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The Cult

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Writers' blog - Episode 2


Writers' Blog by David Brechin-Smith

I Believe

One of the challenges in writing "The Cult" was to make it as real as possible, to ground it in reality and believability. We wanted our audience to think "yes, it's possible that a bunch of people would go to this remote place and try to get their loved ones out of a cult".  We also wanted them to think "yes, it's possible that a group of apparently normal people could live in a compound under the leadership of Edward North".  

One of the reasons behind establishing a strong sense of real-worldness was, I think, to quickly distinguish it from other shows in this kind of mystery-thriller genre. "Lost", for example, clearly takes place on some kind of fantasy island - actually, when you think about it, there are similarities between "Lost" and "Fantasy Island": people arrive by plane on an island where they have to resolve some kind personal issue before they can go home. Okay, maybe that's a stretch. Anyway, we all know that "Lost" is really derived from "Gilligan's Island"; the list of things those two shows have in common just goes on and on, including the fact that they're stranded/imprisoned on a mysterious uncharted island where strange, sometimes, paranormal, events take place. In other words, the environment of "Lost" (and "Gilligan's Island" and "Fantasy Island") is not part of the real world. But the environment of "The Cult" - the bush - definitely is. There are no weird monsters lurking in the trees. The bush doesn't hold any secrets or have any answers. The bush is not something to be feared or challenged or overcome or understood. When something surprising or seemingly inexplicable happens, nobody says "the bush wanted it to happen".

So, now that we had a world which is clearly part of the real world, we had to make sure that the characters followed suit. Every one of them had to be believable: those in Two Gardens and those who are The Liberators (NB: we call them The Liberators for the sake of convenience, but they never call themselves this. Plus, dammit, "The Others" was already taken.) Having credible characters obviously helps us engage with them, but, in the case of "The Cult", there's another, more important reason behind making them believable. When things start to turn a little weird later in the series (that's all I can say about that!) we're even more compelled to watch because it's happening to characters we've grown to care about. We care about them because they have real concerns, real flaws and real hopes.  

Episode two, I think, really solidifies the believability of the world and the characters that was established in episode 1, especially the world and characters of Two Gardens. It was important to quickly establish that Two Gardens actually operates like a real cult. We've already seen - in episodes 1 and 2 - some common cult techniques such as relationship control, physical isolation and the undermining, by Edward North, of the normal concept of family.  Two Gardens, then, is a strong, believable example of what you can expect if you join a cult - though, as a survivor of Jonestown once said, nobody ever joins a cult, you join a self-help group or a religious movement.

It was also important to show that Two Gardens isn't full of freaks and misfits; that the people who live there are generally normal (I say "generally" because there's clearly something up with Saul, right?) and actually might be on to a good thing (despite Edward's "rules"). We wanted to do this because we felt it was important to help our audience understand why people - people who could be you or me - end up in a place like Two Gardens. Ryan, who's the focus of episode 2, is the perfect character to use to show how it can happen. He's obviously a smart guy who's had a fairly normal life. But then, at a time when he's feeling disillusioned with his life in general, he's targeted by Momentum. Hannah is used to "seduce" him, which is a common strategy used by cults. By the time Hannah introduces Ryan to Edward, we know: a. he's desperate to help his brother, Nathan, b. he's looking for some kind of meaning and purpose, c. he doesn't have much to do with his family (he clearly doesn't visit Nathan very often and doesn't even mention Michael, his father) and d. he likes Hannah. So, when Ryan finally meets Edward, he's extremely susceptible to the idea of living in Two Gardens. It will give him some kind of purpose, provide a caring, safe haven for Nathan, and he can be with Hannah (though they have to be secretive about their relationship because it's unsanctioned).

Which brings me to one of my favourite scenes in the series: the fast food restaurant scene. It's a pivotal scene in because it's where, I think, you start to buy into Edward's message. And when you start to buy into it, you start to believe how someone like Ryan ends up in Two Gardens. When Edward says to Ryan "How many people do you think dream of leaving their life behind and starting over?" he's tapping into something a lot of us have thought about. We can't help but agree with Edward when he says "everything with value has been commodified and marketed back to us: community, love, caring".  Then the clincher: "We're building a community where the world of consumption and greed doesn't exist. Where success is measured by personal growth, not your bank balance." Who wouldn't like to live in a place like that? Who hasn't thought about taking to the hills to escape the worst aspects of our world?

The scene not only helps us understand why Ryan is in Two Gardens, it's also a golden moment for Edward and really hooks us into his character. I think this intimate conversation with Ryan is more powerful than the talks we've seen him give to his people (So far. Edward gives some very powerful speeches to his people in later episodes). It builds on the charisma we've seen Edward display before this moment and, importantly, shows his utter belief and unshakeable conviction in what he's doing. For me, this is the scene where the believability of Ryan and Edward - two major characters - really hits its stride.

Hope you're all enjoying the show. When you watch this week's episode, you're in for a treat: Cynthia Ross emerges as a force to be reckoned with. She's scary. 

For some interesting info about cults go to www.cultwatch.com. It's got some really good stuff about how Two Gardens compares to real-life cults.

If you have any questions for the writers, then submit them on our message board here.


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