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Watching a Lobotomy on the Set of LORE Was Absolutely Terrifying

If you’ve ever been in an empty airplane hangar, you’ve got some idea. The massive space that can never get warm. The metallic rumble. This one smells like the lumber aisle at Home Depot, and the heavy rain outside wraps everything in the haze of God’s white noise machine. It’s here in this former automotive warehouse that I find myself standing on a concrete slab, headphones hugging my ears, watching a gaunt, gleeful man destroy another man’s brain.

I mean, he’s pretending to, but from here it’s honestly hard to tell the difference. Through the monitor, I can discern an obscured lump in the lower third while a middle-aged salesman in a lab coat gives an unseen audience his used car pitch about a stupendous new technological advancement that will revolutionize psychiatric medicine. It’s a sturdy, thin piece of metal that he slides somewhere into the blurry lump with a practiced patter seasoned with the overconfidence of Vanna White blithely showing off the next letter on the board. A man in the audience throws up. Faints.

All I hear is the nickel-click of the pin hammer tap-tap-tapping into the blurry lump’s brain. All I see is the happy doctor’s wrist-wrenching motion, followed by the tap-tap-tapping a second time. The high-pitched ring of thin metal. Then, the electroshock, and in the back of my mind I know this scene was once a reality.

Welcome to Lore.

The podcast-turned-Amazon-show is shooting an episode featuring the story of Dr. Walter Freeman, who toyed first with an ice pick to pioneer a maneuver that damaged the frontal lobes through the orbital socket before contracting an artisan to make the instrument he dubbed the “Orbitoclast.” Whether Freeman was a healer or monster is up to the century judging him; perfect for Lore, which relishes in exploring the origin stories of myths that almost always come from good intentions and human failings. Still, the cataclysmic thunder outside the set is adding an undeniable Frankenstein feel to the proceedings.

The man playing Freeman in the episode is Colm Feore, a veteran performer who’s no stranger to scaring audiences, whether it’s for Stephen King or Marvel. Feore speaks with intense authority about his character, as though he could take over for Lore host and lead researcher Aaron Mahnke at any moment, riffing off the top of his wizened head about Dr. Freeman’s biography and personal beliefs. Naturally, like all good villains, he saw himself as a hero.

“You’ve got to slip into his skin without it feeling the least bit weird,” Feore tells me, grabbing a banana to snack on between takes. “Freeman did this about three-and-a-half-thousand times. On some people, he did it more than once. You’ve got to figure, because he was a smart guy—he came from a long line of doctors, and his children were doctors too, Walter Freeman III became a well-respected neuroscientist—that he was onto something. It’s easy to look back and say, ‘It’s despicable, it’s scary, it’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. How could we let something so barbaric happen?’…until you try to spend a weekend in a mental institution in 1938. Because the horror of an asylum at that period? The inability to help people, really effectively help people? There were no effective drugs, there were no treatments, there was just locking people up and forgetting about them, and they went crazy.”

“And so this guy really believed he was helping,” Feore continues. “He believed he was helping in a pragmatic and revolutionary way.” Feore finishes his banana while explaining how electroconvulsive therapy worked in the early 1930s, and I follow him back onto the set.

It’s a happy little office constructed in the middle of the freezing, cavernous warehouse. One second I’m surrounded by gaffers in “Safety For Sarah” shirts sipping coffee to ward off the cold, the next I’m stepping through the constructed outer hallway that leads into a richly appointed physician’s office crammed with men dressed in lab coat-covered duds of the FDR era. The ground is covered in linoleum tile, and it smells like flash bulbs and peach perfume. Outside fake windows are fake trees in planters, blown around by fans attempting to simulate nature armed with 100 watts. There are book cases and a heavy desk and a wet bar. There are working x-ray light boxes and a gurney and an actor playing the patient about to pretend to have his frontal lobe connection severed. Once inside, you forget what year it is.

There are also cameras and a cinematographer and a focus puller, but they seem to disappear into the antique noise of the scene. Watching Lore film from the set feels like seeing a play from on the stage. Feore holds court as Dr. Freeman, a blustering, complicated inventor trying to secure a legacy with light banter and brain damage. He jokes about using an ice pick and practicing on grapefruits. He pauses toothy-grinned for a photo from the gaggle, and a production assistant simulates a flash bulb with her iPhone. He casually preens while explaining his tool, demonstrating the procedure, and confiding that patients may be “cheerful to the point of elation” afterward, which might as well describe Feore’s performance as Dr. Freeman. This is, after all, the press junket of ripping someone’s brain apart.

The big smile. The metallic tap-tap-tap. The patient seizing on the table. Tap-tap-tap. A doctor with good intentions, creating a nightmare. Tap-tap-tap. They do over a dozen takes of the scene from 6 different angles before removing one wall to move on to a nighttime conversation between Freeman and his ailing, alcoholic wife. It’s still raining outside. Still thundering.

“Because of the way I prepare, I take bits of the role home,” Feore tells me. “But you have to wipe it clean. A bit stays with you. Each new role is the sum total of all my parts. Looking back in a few years, there will be a little bit of Dr. Freeman in there.”

While everyone is off the set, I walk the linoleum floors and admire the design of the office alone. The attention to detail, the medical art, the instrumentation. With Frankenstein rattling around in my mind, I zero in on the prop Feore has been using all day: the metal rod that disconnected people’s frontal lobes. The Orbitoclast.

Showrunner Glen Morgan had told me earlier in the afternoon that the one they were using was real. They’d found it on eBay, and it was authentic. Not one of Dr. Freeman’s own, but one from the era, used in hospital settings. It was a terrible thing to hold. Maddeningly still, quiet. Haunted. A real piece of history in the middle of a TV set.

Perfect for a show using dramatizations to share our part with us, telling us it’s okay to be afraid, and asking whether we’re right to judge so harshly.

All 6 episodes of Lore will be available on Amazon Friday, October 13th.

Images: Amazon Prime Video

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