Adam Feinstein: Fatal DevotionQ: This episode takes place in multiple different locations – Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Mexico – what’s one of your memories of shooting in those places?
While we were in Michigan, my colleague Meredith Fear and I went to look at the real house where the Longos once lived. It was small and very humble. To see that house made Christian’s grandiose visions of wealth and success seem even stranger. Q: You had to spend a lot of time trying to get into MaryJane’s head, trying to figure out why she made the decisions she did. What did you come away with?
In her quiet way, I think MaryJane was one of the bravest, most steadfast people you could ever hope to come across. She was absolutely clear about what mattered most to her– keeping her family intact. Under very stressful conditions, she never stopped trying to do that.
I know religious belief guided many of her decisions. But even when she was torn away from the community that had sustained her, her values stayed constant. She was a very consistent person.
It’s a cruel irony of this story that MaryJane’s good qualities exposed her to danger. A person ought to be rewarded for that strength of character, not punished for it.
You just have to remind yourself that no one – not MaryJane, or anyone else – could have ever imagined anything happening like what eventually did.Q: What did those who knew her best tell you about her?
MaryJane’s sisters commented on her intelligence. Before she became a stay-at-home mom, she once worked as an assistant in a medical office. Her employers thought so highly of her that they urged her to become a doctor herself, even offering to pay for pre-medical courses. But to be a mom was what MaryJane really wanted.
MaryJane’s sweetness was much talked about, and her naïve charm. Her sisters told us that MaryJane once drove the wrong way down a one-way street; and the officer didn’t have the heart to give her a ticket. Her sisters also talked about MaryJane’s sense of humor, her unexpectedly sharp wit. Q: And what is your take on Christian?
He was evidently an intelligent person. But there is a puzzling thread of stupidity in some of his criminal acts. Why didn’t he hide his own identity when passing forged checks? Why did he flash all that stolen property? Much later, when he was hiding in Mexico - why did he make himself so conspicuous?
I think these were mistakes of vanity. He must have assumed that he was much cleverer than everybody else, and his wits would always keep him one step ahead. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Law enforcement in Oregon was all over him very quickly. The FBI was instrumental in his capture, but Longo also really underestimated the competence of the Lincoln County authorities, who came after him with incredible determination and focus.Q: We'll never know for sure, but why do YOU think the murders happened?
It’s said that people reveal their true selves under the most trying circumstances. It could also be said that, until you face such circumstances, you can never really know the people closest to you. For me, this is the only possible explanation for what happened to MaryJane and the children. None of the people who knew her could accept that she would have consciously put her children in danger.
For Christian, self-image was the thing he had to protect at all costs. When his life fell apart, and it became impossible for him to salvage his fantasy idea of himself – he decided to discard that old life and make a new one. Q: What is your favorite scene in the show?
I love the scenes of the family on vacation. I realize that might sound odd, because there aren’t any big plot revelations or drama in those moments. But these scenes reveal something crucially important. Without them, it’s impossible to understand why MaryJane might have left her whole life behind to follow Christian. Their family was happy together once - happier than some families ever get. Writer Elise Greven and I wanted to embody some of those good times.
On the flip side: the image of Christian Longo on that jet ski - zooming around enjoying himself while his family waits for him by the shore - captures for me something of what the man was really about. Q: Final Witness embeds a lot of true-to-life details without calling attention to them. Can you let us in on some of them.
- The body of water where the first crime scene is discovered is the real Lint Slough. That’s the real Lint Slough Bridge.
- The television news report about the unidentified boy is an actual news broadcast from the beginning of the case.
- The marina on Yaquina Bay is the real marina where Longo obtained housing for his family. And the docks that appear in the show are the actual location of the crime scene.
- The dive sequences were filmed under the advisement of Vallorie Hodges, the search & rescue diver interviewed in the show. She also advised us on matters of accuracy, having lived this herself. And that’s Vallorie herself in the red dive suit in the final underwater sequence.
- In the prison scenes, the corrections officer who handles Christian Longo’s intake process is the real corrections officer who handled the real Christian Longo, at this same facility, ten years earlier.
- The police raid in Mexico was filmed not fifty yards from where the real raid occurred. The ruins that appear in the show are the actual ruins of Tulum, toured by Longo while in hiding.Q: Music is a big focus in Final Witness; what were you going for when choosing the music? How do you use music in telling the story?
To choose music for a story is to decide what it means to you. That was a difficult process for me with this episode, because it is one of the most tragic and senseless stories I have ever come across.
But ultimately, for me MaryJane’s story is about innocence and trust. These are beautiful qualities to behold - whether you see them in a child or an adult. We tried to reflect them in the music choices. Tracks like Kurt Vile’s “Blackberry Song” and Young Man’s “Home Alone” capture some of that beauty, I think.
There’s no actual violence depicted in the show, just the aftermath of violence. That decision was made during the writing process, but the music follows the same approach. It doesn’t depict violence, per se. It’s about the dark process of discovery, and the experience of the people who have to make the discoveries.
The hypnotic Bobby track “We Saw” is a centerpiece. It opens the show, and then we hear it again during the Landing dive scenes. For me it creates a feeling of awe – of slow, inevitable confrontation with darkness.
Faced with such evil, the police in this case were awestruck. They had to put their personal feelings aside, and perform their jobs as if in a trance. Carla Kihlstedt’s “Hold My Own” – which plays during the dive scene beneath the Lint Slough Bridge - creates that feeling of trance, of continuing on, although you almost can’t bear it. Q: Are there any details that didn't make your episode that you wish you could have included?
There are episodes of Christian’s stealing that are so audacious they make your jaw drop. But there are also some small details that tell a larger story.
One such detail dates from the family’s time in Michigan, right before everything fell apart. Christian and his family were returning from a vacation at the lake, and they stopped to refuel. Longo drove away from the gas station without paying. He couldn’t afford it. What on earth was he doing, taking his family on lavish vacations when he didn’t have enough money to fill up a gas tank?
For time reasons, we also had to condense how the authorities learned where Longo went after he left Oregon. The fuller story is that they picked up his trail in San Francisco first. But they never would have found him there if he hadn’t tipped them off himself. One day, the coffee shop in Oregon - where he’d recently worked - received a phone call from a coffee shop in San Francisco. Christian Longo had applied for a new barista job in SF, using his own name. And he’d listed them as a reference!