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When developing the concept for what became The Harbor Pilot’s Tale, I knew it would be a step removed from the tone and storyline of The Gambler’s Tale, though at first I didn’t know exactly what it would entail. But as I fleshed out the “story bible” for the overall series, I started jotting down the critical elements I’d want to include. First, I knew this was a story that would be told in a single episode — like The Messenger’s Tale before it, this would be an “interlude” between two longer Quorum seasons. Second, I wanted to showcase the broader scope of the Quorum’s influence; since both previous seasons of The Gambler’s Tale and The Messenger’s Tale had taken place in the United States, I was eager to move beyond America’s borders. And third, I wanted to introduce a tonal shift to the story; yes, it would still identifiably be a Quorum story, but it would have its own flavor. I wasn’t going to upend the format, but I wanted this to feel different.
Having long since worked out one of the major plot elements in what would become the third season of The Gambler’s Tale, this interlude story had a natural focus: setting that series of events into motion. (And rest assured, I’m not about to spoil anything else here.) In an odd turn of events, because of cast scheduling constraints, I actually had to script all of the Quorum bookend scenes through the end of that third season well in advance (unless I wanted to recast roles partway through the series) — so the fact that I’d mapped out the broad strokes of the overall story worked to my advantage now. While I wasn’t committed to any particular story for this episode, I had a framing template within which to operate: the Quorum was having to make some late changes to their plans, and they would involve European shipping operations.
The first thing I did was study cargo routes throughout Europe (and ultimately, across the globe). Since I knew that the Quorum’s quote-unquote “cargo” originated in Switzerland, it was a question of figuring out what the optimal transit route would be to its final destination. I had initially assumed that route would be via train or truck down to the Mediterranean Sea. But if this cargo was intended for overseas delivery — which this was — it was more likely that it would depart from a port on the North Sea, such as Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. From there, assuming our couriers would want to keep their charge secure, and not risk being stopped en route, I deduced that a plausible (not to mention entertaining) method of transportation would be via cargo ship, along the Rhine river.
Which brought me to Basel. Home to numerous museums, Basel is often considered the cultural center of Switzerland. While not as populous as Geneva or Zürich, it does have significant banking and chemical production industries — and happens to be home to Switzerland’s only cargo port. In effect, all shipments traveling along the Rhine go through Basel. Switzerland actually has a surprisingly robust naval history. The Merchant Marine of Switzerland is the largest merchant navy of any landlocked country on Earth, and the ports of Basel are dependent on the expertise of these sailors.
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— William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum