TV Pilot Tuesday is back. And with it comes the buzzy phrase, “the strange attractor.” What is this strange attractor? Why do people in the comments section talk about it so much? And does Quarry contain it? Read on, my friends, read on.
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: A Vietnam vet comes back from the war and when he can’t find a job, is forced to become a hitman.
About: This one comes from show creators Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller. The show will play on Cinemax and become one of the underrated network’s steadily growing group of gritty shows it hopes will turn it into the next AMC. In fact, listening to Gordy and Fuller talk, you can practically hear the influences of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, as they want to use their hard-boiled main character to define the 70s, and see how he eventually responds when the polar-opposite 80s arrive.
Writers: Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller (based on the novels by Max Allan Collins)
Details: 61 pages
You know, it’s funny. As I was reading this, I kept thinking to myself, “This feels really familiar.” There was a show on Sundance called “Rectify” about a tortured quiet individual who’d just been released from prison after serving a sentence for murder. We watch him as he tries to integrate back into a changed society and a community that doesn’t trust him.
So what’s Quarry about? It’s about a man coming back from war trying to integrate back into a changed society dealing with a community that doesn’t trust him. So I check IMDB. What do you know? It’s the SAME writers. Truth be told, I liked the first couple of episodes of Rectify. But it became too slow for me, too contemplative, with one too many “tortured hero looks off in silence for 30 seconds” shots.
I was hoping Quarry would be different. Let’s find out if it is.
32 year-old Quarry has just gotten back from Vietnam with his buddy, Artie. The two seem to be doing all right. No limbs missing. No scars that stretch from one end of their faces to the other. These guys just want to get home to their wives and start living a normal life again.
But that’s not going to be easy. As we find out from the screaming protestors just outside the airport, everyone’s up in arms about a mass child massacre that took place back in Nam that our two soldiers may have taken part in. Quarry must look at giant pictures of dead children thrust into his face as he tries to get to his car.
But all of that fades away when Quarry gets home and sees his wife, Joni. As Gordy and Fuller put it, “If you have to fight a war, she’s the woman you fight it for.” The two make love like it’s going out of style and that begins Quarry’s new war – finding a job.
The problem is two-fold. There aren’t a lot of jobs to have, and everyone’s so pissed off about this Quan Thang massacre that even the jobs that are available aren’t available to HIM. Little does Quarry know, he’s been trailed ever since he got home. And he’s finally approached by the trailing gentleman, a guy who likes to refer to himself as, “The Broker” (for whatever reason, I kept thinking of “The Prospector” from Toy Story 2 whenever he came around).
So the Prospetor, err, I mean The Broker, offers Quarry a lifeline. Tells him he’ll give him 50 grand if he’ll start killing for him. Not good people, he assures him, bad people (aren’t they always?). As he points out, it won’t be any different from what you did over there, except this time you’ll be doing it to people who actually deserve it.
Quarry Refusal-of-the-Calls that shit, but when Artie takes the position he rejected, he’s forced to hop in and help. Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say that Artie’s hit doesn’t go too well. This brings Quarry into the situation on a more personal level. When he agrees to kill ONE person just to get back on his feet, he’s offered his first mission. That mission will be a shocking one – as the man he follows takes him right back to his very home, where his wife opens the door, and lets the man inside, a man, Quarry sees, who is now kissing his wife.
There’s been a lot of talk in the comments of late about the “strange attractor.” It’s something I don’t talk about a lot but maybe I should. I suppose I always considered the strange attractor to be a given, but I must remember that there are no givens in screenwriting.
The “strange attractor” is basically what makes your idea unique. A couple of brothers going to a remote island to connect with their estranged aunt? No strange attractor there. A couple of brothers going to an island of dinosaurs to connect with their estranged aunt, who runs the place? Now you have your strange attractor.
Take the time travel out of Back to the Future, the superheroes out of Avengers, the “stuck alone on Mars” out of The Martian, and you’ve lost all of their strange attractors. Now you might say, “Well duh, Carson. You don’t have a movie if you take those things away. They’re the entire film!”
Yeah but see here’s the thing. I READ all those scripts that have those things taken away. I’ve read that indie script about a guy who tries to reconnect with his parents. That is, essentially, Back to the Future without its strange attractor. I’ve read that boring script where a group of friends get into shenanigans in their middle-of-nowhere town. That is, essentially, The Avengers without its strange attractor.
Getting back to Quarry, I was looking for a strange attractor, and I had trouble finding one. Everything here is familiar. Guy comes back from war. World isn’t welcoming. He needs to find a job. We’ve seen all that before, right?
The most thrilling aspect of the concept is the hitman stuff, but is that a strange attractor? Haven’t there been so many hitman movies/shows at this point that there’s nothing “strange” about it?
To be honest, there was only one SPECIFIC component to the script, which was the Quan Thang Massacre. That’s the only thing you couldn’t see from watching any other show. And I struggled with whether that was enough.
Because the thing is, the writing here is strong. The character work is strong. You feel like you know these people. You relate to these people. And there’s something to be said for that. In fact, one of the things I struggle with is the balance between the strange and the familiar. Sure, you want that strange weird “we can’t get this anywhere else” component to your story. But if the characters are all weird, inaccessible, or boring, it doesn’t matter. We need to understand and relate to the people in your story if we’re going to care.
I’m sure everyone here has experienced that awkward feeling of walking back into a world that used to be your entire life, and now has completely changed. Shit, I used to feel it every time I flew back home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. And on that front, Quarry does an excellent job. It captures that feeling, just like Rectify did.
I’m just wondering if this is another Rectify situation where the first two episodes are good, but then we’re just treading water since there IS NO strange attractor – nothing that sets it apart from anything else. I liked the way the story unfolded. I loved how Quarry’s first hit turned out to be banging his wife. It made the script worth reading. But does this show have legs? I guess that’s something we’ll only find out with time.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: A nice way to add a little spice to a fight is to give both parties something they’re after during the fight. Because when you think about it, a basic fight is pretty boring. Two people swinging away in an obviously choreographed ballet. But if they’re fighting to GET to something, now the fight has a little extra kick. The classic example of this is in any Jackie Chan film, where a gun has gotten away and both guys are fighting to get it. But be creative. It doesn’t have to be a gun. It can be whatever object is important in that moment of the movie.