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An excerpt of this article by Keith McDuffee

How Persons Unknown would have progressed – Interview with Rémi Aubuchon

Question Answer
Back when I spoke with James Parriott about Defying Gravity, he held little back in what he thought of the handling of Lost and its by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to constructing the show’s mythology. Parriott said he couldn’t run his show that same way, so he did have the majority of the show’s progression already in mind before the show’s first season completed. So was that the same case going into the mythology-laden Persons Unknown? Chris’s original idea was to try and do a Prisoner, but in a 21st-century approach. The Prisoner reflected the anxiety and the hopes and dreams and paranoia of the ’60s, and we wanted to do that same thing for the 2000s. The Prisoner was about individuality and suppressing that individuality. Our focus was on free will and the individual being able to triumph over the establishment. So that’s the premise of saying where we would have gone.

We were making it more of an ensemble, a slightly different organization in mind. I think [Chris] would be completely straightforward that he had every intention of doing a modern-day Prisoner.

With that said, and with leaving viewers such a looming cliffhanger in the first season’s finale, what was planned for the second season, had it been renewed? Much of what season two was going to be about was trying to find them. Trying to figure out how to get to them and rescue them and get them out of the town, and try to break the back of this sort of strange shadow organization that is keeping them there. That was our general sense of what the drive and ending was going to be for the second season.
But,really, what was this show about? What was keeping these people in the town, on a ship or in a strange prison camp? Who were these people and why were they seemingly chosen to become part of what we learned to be “The Program?” Here’s a whole lot of what Mr. Aubuchon had to say on that: What they’re stuck in is a kind of giant Skinner Box. B.F. Skinner is a famous behavioralist who believed that there was no such thing as free will, and that it was just about modifying behavior. Our backstory is that in 1953, a young associate of B. F. Skinner had decided that there must be a way in which we can prevent another Hitler from coming into power. This is just in the middle of the Cold War or right after World War II; how could we prevent it? The premise was that if we had caught Hitler early enough in his life, with proper behavioral modification, we might have been able to take his evil genius and have turned it into something positive for the world.

So he was given permission and a sort of carte blanche task to go and develop an algorithm by which, through public record, it could identify individuals all around the world who had potential for either becoming evil or having the potential for doing great good in the world. And by utilizing this algorithm, and identifying these individuals, they literally were kidnapped out of their lives, brought basically to a program in which they could be turned. It had to be right at the right moment of their lives where that they could be turned to good. But, sadly, that doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t work, at first they just wanted to return those people that they had an unsuccessful attempt at to the real world.

Unfortunately then we wound up with Lee Harvey Oswald and other people that weren’t turned into the program and eventually just started to become evil and bad. So they decided that really the only way they could deal with an individual that wasn’t going the way they wanted them to, they would eliminate them. Once they began doing that, the program became corrupted and it started to eat itself from within, and suddenly some things started to get tight.

Eventually they had to find other ways in order to justify their organization — the Madame Director being the current director of that program — and before they knew it they were suddenly starting to do behavior modification to develop assassins and they would modify them so that they would have some control over the political scene all over the world. In order to gain power they basically started eating themselves from within. And whatever benevolence they had and whatever goodness that program had at the beginning just began to become, in essence, a utilitarian, somewhat cold and evil institution that is constantly stealing people out of their lives and bringing them to this program to do it.

So what of these characters that we came to know and learn morsels about throughout the season? What was special about these particular people, and when would we have learned more about them, if at all? What we loved about the character of Janet, and what we wanted to create is that all of a sudden they have identified this one particular individual who seemed innocent enough — she was a single mother, trying to struggle, her husband left her — but what they never realized is that she’s not someone that the program can actually change. And by throwing that into the machinery, they accidentally killed themselves. The question we were always going to be playing with was: did the Madame Director do this on purpose? Was she trying to bring down this program herself? Does she understand? Or is she the evil person that people are fighting against, and is Janet eventually going to become an assassin? Or is she actually going to become someone who saves everybody from the program? And what they didn’t count on was her love for Joe and that changing everything.

We had a lot of discussion about what ‘level two’ would be. Part of it was they were going to be on a secret island but … we didn’t go with that [laughs]. But somehow this next level would be actual training. It’s clear that Joe has been through several levels of the program, and so the other characters — and Janet in particular — were going to go through the motions in order to figure out where in the world the town is so that they can setup the rescue.

Down the line — within five years was our plan — eventually an entire organization which we called ‘The Mansfield Institute’ would eventually be completely and utterly destroyed, with Janet being the major agent of that destruction and change. (Truth is we named it ‘The Mansfield Institute’ after one of our executives at FOX Television Studios, Pancho Mansfield.) We just had this idea that we had this sort of benign, plain paper bag of an organization that the public never really understood what they did; they’d show up on the general service budget every year but nobody quite knows what they do. So that’s a general overview of what that was going to be like.

Does that mean that each season was going to be another level? No. I think that once Janet broke out of level two that all hell would have broken loose.

The questions viewers had coming out of the first season was: was it all manipulated? Did they really escape from the town? Or were they allowed to escape from the town? Was Janet allowed to escape from the hospital? Was that all part of the plan or were there some accidents that allowed them to happen? We didn’t answer all of those questions but we were eventually going to answer those questions.

It seemed that, as the show was progressing, we got some sense that a lot of what these “prisoners” knew was hidden from us — and from the other prisoners — and we got some hints regarding that as the season came to a conclusion. It would turn out that almost everybody had been briefed on everybody else during the course of being in the town. Nobody really knows why they were briefed or how. We hadn’t worked out all the specifics on that, and we came up with that idea fairly late in developing the show. We always knew who Joe was; we always knew Janet’s story. We hadn’t really figured out everyone else’s stuff.

Around episode five or six is when we really had to start thinking seriously about them. Blackham was going to know a lot more about Charlie than Charlie knew about Blackham; we were certainly going to develop that more in the second season. The major thing we wanted was when they all find themselves back in the hotel again, we wanted them to have something that they could look at each other at with suspicion. That was the first and foremost reason for doing that — now all of a sudden we learn the soldier’s been tortured, and we had no idea how those girls got back from Morocco. To be honest we hadn’t done a lot of thinking about that.

So, the prisoner camp we saw in the finale was was the cast-away area, where people who were rejected wound up? Yes. It was kind of one of those things that we thought was cool but hadn’t thought it out fully yet. ‘Oh we’ll figure it out in the second season,’ we thought.

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