For Wilson, the end had always been an eventuality. Granted, he hadn't guessed it would be a sidewalk; maybe a car or a bullet, or even nothing on-screen at all: just a simple side monologue where the audience learns of a fairly inconsequential (and therefore only exposited) death. "We lost John today" a major character might say, leaning through a doorway into a casual and caffeinated conversation. Camera 1 on big smiles fading to pressed mouths, thin lips. Camera 2 on doorway, slight quiver of upper lip, left hand gripping the door frame, right hand against chest; tears if tears are possible; page standing by with eye-drops if the scene doesn't quite work without water. Camera 1 to hand-touching-hand, disbelief by major actress, comfort by a light touch; stern eyes. Create connection in loss. Create possible sexual tension for Season 2. Make the viewer believe they will never forget this moment.
Wilson will never forget this moment, captured on the fingerprinted screen, time index rolling in the right corner, unopened bag of chips buried beneath crudely stacked sound equipment. "It's a good shot" the director says, with all parties nodding. Wilson is not party to this, as he is not actually in the shot. His memory cannot be seen in the scene. It is not a thing, or a prop, or an object that rests in the background reminding the viewer that the soundstage is not a soundstage. It cannot be placed next to the photos Pete takes of the actors in common human situations: playing football, standing awkwardly at parties, or smiling too wide as they take a selfie. Wilson has to remind himself it only looks like a selfie, with the actor's hand just out of view in order to resemble an attempt at reaching out with the phone, trying to find a higher angle, a smoother capture. The football field is actually over in lot 5, backyard, scene 51, where Angela and Rick meet for the first time on screen. The party favors were hauled in on the back of a grip's pickup, and stapled along the sets by a union crew. The figures in the back of the selfie are actually carpenters working on scene 35, Marceline's play rehearsal, The Seagull. If you look close enough you can almost make out Karen preparing to play Marceline preparing to play Nina. She is far right, deep in thought, trying to remember who is in love with whom in Chekov, and who is in love with whom on the show.
Marty decides that they should try the scene again, from the doorway, Camera 2, and really tug at his shirt this time, as if trying to wipe something off his hands, or show the audience more of his collarbone. He suggests this because this is what actors do: perform the smallest tasks from different angles, on different days, complete with different sorts of inclement weather. They practice what might befall the suddenly grieved or the soundly fucked. They wear socks on their dicks and manicure their nails for close-ups. Marty knows that true grief tugs at the shirt; disregards the Italian craftsmanship of it. Because, in grief, one doesn't concern themselves with such things. One only reaches out and pulls or pushes at what's closest.
The bullet only grazes Wilson's shoulder, only enough to warrant a slight tear in his jacket, an alteration in his body's trajectory. But Wilson is not Wilson. Wilson is John. And John is about to be fucked. Not fucked like the way he wanted with Angela, who is actually Debra, in Season 1, when the camera lingered on how she stared at the grip of his gun. That's a signal to the audience. Prepare to be fucked. Wilson thought perhaps next week's script might bring them back to Angela's apartment, focus on her small shoulders as he removed her shirt, as she tried to keep her breasts pointed away from the camera gliding across the soundstage. And they would make love in the style of late-night television: the acute angle of calf to bent knee as it wraps around his waist; the quick cut to long strands of blonde in his face, open mouth, the midriff only hinting at what lies below the shot. And after, Wilson would lay satisfied with this moment, cigarette smoke just off-screen. His satisfaction would be the audience's satisfaction: how they wished they loved in this manner; how rounded the perfect pieces of these two people were; how they wished their roundness was different. Wilson would be surprised at the angle the writers would take: a secret affair; love posing as lust. He would act shocked at her sudden pregnancy at the end of the season, and help her through this crisis of career and conscience. Angela would ask him what sort of cop a pregnant woman could be, and he'd answer "the best kind of cop, the kind you are now." And she would weep at his support. And the audience would weep at his support. And he would hold the side of her face just so, in that way she and the audience had become so accustomed to. Wilson would have his contract renewed; his fatherhood championed by Entertainment Weekly; his picture taken and re-taken.
But instead, Angela will meet Rick, who is actually Marty, at a backyard picnic, scene 51, and the camera will follow her eyes to his pistol, slung over the shoulder, barely visible beneath his black blazer. She will compliment him on the pearl-inlaid handles, "a personal touch" he'll add, unapproved by the force, but he'll say he never cared for such approvals. The rules will not apply to him. He will make trouble for his lieutenant and slam his hands against office furniture in disgust for the state of the world. He will scream about the difference he wants to make and will shoot young men in the chest and back with his pearl-handled guns. They will bleed profusely and scream, and he will attempt to bind their wounds with pieces of his shirt. He will scream with them.
Because of his screams, his unshaven face will grace the cover of TV Guide. His hands will always be on Angela's hips in publicity shots, right below the sight line, just out of view. He will grace red carpets with his suits and strip clubs with his money. He will be picked up by the L.A. police in February and released the next morning. He will be picked up by the New York police in August and released the next morning. He will shout and he will dive for Wilson's body as it falls slowly towards the edge of a rooftop in mid-town Manhattan. He will say something inaudible and in slow-motion when he realizes he's missed. The audience will text their guesses at what this is to E! at the end of the show. "No" and "John" will be popular answers, with 22% and 36% respectively. A rumor will begin that option #4, "other: please describe" produced the answer: "Fuck" with nearly 40% of the total entries, making it the clear winner, but that E! refused to air it. Whichever it was, Rick, who is actually Marty, will lay in disbelief, peering over the edge at the slow descent. He will blame himself for what's happened. He will tug at his shirt because he is upset.
Wilson, in reality, did not fall in slow motion, but instead hit the airbag on the sidewalk below in less than three seconds. If given more height, he would have accelerated to 125 mph. At this point his acceleration would have ceased due to the retarding force of air friction on his outstretched body. If there had been no airbag, the small amount of fat surrounding his waist and hips would have been pushed up, not unlike the lava from tectonic plate shifts, and shot out of his skin like an exploding water balloon. Barry, their stunt director, shares all this with Wilson as he looks lovingly at the dusty airbag to his right. "There are forces beyond our control" Barry says, "and an inexorable connection between mass and weight. The human body can weigh less or more, depending on speed and surrounding material, but maintains mass, unless there is a more permanent kind of loss: hair, fat, limbs." Barry talks this way because he wants to console, and because he may be the only stunt director to also have been a philosophy major. Wilson pulls at his jacket collar, fingers the police badge just above his heart. Barry leaves to bring his insight on mass and weight to Marty, who is being lowered off the set in a harness. He moves slowly, purposely. He neither accelerates nor decelerates. If the lead broke, Wilson wonders, what would he mouth in slow-motion? What would the tenor be of his often-practiced scream?
In the end, this is what actors do: they place costumes in piles or hang them on racks. They wait to be told what to wear next, and what scene is up in queue. They wait for horns to sound, pages to knock, announcements to be made. Sometimes they can't find themselves in the script. Sometimes this is a philosophical problem. Sometimes this is merely that they're no longer listed in the cast. Sometimes they ask nonchalantly if more scenes could be found. Sometimes they punch holes in their walls. Sometimes they wait to get home to do this, but sometimes not. If they are told they have no more scenes, sometimes they stand naked in their dressing rooms and count the buttons on their long-sleeve shirt. They sometimes button it first and only after slide it over their heads. Sometimes they forget which button is for which hole, or whether it's better to start from the bottom or the top. Sometimes they are asked to leave. Sometimes they have to use the bathroom before they go. Sometimes they barricade their rooms with a couch or desk. Sometimes the police are called. Sometimes Barry stands outside the door and explains the intricacies of speed and mass, or how beautiful a tactical breaching tool is up close. Sometimes Angela won't acknowledge that time she looked at your gun, and Marty won't call you anything but "chief." Sometimes Pete won't let you have that selfie with Karen as Marceline as Nina, and Karen won't let you take another in costume.
Sometimes an actor will forget to turn in his shield at the end of a particularly long day. He'll realize too late and place it in his pocket to return at a later date. He may spend some time stuck in traffic on the 405. He may later be recognized by the woman pumping gas across from him. She will wave, and ask to take his picture. He will put up his shield, strike the formal pose he's so used to. She'll smile and comment on how real he looks, how he could be undercover, how easy it would be to arrest her. He'll smile back and wonder what her name is, her character's motivations, and just how long they're going to have to pretend.