I’ve been a big fan of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since the very beginning. Even when I was a very busy college student, that was one of the few shows I always made an effort to watch. It was during my college years that one of the most memorable episodes of the series aired: when Alex Cabot is shot and presumably killed, but surprise! She really survived and was placed in a witness protection program.
I’m not sure how to accurately convey how big of a deal this was. It was kept pretty quiet that Stephanie March (Alex) was leaving the show, so the episode was pretty shocking. I’ll also admit that I got a bit misty-eyed before it was revealed that she was still alive. My friends and I went crazy the following morning, all, “OMG!!! Did you see SVU last night?!?!?!?!” I couldn’t wait to be done with class so I could call my mom and make sure she saw it. All in all, it was a major television event in my TV-watching life.
But fear not! A couple seasons later, Alex came back to testify in a trial and temporarily reunite with the gang. (Her return in that episode was heavily publicized, at least.) There’s this fantastic scene where she’s catching up with Olivia and telling her all about her new life in witness protection. Obviously she’s glad to be alive and safe, but there’s a certain sadness as she discusses her journey from being a high-powered attorney in Manhattan to working some mindless job out in the middle of nowhere.
In this conversation, Alex mentions how she’s dating a very nice man who treats her well and whispers her name when they lie in bed together: “Emily”. The look on her face when she says this is just absolutely heartbreaking. It’s an excellent scene all around, but Stephanie March really killed it with one word.
That scene stayed with me for years and years after it originally aired. Somewhere along the line, my writer’s mind started thinking about how difficult it must be to be so close, so intimate with another person, and not being able share one of the most basic things about yourself. That situation had a lot of potential for drama and conflict, but I didn’t want to copy the exact circumstances of witness protection (especially since SVU had already done it so well).
And that’s how I came up with the concept of Second Skin, and specifically the character of CIA agent Anna. Little by little her mask slips away, but as much as it hurts her, she stays true to her job and doesn’t disclose her real name during her date. Will she decide to take a risk and live openly as Anna, or will she be forced to disappear with another alias?