*********SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS****************
(Warning: SPOILERS – if you haven’t finished listening to Tracks – don’t read on.)
NOTE: A Series 5 update (20/1/21) appears here under the S1 Q&A
TRACKS S1 Q&A
Here are a few of the questions sent to me over the past few months. …Some easier to address than others… It would be reductive to give guide to all the sub-text in the series – so, for story questions, I’ll try to answer by pointing to what we hear in the broadcasts …
First, a couple of easy ones!
Who did the music?
The Tracks theme (at the beginning and end of most episodes) is an original piece written for the show by Stu Barker (of Kneehigh Theatre company.) I’ve made a list of some of the other artists/themes we used Here. I detailed music choices in the writing of the scripts – the directors then had the final call in the edit.
Where were the sounds sourced – eg the sound of the aeroplane?
The BBC has a huge sound library, new stuff constantly added. If Audio supervisors can’t find what they want they create or record the sound themselves. (I believe the aeroplane sound was in the library, and treated to suit our needs.)
What was so extraordinary about Ruth’s death?
“She was speaking, but shouldn’t have been.”
Ruth’s head is hanging by a thread. It is miraculous that she is conscious and able to speak at all. She is between life and death.
“I saw them put her into two body bags.”
Who forced Freddy’s car off the road in Dartmoor? (ep4)
Helen is driving erratically, very fast – highly agitated– on the edge of a panic attack, manically putting clues together about Padinc’s activities: the bombs in bodies, and how this might affect K. It’s possible someone is following – Padinc security? The police? The Koreans? Someone else? ..Or it could be an aspect of Helen’s paranoia at this heightened moment. Either way – at high speed, in the dark, on unfamiliar twisty roads, she totally loses control of the car, and crashes.
Why did the Koreans love Helen so much?
When we first meet the Koreans (episode 3) they are looking for Florian – and see Helen as a way to get to him. (They believe Florian is the only man who has the expertise to help Kyung-Hwan.)
After Florian’s death, they purpose to go to Russia with K and Helen. Why? In Ep8 towards the end, in an easy to miss moment, they tell Helen that they have “Seen the film.”
The film is the one Florian made of Helen/Elizabeth’s operation (Fisker Lee shows some of it to Helen in Ep9.)
The Koreans have seen Florian’s successful work in action, and therefore believe that the answer to curing K is by looking at what he did to Helen’s brain.
They believe Helen is the key to the survival of their family – they need her.
In ep8 we also discover that they’re a family from a Korean religious tradition of ancestor worship – a worship of origins. In translation they express this as familial love – their love of family extends to Helen in these circumstances.
Why did someone say that Helen had brought the plane down?
It happens in a dream at the beginning of ep8 while Helen is still suffering from the blood loss she experienced in Ep7.
Tracks is always from Helen’s POV – and this extends occasionally into her sub-conscious.
In the dream she remembers meeting the pilot, Tim Kinneally, in the crash field. But in the dream version of this, he tells her that she brought the plane down. Helen’s sub-conscious is telling her that she is responsible for the crash.
Did the pilot survive by accident or was there another reason?
People at the front of the plane had a better chance of survival. This is why both Charles Shaw and Ruth Powell were still conscious in the crash field –and why K and the pilot survived. (Others were killed instantly.)
The first official report into the crash (ep 3) reveals that there had been “engine part failure, coupled with heat of the moment human error” – but that the pilot’s actions were “entirely without malice of intention.”
This suggests he did something wrong.
If Tim Kinneally was able to make the plane lurch to one side to avoid the primary school, then is it possible he was also able to give himself a better chance of survival in the way the plane crashed too? This action would certainly deepen his survivor guilt…
Whether this means he was part of a conspiracy to bring the plane down is another matter of interpretation.
Who are we supposed to conclude were the parties who brought the plane down – most wanted to see it happen?
Tracks is always from Helen’s POV. By the end no one has taken responsibility for bringing the plane down, and no one has confessed to Helen that they did it. So she doesn’t know for certain – and neither do we. (This seems pretty realistic.)
However, Helen’s instincts are very strong (and she’s often right.) By the end, she has decided who the ‘dark forces’ are that brought the plane down.
What leads her to this is –the information she gets from Tim Kinneally in Ep8 about the air steward, the way she is treated by Fisker Lee in Shanghai in Ep9, and from what she understands happened to the boy K.
There is good circumstantial evidence for her thinking… Even if the Shanghai connection is not entirely conclusive…. And there are other possibilities.
Why, dramatically, did Michael have to die?
At the start of the story Helen is cold, remote, controlled. Through the story she grows emotionally and she gives way to chaos. This happens as she ‘loses people’ – Florian, Michael, her Mother, and even Freddy…
With Michael’s death she reaches a key level of emotional engagement/connection– she opens up – and feels deeply.
(eg – she now feels emotional empathy for Mrs Trewin her cancer patient.)
Michael had always been a stabilizing force in her life. Enabling denial. In order to understand who she is, Helen had to become unstable – lose everyone. The answer to the conspiracy is the answer to who she is – and this was always going to be found in chaos – Michael kept the real chaos at bay, so he had to die for Helen to find the answer.
Surely Helen’s Mother must have been aware of what’s been going on with Elizabeth? Was Florian really so secretive, or was the Mother trying to hide the truth / protect Helen?
Helen’s Mother (Rosie) is in denial – a powerful, complex denial borne out of grief and fear.
At the end of ep 9 she tells Helen – “I didn’t let him tell me.”
Rosie knew something was going on – but not what. She didn’t want to know.
Her grief for Elizabeth obliterated all (Evidence of this is in Ep7 when Helen describes waking and seeing Rosie sitting on the end of the bed.)
Rosie was trying to protect Helen from the truth but didn’t herself dare know the nature of that truth. …She knew but didn’t know…
To some extent, this speaks of a generation, class, circumstance, and also a particular personality – all in alignment…
Ironically Rosie is fearless when it comes to physical pain – the cut finger in ep 1 – ‘it’s only pain’ – the guards’ actions in ep 7 – but she is terrified of psychological pain. She can’t deal with it
Which, if any, life stories inspired the story of Tracks?
Here are a few of the real stories investigated during the writing process:
Dr. Sergio Canavero – an Italian neurosurgeon. He is planning to carry out a 36-hour head transplant in China in 2017.
Valery Spiridonov, a terminally ill computer scientist from Russia, who is set to become the first patient.
Vladimir Demikhov, a Russian doctor who worked in the gulags from the 1930s – 50s – an early experimenter in warm organ transplantation. Demikhov performed head transplants on dogs and monkeys. (And possibly went further…) Archive film of his work is available on YouTube… if you can stomach it.
Ilya Ivanovih Ivanov. Between 1917 and 1930, Ivanov experimented on an inter-species hybridization experiment – an attempt to create a hybrid human-ape. (This was state funded to create a man-ape army for Stalin!)
News articles concerning the 10,000+ refugee children who arrived in Europe from the Middle East last year, whom Europol say are now missing. (Inc the Swedish town that reported 1,000 missing children last year in one month alone.)
Numerous news articles reporting on the current and developing international ‘red market’ – illegal organ removal and transplantation, and human trafficking for medical purposes around the world.
Reports on plane crashes around the world.
Ophthalmologist patient case studies.
Reports/Case studies concerning rare brain conditions, and neurosurgery.
Did the discourse on medical ethics inform your inspiration?
I was interested in the morality of what are considered transgressive medical procedures, and the questions arising out of these complex non-binary matters. But this was also genre drama and I’m no academic.
Which clues might I have missed along the journey?
Don’t know which clues you missed – but most eps should bear repeat listening!
The ending confused me. She was holding her own squelchy brain matter. When she escaped, did she take it with her and then transplant it into a child? (Following in her father’s footsteps?
The short answer to this is no…
A few people have asked about the ending. Here’s what was heard. Helen discovered that, when she was a child, Florian took her to China, where he removed a brain tumour from her head – as well as some, but not all, of her brain matter
(Helen had already discovered that Florian did this same thing to Ruth’s daughter Hannah Powell in episode 3.)
Florian then put some of Elizabeth’s brain into Helen’s head. He united the two girls – brought them together – an augmentation.
So both Helen and Elizabeth grew up together in Helen’s head – they combined, survived – became one.
The matter that Fisker Lee puts in Helen’s hands is some of her brain – but not all of it.
(Side note: In a piece of dialogue we cut from the final edit – Fisker Lee wonders if Florian left Helen with her original Habenula – so that one of the things she kept of her own brain was her primal sense of dread. He also reveals that a side affect of the procedure was the panic attacks.)
A little later, Helen discovers from the film, of Florian’s speech after the operation, that he did the procedure out of a sense of love for his children.
On the beach…. Helen is having a conversation with herself. (She characterises this as a conversation with Elizabeth as a child.)
When we first meet Helen in Ep 1 she has always been dislocated, hard, cold, difficult… (She even tells Michael she doesn’t love him.)
She doesn’t like or accept herself.
…But by the time she gets to the beach in Ep9 this has changed…
*****UPDATE – WED 20TH JANUARY 2021*****
TRACKS ABYSS – the ending.
I’ve received some questions, and requests about clarifying what happened at the end of the series.
To address this, first I’ll talk generally, then about the ‘Arca Project’ and how I got to the ending. Then after that I’ll describe what was heard in the last few minutes of the final episode.
(I won’t interpret every moment or give a definitive account of subtext. There’s scope for interpretation!)
I’m writing this quickly in a grabbed moment – so apologies if anything doesn’t make sense!
There are some big and epic themes/moments in Tracks, but at the end I wanted this story to be an emotional personal drama.
Beyond the fact it’s a thriller, and in relief against the science, the conspiracies, corruption, philosophy, and politics – this has always been the personal story of Helen Ash.
The conspiracy of Arca (and all its different arms) has been the motor that has driven Helen, and the series, with twists and turns all the way through.
Helen has slowly uncovered the truth of Arca across the five series.
Put simply, she has discovered that Arca is a project that’s preparing humans for an uncertain future of climate collapse, and an extinction event that has long been underway.
(My research came from reading about the science of the “sixth mass extinction event” – or the “Holocene extinction” and in discussion with scientists at the Wellcome Trust.)
In Tracks, the Arca Project uses genetic engineering and other procedures to prepare human bodies for the ways the environment will change. Arca has high profile partners (big med companies) in key clinical fields – neurology, cardiology, genetics, and reproductive science. They also have partners in other climate-related disciplines – agricultural science, climatology, etc. (Helen has discovered some of these partners along the way – the first she came across was ‘Mayflower’ in S1.)
These Med companies all come together on the Island under the Arca Project umbrella.
Arca has extremely wealthy backers who aim to benefit from the project personally. They want to be saved, the chosen few, as the planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable.
The aim of the Arca project is fundamentally a good one. They’re trying to protect and save humans as a species. But the ethics, laws, and regulations of democratic governments and medical authorities are problematic to them.
In order to ‘progress’ Arca has a transgressive MO that’s masked by a respectable public image.
They have deep contacts at the highest levels in Government, in business, and in the medical industry. All this, and vast sums of money, enables them to by-pass regulation and law.
Arca is a pragmatic project, with a very dark side – essentially immoral and corrupt. They’re exploiting trafficked people (Inc. children) for medical experimentation. (There are echoes in this to the advances in medicine achieved horrifically in the prison hospitals of WW2 and Cold war Russia – as referenced in Series 1 Episode 2.)
Of course this corruption and the exploitation of human life is abhorrent. But it also gets results. And there are also by-products of the Arca project’s objective.
Crispr gene editing, and the advances in neurology appeal to the egos of Arca’s financial backers. In their attempts to extend the life span of the human species they are making deep ethical transgressions on a more individual level. They’re experimenting (and perfecting) brain transplantation. (Putting an ageing brain into a younger body is a great gift for the oligarch billionaire who has everything. A cure for death for recipient, and execution for donor.)
There’s also a parallel business opportunity to be found in livestock surrogacy, changing the shape of the human body, and other futurological ideas.
All the work of the partners surrounding the Arca Project amounts to the same thing: Humans taking control of evolution.
It’s worth saying here that this stuff hasn’t just popped out of my head.
Attempts at brain and head transplantation are nothing new. Surgeons have been trying to achieve this successfully since the 1930s at least.
Crispr gene editing is already up and running – (though not used on humans yet…) The bodies’ of mammals can be altered with genetic intervention. (I saw a genetically modified mouse at the Wellcome Trust that had a fluorescent body. Explained HERE. )
The notion of livestock surrogacy (or Inter Specific Pregnancy) and its efficacy also came up in discussions with a Research Associate in Reproductive Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Beyond the ethical debate, transplanting a human womb (with genetic engineering) into a pig and then growing a human fetus in that womb (in that pig) is theoretically plausible. It would have also benefits… once you get past the idea that it’s totally weird…
These ideas sound wild and shocking, but so did the idea of Test Tube babies in the 1970s, and IVF is now commonplace. (This was referenced in Series 2 -Tracks Strata – …in 1980 IVF still feels like a kind of witchcraft…)
By the time Helen gets to Arca Island, at the end of series 5, she’s aware of the broad principles of the Arca project, and the transgressive acts of the partners, but doesn’t quite understand how it all fits together. And she hasn’t had any of the transgressions officially confirmed. (Part of the fabric of the series is paranoia – Helen hardly ever knows if the conspiracy is real, or if she’s imagining it. It’s a mark of her character that her certainty overcomes this doubt and drives her forward.)
Helen fears the worst about the Island.
Early in the last episode, on her way to the Island, she imagines an evil, muscular, fang-toothed, limbed GM fish climbing out of the black tar of a river – that then speaks to her violently: “I want you.” This is what Helen believes Arca Island will be like – a place of hideous monsters – aberrations of nature. (A kind of man-made evolutionary Pandaemonium.)
But what she finds is the cutting edge of science with the fullest funding.
The island appears respectable. It has incredible medical facilities, research labs, and a private army for protection. Arca has amazing GM crops and its own, more than excellent, education system. These are all safe guards for the future. Arca Island appears to be like a perfect, futuristic, hi-tech, university campus – where everyone is working hard to save the world.
The advances are so impressive, Helen believes that they can cure her of her terminal condition. (She is getting weaker by the day.)
Amina Nicholls brokers a deal. Helen will get surgery for her multiple brain tumours – and Frances will get a place in the Arca School.
But then Helen and Freddy glimpse the real cost of the project.
In the tunnels and chambers under the island, Freddy and Frances see the exploitation of children, and the unethical, illegal reproductive science routinely at work (Animal surrogacy has come a long way since the Doomsday Project of Series 3 Chimera.)
And Helen comes face to face with the pragmatism and cruel immorality at the project’s core.
She has been to the Room of a Thousand Hands where she saw that Arca have a library of biometric material that’s evidence of their exploitive nature and how little they value individual human life. The hands belong to victims. (If this were a serial killer drama then the preserved hands would be the trophies kept by the murderer.)
The real deal at the heart of her surgical treatment is outlined to Helen. Should her surgery fail then she’ll become a full body donor. Her body will be used for another’s brain. (Uniquely, her head has already proved to be an ideal environment for transplantation.)
In this moment Helen sees through the advancement of science to the essence of what she’s being offered. It feels hollow, soulless, meaningless to her.
At this point, I thought seriously about writing out the downfall of Arca, and the escape of Helen, Freddy, and Frances from Arca Island in detail. It would another daring climatic adventure. (I even had a go at writing it.) But it didn’t feel right at all.
We already knew the extent of what Arca meant, and it didn’t feel necessary to repackage that, or over-explain.
(Arca’s fate needed to feel ambiguous – do conspiracies like this ever get effectively shut down, or do the perpetrators find ways of moving forward, often in plain sight, despite being revealed?)
Helen’s escape from the Island felt like a beat that has been repeated throughout the five different series of Tracks. I didn’t want to diminish these last moments of the final episode by what might seem like the repetition of the same ‘trick.’ (The fact that Helen ends up in Freddy’s spare room explains that she got away. – did we need to know any more than that?)
And I felt I had bigger fish to fry than an action sequence.
I was interested in Helen’s ending in relief against the entire universe.
(I should add here that I didn’t want to underestimate the listeners – who I know are very smart. I knew this was challenging drama. But It didn’t want to offer an easy ending.)
So finally – here’s what was heard during the last few minutes of the final episode:
-Amina makes Helen the offer of surgery and outlines the conditions. If the procedure fails she must donate her entire body to Arca. (An elderly Arca founder will use it.)
-Helen describes the inevitable death of the Universe.
-Amina urges Helen to take the procedure, telling her: “Life endures.” Helen replies: “Yes but life isn’t life without love.” (IE Helen is rejecting the procedure as artificial and opting for a natural death.)
-We hear the original fall of flight 259 – the plane that crashed and started the whole story.
-A reporter explains the ‘scandal’ of Arca. Freddy speaks to the reporter, confirming he escaped from Arca Island (‘it’s a long story.’) He explains Helen is the person who uncovered the conspiracy. But is unable to speak about her further as he’s too emotional.
-Freddy talks about the ways a paramedic knows if a person is beyond help when they arrive at a scene – ending on “Decapitation.” But then says Helen in his spare room.
-Helen is in bed in the spare room. Freddy explains that she’s considered a hero. (Meaning her work uncovering the conspiracy.) She and Freddy start their usual banter, but then say ‘I love you’ to each other. Helen makes sure she has nothing more to do- that Frances is safe. She is. Freddy gets a text message, that’s a long shot last minute possible procedure for Helen – but Helen stops him – she’s exhausted and too far gone: ‘I’m ready to go.’
-Helen talks about death – specifically, how the brain can remain active for up to 4 minutes after the death of the rest of the body (after the heart stops beating and the person stops breathing.) The brain cells shut down in a wave across the cortex over a period of 4 minutes..
Helen wonders what her final 4 minutes will bring.
-AND THEN WE HEAR THE FINAL 4 MINUTES OF HELEN’S LIFE.
In a montage we hear key moments from her past.
From ep1 series 1, we hear Helen’s friend talking about the ‘strange connection between the heart and the brain.’
“Looking into the centre of our own nervous system, deep into that organ inside our own heads, we can finally understand who we really are.”
Then we hear Helen’s biological Mother, Rachel Turner, at the very moment she first gave Helen her name (S2): “Helen I’ll call her Helen.”
-We hear Romola Garai as Helen (S1&4) say: “Dr. Helen Ash.”
-We hear Hattie Morahan as Helen (S3) say: “I’m Dr. Helen Ash.”
-We hear Olivia Poulet as Helen (S5) say: “Dr. Helen Ash.”
-Then we hear Mrs. Trewin from Sc1 Ep1 Series 1 telling Helen, angrily:
“Take a long hard look at yourself, Helen Ash.”
(Which is what Helen has been doing for 5 series!)
-Next, we hear Rachel Turner (H’s biological Mother) – “I’ve always loved you.”
-Then Helen’s adopted Mother Rosie (S1) tells Helen that she did sing her a lullaby when she was little. (Confirming a love that Helen was never sure was really there.)
-Freddy says goodbye to Helen.
-Her four minutes ticking down, Helen then imagines a scene on a beach from the future – Frances safe with Freddy’s family – and she is happy. (This assuages all the fears she had for Frances in Ep7 S5.)
In her imagination she’s also on the beach watching them.
-Then Helen wonders what she is leaving behind her – what tracks?
-This brings her to the ancient Tracks left by early humans. From this she logically unravels how our understanding of the science of our planet came about – and how we have developed this and are now using it now to save ourselves. And how, in a sense, this means that we are back at our beginning, starting over again….
-And this thought process takes her back to the beginning of the Universe. She talks about how the earth formed, and all life evolved.
She reaches the moment where human consciousness developed.
“We became sophisticated when we could ask the question: ‘Who am I?’”
And Frances echoes the words.
-“Who am I”
-Frances repeats everything Helen says now.
Describing how humans, past and present and future, are at the centre of the universe – Helen’s voice begins to fade, while Frances’ gets stronger.
Eventually, Helen’s voice is gone, and only Frances’ remains.
Finally Frances confirms that
“and everything, all tracks lead to one thing. It all leads to us.”
….And that’s how the series ends.