Gillian Anderson spoke to me today.
Well, she tweeted me a thirteen word sentence but that counts and I’m counting it.
And she spoke to me while I was in the middle of my upteenth rewatch of “all things” in order to prep my final draft of this review. Destiny? Clearly.
In the interest of full disclosure, I used to hate this episode. I’m talking not just dislike, loathing. The shippy moments barely assuaged me. This was exactly what I was afraid of back when David Duchovny first stepped behind the pen and camera for “The Unnatural” (6×20), that the actor’s point of view, or maybe more accurately, my awareness of the actor’s point of view, would irritate me and get in the way of my viewing pleasure. With still palpable relief, I can say I ended up enjoying that one. So by the time “all things” came along I was much more open. Sadly, I spent the entire episode thinking, “Why is Gillian Anderson blocking my view of Scully? ‘Cause I’m hearing a whole lot of Gillian right now.”
It wasn’t until one day a few years back, as I was rewatching “all things” with the DVD commentary on, that I realized I actually like what Gillian Anderson was trying to achieve. But while there’s a lot to appreciate here, there are also things standing in the way of some good ideas turning into a great episode.
Let’s take the good ideas first. Scully is meant to come to the understanding that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. A series of choices, and destiny disguised as a woman in a khaki cap and jacket, have led her on this path. There’s no going back to who you used to be because you’ve grown now. And besides, our emotions and attachments can sometimes make us see good in situations and relationships that really weren’t good for us at all. So don’t waste too much time looking back and wondering. I get it. I’m with you, girl.
Scully slowly comes to this realization after accidentally/not-so-accidentally coming back into contact with her old mentor, professor, and lover (?), Dr. Daniel Waterston. I’ll admit Scully’s relationship with Waterston, as we got to see it, always bothered me. Apparently, though, as written, Scully never slept with Waterston. What they had was a close relationship that was quickly turning into an emotional affair. Scully leaves him and medicine behind in order to resist the temptation of an affair and leave Waterston’s family in peace. Now, that sounds more like the romantic heroine I know. I realize that people have faults, they sin, they make mistakes and they grow. It’s still hard to picture Scully, even the young and relatively inexperienced Scully as we knew her in Season 1, knowingly being party to an affair. If anything, she used to be even less of a “shades of gray” sort of thinker. Regardless, the nuances of Scully and Waterston’s relationship had to be left out because of time constraints.
Maggie Waterston: Do you have any idea the hell you created in our lives?
Scully: Maggie, to be honest, I left so that there wouldn’t be hell in your lives.
One thing that wasn’t left out but I wish had been was the tease in the opening teaser.
No, I won’t be accepting death threats. Thank you for your cooperation.
The truth is, the implication that Scully had spent the night romantically with Mulder wasn’t Gillian’s idea. 1013 Productions had been planning to slip a nugget like this in around this point in the season and it got worked into “all things”. It was meant to serve as confirmation that Mulder and Scully were already in a romantic relationship, which explains the shameless flirting that’s been going on all season. If you thought Mulder and Scully seemed a little too happy lately, now you know why. In fact, keeping in mind their happy-go-lucky attitudes lately, Scully suddenly slipping into “What is my life?” mode feels incongruous within the context of the season, no?
But there I go losing sight of my topic again. As I said, the teaser is a bit of a problem only because it distracts from the rest of the episode. Even today, it’s a distraction. The audience spends the rest of the episode trying to figure out whether Scully’s roamings through the spirit world tell us whether or not she’s sleeping with Mulder. I realize after waiting so long for the two leads to come together a casual confirmation might not have been possible, but that’s my take on it.
The toughest hurdle for me is Scully’s lightspeed transition from a Catholic to a New Age Spiritualist. Again, maybe this is one of those things that would have gone down a little (and only a little) more smoothly if Gillian could have kept in more of her original ideas. She had enough material for a two hour special, sounds like. But we have what we have and Scully makes a turn so abrupt, I end up flying out of the passenger seat of the car. Scully kneeling in front of a Buddha statue in a moment of religious ecstasy, with a cross around her neck no less, is about where my head hits the asphalt. Next time I’ll wear a seatbelt.
Mulder: I just find it hard to believe.
Scully: What part?
Mulder: The part where I go away for two days and your whole life changes.
Scully: Mmm, I didn’t say my whole life changed.
Mulder: You speaking to God in a Buddhist temple. God speaking back.
Scully: Mmm, and I didn’t say that God spoke back. I said that I had some kind of a vision.
Mulder: Well, for you, that’s like saying you’re having David Crosby’s baby.
I’m of Mulder’s mind on this one. Honestly, this New Age through line makes Scully feel more like a vehicle for some deeply felt ideas to be expressed rather than that these expressed ideas were servicing Scully’s character. But I know this episode was very personal. And, hey, at least the suddenness of the change is acknowledged.
What I’m actually more impressed by than the story is the directing. It doesn’t look or feel like a first time effort. Moby makes his second guest appearance on The X-Files soundtrack this season. Gillian and I must have something in common because I also had Moby on repeat back in the day. I didn’t travel without my Moby CDs. (Kids, that’s how mommy and daddy used to listen to music.) “My Weakness” fit a little more seamlessly into the overall aesthetic of the show in “Closure” (7×11), though, than “The Sky is Broken” does here. It draws attention to itself, sometimes purposefully, sometimes distractingly
I love the pattern of musical rhythms and beats, however. Time is the other star of this episode and it draws attention to itself, not only through rhythms but visually. I confess, it took me forever to catch on… Scratch that. I didn’t catch on until Gillian explained it, that time slows down every time Scully needs to pay attention because an important decision is coming up. I wish someone would drop me hints like that.
This is my long-winded way of saying I think it’s a good first effort. There is something much more modern, sometimes jarringly so, about this episode and its sensibilities, from the music to the content, than we usually see in The X-Files. From what little I know of Gillian, I suspect she wanted to get our attention. I heard you.
I know what you’re thinking. That I have no taste. What you’re also thinking: What did Gillian Anderson say to her? Well, she said that Scully’s on a spiritual journey, one that she’s only on because of Mulder and one that Mulder, and not Waterston, can help her complete.
That’s what she said in “all things”.
The Twitter exchange went like this…
And then I died.
Well, no. First, I spun around my room like a top. Then I died.
Here’s the way Gillian described the discarded scene in her commentary:
Initially, our [Colleen and Scully’s]… our second meeting was in Chinatown. Initially, I had a scene where Scully walks into an apothecary. And she was going to go so far as to actually try and find some alternative medicine, tinctures and salves, to help heal Dr. Waterston when nothing else in the world of Western medicine was working. And she finds herself in this wonderful, in my mind, apothecary [laughs] with this wonderful old woman behind the counter. And, initially, right when she’s about to leave, a woman comes from the back who’s been… who’s had accupuncture. And it’s Colleen and they end up going through a walk through Chinatown, through the streets, and having a conversation that had a lot more dialogue than those scenes and less exposition for her [Colleen], and more color and everything. But neither of those things worked out.
I can hear Gillian Anderson speaking, and I’m okay with that.
The lady who plays Colleen, whose name is… Colleen, was also in “Detour” (5×4), one of my favorite episodes.
Gillian and I also share procrastination in common. It’s an issue.
Am I the only one who thinks Mulder looks funny in that getup? No?
Gillian’s is one of those rare DVD commentaries that actually gives me what I want – insight into story choices rather than technical details.
Mulder: But that was merely prelude of what was to come. Three years later, in 1994 even more complex formations occurred simultaneously on opposite ends of the English countryside with the Mandelbrot Set, were it still there, at its center. Then, in 1997, even more complex formations occurred…
Scully: [Eats her salad and ignores Mulder]
Mulder: … and I’m not wearing any pants right now.
Scully: [Looks up after realizing Mulder’s gone quiet] Hmm?
Scully: I once considered spending my whole life with this man. What I would have missed.
Mulder: I don’t think you can know. I mean, how many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices. We… We don’t know.
Scully: What if there was only one choice and all the other ones were wrong? And there were signs along the way to pay attention to.
Mulder: Mmm. All the… choices would then lead to this very moment. One wrong turn, and… we wouldn’t be sitting here together. Well, that says a lot. That says a lot, a lot, a lot. I mean that’s probably more than we should be getting into at this late hour…