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What Happened When and Where? An Episode Guide to 'Vireo'

Maria Lazarova and Rowen Sabala in "Vireo" | Remsen Allard
Maria Lazarova and Rowen Sabala in "Vireo" | Remsen Allard

Vireo, the groundbreaking made-for-TV opera, is now available for streaming. Watch the 12 full episodes and dive into the world of Vireo through librettos, essays and production notes. Find more bonus content on KCET.org and LinkTV.org.

 

Episode One – The Blow

A young girl appears onstage as if shoved into existence, walking past a quartet of musicians on the stage setting of a medieval forest outside of Reims, France. She has been sent to collect hot coals for a fire that has gone out at home. As she wanders through the beautiful spring morning, her mind drifts and flows to other realms and realities far from home. The world shifts around her, catapulting her through time and space to 19th-century Vienna, 20th-century Germany and 21st-century America. She collapses, hearing voices and visions. Her name is Vireo.

In a 19th-century Viennese doctor's office, Vireo falls into seizure, collapsing onto the ground, shouting and twitching uncontrollably, reaching for imaginary figures that seem to haunt the edges of her vision. Her mother has brought her to Vienna for a psychological examination, and the Doctor has become intrigued with her case. He begins a course of study that will continue for years in an attempt to analyze the “hysteria” that propels Vireo’s fits.

Mother and Doctor watch as Vireo returns to her vision in the 16th-century woods and a “Voice” sings to hear about nature and life. Vireo struggles to understand the metaphysical existence of nature and life. When the Voice leaves her, she once again falls into a fit.

Episode Two – Mercury

Vireo wakes onstage into the 16th-century world where she mistakes the Doctor for a Priest. He prescribes cloistering for his patient, and she hears rumors of witchcraft and evil while being escorted to her room by the Doctor’s new assistant, Raphael. She imagines her room to be a convent tower, and so it becomes one.

From her “convent tower” Vireo observes a Witch being brought to the stake for death, but when she speaks, Vireo recognizes the same “Voice” she heard in the woods before. The Voice sings about humanity and Vireo tries to understand the meaning behind her words. As their scene continues, Vireo begins to doubt her beliefs, wondering if she too is a witch, or is at least responsible for some of the actions surrounding the witch. Finally the Witch burns, silencing the Voice. Once again Vireo falls into a fit.

Episode Three – Needle

Vireo has escaped from her room and into an abandoned warehouse. She pursued by the Doctor and Mother, who are now trying to convince her to come with them for treatment. Vireo has a tentative hold on reality and she slips in and out of time. Her 16th-century religious beliefs seem to run up against the 19th-century psychoanalysis that the Doctor is proposing. Even the Doctor and Mother seem to slip in and out of time now, bringing their sense of reality into question. The Doctor eventually traps Vireo and takes her back to his office for further testing.

 

Episode Four – Beginner

Vireo is examined by the Doctor and Raphael at their Vienna office. They explain to the worried Mother that in order to treat her they must humor her mystical fantasy world of 1590s France, and perhaps even play parts in that world. It is clear that both the Doctor and Raphael have more than a passing interest in visions and witches.

Beginning the treatment, Vireo has a vision of Pernette, a local farmwoman, speaking and acting with the attributes of the Voice from the forest. Vireo struggles to reconcile these ideas. She begins to form suspicions that she herself is a witch and is responsible for the evil the witch is bringing to the community. The Doctor and Raphael are able to extract the name “Pernette” from Vireo when she descends into a fit. They hope this will become a point of departure in their treatment of her "hysteria."

Episode Five – The Cow

Returning home after the unsuccessful treatment, Vireo’s mother reports her doubt about the efficacy of religious faith in treating Vireo’s problems: naming Pernette as a witch seems to have done nothing to ease Vireo’s inner struggle. Witchcraft is still haunting the village -- cows are dying for no apparent reason!

Moving to the barn, a cow steps forward and sings the story of her life to the attendant milkmaids. Joined by a marching band, she recounts with pride her short but meaningful existence as both a provider of milk and as a slab of beef.  Inside the house, Vireo sits for her portrait, while the marching band consumes the cow at a backyard barbecue just outside.

"Vireo" episode six | Mike O'Toole
Mike O'Toole

Episode Six – Boarding School

Vireo begins this episode in a 16th-century courtroom where she has been called to testify against Pernette as a witch. Time is starting to blur in her mind. Perhaps the trial is real, or perhaps the Doctor is simply attempting another means of investigation into her visions and hysteria. As the tension mounts, Vireo breaks down and the Doctor sends her back to boarding school with instructions to get some rest before returning to finish her testimony.

Unbeknownst to the Doctor, his assistant, Raphael, has developed a crush on Vireo. He follows her back to school and begins spying on Vireo and her friends. Calling from a payphone outside, Raphael calls Vireo to a window and finally reveals the full depth of his infatuation. He stands below the window singing of his undying love. Vireo ignores him and goes inside to lie down.

Suddenly, falling into Vireo’s bed from out of the sky, a dark-haired girl bounces off the mattress and into Vireo’s life. This is Caroline. She hears voices, she’s getting examined too, she knows all about Vireo, she likes to cause pain, and she wants to find and burn more witches. They immediately bond, and Caroline counsels Vireo to testify against Pernette.

After listening to Caroline, Vireo returns to the trial and condemns Pernette before returning to school.

Episode Seven – Dismal Pure Inane

Bored at home on vacation, Vireo can hardly wait to return to school where she and Caroline share a room and plot together. Once back in school, Caroline wants to know more about witches and witch-hunting but they are quickly interrupted by a visit from Vireo’s mother. She is once again reaching out to the daughter she loves but no longer understands. Growing ever more distant under Caroline’s influence, Vireo wants nothing to do with her mother and drives her away.

Finally alone again, Vireo gives hysteria “lessons” to Caroline so that they can both have a fit in tandem when forced to undergo medical testing. The girls grow closer. Meanwhile the Doctor, Raphael and the Mother spy on the girls as part of the Doctor’s study. Raphael seems to find new romantic interest in Caroline, who is more receptive to his advances than Vireo has been. At the end of the scene, he is invited to leave with them on a hunt for supernatural experiences.

Story continues below

Episode Eight –  Girl in the Well

Leaving school in search of witchcraft, Caroline leads Vireo and Raphael to an abandoned well where she promises to show them evidence of wrongdoing. Three children have been drowned and their souls linger in the depths of the water. Looking down the well, they see three faces staring back, and the startled youths pull away.

However, before they’ve gone three steps, Vireo hears the Voice calling to her. It’s the same 16th-century Voice from the woods, calling to her from inside the well where the ghost of a young girl, dripping wet, has pulled herself up from inside. Vireo confesses to the figure that she is guilty of killing a witch and her guilt is weighing her down. Raphael watches the exchange with the ghost (invisible to him), and writes of Vireo’s psychosis that, “She imagines herself a 20th-century girl living in 16th-century France, when in reality she’s a 19th-century girl in an asylum in Reims!”

After the conversation with the ghost, Vireo becomes increasingly agitated and angry. She turns to the crowd that has gathered and begins to accuse them all of witchcraft. Vireo threatens to accuse them in the court and lead them to ruin. A Farmer from the village leads a response of self-righteous indignation, pushing communal guilt onto others. The scene ends with Vireo’s arrest for disturbing the peace and accusing innocent people of witchcraft.

Episode Nine – Alcatraz

After being arrested for perjury and libel in the previous episode, Vireo is sent to prison at Alcatraz, where she is confined to the abandoned medical wing. She enjoys her solitude, realizing that she is finally to be left alone with her own thoughts and ideas, finally free from the constant observation and analysis that has surrounded her for the last few years.

In another part of the prison, the Doctor wanders the cell block, hoping for enlightenment and inspiration. His analysis of Vireo is growing less objective as he becomes increasingly jealous of her ability to have visions and pierce the shroud of reality. He wants a vision of his own.

Caroline appears in Vireo’s cell. Dressed in a straightjacket, she looks like a ghostly apparition – and she brings a bag of sheets that they can tie together to create a rope with which to climb down the wall and escape to a waiting car. Although at first she resists Caroline’s plan, Vireo ultimately agrees and the girls disappear into the night, leaving the prison guards and doctor behind.

Episode 10 "Vireo" | David Soderlund
David Soderlund

Episode Ten – Ice on the Sargasso

Riding in a car across the Swedish steppes on her way to join the circus, Vireo lets her mind wander. She dreams of a chorus of young girls from her school singing a song about the escape. Back in the car, Caroline is still driving and Vireo begins to nod off again. She sees a violinist standing alone in the snow by the side of the road, playing a melancholy melody.

Time passes, and Vireo jerks awake. She finds herself asleep at the wheel. She stops, shaken and suspicious, and, taking a moment to look around, she realizes that they are being followed. Furiously turning on Caroline, she demands an explanation. Caroline reveals that she has deceived Vireo and is in league with the Doctor. The Doctor is taking them to Sweden where Caroline hopes to name more names and cause more death. Vireo slumps in despair and once again loses herself in dreams and sleep. The violinist reappears.

Arriving at the convention center, the Doctor and Raphael prepare Vireo for the demonstration. They drug her with morphine and place her on a gurney before wheeling her to the surgical amphitheater for presentation.

Episode 11 "Vireo" | David Soderlund
David Soderlund

Episode Eleven – Circus

Vireo’s hysteria and psychosis finally come to a climax when she wakes up at the medical presentation in Sweden, and literally finds herself at a circus. This is the “circus” that Caroline had promised they would attend. Seen through the lens of Vireo’s mind, the friends and family from her life return as circus characters – Raphael and the Doctor, her Mother, Caroline and the Voice. The dead Cow makes one last appearance from beyond the grave, disguised as a Lion. Vireo’s friends from school come marching in to join her. Another group joins with Caroline who is intent upon burning more witches.

Finally, Vireo has had enough. In a moment of clarity, she recognizes that Caroline is her enemy and charges her with witchcraft. This silences the crowd and the two begin a final showdown. Suddenly, the Queen of Sweden appears. Her appearance presages the beginning of WWI and the end of public study of “hysteria.” The Queen resolves all worldly problems, justifies the academy’s (and humanity’s) turn towards war, and everyone leaves. This leaves Vireo alone to figure out how her life will go on.

Vireo leaves the Circus and the world of visions and time travel.

Episode Twelve – My Name is Vireo

Vireo returns to the woods where her adventure began – but now she steps off of a stage and into a real forest where she finally finds her name.

She achieves an enlightened state and disappears into the woods.

 

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