Writers’ Notes: Episode 8, Shootout, Joni at the VA and Captain
Quarry — Episode 8, “Nuoc Cha Da Mon” (Flowing Water Wears Away Stone)
Following each episode of Quarry, writers and creators Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller detail their experience creating one of the show’s significant moments.
The best season finales in television usually have any number of storylines that converge in unexpected, surprising and, if done properly, game-changing ways for the characters and series. Because of his personal connection to Cliff and his guilt over having lost touch with his friend over the years, Detective Tommy Olsen (wonderfully played by Josh Randall, who brought a swagger and charm that was so vital to the character) has been poking around Mac since Cliff’s murder — despite being deterred by the higher-ups at the Memphis P.D., including his own partner, Verne. Fortunately for Tommy Olsen, he was right about Mac Conway. Unfortunately, he has horrendous timing in acting on his suspicions, and it costs him his life.
There’s an entire series of wonderful television to be made following Memphis murder detectives Tommy Olsen and Verne Ratliff through the sweaty, sexy Seventies. Josh Randall and Happy Anderson (Verne) had such immediate and kinetic chemistry throughout the season. Likewise with Credence Mason and crew, and their Dixieville Amusement Park-drug front. As born-and-raised Southerners, the “Dixie Mafia” has always been a fascination of ours: A disparate group of colorful Southern wild-asses who have zero allegiance to each other but who engage in any and all criminal endeavors with, and against, one another. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and the actors playing his posse, struck just the right balance of menace and humor. Our only regret is that we didn’t have more real estate to explore Dixieville as thoroughly as we would’ve liked this season.
One element that drew us to Max Allan Collins’ wonderful books was the messiness of the violence. There was never anything sexy or sensational or glorified about it: often unexpected, sometimes absurd, and always matter-of-fact. Our desire was to lull the audience into a false sense of calm, then have brief, unflinching, and sometimes senseless, explosions of violence, only to take the audience back to the quiet aftermath as quickly as possible. It was an element we worked diligently to incorporate into the writing and production of the season as a whole. We were fortunate to have a highly skilled team for stunts, FX and makeup led by Richard Burden, Matt Kutcher and David Atherton respectively, who embraced that messiness under the excellent direction of Greg Yaitanes. This shootout, like the gun-job-gone-awry in Episode 102 [“Figure Four”] is sporadic and plays out in fits and starts, which is actually more difficult to pull off than a stylized, flashy shootout where conventions and clichés are so easy to fall prey to. It’s thanks to the mastery of Greg and the rest of the team that the violence in the show feels as authentic as it does.
We had originally conceived of Dixieville as less of a fair-type setting and more of a putt-putt miniature golf course with go-karts and an arcade but, as is so often the case, the imagined location met the reality of production; sadly (particularly for the miniature-golf-loving children of the Crescent City) there weren’t really options in and around New Orleans that matched the concept. Simultaneous to our attempts to find a location, our base camp for the days filming at Mac and Joni’s house was in a parking lot that also served as storage for fair rides that weren’t in use, but were incredibly cinematic. So, in collaboration with our director Greg, we switched gears and landed on a more “mini-fair” situation that actually works much better for the world of the show and as the set that opens the episode.
“Joni at the VA”
In 1972, there wasn’t an acronym for PTSD. There was the dated, dangerous concept of “shell shock,” a term that served as a catch-all for any number of mental or physical aftereffects of war with little-to-no tangible treatment offered. Instead, these men were expected to “suck it up,” “figure it out,” “be a man about it,” and simply plug and play right back into a society their brains were no longer wired for. Unlike their fathers who were part of the “Greatest Generation,” many Vietnam vets lived with the societal perception that there was nothing good (much less “great”) about any of them. Accusations of widely publicized atrocities were bad, as was suffering the first defeat in American military history. But add to that the utter failure that was the Vietnam War, and how it was placed unfairly on the soldiers themselves, and it was a shame nearly impossible to overcome. Some veterans of World War II suffered and dealt with PTSD, but generally their experiences were assuaged by the clear and absolute narrative of their mission (defeating evil in its most human form), their resounding victory, and the hero’s welcome that resulted in their entire generation being labeled “The Greatest.”
It was the struggle of so many Vietnam veterans that helped create our modern awareness of PTSD as an affliction. And because men as a gender often struggled (and still struggle) with expressing their emotions, it was often the wives of veterans who brought attention to their suffering. (The book Vietnam Wives by Aphrodite Matsakis was a seminal publication in bringing attention to PTSD, and served as a tremendous resource for us in researching the realities of the lives of veterans and their families.)
Initially, Joni believed Mac’s mental state was a result of Arthur’s death, the discovery of her affair with Cliff and the stress of having to work off Arthur’s debt with The Broker. The realization that there may be something more going on with him comes when he suffers a very public breakdown even after it appears that they are finally out from under The Broker’s thumb. She knows that Mac would never agree to seeking help if confronted directly, so she does what any caring, reasonable spouse would do and seeks out the help of an entity whose sole purpose was (and is) allegedly to help with the affairs of veterans. That she’s met with such dismissiveness is true to the reality of the era, and the aforementioned lack of understanding of PTSD that plagued so many veterans and their loved ones.
And here we come to what is arguably The Broker’s greatest manipulation of all: Mac running into this man at the precise moment he’s supposed to be freeing himself from The Broker’s grasp is no accident, something Mac quickly realizes (a moment that’s masterfully conveyed by Logan Marshall-Green).
This scene was always conceived as being rife with tension between these two men over their past transgressions and resentments but, conversely, also possessing a glimmer of camaraderie and kinship that can only exist between two men who fought alongside one another, regardless of the mission. Mac knows Thurston (Matt Nable) being there is no accident, but Thurston doesn’t, and as such, Thurston expresses a very real feeling for veterans that is sometimes the most difficult to express to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand: missing the peak experience that is fighting in a war. Mac himself has grappled with this internally since his arrival home, but hasn’t been able to express out of fear of judgement and because, frankly, it’s a complex emotion to convey; of course war is hell and he’s grateful to have survived, but he misses the sense of purpose and heightened existence it provides. It’s this very feeling that The Broker has been preying on in the course of his seduction of Mac since Mac came home. Mac’s nearly as angry at his own ability to relate to Thurston as he is with anything Thurston ordered him to do in Vietnam. Knowing that we started the entire series with the conclusion of this confrontation as a flash-forward meant that the scene preceding that confrontation had to deliver. Thankfully, we had the indomitable Matt Nable and Logan Marshall-Green to bring it to such vivid life.
And because it’s The Broker, it is always a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. As we learn later in the episode, it was not the altruistic gesture of catharsis that The Broker presented it as. In fact, Mac actually cleaned up a very loose end for The Broker. We discussed thoroughly in the Writers’ Room The Broker’s good fortune that Mac actually killed Thurston, but ultimately realized that if Mac hadn’t, Karl or Moses or Mercy would be close by and could finish the job. It was also a litmus test for The Broker as far as Mac goes. If he didn’t settle his score with Thurston, The Broker would know that Mac was likely beyond his grasp and not the potential resource he assessed him as being. If he did, The Broker knew he was right about Mac Conway all along. In many ways, it’s the “job” that The Broker has been grooming Mac for the entire season.
Watch the entire season of Quarry with your Cinemax subscription on MAX GO.