on his tail? And how is a "retieval specialist" different than a thief? Or is it?
The first time they met, they were both chasing the same thief. After that, Eliot did occasionally "retrieve" things covered by IYS.
@Anonymous: What is up with Eliot always being all "honorable" and rescuing horses/beaten children, not using guns, not hitting cops, ect. When one works as, essentially, a walking weapon, can you really maintain intense values? It seems like Eliot would be walking off a lot of jobs when he's not working with the Leverage team.
Oh, Eliot has intense values. They just don't always coincide with society's values, and they've evolved from his early days. Even before Leverage, Eliot had some jobs he wouldn't take that he would've taken ten years earlier.
@ClynnGo: Why is the finale disc-only on Netflix? I couldn't watch the episode in real time or record it (my family preempted it with Obama's speech instead), but I was counting on the handy-dandy Netflix instant watch! Will the episode ever be included in the on demand queue?
It should be up now. There's a broadcast window we have to honor, X number of downloadables, etc.
@kresky's dame: "I hope you have a Plan B or F or something in the first half of the alphabet." A reference to the pilot and the line "In Plan M Hardison dies"? Or am I just geeking out on the show a bit too much?
Absolutely a reference. When Nate gets past Plan G, things start to get very hairy.
@pogo92000: When Parker & Nate are at the meet for the payoff - two things stuck out this time
1) How did Nate get back to the courthouse? 2) Did the dirty cop not know that Nate was supposed to be 'Jimmy'? Dont you think he would have mentioned that Eliot called out 'NATE'... perhaps he was going to do that right before he was shot.
1.) on foot. 2.) He was rattled by having Eliot beat him up with his own gun.
@CatChester: If Parker and Nate are both headed to the courthouse, why did they split up?
Nate split them into two plans. If either were caught by the cops, the other had a chance at succeeding. Also, one might suspect, if one didn't know Nate better, he was kind of using Parker and Eliot as bait ...
@Kanedoras: (various legal questions about the timeline of the hearing, edited for space)
Again --Law:Leverage as Medicine:House.
@briddie: Did Gina's pregnancy change the direction of the Nate/Sophie arc, or is that where you planned on taking it anyway, seeing as how Nate is 1) sober and b) a bigger bastard?
Accelerated, not changed, and some of the beats are moved around. But yeah, we're on track for what was planned thematically.
@Eyetee Monkey: At the end of the episode Parker (love to bits) sniffs Tara. I know that she randomly sniffs objects but this is only the second time (that I noticed) that she sniffs a person. The other being Maggie. My point being is that is this a conscious choice by Beth or just coincidence that she seems to sniff out other mother type figures?
That's Beth, all the way. I like that Parker uses her senses... oddly.
@oppisum: This doesn’t have that much to do with the episode, but about how old are each of the characters supposed to be?
Hardison and Parker: mid 20's
Eliot: early 30's
Sophie: A lady never tells.
Nate: early 40's.
It's a little annoying that standing next to Hutton, people assume I'm older than he is. Clear-eyed bastard.
@Antaeus Feldspar: If Kimball had the same kind of color-blindness his daughter does, which keeps her from correctly identifying blue, how did that get to be his favorite? Or is Kimball supposed to have had a much different form of color-blindness, so he could see and identify blue irises but his daughter couldn't?
... they were his favorite because of the scent. You see, they reminded him of the perfume his lost love (and the vic's mother) wore when SLEEEEP! SLEEEP NOOOOWWW!!
@msd: 1.) Since you haven't answered these questions I'm going to try and sneak another one in. On the DVD everyone talks about the insane 7-day shooting schedule. What are your schedules? Does everyone get a "weekend" off in between episodes or what? I'm just curious. 2.) If anyone hasn't listened to the commentaries on the S1 DVD - please do. There are great insights, techie stuff and y'all are very complimentary to each other and about the actors and crew. It just adds another layer to how great this show is.
1.) Shoot mon-fri, weekends off. That means the episodes stagger. We often wrap one episode on Tuesday, and at 8am Wed we're shooting an entirely different script. The actors have to work like hell to learn thier lines for each episode while performing the previous one.
2.) If you buy Season 2, you get to hear a drunken Frakes bellow "RED ALERT!"
Whew. All right, we'll see what we can do about some hiatus chats or commentaries with the actors, and we'll do some nice warm-up before the Jan 13th return (that date may shift). As always thanks for coming by and spending so much time and attention on the show. Really makes it worthwhile for us seeing you care about these little stories.
Oh, and see you at the Con Con March 19-21 -- the fan convention that you guys actually named before we even decided to do it.