Arcadia 6×13: Did I not make myself clear?


Us? Married? You don't say...

Who knew the day would come when you could pay your mortgage with perfect precision and still be evicted for violating your neighbors’ aesthetic sensibilities? Or more accurately, for violating your neighbors’ property values? I’m just going to put it out there and say that the true horror of “Arcadia” will be lost on anyone who hasn’t been subject to the capricious cruelty of a homeowners association.

You may think I exaggerate, but I’ve personally witnessed the unmarked cars that slowly and suspiciously pass by to inspect the nearly identical lawns in our neighborhood for flaws. A trashcan in plain view, an unshapely bush, or a front door with off color paint and you can expect to receive a terse notice post haste.

Not too long ago, we received an anonymous flyer in the mail rallying the neighborhood to help right a terrible wrong. It seems there’s another, less expensive neighborhood, down the street with the nerve to have newer, blacker pavement than us. If we’re not careful, visitors may think those people actually make more money than we do, what with our beat up grey streets. It’s urgent that each family invest a couple of hundred dollars over and above their association dues, taxes, and grocery budgets, yes, even in this bleak economy, so that we can bring our neighborhood back up to a grasping middle class standard.

And it was written in all caps. I swear to you.

This is all my way of saying that there’s a great subtext in “Arcadia” about the pitfalls of the pursuit of perfection. Not to mention the demotion of the American Dream into some cookie cutter concept of middle class home ownership and matching SUVs – A monotony of conformity. First time writer on The X-Files, Daniel Arkin, came up with the idea based partially on his own experience in a co-op.

This was originally supposed to be the first episode aired after “One Son” (6×12), an episode the events of which turned The X-Files’ longstanding mythology on its head. It’s no wonder then that The Powers That Be opted for more lighthearted fare to follow that up. Unfortunately for “Arcadia”, the two episodes that ended up airing directly before it also featured heavy doses of humor so some fans were getting restless at this point for a good, old-fashioned X-File.

In that respect, in terms of the X-File itself, “Arcadia” doesn’t earn the highest marks. The Stepford-style homeowners are much more frightening than the actual monster in this Monster of the Week. An Übermenscher made of garbage? Really??

Distractingly smelly pile of garbage aside, the basic plot reminds me of “Our Town” (2×24) where another seemingly ideal community hides a dark and deadly secret. In that episode, outsiders and misfits face the threat of being cannibalized, which holds a heck of a lot more emotional weight than being torn to pieces by a garbage heap. Hiding the absurdity of the “Tibetan Thought Form” by filming it mostly in the dark does help, but it still manages to be more funny than frightening.

I truly wish for “Arcadia’s” sake that it had a better monster because it deserves it for being so hilarious otherwise. Unlike “Agua Mala” (6×14) where the monster was effective but the characterizations were over the top, the humor here is on point the whole way through. “Arcadia” has the exact opposite problem.

Oh, and you may hear the occasional unfounded complaint, but Daniel Arkin doesn’t succumb to the temptation to turn “Arcadia” into a tantalizing adventure in UST and I’m grateful for that. Yes, there’s a whole lotta banter going on. But there’s never any serious threat of Mulder and Scully getting personal; no pregnant pauses, no yearning glances. The jokes are all in cheeky fun. Despite what you may read in fanfic, I don’t spy any secret desire in Scully’s eyes for Mulder to stop teasing and take her in his arms, nor do I imagine Mulder tossing and turning on a couch downstairs resisting the urge to break down Scully’s door in the heat of passion.

Whatever their feelings for each other, neither wants to be trapped together in some sterile suburbia. “Arcadia” is just an opportunity for the characters to good-naturedly rib each other, and maybe the audience at home as well. More importantly, it’s as though Chris Carter & Co. were trying to say, “Don’t worry. The recent, painful split between Mulder and Scully that we willfully, cruelly and unnecessarily inflicted upon you was only temporary.”

But that’s no thanks to Mulder. He is absolutely the highlight of this episode as he takes advantage of every moment possible to irritate Scully. He’s like the annoying kid at the back of the class who dips the girls’ pigtails in the inkwell. In fact, he overdoes his act to such an extent that the least believable part of this episode is that anyone would think Mulder and Scully were a happily married couple. Between his exaggerated smiles and Scully’s pained ones no one would buy it, which is ironic since when they don’t try everyone assumes they’re together.

And I’m not complaining because watching Mulder drive Scully up a wall still makes me laugh out loud. And seeing Mulder nearly pee on himself is its own reward. Silly monster or no, “Arcadia” is worth it just for the belly laughs.

You may want to cherish this moment because pretty soon, successfully funny X-Files will be few and far between. In fact… nah. Spoilers.

Verdict:

By the way, we live in a planned community built on reclaimed land. Like Mulder, we’ve been denied the portable basketball hoop in the driveway, a gift from my uncle. Currently, the light in our lamppost is out and we have yet to replace it.

In other words, if you don’t hear from me by Friday… feed my fish.

A-

Tibetan Thought Forms:

Didn’t the Kleins hear about the unibomber? Who opens packages with no return address?

Why would Mulder leave Scully alone in the house after he’s all but summoned the monster by name?

If Big Mike was the one who warned Mulder by sticking a note in his mailbox, if he’s the one who kept fixing the mailbox, where were the telltale signs of much? After all, he was living in the sewer at the time. For that matter, where’d he pick up the paint?

Interestingly, neither Mulder nor Scully seem to have their cover story straight. Aren’t you supposed to settle those details before going undercover? I’d say that Mulder was spontaneously changing the plan, but their mutual hesitation before answering personal questions makes me think they never concocted an official lie.

Rattan Furniture:

Notice there are no children in this episode.

It’s that guy from Monk… and from everything else.

Scully’s exposition of the case while she videos the crime scene is rather see-thru. It’s so long I start tuning her out after a minute. And you know what? It’s not even essential to understanding the plot.

I like Big Mike.

Okay, one of the best things about rewatching something you’ve already seen 20+ times is still finding new nuggets of gold. There’s a moment right after Gogolak breaks the news to Mulder that he can’t have a basketball hoop where Scully with an all too serious face pats his hand in a gesture of comfort. Priceless.

Best Quotes:

Win Shroeder: So how was your first night? Peaceful?
Mulder: Oh, it was wonderful. We just spooned up and fell asleep like little baby cats. Isn’t that right, Honeybunch?
Scully: That’s right, Poopyhead.

——————–

Gene Gogolak: Rules are rules. It may not sound like anything, a simple basketball hoop. But from there, it’s just a few short steps to spinning daisy reflectors and a bass boat in the driveway.
Mulder: In other words, anarchy.

——————–

Win Shroeder: Sweetheart, did you use the dolphin-safe tuna this time?
Cami Shroeder: Dolphin-safe all the way, Honey.
Win Shroeder: We always use the dolphin-safe.
Mulder: You’ve got to love those dolphins… although they’re pretty tasty, too.
Win Shroeder: [Stunned Silence]
Cami Shroeder: [Horrified Silence]
Scully: HAHAHA! Ha.

——————–

Mulder: [Pats the bed beside him and poses suggestively] Come on, Laura, you know… we’re married now.
Scully: Scully, Mulder. Good night.
Mulder: [Walks past her] The thrill is gone.

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23 responses to “Arcadia 6×13: Did I not make myself clear?

  1. Whoa, wait there was actually a monster in this episode? I must’ve been too distracted by Mulder and Scully aka Rob and Laura Petrie. No, just kidding. ;-)
    You review is dead on.
    Yes! to the hand patting moment! But there’s another moment right after that I like even better: Scully absently pats Mulder’s hand again, becomes aware of it and quickly pulls her hand away with an awkward look on her face. I also laugh every time about how Mulder uses every possible opportunity to touch Scully.
    Watching this episode and now reading your experience of living in such a planned community/conform neighborhood (whatever you want to call it), makes me thankful for living in Europe. :-D

    • You might well forget the monster! I daresay the neighborly neighbors were monstrous enough. They didn’t need the Garbage Heap to scare people away.

  2. Totally know what you mean by homeowner’s associations! Before we were married, I lived with my husband and his parents for a couple months, and there was this one lady who would do drive-bys, just looking… They saw that my husband hadn’t used his truck in a bit, so they sent a notice for him to get rid of it… She’s occasionally yell at my husband when he’d park too close to the road. And, though it was an anonymous call, I’m betting it was she who called his mother’s real estate agents to yell at them about how “low” the house was going for because it was going to lower the value of the entire neighborhood. Yeah.

    I’m thinking that it’s one or several people who haven’t got much going on in their lives… I’m imagining them right now, and there’s a syndicate-like meeting happening, only it’s with soccer moms and grandmothers and the like. Low lighting and all that. They’re glowing with happiness because the pesky couple that lives on the corner just trimmed their hedges, and it’s all thanks to them. Without them, this entire neighborhood, and possible the world, would go to hell.

    • This is exactly what I’m talking about!! It’s the attitude. Wanting to keep your neighborhood nice is one thing, but this is unhealthy. They have nothing better to concern themselves with than this minutiae because they get their self worth from how high their property value is. Ridiculous.

  3. Wow, this review made me realize how little attention I pay to the plot in this episode–I guess that, like Daniela, I’m too distracted by M&S’s married couple act. Mike was living in the sewer? I thought he’d just been . . . comatose or something . . . clearly I need to watch this again. Why didn’t he just leave the neighborhood?

    I think that for me, the biggest takeaway from this episode is the cautionary tale of the original neighbors. At different points in the story, the monster they created to punish others is turned against each of them; what they’ve done unto others is being done unto them. Because when you create an atmosphere when no one is loyal to anyone and you encourage people to turn on each other, sooner or later that disloyalty and discord is going to come back around and bite you. Or, you know, bludgeon you to death with garbage hands.

    Also, your neighborhood sounds absolutely crazy. My condolences.

    • Gives a whole new spin to “They created a monster”, no?

      Actually, the moral of the story as you so aptly described it reminds me more of Our Town where I think Frank Spotnitz pushed those issues more to the forefront. But it’s still a lesson visible here. Maybe it’s also a lesson in “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” These people couldn’t tolerate flaws in their neighbors, but everyone falls short sometimes… and that’s when the garbage comes alive to eat you whole.

      Oh, and my neighborhood does have its sweethearts so I shouldn’t be to harsh. But, boy, some people…

  4. Damn, you have experience to a neighbourhood like this (without the monster of course)? Yikes. I actually thought that the portrayal of the neighbourhood in this one was just The X Files being The X Files, but alas you’re telling me it wasn’t? Very scared.

    I really like this one, it’s so much fun, okay the monster isn’t the greatest, but at least they have the good sense to keep it hidden in the dark for much of the running time and yes, the Mulder/Scully scenes are a joy and special kudos to David Duchovny for so wonderfully and accurately portraying the moment when one realises they they really, really need to use the toilet. That always makes me laugh, especially the moment where he contemplates using the Tropicana carton (best use of product placement ever by the way).

    • I do love that scene. Mainly because he does such a good job of miming the need to pee without actually having to say anything! And because part of me imagines Scully’s horrified reaction if he’d actually gone through with it.

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  6. I recently read (was it in LAX-Files?) about how the crew was calling the trash monster Fecal Fred and that now makes this episode even funnier for me. :D
    And even if he’s a bit of a troll about it, I think that Mulder genuinely enjoyed getting his hands on Scully, even without having any further plans of passion… I don’t really know how to word this.

    My favourite bit of this episode is probably where Mulder tells about how he and “Laura” met and Scully gives this really can’t-tell-if-embarrassed-or-just-wants-to-punch-you smile.

    • Ha! I forgot about Fecal Fred! I knew they had called him something but I was too lazy to go look it up. :S

      I think I know what you’re trying to say, that he genuinely relished the opportunity without taking it seriously either. He wasn’t putting the moves on her, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the irony of their situation.

      And for my money, Scully wanted to punch him.

  7. Ah, yes…the “joys” of housing associations. Unfortunately, I know all too well the horror of which you speak. Thankfully, nothing happened to me quite to the extreme of the story you shared, but a few experiences do come close. I’ve thankfully escaped the rule-obsessed conformists (couldn’t get out fast enough), but you’re right…if you haven’t experienced it, this episode loses a little of it’s meaning.

    Really, the rule-enforcing society is a perfect backdrop for Mulder to allow hilarity ensue. What could be more of a polar opposite of the rule-breaking Mulder who is not exactly one for fitting in? Add in the fact that he has to act like he and Scully are man and wife, and it’s the makings for one great episode.

    As you said, the monster really isn’t the best, and in my opinion, kind of takes a back seat to the comedy that is Mulder in suburbia. For me, that’s okay. What does it matter when the monster isn’t another Flukeman or Tooms? The pure genius of the episode really is the setup of Mulder living in this “perfect” life and seeing Mulder and Scully “living” together. Love this episode!

    • the monster really isn’t the best, and in my opinion, kind of takes a back seat to the comedy that is Mulder in suburbia.

      I think that’s exactly it! This episode is about Mulder (and Scully) in Suburbia and the pure ridiculousness of the concept. I don’t know if that’s the way it started when the first conceived of it, but somewhere along the way they must’ve figured out that this absurdity was the natural heart of Arcadia, not the MOTW itself.

  8. You know, this is why I’ll never own a home. I don’t want to be subject to the insanity. But renting is just as bad. I put a box on my porch as a reminder to take it to the dumpster before work. There wasn’t garbage in it. It was out there an hour before I got a passive aggressive note about how we need to not have trash on the porch because it causes rodents. IT’S AN EMPTY BOX FROM AMAZON.COM! I digress.

    I love Arcadia because it’s so funny. The garbage monster is ridiculous. But Mulder is too funny. When he puts in the flamingo and says “Bring it on…” I just die. Shocker that Mulder is a non-conformist.

    Also, anyone see the garbage monster on the season 6 gag reel? My sister and I to this day still quote it to each other and die laughing. “I don’t know what happened… I uhhh… was giving him a massage and I uhhhh… bashed his head into the mailbox.”

    • LOL!! An empty box? Really? Seriously? Is that like ratnip or something?

      I’ve stayed away from the gag reel for reasons that will become clearer a couple of reviews from now, but I am tempted.

  9. I love this episode, flaws and all, if for no other reason than I LOVE that Scully does a voiceover at the end as she shares her case report with us. It harkens back to the early seasons and in my opinion shows a great juxtaposition of the early and later seasons – same old voiceover style from season 1 with the characters in a place that earlier seasons could never have pulled off. I am a die-hard Shipper, but what I loved about this episode was not the MSR moments (which, as you said, are really not actual MSR moments at all) but the comfort level between M&S. They truly are the “old married couple” in that they have been through hell and back, through pain and loss, through joy and triumph (no matter how fleeting) and at the end of the day, they still love each other anyway and make the choice to continue on together!

    • I didn’t even think about that but it’s a great observation. I miss those old case reports Scully used to type up!

      I’m glad someone else thinks this is an episode that celebrates their partnership masquerading as an episode that celebrates MSR. They’re just having fun together (Mulder more so than Scully) and like you said, it’s the freedom that seem to have with each other that makes it so charming. Mulder mocks their assignment by playing Mr. Suburbia to the hilt and Scully I think enjoys needling Mulder right back. There’s no fear of one misunderstanding the other, or of one of them taking the situation too seriously.

  10. Mulder & Scully playing house…hell, man, there didn’t even have to be an attempt at a story, that was all I needed. I could go on and on, but one of the best parts? “Woman, git back in here an make me a samwich!” *gloves in face* “Did I not make myself clear?” I don’t care how many times I watch it, I laugh every time. I laugh thinking about it. Also–green face! (And the fact that Mulder continues to hit on Scully, serious or not) Plus–air kiss! Supremely awkward! Whee!

    But yeah…garbage monster? Sheesh.

    Also HOAs are psychotic. There’s no need to go further than that.

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