Human Target: Victoria

SPOILERS BEYOND: This week’s episode of “Human Target,” Victoria, chronicles Chance as he protects a princess from an assassination attempt by her jealous husband.

The episode opens as Chance flies into New York city by helicopter and gets in a limo taking him to the British embassy. Inspired by the grand-scale cinematography, I wrote an opening cue that could have functioned as the epic introduction to a feature film. The title card begins with an exciting version of the Chance Ostinato…

… before kicking into a powerful statement of the Chance Theme:

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This title card is unique in the entire season because its the first one to not feature a melody at all. Every previous title card has been scored with a variation of the Chance Theme, with the exception of Baptiste, featuring the Baptiste Theme.

From the title card, we cut to a helicopter in flight.  Trumpets and horns blare the melody while strings and winds dance over the energetic ostinato and contrapuntal lines.

In the middle of this sequence, we cut to a dreamy vision of the princess’ assassination. Having not yet met this character, we are unclear as to what this sequence really means. Furthermore, we will eventually learn that this is merely a vision of a possible future (re: Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future) and not destiny. So, I gave the score an ambient quality, using harps, piano and gamelan to create a simple ostinato, over which the orchestra plays dissonant swells and clusters:

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We cut back to the present, as Chance arrives at the limo. The strings swell with the second half of the Chance Theme.

Though heard every week in the Main Title, the harmonic shift at the end of the A Theme is actually rarely heard within the body of the score. Most of the time, I quote those familiar first 3 bars, but almost never get to the ending phrase.

This modulation is one of my favorite inventions of this score. Modulating from C minor to F minor is typically very easy, but the way I did it is quite unconventional. Listen for the harmonies pivoting from C, to Gb9, to Dbsus to Db, and then to F.   Its a totally unexpected sequence of chords that, nonetheless, flows seamlessly:

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My absolute favorite moment of tonight’s score occurs as Chance steps from the helicopter into the limo. Here, we finally get to the B-Theme of the Main Title.

For the orchestration, I borrowed liberally from Elmer Bernstein and arranged it as if it were a classic western, like The Magnificent Seven or The Comancheros. Chance is riding in on a helicopter, but if the music has any say in the matter, he might as well ride into town on horseback, coming off the dusty trail.

French horns, bells in the air, blast the melody while the rest of the orchestra punctuates the tune with aggressive, staccato hits. After the first phrase, the trumpets pick up the melody for the second phrase, while the low strings and brass offer an almost fugal response by playing the A Theme underneath:

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Chance is driven to the embassy, where a cluster of anxious paparazzi await the arrival of the princess. When his limo pulls up, they gather in anticipation, only to murmur in disappointment when he steps out of the car. This brief comedic moment is underscored with a playful flute solo:

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The solo was played by Jenni Olson, from whom I wrote Three Pieces for Trio on her debut album (check it out on iTunes).

Chance is taken to meet the princess and before you can shake a stick, he’s being shot at and is on the run for his and her life. For a while, they hide out in an Irish pub, once again listening to the music of the Young Dubliners, just as was playing in McGinty’s Irish Pub in Corner Man.

Victoria presents a series of exciting chase sequences and gun fights.  However, the climactic stand off in Act 5 was the most challenging creatively, because it required a balancing act between writing an action cue and a sparse suspense cue, given that the tension in the scene comes almost exclusively from dialog.

After a tremendous battle in the armory, where Chance gets a little medieval on their asses, the final showdown occurs in the presence of the queen herself. Templeton, the evil head of security collaborating with Victoria’s equally evil husband, tries to convince security to escort the unknowing queen out of the event before Victoria can speak with her, revealing his treachery. During this, ominous low strings climb ever upward as winds and muted trombones add dissonant commentary to the situation:

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Victoria runs towards her mother, as the string section picks up steam, reaching a peak when the queen finally sees her daughter.

Victoria kisses her lover in plain view of everyone and the strings offer a subtly romantic and warm chord progression. As the queen sees Chance and Winston with their damning evidence, a muted trumpet solo playfully states the first three notes of his theme:

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Templeton’s plot is revealed and he confesses. I underscored his speech with an ominous polytonal progression in the French horns, voiced in their absolute lowest register. My inspiration was the “wolf theme” from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Orchesrator Ed Trybek actually called up our resident expert Neal Desby and double-checked how Prokofiev managed this sound, to make sure my homage would be accurate!

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At last, things seem like they’re going to work out. The woodwinds offer a sense of restrained relief as Templeton is led away. Conducting Rose Corrigan’s lovely bassoon solo in this moment was a highlight of the episode’s session for me. As we transition to the final scene, Stuart Clark’s solo clarinet gives a gentle statement of the Chance Theme:

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In the final scene, Chance speaks with Victoria on the phone, as she prepares to marry the love of her life. This passage, for muted strings, is among the most lush and pastoral pieces I’ve ever composed for “Human Target.”  The extended harmonies evoke the serenity of the final cues of Battlestar Galactica, although that was not an intentional connection:

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We learn that Victoria has found her storybook ending. She gets to remain princess, and also marry the man she loves. (I guess when the arranged marriage turns out to be a guy who would rather kill you than divorce you, its for the best.) Their conversation shifts, as Victoria asks Chance about the love of his life.

Here, a solo flute picks up a theme that has been woven throughout the series since Sanctuary, the Katherine Theme:

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In this scene, we have not yet seen Chance’s surroundings.  But this theme in the score tells us all we need to know. Without giving away his emotions, Chance wishes her a happy wedding and hangs up.  Only then, do we reveal he is standing at the grave of Katherine Walters, with fresh flowers sitting on her tombstone.

The orchestra swells with the second half of her theme as we reveal the cemetary. The crescendo in this melody brings forth all of the emotional weight this subplot has created over the course of the season. We finally understand that Katherine meant the world to him, and he’s never gotten over her. In previous episodes, he talked about her while her theme played, but all those moments built up to this, where the real tragedy of his story becomes clear.

As he walks away, a solo French horn states the Chance Theme, with a pastoral piano and harp doubling above it:

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Observant viewers will notice that the psalm on Katherine’s grave is the very one he quoted in Sanctuary, and that was sung by the boys choir in that episode’s score:

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We have only one more episode this season, and it airs next week. For the score, we assembled the largest orchestra in the history of series television, and I wrote one of the biggest scores of my career to date. Those of you following this series and this blog are in for a big treat next week, and we’re producing an extra special video blog for it as well. Don’t miss it!

UPDATE: I finally caught up with this episode on the air and see that the edit changed yet again, even after I scored it.  The opening dream sequence envisioning Victoria’s assassination was moved to later in the episode.  Most of the score remained the same.  Its funny how these things can change so quickly I never even know it until I watch the broadcast.

-Bear