From The Writers' Room

Brian Francis Slattery on writing Bookburners S02 E08: “Present Infinity”

Comprehensible incomprehensibility.

I know we’re not supposed to play favorites necessarily, but whatever: this episode was my favorite one to write. During our writers’ summit, where we got together to hash out what the story arc and episodes for the season were to be, I had my eye on it as the one I wanted most, and sentence for sentence, it’s the most fun I’ve had so far.BB_SII_Ep_08_ebook_600x960

Very early in hashing out the season, we knew that our heroes were going to (spoiler!) encounter the long-lost Team Four. The question was: What would Team Four be like? What would explain their disappearance, and if they still existed, their long absence? We batted around a lot of ideas and settled ultimately on one that shows how interesting things can get when a few writers put their heads together. Team Four wasn’t going to be good, or evil, or incompetent, or manipulative. No: Team Four was going to be incomprehensible. Like the Absurdist Mafia, Team Four was going to give our protagonists an offer they couldn’t understand.

But when it came time to actually write the thing, I realized that I, in fact, needed some rules. Team Four couldn’t just spew nonsense and do random things. That would get old fast—and if things were too random, it could make readers wonder why Team Four was even still a team. I needed something a little more coherent. In a way, Team Four needed to be comprehensibly incomprehensible.

As in so many aspects of my life, I’m grateful to music for providing an answer to this conundrum. This doesn’t happen every time I play, but when I’ve played certain kinds of music with certain people, I’ve experienced, in a very real way, the sense of time slowing down, speeding up, even stopping. This isn’t the same as just losing track of time (which I’m also really good at); I mean that sometimes, when playing music, it really feels like my minutes are different than your minutes, my seconds different than your seconds. I close my eyes and open them again, and people in the audience have moved much more than they should have been able to. The space inside a beat can be crawled into, tightened, stretched out. It’s weird, and obviously not really happening. But the feeling of it is real. And when I try to talk to people while in this state, the conversation is, well, a little funky.

Meanwhile, I’ve come to understand my collection of music—which spans the earliest days of recording to last week—as a kind of infinite present. The idea that a recording captures a moment in time is pretty common; in a way, it’s the whole point of recording. Because getting at all these recordings is so easy now, it’s really just a small step to conceiving of all that captured sound as always happening, already out there, all the time, and if you had the right equipment, you could hear all of it at once. That sound, to my ear, would be utterly beautiful, and not hard to imagine. So for Team Four, it was just a question of applying that to everything: They not only hear everything, but see it, feel it, taste it, all of it, all at once. And it doesn’t drive them crazy. It leaves them in awe, blissed out beyond belief, without a care in the world. Even though they see the end of it.

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