Human Target: Corner Man
March 24th, 2010
SPOILERS GALORE: In tonight’s “Human Target,” Corner Man, Chance travels to Brussels to compete in an underground fight club. Relatively light on mythology and backstory (compared to last week’s densely layered Baptiste), this score focuses on the intriguing Eva Kahn (“Galactica” vet Grace Park) and the brutality of the combat sequences.
Like all episodes of the show, this one opens with a unique orchestration of the Chance Theme. This time, Malcolm McNab plays a lonely solo statement of the theme over a dissonant, brass and string cluster. I wanted to create a deliberate disconnect between the heroic fanfare of the tune and the atonal swell in the rest of the orchestra, suggesting our hero is about to be thrust into a dark and decadent underground layer of society:
We immediately cut to a seedy fight club, filled with wealthy patrons. At the center, Chance fights in the ring. Here, I introduced a rockin’ percussion riff let’s call the Fight Ostinato:
Taiko rims hits and distorted snare drums give this groove a unique pop feel, almost like it could bust out into a rock song. But, there are no guitars or drums here. Its all percussion and orchestra. As Chance suffers a mighty blow to the head, the story jumps to a flashback. The Fight Ostinato will return once the narrative catches back up to the present.
For the rest of the teaser and first act, we learn how Chance ended up in the fight club. Among the most exciting scenes in this part of the show was Chance’s back alley fight with a world-famous boxer named Kendrick Taylor. Their argument begins in McGinty’s Irish Pub, set to “Follow Me Up to Carlow” by one of my favorite Irish bands, The Young Dubliners (“BSG” bagpipe virtuoso Eric Rigler tours with them now, which is how I reached them).
The fight ends up in the alley out back. Energetic orchestral patterns keep the intensity up, although I was careful to ensure this cue remained a few degrees cooler than the previous boxing match cue, when he’s actually in the ring and stakes are even higher:
An important story point is introduced when Chance takes a tough blow to the face and is momentarily stunned. I created a unique musical color to represent Chance’s delirium in this brief moment, which will be brought back throughout the rest of the episode as his condition, “the yips,” worsens. For lack of a better term, let’s call this The Yips Theme. It is a combination of clustered strings and digital processing I will explain in more detail when we get to the climax of the episode.
At the end of this fight sequence the tone of the score lightens dramatically, as Kendrick peeks up at Chance from the ground. We realize Chance and Kendrick have rigged the fight from the beginning. Malcolm McNab’s trumpet solo returns, this time set against a warm string backdrop.
Having supposedly bested Taylor, Chance is invited to Brussels to compete. During a mandatory physical exam, he meets Hugh Prentice, the bad guy he is trying to trying to con. Here, Chris Bleth’s solo English horn presents our first statement of the Prentice Theme:
Generally speaking, the “bad guy of the week” doesn’t get his own theme. The only reason Hugh is different is because of his relationship with Eva Kahn, whom we also meet in this scene. Eva works for Prentice, but Chance knows he killed her father and is taking advantage of her talent. Like with Martin from Lockdown, Chance relates all too well to having an oppressively evil boss, and decides he must rescue Eva.
(Hey, its the police captain from ‘Caprica’ and Boomer from ‘BSG!’)
Another reason a Prentice Theme was necessary was so it could function as an Eva Theme, since her arc is directly connected to his. And I couldn’t write an Eva Theme on its own because every time I tried, I just kept getting the Boomer Theme over and over and over… :)
I asked Grace what it was like working on “Human Target” as opposed to “Battlestar Galactica.” “I felt so mortal. So…human. Odd,” she told me. “Once I got over that I fully reveled in the fact that everybody was treating me like I was one of them! Ha ha haaa.”
That sounds to me like she is secretly a cylon. So, I asked her what would happen if she heard the Boomer Theme in her Eva scenes. “That would totally throw me. And in the confusion I’d probably instinctively feel like everyone’s going to know I’m a cylon…like I was being outted! And then when I realized what was happening, I’d feel betrayed by you, Bear, for letting everyone know.”
So, I guess Eva Kahn secretly is a cylon! You heard it here first!
By the end of Act 1, the narrative has caught up with the teaser: Chance is in the middle of his first fight, while the Fight Ostinato hammers away. He takes a tough blow to the top of his skull and an audible bone-popping sound carries over the crowd. Chance appears down for the count. Winston impulsively wants to stop the fight, but Guerrero thinks otherwise. As they discuss what to do, the suspense builds as Chance lays still on the mat.
To highlight the tension, I had to de-construct the music and build back up. The pounding Fight Ostinato grinds to a halt and a dissonant, sul ponticello string cluster swells up from the reverb tail. From there, the music steadily builds, adding more and more layers, including a delightfully bouncy woodwind and violin ostinato. The energetic ostinato gives us hope that perhaps Guerrero is right and Chance may yet win:
Finally, Chance’s eyes pop open and The Yips Theme momentarily swells. Chance rises to his feet and decimates his now severely wounded opponent, while the Fight Ostinato returns a final time (remember, this is still the same match for which the Fight Ostinato was introduced). As Chance delivers the final blow, flooring the guy, the drums release. To celebrate, an oboe solo of the Chance Theme playfully dances over a bouncy string and woodwind Chance Ostinato:
He is declared the winner, and the drums return triumphantly with a blaring brass statement of the Chance B-Theme as we cut to black.
Chance may be up to the physical challenges before him, but the mental and emotional ones become increasingly threatening. This idea is displayed beautifully in the third act as Winston tries to convince Chance to call off the impending final match. As he discusses their options, a solo french horn plays a warm, reassuring version of the Chance Theme.
The response Winston gets reveals Chance’s inner conflict. Chance, in discussing Eva’s boss, says “this guy will always be a problem for me,” and corrects himself quickly, “a problem for her.” Winston realizes that Chance is projecting his own inner conflict about his old boss onto Eva and Prentice’s relationship. To underline this point, I wrote a clear statement of the Old Boss Theme in the English horn:
The conversation is interrupted as Chance gets a call from Eva and goes to meet her. Unfortunately, its a set up and he’s captured by Prentice. After having some fun nearly drowning in the pool, they strike a deal and Prentice agrees to let Chance fight in the final round (their conversation underscored with alternating statements of the Chance and Prentice Themes).
In the last act, Chance faces down his toughest opponent and his own fears. Right from the beginning, it seems as though he is overmatched. After a particularly strong blow to the head, his delirium returns, accompanied by the episode’s longest statement of The Yips Theme:
While its been heard multiple times throughout the story, now you can clearly hear the various elements that comprise the theme. The violins and violas start together on a single pitch, then each player individually glisses outward to a unique pitch until the ensemble is playing a dissonant cluster. After a few seconds, the strings return to their original pitch. Underneath that, the flutes and clarinets punctuate the texture with quiet flutter-tongued clusters. And above it all, a digital feedback sound designed by Jonathan Snipes replicates the ringing in Chance’s ears.
Chance is down for the count and the narrative flashes back to his conversation with Winston, who tells him his fear is about his old boss. Here, the Old Boss Theme is stated ominously in the strings and brass, while a fluttering flute and clarinet line floats above:
The real fear Chance must face isn’t confronting the old man, but is about what the old man may do to Winston, his only friend. As a heroic response to the dark Old Boss Theme, a solo trumpet states the Chance theme, rising up out of the dark texture.
We cut back to the fight as Chance begins to get his mojo back, set against a rising, aggressive line in the low strings. Flashing back to the conversation a final time, Winston acknowledges the threat the old boss poses and says he’s ready for the challenge, in fact, vowing that anyone trying to get to Chance would have to get through him first. Highlighting this badass Winston moment, the French horns and trombones blast out a powerful version of the Winston Theme:
The arrangement completely neutralizes the theme’s usual comedic overtones and implies pure machismo, reassurance and power:
The orchestra swells triumphantly as Chance rises to his feet and the fight begins anew. Antiphonal fanfares in the trumpets, horns and trombones accompany the flurry of fists and kicks.
Chance knocks him down and the ref separates them. This is the same ref we saw talking to Prentice earlier, who vowed to poison Chance and rig the fight. The score momentarily settles down to a dark, eerie string cluster, heightening the tension.
However, Guerrero has gotten through to the ref (his buddy Frank) and convinced him to join their side. As the ref tells Chance he won’t poison him, the energy in the orchestra returns with a fast Chance ostinato beneath a solo flute playing the Chance Theme:
The fight is on again, as Eva and Hugh watch from above. Hugh’s temper flares at seeing the ref betray him, while an oboe and bassoon duet state the Prentice Theme over a groove I call the Eva String Ostinato:
Eva tells Hugh she knows he killed her father. We cut to a flashback of her receiving a package from Winston, containing an earpiece. When she puts it on, she is able to hear the conversation between Chance and Hugh where he admits it.
A dreamy, “cloud” of E minor accompanies this entire sequence. The violins and violas are divisi, playing antiphonal, ascending lines, while the woodwinds alternate long notes. All the pitches are from the E minor scale, but you’re basically hearing at least one player on every note at all times. Imagine smashing your hand down on the white notes of a piano. That’s basically what this could have sounded like. But, the orchestrators and I were careful to arrange the pitches carefully within the orchestra to create the dreamy, floating pitch “cloud:”
Awesome, right? Sounds like Ravel or Debussy suddenly stepped in for a minute. At the end of the phrase, as Eva tells Hugh off, the French horns and strings provide somber statements of the Prentice Theme, which is really functioning now as the Eva Theme.
At the end of their conversation, the energetic Eva String Ostinato returns. We cut back to the fight, and the antiphonal brass fanfares cut through the orchestra. Finally, Chance knocks his opponent to the ground and the strings and horns give us a warm, almost playful version of the Chance Theme:
Normally, I could’ve written a triumphant fanfare here, but that felt a little cheesy in 2010. Besides, Chance looks up at Winston and shoots him a knowing little smile. This was “Playful Chance,” not “Kick Ass Chance,” so the lighter version of the theme fit perfectly. Another reason not to go too big here was that we would only be with the fight for a few more seconds, before immediately cutting away to Eva and Prentice watching from above.
A solo clarinet provides one last statement of the Prentice Theme as he realizes he’s lost the bet and is now in debt to his enemy. Listen also for the muted trombone lines underneath the melody adding a subtle, threatening presence. Eva leaves him and walks away forever, as a solo oboe repeats her theme:
We cut back to Chance, as he’s declared the new champion. Finally, here was the perfect place to do a bigger fanfare version of the Chance Theme, complete with a low brass counter line and ripping high woodwind lines.
After the fight, Winston and Chance walk to the limo awaiting them. A warm string statement of the Main Theme accompanies Winston as he tries to tell Chance his feelings, over a playfully energetic Chance Ostinato. Chance gets in the limo only to see Eva’s thighs (then the rest of her) waiting for him.
Chance has saved the day yet again. Better yet, he wins the opportunity to take Eva to the airport in his limo. As Winston is comedically left out in the cold, a triumphant Chance Theme fanfare closes out the episode:
Only three more episodes remain this season, but there are some very exciting musical moments coming up. Stay tuned!
PS: How about that video blog this week? Kevin’s doing an amazing job!