OWED /// pitch dossier
I don't think we should have to take care of our sick parents.
There's a more elegant way to express that (see: below) but really--that's what this show is about.
I mean, if you want to do it... great, magnificent, you do you. But do you HAVE to do it. Can you not do it AND not be an asshole.
Ok, let's dig into that.
OWED is a dark, incisive, challenging ensemble series about what it means to be "good" and whether we must sacrifice ourselves to service our parents regardless of circumstance or desire.
Do we OWE them?
OWED /// a one-hour limited series with each season deconstructing an angle of the social contract* in the vein of THE WIRE.
*In both moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that questions the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.
SEASON ONE ///
an abusive family dynamic that feels like an emotional prison from which you will never escape; set in the near-future against a Pennsylvania state prison during the re-igniting of the death penalty.
THE FATHER is an abusive monster but he’s ailing. Heart attacks, quadruple-bypass surgery, diabetes-induced seizures… His sickness makes him vulnerable; more difficult to shun.
HIS SON (“OWEN”) lives with him—even though he’s 24—because he has a caretaker soul and believes it is his duty to care for his family. Moreover—his psychosis is such that he believes he is only of value or worthy of love if he is sacrificing or hurting himself to please someone else. That’s why instead of getting a job as a nurse or social worker, he becomes a correctional officer at the state prison; literally imprisoned by his martyrdom.
The Governor of Pennsylvania—this is true—issued a temporary moratorium on executions in February 2015 citing “widely recognized defects” in a capital punishment system that is “ineffective, unjust and expensive.” The District Attorney (a political opponent) challenged the Governor’s authority to—in effect—bypass the state legislature to change law according to personal politics. The Supreme Court upheld the Governor’s decision but (as the world of the show imagines…) during the next election cycle the DA challenges the Governor with a pro-death penalty platform and wins.
The Warden—Owen’s boss—knows ahead of the public that the death penalty will be reinstated and needs to reassemble a death-team after a long period of dormancy. He asks Owen to be the executioner. Even for an extreme people-pleaser like Owen, this ask is pushing the limits but ultimately—and however reluctant—he agrees.
“Unlike other professions that involve death, such as the police force or the military, few corrections officers enter the field with the expectation that they'll eventually have to kill somebody. On the contrary, many view themselves as protectors.” —Tolly Moseley, The Atlantic
(“MIA”) OWEN'S SISTER—is older and has distanced herself from the family; which Owen resents if only because their father won’t stop complaining about it. Mia believes their father is purposefully not taking care of himself so he remains in poor health as a way of controlling and manipulating his family to remain in his orbit despite his bad behavior. For a while Mia begged him to take care of himself because she didn’t want him to die, she didn’t feel ready to be parent-less. Their mother died when they were young. Now, her fear isn’t that he’ll die but that he’ll become incapacitated to the point of requiring constant care and she’ll have to effectively give-up her life to help her brother shoulder the responsibility. The father’s worried about quality of life, too. That’s why in the pilot, after he has a “cardiac episode” (the heart attack chemical was technically released but he’s fine), he says to his children who have gathered in his hospital room:
Dad: “Joe Miller died playing tennis yesterday. He fell, hit his head and died.”
Mia: “That’s terrible, Dad. Thank god you don’t exercise.”
Dad: "I’m serious. If I ever get to a point where I’m not dead but I won’t have quality of life; there are pills in my sock drawer. I want you to bring them to me.”
Another fight erupts. Assisted suicide is against the law; we’d be putting ourselves at risk. You’re not going to die, I’ll take care of you, etc. On the hospital room TV, the new Governor announces she’s lifting the death penalty moratorium. The next execution is set:
It’s a woman.*
*In August of 2016, 54 women were on death row; three of them in Pennsylvania.
Mia looks at the screen and recognizes the prisoner's face. Her father is a criminal defense attorney. 15 years ago, that woman was his client. Mia can’t prove it but in her gut she believes her father botched the case. She remembers he conveniently became sick right at the time of trial and filed for continuance after continuance.
The woman adopted a young child from Russia. Something must’ve happened during the kid’s early life in the orphanage—trauma / neglect—because he exhibited psychopathic behaviors: extreme rage and violence, crying inconsolably for hours and days on end. There were no social services available to her because it wasn’t a domestic adoption. The Russian orphanage wasn’t any help. She couldn’t afford private help. (This was her emotional prison from which she would never escape…) On a particularly trying day after hours of battle, she caught the kid smearing feces on the wall and she snapped; knocked him against the wall, killing him. So she did it but does she deserve to die?
Mia is a gifted researcher. She works as a fact-checker for the city paper. Over the course of the first season she makes it her mission to uncover her father’s wrong-doing and save this woman knowing that if she’s right, her father will be disbarred. If he’s unable to work, he’ll become even more dependent on his family. She also wrestles with: what is her responsibility? Maybe unquestioned blood loyalty is not only bullshit but dangerous.
Meanwhile, Owen undergoes training as part of the new death team at the prison and we learn what a fucking shit show that is. No doctors involved—most believe it is unethical; the team is led by a quack veterinarian—this is also true—who despite losing his license for botched lethal injections in other states, is eagerly hired by the PA prison system. European, anti-death-penalty pharmaceutical companies are restricting usage of their drugs for the purpose of American executions, so prisons "improvise" with unreliable cocktail combination, sometimes with disastrous, inhumane consequences (see: below). Plus, we've got a bunch of men dealing with the brutal psychological realities of killing a woman who feels like their collective mother.
And, BTW... for Owen to "do a good job" he must commit murder...
At the end of the first season—Owen experiences his first execution and Mia kills their father with the pills. ///