“Ambient Darkness” is the second episode of an hour-long television series Serial that I helped create, pitch, and flesh out in my final year of undergraduate school under the tutelage of Canadian screenwriter Frank Borg. I worked with a fairly unlikely and diverse team that included two Film Production students and a friend of mine who worked mainly with comedy. The premise of the show resembles that of an Agatha Christie novel, with guests converging at an old house for a special event, becoming trapped, and then gradually being killed off episode by episode. As the options for who the murderer would be gradually get smaller, the stakes rise. The brief was that we were going to add an element of prestige drama to the formula, foiling it with rich characters and modern pacing while preserving the complicated plots, the intrigue, and the suspense.
In the end, four hours of the show made it to script, including a very different pilot episode that I’ve since rewritten. The second episode runs interference with an unexpectedly light tone that occasionally betrays submerged desperation in the form of an ambient darkness that—in juxtaposition with the first episode—works well.
We open where the pilot episode leaves off: someone among the guests has just died. The woman who died, the wife of guest Perry Wyss, was very sick on arrival, so no one suspects foul play, but there is a definite pall on things. The guests respond in their fashion: some make the pretense of mourning; others try their best to make light out of the situation. The idea is that death hovers around them, an ambient darkness, despite their best efforts to act calm. Each character has something to hide.
Perry, a Swiss biologist, is the only one who suspects murder. He hoards his deceased wife in the chambers above, inattent of his mischievous son, to discover the cause of her death by the means most familiar to him.