Aurora Luft, she’s a bubbling pressure cooker. She’s internalised, calm, quietly building up and ready to explode at a moment’s notice. X Company becomes undoubtedly more interesting, more emotionally resonant when it’s about Aurora. This focus, after all, is what sets it apart from every other hollow period drama, its obvious interest in exploring the emotional aspects and human sides, the moments where emotions get in the way and everything doesn’t go as planned, where heart wins over head, and rational precision doesn’t seem like the logical reaction to an event.
From the first episode, Aurora’s epitomised the human complications of the story. Like Neil, whose family was killed and now views each encounter with a German as an opportunity for revenge; Aurora has had a personal involvement to deal with since the first mission depicted on the show – she was dating Rene, a fellow agent (safe to assume that it would have been a secret relationship, as one that presents certain conflicts would have been frowned upon) who was killed by the Germans in said mission. While not as personal, Harry, Alfred, and Tom all possess this similar problem that X Company has thankfully realised and expanded upon – the agents are typical people, again foregrounded in the episode’s training scene opener.
We are spies but we have three months training and our bodies are something very relatable to our characters. That’s something I really liked about her, she’s trying really hard. I don’t want to see someone who has no fear, I want to see someone deal with it.
– Evelyne Brochu
It’s something that’s commonly forgotten in espionage stories. Too often characters are presented as cold, calculated James Bond types (don’t get me wrong, I love James Bond), who have no personal ties, no baggage, no internal conflict. Rather, they’re just a machine with a flawless moral and ethical compass that doesn’t falter in any situation. There is no time where emotion wins over logic, no moment where they’re not as cool as a cucumber, prevailing from every situation a hero.
Aurora, swiftly promoted to sergeant after Rene’s death before being backgrounded for the whole of episode 2, is thankfully foregrounded in episode 3, allowed to move past the imminent aftermath of Rene’s death, not reduced to being passive. The team is sent on a mission to infiltrate a brothel. They have two aims – to storm the SS headquarters and rescue a Hungarian physicist, and to stop said physicist’s research from slipping into the Nazi’s hands. Like the first episode, the third instalment excels in show, don’t tell, again putting Aurora in an impossible situation which is going to actively show the lasting effects of personal connections on her work.
Again set over a very self-contained timeline, episode 3 brings back the same breathless intensity from the first episode. It instills the heart pounding sense of dread. We know what’s going to happen. In the first, it was that everything was about to go haywire, that the meticulously planned mission was going to go pear-shaped and Alfred was going to have to replace someone somehow. As the camera domineered over them in the church bell tower, their typicality, their unpreparedness was evident, dwarfed by something much bigger than themselves. As the tension got wound tighter and tighter and everything became more frantic and desperate, it looked more and more hopeless. In the third, it’s that Aurora’s going to break. On her first mission since Rene’s death was confirmed, that lingering sense of hope quashed, she’s now thrown even more headlong than ever into personal conflict like Neil. As she readily volunteers to pose as an employee at a brothel, knowing that she will likely sleep with one of the German officers, it’s obvious that she has ulterior motives, that the mission – which is planned to involve tranquillising an officer and rifling through his bags – is going to be a cathartic experience, where she gets to indirectly punish them, at the least. But, of course, as she gets dragged deeper and deeper into it and the mission doesn’t (when does it ever?) go to plan, you can see her training (or lack thereof), the fact that she is still a typical person, betraying her, making her more vulnerable, and giving way to what episode writer Sydney Calvert calls “the monster that lies within the hero”.
After stealing scenes in the first and second episodes, episode three gives Evelyne Brochu a chance to truly shine. As with her past work, what really proves to distinguish her as an exciting actor to watch is her ability to utilise body language and movement readily. She does it in such small ways, its almost unnoticeable, but makes a world of difference in showing the subtle changes and slips in resolve and changes in mood she experiences throughout the episode, as she starts off confident and professional and ends up being irrational and nervous. Every moment is instilled with a sense of that pressure cooker rage, coursing underneath until it bursts.
Aside from Alfred, whose synesthesia looks to be further explored in this week’s episode and, judging by the flash-forward every week, will be captured sooner or later; and Neil, whose trauma I’m hoping is explored more as the series continues, four episodes in, Aurora definitely offers the most dramatic potential for X Company. As is revealed in the final moments of the episode, where she brushes off all suggestions of letting go of Rene any time soon, it’s obvious that this isn’t the last time that emotion is going to overrule her judgement. While it may be dangerous to the missions, it sure doesn’t endanger the show. In fact, it makes for what may just be the best hour yet.
The verdict: After a spectacular opener and a second episode that’s slipped lower down on the scale since first glance (honestly, I’d give it a B or B- now, only a week later), X Company’s third instalment has all the makings of one sure to go down as one of the best sometime in the future. Moving the narrative focus away from former ad man Tom to the admittedly more interesting Aurora, the emotional centre and intensity promised in the first episode is restored. After the disappointingly schmaltzy foregrounding of Alfred and Aurora’s burgeoning relationship last week, she’s thrown back headfirst into missions, bringing necessary advancements to crucial, interesting narrative themes that were introduced in the first episode before being sidelined last week. It’s yet again entertaining and riveting stuff. A-