Human Target: Baptiste
March 17th, 2010
SPOILERS AHEAD: Tonight’s “Human Target” is what I like to refer to as a “Mythology Episode,” because it expands beyond the adventure of the week to the larger story of Chance’s past. This narrative arc has been woven throughout the entire series, but generally limited to passing lines of dialog. Until now, no episode has dedicated more screen time to the broader plot than Baptiste.
In this episode, we learn Chance used to be an assassin for hire when an old associate, Baptiste, attempts to assassinate foreign dignitaries in Washington D.C. Baptiste is Chance’s equal in every way. He represents Chance’s first worthy adversary, because he is his equal both physically and mentally. I knew that Baptiste would require his own theme.
Writer / executive producer Jon Steinberg and I had lengthy discussions about Baptiste for several months leading up to the scoring of this episode. While the character is clearly an antagonist, I wasn’t sure if I should portray him musically as an evil villain. Although a ruthless and efficient killer, he doesn’t view himself as an amoral individual. In his mind, he is simply a professional hired for a job. More importantly, he views Chance as a brother who abandoned him. He resents Chance, the old boss’ favorite “son,” for leaving to join the other side.
These are complex, familial relationships that would not be served by writing an evil “bad guy” theme. I wanted the music to underscore the twisted, fraternal dynamic between Chance and Baptiste: to show they are two sides of the same coin. So, I literally turned the Chance Theme upside down to create the Baptiste Theme:
This is a technique called intervallic inversion. Put simply, it means every musical step in the Chance Theme that goes up instead goes down in the Baptiste Theme, and vice versa. The rhythm, orchestration and melodic phrasing of the two themes are identical, but they move in opposite directions.
Their similarity is glaringly apparent at a glance by looking at the MIDI notation of the two themes. Notice how they are mirror images of another:
This approach was effective because the Chance and Baptiste Themes sound the same, but feel different. Astute listeners will pick up on the difference. But, to a more casual viewer, the Baptiste Theme will simply sound like a darker variation of the Chance Theme. Either interpretation is fine, of course, because that is the exact connection I wanted the score to make: Chance and Baptiste are the same, but on opposite sides.
The first time the Baptiste Theme is heard is over the episode’s title card, which technically makes Baptiste the first episode not to feature the Chance Theme over the introduction. After a descending tri-tone in the celli, the French horns present the Baptiste Theme:
We open in a seedy Washington D.C. subway station, where Baptiste sits on a bench. If you read my blogs for Lockdown and Salvage and Reclamation, you know I’ve been altering my orchestral technique recently to feature more unique colors and distinct ideas within the orchestra. That idea continues in the opening of Baptiste, as a hapless mugger tries to rob Baptiste. Listen for a varied collection of orchestral colors, including muted horn stabs, fluttering flute and clarinet lines and descending string trills.
Once the mugger leaves, the English horn and French horns state a solitary version of the Baptiste Theme. Before long, a figure sits down beside him. As we focus to reveal Chance, the score modulates a half step down and the flutes and violins play the Chance Theme, for the first time in the episode:
Chance and Baptiste sit on the subway bench and talk, the first of several Act Ins that give us glimpses of this conversation (the bulk of the episode is in flashback, leading up to this scene). This first sequence introduces the important “ticking clock” idea that once the next train arrives, the crowded station will empty and there will be no one there to stop Chance from killing Baptiste. To underscore this idea, a lonely bassoon solo states the Baptiste Theme, followed by a darkly heroic surge in the strings and brass:
As the clock ticks down, we flash back to the beginning of the story, as Chance and Winston discover Baptiste is in town and plan to stop him.
The first part of that plan involves caching up with Emma Barnes, the sexy FBI agent he met in Embassy Row. When I scored that episode, I wrote her a theme based on the riff and melody from their rambunctious tango fight:
Both the Barnes Theme and the Barnes Ostinato return tonight, and play important roles in the score.
Chance first barges in on Emma on a romantic date in her apartment. Emma is apparently a big Raya Yarbrough fan, because the song she’s using to set the mood is “Morning in Manhattan,” from Raya’s out-of-print first album Waking at Twilight. (Fans of Galactica vocalists, fear not. Brendan’s got a song featured in a couple weeks too).
In her apartment, Chance, Winston and Guerrero see tons of newspaper clippings, sketches and evidence plastered over her walls, and realize she’s become obsessed with Chance. Here, the score re-establishes both elements of the Barnes Theme, starting with the Barnes Melody…
… followed by the Barnes Ostinato:
The tone is light and playful, playing up both the comedic and sexual chemistry between her and Chance. MB Gordy played a few tasty castanet solos in her cues as well, subtly reminding us of the Latin dance roots of her theme:
She decides to help by granting them access to FBI headquarters, where they hope to deduce the identity of Baptiste’s target.
The second act opens with the next stage in Chance and Baptiste’s conversation in the subway. The cue begins with low strings stating an ominous version of the Baptiste Theme, followed by an echo in the violins and violas.
Baptiste asks how Chance could have turned his back on his old life for a woman he barely knew, Katherine. As the conversation shifts to this painful memory, the Katherine Theme ascends out of the murky texture in the violins and flutes. However, the lush major and augmented harmonies of her tune have been altered to minor and diminished chords, giving her theme a mournful, funereal feel. Chance is not remembering her life, but is being painfully reminded of her death, and the score needed to reflect that:
As the conversation reveals that Baptiste is the one who killed Katherine, a solo French horn plays his theme. I was careful to avoid making the score here too ominous, because for Baptiste, this was a calculated professional act and not anything personal.
However, he then makes reference to “unfortunate events” that seem to have resulted in Emma’s death. Since these conversations take place in the future of our main storyline, we suddenly have reason to believe that Emma will die in this episode. The score shifts dramatically as the strings move to a dissonant sul ponticello tremolo cluster. A solo flute drifts above with a melancholy statement of the Barnes Theme:
The conversation at the beginning of Act 3 is even more thematic. Baptiste reveals how painful Chance’s betrayal was to him, saying, “we should be the ones angry at you.” As they discuss Chance’s old boss, an English horn, trumpet and French horn state a spooky version of the Old Boss Theme.
This theme was initially established in Sanctuary as a general mystery theme, because at the time we didn’t yet know who was searching for Chance. Since then, it has become associated with Chance’s old boss, but this scene introduces yet another side of it. The theme is ominous, yes, but there is also an emotional quality to it. I wanted to score the conversation from Baptiste’s perspective, so I wrote harmonies that subtly underscore the concept that Baptiste and the old boss feel that Chance betrayed them, and are justified in wanting revenge, as illogical as that seems to the audience. As a result, this is the most emotional and, dare I say, warm, version of the Old Boss Theme yet:
Baptiste tells Chance the final insult was when he took “that name,” leading us to wonder why the name “Christopher Chance” would elicit such a reaction (assuming that is the name in question). At this pivotal moment in the dialog, the brass state a powerful, minor version of the Chance Theme.
Baptiste then describes how painful Chance’s departure was for the old man. Chance was clearly the favorite son, bringing forth jealous, fraternal emotions within Baptiste. This moment is our most telling glimpse into Baptiste’s character. With all his skills and dedication to the job, he still could not win over the respect from his father figure that Chance earned. He appears jealous and genuinely hurt.
Above an oddly serene English horn and bassoon ostinato, a solo flute whispers an almost magical version of the Baptiste Theme:
Of course, we are taking about a professional murderer here, one who killed the love of Chance’s life. Don’t think I went crazy and suddenly starting feeling sorry for Baptiste. However, I found this scene was even more suspenseful when the music underscored Baptiste’s twisted yet genuine emotions rather than simply playing “scary.”
As the scene comes to a close, Baptiste asks if Chance has a death wish or has “lost his edge,” a set up that will be pivotal in the episode’s finale. Bringing back all the memories of the old boss, the scene ends with a foreboding version of the Old Boss Theme, this time played as ominous and menacing as the first time we ever heard it:
Our momentary lapse into emotional territory with the Baptiste and Old Boss Themes has clearly ended.
From there, we flash back to the main story line; Guerrero traces Baptiste to his cell phone and calls him. Baptiste threatens him with the knowledge of his child (information that’s new to the audience as well). I loved Jackie Earle Haley’s performance here, because he’s unnerved for the first time in the series. Rather than overstating it, Haley shifts his facial expression slightly, in keeping with a guy as emotionally guarded as Guerrero. But, it’s enough for us to see the fear in his eyes.
Underscoring this moment, I wrote dissonant, ascending statements of the Baptiste Theme in the strings and brass, that escalate the tension.
We cut to an alley, where Chance and Emma wait for Winston to pick them up. Emma, having spoken to Baptiste, asks Chance directly, “Who’s Katherine Walters?” Chance deflects and throws out the obvious fact that he used to work for some bad people. For this, rather than simply jumping directly to the Katherine Theme, I dusted off an important theme from Rewind that hasn’t been used since.
Originally called the Laura Theme, this moody solo trumpet melody accompanied their conversation in the wheel well, where Chance tried to convince her she had other options besides a life of crime:
At the time, I knew Laura wasn’t coming back, or even a consequential character in the broader series. But, I wanted to establish a theme that could be attached to Chance’s past and the tough ethical and moral decisions he had to make: a theme completely separate from his feelings for Katherine Walters. So, let’s now call it Chance’s Past Theme.
In Baptiste, this theme finally returns again in a flugel horn solo, even more longing and wistful:
Emma can tell Chance is dodging her real question and prods again, “Who is Katherine Walters?” Finally, Chance gives in and tells her the truth. At this moment, Chris Bleth’s solo oboe gives us a heartbreaking statement of the Katherine Theme. As Emma realizes that Chance had loved this woman, the orchestra swells with the second phrase of the theme:
The harmonies pivot to the relative minor as Chance tells her Baptiste killed Katherine: a direct result of his inability to protect her. This, of course, heightens our fears that Chance will fail again tonight and lose Emma as well.
At the beginning of the fourth act, we find ourselves at the subway station with Chance and Baptiste, once again speaking about the old man. This time, Baptiste reveals nothing of his inner emotions and makes clear the threat the old boss poses to Chance. He’s ready to “burn the city to the ground” to find Chance and destroy everything he loves.
Here, the score introduces an important rhythmic idea, the Old Boss Ostinato:
This rhythmic idea is defined by its oscillating minor seconds and strong hit on the last beat of each bar. These qualities are more important than the key or meter, since it appears in this episode in various keys and in 7/4, 4/4 and 5/4 at different times.
As Chance and Baptiste talk, the strings and low brass establish the ostinato. Then, a spooky version of the Old Boss Theme melody enters above them:
I’ve expanded the Old Boss Theme to create the feeling he’s closing in on Chance. Initially, when he was an unidentified threat, his theme was just a few notes. As we learned more about him, the theme has become multi-dimensional. Now, I’ve added a rhythmic signature as well. I wanted to create the musical equivalent of his footsteps sneaking up behind you.
Chance and Emma finally make it to the site of the impending assassination. Chance goes after Baptiste while Emma tries to convince the FBI to evacuate the building. As the tension escalates, snippets of the Barnes Ostinato and Barnes Theme weave in and out of the orchestral texture, the first time they’ve ever been used in an action cue:
While Emma makes her case to Director Lynch, who doesn’t believe that the threat is credible, Baptiste kills an FBI sniper and takes position above them. The score announces his entrance with ascending brass statements of the Baptiste Theme. We cut back to Barnes and the violins pick up the Barnes Ostinato, before the horns and high woodwinds add the Barnes Melody:
Juggling multiple character themes in action sequences was one of the most enjoyable aspects of scoring this episode. Until now, the only thematic characters I could draw from were Winston and Chance, but now that the show’s ensemble cast is growing, the score becomes more complex and layered.
Chance makes his way to rooftop and engages Baptiste in a gunfight. Here the score introduces a new action riff that will play a significant role throughout the rooftop fight sequence:
They both run out of bullets and the battle boils down to brutal hand-to-hand combat. Here, the action riff provides the foundation for a soaring brass statement of the Baptiste Theme. This unique moment represents the only time in the score we hear the entirety of the Baptiste Theme, including the B-Theme, played by a solo bassoon:
This clip, more than any other, underlines the similarity between the Chance and Baptiste Themes. The arrangement feels like it wants to be a soaring, triumphant Chance Theme but the upside-down intervals give it a dark, menacing quality.
Unfortunately, Chance is unable to stop Baptiste from detonating the building. Baptiste escapes and Winston informs Chance that Emma was killed in the blast. As the reality sinks in for Chance, Chris Bleth’s solo oboe offers a melancholy statement of the Barnes Melody:
We return one last time to the conversation in the subway, but this time the narrative has caught up with it. Baptiste wants to test Chance’s dedication to saving people’s lives and stands before him, daring him to pull the trigger and kill him in cold blood. The low strings begin an ascending contrapuntal figure that is picked up in the brass and winds, increasing the tension.
Then, Barnes appears behind him with a gun, creating a tricky moment to score. We realize that Barnes is alive, thus ending all the suspense over her death. Plus, she has a gun pointed at Baptiste, thus ending any suspense that Baptiste may get away. Ostensibly, this is the happy ending. However, there is still tension in the scene because Chance may shoot Baptiste for what he did to Katherine.
I acknowledged the shift when Barnes arrives by modulating suddenly to a major key and introducing the percussion, but I still kept the same ascending motion in the low strings. The score momentarily feels triumphant, but it doesn’t entirely lose tension or momentum:
At the final standoff, Chance decides whether or not to murder Baptiste. If he kills him, he exacts his revenge, but crosses a moral boundary he had set for himself. If he spares him, he may prove Baptiste’s point that he’s lost his edge, and this ruthless killer will be alive to perhaps kill another day.
The climax of this entire episode is Chance and Baptiste standing perfectly still, facing each other, with minimal dialog. Its simple, but effective, almost like the classic standoff gunfight in a Western movie. Having just come out of a big action cue, emotional Barnes Themes, and the ascending string suspense phrases, I struggled at first to find a way to amp up the tension without going overboard.
My solution was a high cluster in the strings, punctuated by stabbing gestures from the brass and percussion. Ominous tremolo celli and basses weave between the hits as a solo bassoon offers a mysterious version of the Baptiste Theme:
Chance wouldn’t be much of a hero if he murdered Baptiste right before of our eyes, so he puts the gun down and decides to live with the consequences. Baptiste is carted away by the authorities.
Chance and Emma share a brief, heartfelt moment. A solo flute states a warm version of the Barnes Melody, before a solo French horn replies with the Chance Theme:
After walking away, Emma turns back around to perhaps take him up on his offer of a date, only to discover he has already disappeared. The score acknowledges this with a playful Barnes Ostinato in the winds and pizzicato strings, while a solo muted trumpet gives us one last statement of the Chance Theme. A playful castanet flutters between the pizzicato phrases.
We cut to Layla and Guerrero packing up their stuff. Layla is new to the team, having been introduced first in Lockdown. Ironically, neither her nor Guerrero have needed their own themes yet, and this scene didn’t seem like the appropriate moment to introduce one. Guerrero kills her buzz, assuring her she will crash once her adrenaline dies down. “Nothing’s ever over,” he warns.
On that note, we cut to Baptiste being led away by armed agents. He smiles glibly and compliments an agent’s watch, a sure sign he will probably kill this guy and escape. But, Guerrero’s warning wasn’t just about Baptiste. It was also about Chance’s old boss, who is closing in ever closer. To underscore this idea, the low strings and brass close with a driving version of the Old Boss Ostinato, this time in 4/4:
As Baptiste is marched away, the French horns play a soaring fanfare of his theme, punctuated by powerful brass and percussion hits as we cut to black.
Baptiste is an important episode for the development of the “Human Target” mythology, and the first to take a significant step away from the “adventure of the week” format towards a broader narrative. Personally, I love the fact that this series is beginning to outgrow its modest story-telling roots. What do you guys think? Would you enjoy seeing more ambitious stories like this in the future, or do you prefer Chance’s weekly adventures more isolated?
Four more episodes remain that will take us to a wide range of locations and introduce new, exciting characters (including another Galactica alumnus… someone who was a Cylon!). I hope you guys keep tuning in and enjoying the series as much as I enjoy writing music for it.