Lost Girl: Season 2, Episode 09, Original Skin
You know the drill. Possible spoilers through 03.13. All reviews here.
At some point, every long-running show has a bottle episode, and every sci-fan show with the remotest hint of camp has a body switching episode. (Heck, Charmed has one every dozen episodes or so.) “Original Skin” kills both birds with one stone.
Bottle Episode Step 1: contrive to get your principles inside the bottle. Kenzi’s lurve of drinking, Dyson and Hale being cops, Lauren on an Ash errand.
Bottle Episode Step 2: make sure nobody else is inside the bottle. Bingo night. Check.
Body Switching Step 1: set up the switch before it manifests. Bo and Kenzi need a drink, Trick does his barkeep thing with Lauren, Hale and Dyson are playing pool, Woods needs to show his superiority by snagging someone’s pitching and swigging directly from it. Everyone has had some beer.
Bonus Redirect! Though we see Reynard with the syringe before everyone has taken a sip, we assume it’s more poison than body-switching potion, and it give us some tension as we wait to see who will drink.
Bonus Subtext! This show likes its syringes and their alternate representation.
Bottle Episode Step 2: keep everyone from leaving. If you’re super ballsy you can attempt to pull off an Exterminating Angel, but it’s best to give an actual reason. In this case, the bounty hunter has put a force field around the Dal.
Body Switching Step 2: dial it in slowly. Introduce the premise, maybe start with one switch before you go hog wild.
Body Switching Step 3: set up a ‘straight man.’ Someone needs to help keep everything sorted, for the characters and the audience. In this case, it’s Trick, who only drinks the good stuff.
Body Switching Step 4: easy identifiers. If more than two or three people are switching, we’re going to need visual cues. Trick just happens to have name tags for bingo night! Thank heavens most people switch between themselves, to keep it easier to follow. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 did seven of Harry, and established various outfits beforehand, then pulled off the change, then used partnered each Harry with another character to help keep it all straight. This bonus feature explains how they did the VFX, which is also handy if you’re wondering how Orphan Black does it. Orphan Black, another show which uses wardrobe and visual cues and acting to keep everyone aligned. Of course, you can go more for the nuanced acting when your conceit is stretched over the whole show, rather than 20 minutes where you need everyone to get the idea across quickly. But I’m getting off track.
Body Switching Step 5: If a character is trying to hide something – say, Reynard hiding he’s in Bo’s body – put that ‘outside’ or ‘shell’ character with someone least likely to notice. Here, Ciara has barely met Bo, and she’s also distracted by her anger, so she doesn’t immediately catch on. The attraction Bo manifested towards Ciara upon meeting and the loathing she feels about Ciara being with Dyson are still in her body. Reynard voices them, which is initially somewhat amusing, but also discomfiting.
Bottle episodes are the perfect time to air all of the awkward. Ciara and Dyson were mid-fight when Dyson went for ‘a drink with the boys,’ but Ciara walks in on him cheers-ing Bo. Bo wants to actually talk about Last episode’s kiss, while dressed as a biker chick. Which Lauren apparently has a secret thing for. (Also, a thing for mechanical bulls.) Everyone starts confessing and sniping, especially once the blood sets in. The underlying reasons for all the awkward are going to come out, and unsurprisingly, most of it is fear and loneliness.
The episode is concerned with identity, interpersonal intimacy, and hidden feelings: from Bo’s biker clothing to Ciara’s fear she doesn’t know Dyson, from Lauren’s hidden rage to Kenzi and Hale being forced to put labels on their relationship.
While all that is interesting, I have to admit for me, body switching episodes are enjoyable because the actors get to mimic each other. It starts with Anna Silk’s impression of Wood’s accent and snowballs from there: K.C. Collins plays prim and proper while Lina Roessler is a not-really-apologetic hounddog about her own body; in a stroke of brilliance, Ksenia Solo’s sniffs and snarls and imitates of Dyson’s hulk shoulders while Kris Holden-Ried compliments/makes fun of his sexy arms and voice; and Zoie Palmer gets to go all crazy eyes.
Lauren going after Lachlan is the result of not just anger over his inhumane treatment of her, but anger over her five years of servitude to the Fae who tricked her, incapacitated her girlfriend, and are currently keeping her from her home and her, well, other girlfriend. She’s stressed over getting Nadia to wake up, she’s stressed over what will happen to her life if she succeeds. There’s all sorts of work, personal, and sexual stress roiling under the surface, and when the Gorgon blood and Reynard bring it all out, s/he goes straight for the figurehead of all her problems. Dyson-as-Kenzi puts a stop to Reynard, but the effect on Lauren will linger. She’s reached her breaking point, and this helps cement it. In two episodes, she’ll outright defy Lachlan, and their animosity won’t be polite anymore.
The line between where the bodies react and the ‘persons’ inside them act is a touch blurry. Hale-as-Ciara wants to kiss Kenzi-as-Dyson because of bodies, but also because of the people inside. It opens up all sorts of possibilities. Ciara(-as-Hale) and Bo(-as-Woods) have an honest talk which would have been a long time coming under different circumstances.
Being inside one other’s bodies and thoughts gives everyone some perspective, too. Dyson’s amazement at Kenzi’s strength comes not at discovering her physical abilities, but her limitations. He’s so used to using his brawn, his pipes, his wolf, to out-brute his problems, he’s overlooked what it takes for someone like Kenzi to be a survivor, and he’s impressed. Kenzi understands some of what Dyson is going through. Bo is an outsider, seeing herself and her powers as others see them, and seeing herself attack Ciara is terrifying. So while there’s no sex, one kiss, and one chi-suck, there’s an incredible amount of intimacy.
It’s worth noting nobody gets inside Lauren’s head; as a private person who’s just learning to trust and has a girlfriend problem not many know about, this is wise. Of course, she and Kenzi being the only humans mean one of them has to be possessed by Reynard, and the other the chaser, but we don’t know that until Reynard-as-Lauren is already gone. Not only the people who switch with each other, but the order in which all the information is revealed, has to be painstakingly plotted, yet it feels organic. As organic as anything where people switch essences/souls/selves and then chi-suck, stab, and power-orb each other can be.
I’m guessing there were charts and rewrites galore, but it works well to forward not only relationships but story (mostly, Lachlan’s and Lauren’s, somewhat Bo’s), is funny, and was cheap to produce. Three minor guest characters, no extras whatsover. A couple props, two minor CGI bits, and one green, pixilated filter. One scene in Lachlan’s throne room, one in Lauren’s lab (potentially shot with another lab scene, though it seems Lost Girl shoots fairly episode-sequential), the rest in the Dal and the Dal’s handy storeroom. One color scheme, one main lighting setup for all the group shots, and a couple relights for one-on-ones in various rooms, everything left a little dim and creepy, voila.
Filming these sorts of dynamics isn’t necessarily challenging as far as shot setup (a lot of wide, group shots, a lot of two shots where switched characters are together), but the blocking is much more important. In a big group, arrangement is important, but accessibility – so, for example, Kenzi-as-Dyson can jump in front of Kenzi’s body when Reynard-as-Lauren attacks her – must be maintained. There will be spots with better light, so anyone you’re singling needs to hit their marks exactly. As shots move, things in the background must be visible, so the audience can see Kenzi and Lauren looking funnily at Reynard-as-Bo, or can see the door close back behind all the chaos as Reynard-as-Lauren leaves the Dal.
So while making some logistics like location, transportation, set dressing, extras wrangling, and rigging easier, it’s not like a bottle episode is a walk in the park. The filming logistics are still important, but the character interactions are even more so. None of it matters if the people in the room can’t keep it interesting for an hour. Throwing multiple body switches on top of that takes some serious chutzpah, but in this case, it pays off.
– BONUS BODY SWITCHING STEP: use the time to put a character into limbo to learn about the looming Fae extinction, “unless you, Isabo, fulfill your destiny.” Bo also forsees stabbing Trick. But it’s all conveniently in the Dal.
– “Give back my friendship beer!”
– The Gorgon blood brings up blood and control again. I’m not saying they’re specifically foreshadowing “Fae-nted Love,” I’m saying the idea of blood being powerful is prevalent in mythology and the series, and especially interesting to me in conjunction with Bo’s religious upbringing.
– Of course Lauren wants to do things systematically.
– I know it’s a common thing for people and thus characters to do, but TV characters need to stop acting like the word ‘murderer’ explains the word ‘anarchist.’
– Bo as Woods (when Kenzi-as-Dyson is slashing at Woods-as-Bo): “Try to aim for not my face!”
– “As long as everybody keeps their head about them.” *Jump cut to Lachlan*
– I know people could take issue with Hale grabbing Ciara’s boobs without permission, even if it’s kind of his ‘vessel’ at the time. It would certainly be entirely inappropriate in reality. The same with Kenzi’s fondling Dyson’s wolf-junk. As part of the camp which this episode is drenched in, as another entry in the long line of body switching episodes, and as a way for the actors to stretch their powers, it’s fitting and funny.