Lost Girl: How ‘Vexed’ Works As The Perfect Pilot

Possible spoilers through 03.13. All reviews here.

This is a review of 01.08 as a pilot. For the review of the episode as it works in canon, click here.

If you gather a bunch of above-the-liners in a room and ask what would compose a dream sci-fan pilot, you’d hear: overview of interesting main characters, rambunctious sex, tender sex, broad color palate, a wide range of sets and costumes, a hero, a villain, a fight, blood, cleavage, a moral dilemma, some special effects, witty/humorous lines, angst, perhaps a love triangle.

If you told this room you could give them all that, plus death row, a vampire, an outrageous blonde wig, a great leather jacket, a mystical weapon of great power, a bathtub scene, girl-on-girl action, death by garbage disposal, orphaned child drama, rooms festooned with candles and rope lights, and a shot which starts on a bloody glass slipper, you would witness the largest spontaneous group orgasm in the history of mankind.

'Did you feel that!?' [Full disclosure, I almost went with caps from 01.08's opening scene, but thought that might come across the wrong way.]

One reason pilots can’t have these nice things is they’re taken with world-building, character establishment, and starting arcs which will carry the season. Jumping into the middle of a season bypasses all that, and the resulting en medias res approach allows for the goodies listed above. Still, while the decision to use 01.08 as a pilot now appears as genius, it was a huge leap.

It’s unconventional at best, risky at worst, to make a pilot out of an episode nearer the end of a 13-episode season than the beginning. The decision makers may or may not catch all the important details, and you run a high risk of asking them to accept characters who have been established only on paper, and are now acting in unexplained ways. Additionally, they may like the episode but still pass on a series because they’re not sure whether you can properly world-build, especially in a genre such as fantasy or sci-fi where world building is more crucial than most.

The tattoo prominence in this shot is uber-intentional, because it instantly makes Trick more intriguing. Just note how many tattoos are in this episode and 01.01.

In a show special, Zoie Palmer talked about not having advanced scripts, thus not knowing exactly how to play Lauren. Not having seen what transpired past this point, it was hard to know whether Lauren had really killed the burgeoning relationship between herself and Bo, or whether it would come out that all along she had been angling to betray Bo. This tentative chemistry works well in the episodes leading up to this and the conflict Lauren is obviously feeling in this episode. Zoie decided to play Lauren as completely into Bo, and the tension in her face and body language between wanting to have sex with Bo for the sex of it, wanting to have sex with Bo as a diversionary tactic (split between personal reasons and not wanting to just be the Ash’s automaton) culminates with her conquering nerves and just going for it. You can read it as martyrdom, as Lauren likely knows she’s forgoing what she really wants with Bo (long-term relationship and a white picket fence), or you can read it as a culmination of sexual tension, or you can read it as a hesitant bowing to the inevitable. The fact you can legitimately read all of the above is a testament to good acting and tightrope-walking.

In the same vein, you’re not sure whether Dyson’s motives are purely selfish or whether his mistrust of Lauren and hesitancy to continue a sex-only relationship with Bo have deeper roots. Kris Holden-Ried walks a fine line in the post-attack conversation with Bo. Is he telling the truth about the Fae and whether the elders put a hit on Bo? Who does he mean by ‘we,’ is it the royal we, himself and Trick, or is he also working for the Ash and speaking for the Light? The conversation is vague enough to work in the pilot and to still carry weight when the episode is viewed in ‘proper’ order.

This episode contains a bit of most key characters (minus the Morrigan and Hale, who perhaps weren’t even cast yet), and several interesting guests. It showcases every key set minus the cop shop (the Dal, Trick’s lair, Dyson’s apartment, every room* in Bo and Kenzi’s house, Lauren’s lab, the Ash’s complex) and several guest sets (Dyson’s hallway, the Chinese gambling den, Vex’s club, a prison, an abandoned warehouse, Siegfried’s house). There’s even a gratuitous shot of a snowing sky, tracking down to find Bo and Kenzi picking a lock. The sets cover a broad range of colors, from the red of the gambling hall to the yellow of Bo’s room to the white-blue of Lauren’s lab. Clothes are showcased, lack of clothes are showcased. As I mentioned in the standard review, the opening scene is gorgeous, though the specific industrial hallway was a happy accident. Let’s break it down.

I'm such a sucker for foot shots. There's so much you can do with composition and implied narrative and shadows. I may have at least three projects where foot shots play prominent - if very different - roles.

Opinion varies on how long you have to grab a viewer’s attention with video; web video, film, and ads are all different. For a TV show or film, 30 seconds is a rough guideline, with maybe five minutes or to the first commercial break to keep it. The actual first episode introduces Kenzi and Bo, then an assault, a special-effect-laden murder, with Bo’s prone silhouette at the 5:00 mark, immediately followed with Dyson, Hale, and glistening, flashing pavement.

This entrance is bloody spectacular, starting with a tracking shot moving down as the elevator moves up, covering Bo from silhouetted head to stiletto’d feet. Usually a camera move like this is gazing at an objectified female form, with or without suggesting a man is doing the same. This shot subverts those expectations by using between-floor light to show her bruised and bleeding; not as a victim, but a victor, as she’ll reveal in a moment. She stumbles from the elevator down an industrial hallway, leaving bloodied streaks as she falls against the wall, and the scene begins to be intercut with Dyson working out on his punching bag, timed with the music.

As Bo gets closer to Dyson’s door, the punches increases in pace and intensity, and then works itself up to showing Dyson punching the bag from camera right, immediately followed by Bo clutching her stomach and falling against the wall camera left. Even without knowing the context of their relationship, the cuts clearly suggest he is emotionally pummeling her, while the soundtrack insinuates ‘ohs’ and ‘uhs’ over the top.

Also, teal and orange, but in intercut sets, not the same scene. Ye gods and little fishes, people, THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE.

They change from silhouettes to fully-faced characters as the door opens, then the music (“Sour Cherry” by The Kills) seamlessly carries over from violence to sex; rough sex which heals Bo, as the closeup of her shoulder in-focus points out, while Dyson’s out-of-focus face contorts in the corner of the frame. Although the ‘pilot’ hasn’t explained how Bo works in the same way 01.01 will, it’s demonstrated the main premise in under three minutes of screen time. After they’re done showing, Bo tells us she has ‘clients’ she works for, then the love triangle and Lauren are brought up (twice), Bo and Kenzi have jovial banter while being partners in crime, and we’re fully up to speed with what we’ll need to know plus a bonus dead body, all before the credits roll us to the five minute mark.

Music is definitely used well in this episode. Many stingers which will become familiar cues through the series appear. The lyrics of Clara Klein’s “Madman” over Bo and Lauren’s sex scene are evocative and reflect internal conflict while foreshadowing what’s coming. But by far the best use is Siegfried playing his record of ‘Habanera’ from Carmen.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 12.32.14 PM

This is an example of diegetic music, also called source music. Often, source music provides a soundtrack as it comes from from car radios or a band playing in someone’s favorite bar, etc. It’s not a technique Lost Girl uses often, though sometimes the Dal has instrumentalists and the Wanderer music comes from a jukebox, a merry-go-round, and a radio. Used here in the pilot, it’s showing off – ‘look, we have a little bit of a score, we have a soundtrack, and we can also do a great job of incorporating source music.’

They don’t only use it, they make much use of it. The record player appears in the foreground a couple more times, not only adding to shot composition, but reminding us where the music is coming from, so the following payoff makes sense. Vex – after displaying his power is controlling people and things from afar – waves his hand and increases the music volume to drive home the scene to the viewers and cover up the garbage-disposal-and-shrieks for Siegfried’s neighbors. Bravisimo.

From set dressing to the multitude of colors, use of music and sound mixing, instant-exposition of Vex’s powers and evil status, and Siegfried’s exuberance and creative murder, this is one of my favorite scenes in the whole first season.

Though I would have loved a medium two-shot of the two of them, instead of the closeups. And Vex is underused, for it being his big entrance. But, shooting time and episode time.

The only sad part about this scene is Siegfried’s house is so beautifully dressed, it’s a shame it couldn’t be a little better lit. Which brings us to another downside to shooting the eighth episode as a pilot: quality and HMU dissonance.

The makeup is markedly different from the surrounding episodes, and the haircuts – while covered somewhat by styling – are obviously incongruent lengths. The lighting and camera work are fairly true to what the show has become, and the opening sequence is a ridiculously fine piece of work, but editing continuity is rough. The audio mix is pretty good – in addition to Siegfried’s kitchen scene, check out both times the necklace is thrown – but includes a lot of ADR (dubbing in post to fix problems) and several patchy spots. Wrap then tape that mic under the bra, yo! Throughout show occasional lapel mics are visible and continuity isn’t perfect – no show can be, it’s the nature of the game – but this episode has more than its fair share. While that’s something forgiven in the first episode of a series, it’s unexpected halfway through a season.

Thankfully, something which doesn’t suffer is the chemistry. Bo and Kenzi are clicking on all cylinders; Dyson and Kenzi share three sentences, but it’s enough to show their friendship; Bo and Dyson are putting out serious heat, and one can also believe there’s a history of relationship tensions; Bo and Lauren’s intimate sex scene is even harder to pull off believably than Bo and Dyson’s rough sex. After all that, it’s the post-coital fights which impress most, pulling that much emotion from storylines which haven’t ben shot, with actors you barely know.

That sheet gets quite a workout in the first half of the season.

Speaking of the different sex scenes. While it’s true the pilot gets sold with heteronormative sex being rowdy and the lady sex being tender, that’s not to say the show always plays this way. Bo has rougher sex with ladies and gentler sex with men, but these setups:

– Sell. It doesn’t only showcase to the network that the show can handle wall-shaking sex and candle-lit sex, but it eases the network into the idea of having f/f sexuality portrayed on screen. People do like to be eased into things. But perversely, they also love the f/f sexuality. Because it sells. 

– Help establish the sort of relationship the three are in right now. Dyson is still the machismo wolf, asserting his masculinity (something he doesn’t feel as necessary with Ciara, but now I’m jumping ahead). Dyson is also trying to play it cool, friends with benefits, and Bo is trying to push the issue. Meanwhile, as Bo and Lauren are tentatively figuring out where they’re at in terms of a relationship, and as Bo is legitimately afraid she could hurt Lauren physically, and Lauren is feeling guilt for potentially hurting Bo emotionally, this plays nicely into all that. Last, it’s feasible Bo would feel more betrayed after this really intimate encounter, as opposed to a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.

(If you’re interested in more talk about how gender and sexuality play into all the show’s sex scenes, I was recently a guest on a podcast which delves deeper into that. Part One: Sexuality and No Slut-Shaming, Part Two: Monogamy, Objectification, and Sexual Orientation.)

One more note; Bo and Lauren’s first sex scene is framed and shot similarly to Bo and Dyson’s first sex scene, perhaps to underline the fact both are indeed viewed as equal in all respects. Interestingly, the biggest difference is Bo and Lauren’s first encounter has several crossfades, an editing technique which will be a recurring element in the Bo/Lauren sex scenes.

When we arrive at the Bo/Vex showdown between righteous heroine and maniacal villain, it happens in a deserted, festooned, propped-out-the-wazoo, neon-lit club which will reappear later. It would feel anticlimactic if it weren’t so over-the-top, and if it didn’t tease so much more to come. As a good pilot should. 

I’ve covered a lot, but if you’re interested in breaking anything down further, or anything in particular about this episode and why it being a pilot is so crazy yet so perfect, meet me in the comments section! I can talk about this stuff all day.

Film research is fun.

Stray Observations

– *It doesn’t showcase the kitchen, but it’s visible. And Kenzi’s never-seen bedroom has become a running joke.

– The credits sequence has shots almost exclusively from this episode and 01.01.

– I didn’t talk about how the tone works within the season, especially in relation to the motion comics, but commentor vexundorama did, and you can read that here.

19 Responses to “Lost Girl: How ‘Vexed’ Works As The Perfect Pilot”
  1. Izabell says:

    So they really pushed and sold *the concept* rather than a story per se? The minimum amount of exposition, just enough to let the viewer intuit things, was very cool I thought. I’ve always felt LG has concepts that are daring and fascinating and is working a super ambitious arc, while at the same time being burdened with continual mess-ups and inconsistencies, including what could be interpreted as instances of Bo being severely out of character.

    • Rachel says:

      Thanks for your comment. It also feel LG has concepts that are daring, and it’s just so awesome. I have huge respect for it, and think they’re conventionally unconventional (i.e. things everyone gets are daring — like a bisexual heroine) and unconventionally unconventional (i.e. daring as in: having an 8th episode pilot, I’m not sure how but think there were lots of risks in s3, an effeminate vampire who makes blood martinis out of stolen blood bank blood…).

      Does the pilot also help establish the show as a ‘show more than tell’ show?

      What do camera techniques (like crossfades) communicate (if anything) about characters and relationships?

      Thanks for the film explanations and examples (and links!) Melanie. Keep them coming 🙂

      • Melanie says:

        This episode is definitely more show-than-tell, though once it’s in order, we don’t need to infer Bo’s sexy powers, or wonder whether Lauren is actually into Bo; we’ve been told or shown that at some point in the past.

        Crossfades. Well. They slow the scene down a bit, and don’t fit in scenes which are quick and rough or jumpy; so for example they wouldn’t belong in the opening sex scene here. It could be a style choice. Some directors and editors like them more, some not at all. But they’re definitely more prevalent in the Lauren/Bo scenes, and I also could be because it’s easier to ‘get away’ with things there. Cut it at the last frame you possibly can, but then have that frame fading out while the next starts, and hope the powers that be let it slide. That’s definitely the idea in 02.06’s sex scene ending, though it’s true many sex scenes will use a crossfade to the pillowtalk or morning after, to imply the talking or cuddling is happening after.

        • Rachel says:

          So that crossfade in 2×6 was a bit brave. I’ve never really considered how camera angles can express so much, or be used in brave ways. 🙂

          I am now beginning to wonder about camera shots and angles and stuff. Breaking Bad has got me wondering a lot, actually, just so you know.

    • Melanie says:

      Yep. They sold concept, characters, sets, and the lead interacting and/or sexing every main player.

      There are inconsistencies and strange character decisions and constrained sets, all true. But the fact they’re able to make fun of themselves a little, and willing to work on multiple levels of storytelling – the ‘real,’ the Fae world, and the metaphorical – cover a multitude of sins. I think part of S3’s problem is, with the exception of a couple episodes, it takes itself far too seriously. I’m 1000% down for some biblical allusions. But don’t lose all the camp. Camp is fun.

      • Rachel says:

        Can’t ‘camp’ allow you to address more serious issues, too? I read a NY Times article about Stephen Colbert’s (looooove him!) satire on Super Pacs, pointing out that while satirical and super (no pun intended) funny on the surface, underneath was a much more serious commentary on America’s political and economic system. While real politics, while seeming serious on the surface, underneath is a joke.

      • Melanie says:

        I love Colbert’s Super Pac bits, and he seems to be going down that road again with the 501c4 applications (though to a lesser extent). Satire like his and camp like Lost Girl can certainly address serious issues, and in fact in many contexts can do it better, both because they can make it more simpler/relatable, but also because often the audience finds its sympathies with something they once would have scorned. In a hyper-idealistic scenario, someone watching a campy movie where the girl is punished for her sexuality thinks ‘well that’s just unfa . . . oh.’ Or someone watching Colbert could think “it’s not right that he can get away with making a corporation to launder . . . oh.”

        There’s still a line in camp and satire, and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish those using a trope because it’s a trope, and those using a trope-y scenario to skewer a trope. Satire, too, can often be done poorly and confuse the issue, or play into societal oppression; for example, it’s extremely difficult to do satire of racism. I know on another thread you mentioned Colbert’s ‘colorblind’ bit, which does it well, mostly because he knows how far not to go. Lost Girl and Colbert, of course, are firmly on the side of good.

  2. vexundorma says:

    I think I read somewhere that Zoie Palmer said that they had to reshoot the Bo-Lauren sex scene because of a problem with the film, which means we’ll never know how that scene went down in the original take. That’s why any comparisons between the Bo-Dyson and Bo-Lauren sex scenes are, to me, valid when analyzing the episode as canon but problematic when watching it as a pilot. Anything more than the observation that Bo has a habit of banging Dyson when needed and that she and Lauren are having a night of first times (the first of Bo with a human without the expectation of death as outcome, the first of Lauren with a fae, the first they both have together) is just a walk in speculation land. And, if the script was kept unchanged for the reshoot, there’s really not much of a triangle to be seen – basically we have a guy unhappy with his bang boy role trying to drive an edge in whatever relationship the girl he wants has with another person (I didn’t wrote ‘girl’ because that doesn’t appears to be his problem).
    I don’t know if “Vexed” is the perfect pilot, but I agree that it has all the makings of a fantastic pilot albeit an unconventional one, something like starting an opera with a duet on stage and no overture. It could be done, but it would require a different approach to the season planning and Lost Girl has always been very conventional in the design of its seasons. That’s why I’m convinced that this episode was shot to show the network what the series potential would look like at its firing cylinders peak, but was never intended as a real pilot. If this was a big bucks budget kind of show they’d probably scrap it altogether, but being the pocket-change budget type of show it is that option was never on the table.
    And can we take our hats off to John Fawcett’s directing? (hats off).

    • Melanie says:

      Usually, especially in an instance involving established sets like Bo’s bedroom and not extra sets, they would reshoot a scene as closely as possible to the original, including lighting and camera setups, which would all be marked and on file for just such an occurrence. Perhaps it changed the mood a little, the two knowing each other more. I’d still hate to be that AC/DIT/whomever didn’t check the gate or formatted the cards or whatnot. (Assuming it wasn’t a fluke; those happen too. I worked a gig once where we discovered there was possibly some sort of magnetic interference in the old building, because a certain hallway killed cards and equipment).

      Vexed as an episode is far from perfect, but I think it’s a perfect pilot because it has something for everyone, would wow the execs, and has all the elements you want to showcase, in one tidy package. I believe you’re right, and it was never intended to work as the first episode in the series, but it nails all the things Lost Girl does best. I haven’t heard them say if they re-shot any scenes after the network bought the show, but I’d guess they did a couple – for example, once they got picked up, they could have reshot Mayer’s scenes when they shot Dead Lucky, for almost no extra cost. Which would mean they probably had a different actor play Mayer in the original pilot, too. All speculation, but it fits.

      It’s still creaky in spots, but it gets the job done. Every time.

      *hats off* Indeed. They have some talented directors.

  3. I’m about to have a different opinion from you, Mel. I HATE the music in the scene where Vex tortures Siegfried. Operatic music over cold, psychopathic violence? It just feels so trite.

    • Melanie says:

      Color me shocked!

      Juxtapositions in musical choice and scene can be trite, but it being diagetic music (Siegfried’s choice, and indicative of his personality and culture etc etc., very Breaking Bad of them, actually) covers all that for me.

      Plus, classical operas can be ragingly violent and thematically harsh.

      I mean, I can’t argue with your feels, but it’s too bad the scene and your feels miss that special connection.

      • I’m aware of opera being violent, and I guess it just feels like they really wanted that moment so Siegfried is an opera fan and not that the character dictated the music choice.

        I actually really dislike all the Vex stuff in this episode, which usually makes everyone gape at me. But it just feels like (sorry, Paul) Paul Amos is trying too hard, and the character comes off as very cookie cutter to me.

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