Brand X 7×19: They say these things kill people.


 

BrandX70

I’m having War of the Coprophages flashbacks.

I was really excited to watch “Brand X” again. Honestly, my memories of the last few seasons are a lot fuzzier than the early parts of the series. (You can probably guess which episodes I watch more often.) The hidden blessing in that is getting to relive episodes afresh. And what I did remember of “Brand X” was good. Very good.

We have Skinner in play, and he so rarely gets to move from behind his desk. I think Mitch Pileggi was brought on the court mainly because Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were still busy in post-production for “all things” (7×17) and “Hollywood A.D.” (7×18) respectively, but I’ll take any excuse to see more of Skinner.

I also haven’t seen a Half-Caff episode in nigh forever and I’ve missed them. For those who don’t know, Half-Caff is my own obsessive-compulsively subclassed category of X-File that involves a newly discovered science or technology with world-changing implications. Here-to-fore, however, they’ve also included a government conspiracy to get a hold of or control said science. “Brand X” is slightly different since there’s no government conspiracy, only a corporate one. But I’m counting it because I can.

Morley Tobacco takes the place of the government this episode and so is appropriately shady and secretive. Except for the good Dr. Voss, who shows signs early on of wanting to switch allegiances to the good side of the Force. He smirks in response to Mulder’s sarcasm at the conference table, anyway. But Dr. Voss has a problem. He and Dr. Scobie’s noble experiment, to genetically engineer a tobacco plant that wouldn’t cause cancer when smoked or inhaled, backfired. Oh sure, they developed a non-toxic plant. However, the tobacco beetles evolved to match the new supply and now their eggs are being inhaled along with the smoke. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty picture when the eggs hatch. Just ask the late Dr. Scobie.

Initially, we think Dr. Scobie’s been killed because he’s a whistleblower and the company didn’t want him revealing their nefarious secrets to the world. Whistleblowers were a hot topic in the 90’s and so was Big Bad Tobacco. I wonder if generations of X-Philes to come will recognize the plot of The Insider buried in all this. Even if they don’t, in a world where the GMOs vs. Non-GMOs debate has only gained traction over the years, this episode is oddly still relevant. Can we make nature better? Will we kill ourselves trying?

For first time writers on the show, Steve Maeda and Greg Walker give us a pretty classic X-File, the anomaly of Skinner being out in the field not withstanding. Steven Maeda will go on to write several more episodes including one of my later season favorites, “Audrey Pauley” (9×13).

There are lots of little moments, especially in the beginning, that I enjoy about this episode. I love the opening shot of smoke billowing out of a chimney and how it subtly introduces our subject. Seeing Dr. Scobie’s glass of icy water with pinkish swirls of blood floating around in it gives me a delicious sense of foreboding. It also warms my Philish heart to see Mulder and Scully coming to Skinner’s aid. I realize he’s their boss and technically they have to show up whether they want to or not, but it’s nice that they want to. Oh, and it’s the first time, probably all season, that I’ve felt like either Mulder or Scully were in real danger. “Signs and Wonders” (7×9) didn’t convince me. This actually feels like Mulder’s on the verge of death.

The atmosphere, particularly in the indoor scenes where they could block out the L.A. sunlight, is perfect. (The X-Files was gorgeous.) The villain is vile. (That’s right. You go ahead and smoke your neighbors to death. ‘Cause this is America, man. E pluribus uh…) The deaths are disgusting. (And I take perverse viewing pleasure in that.)

Everything’s moving with tense, expectant energy and then… the ending flattens like Coke in a cup.

Sigh. It pains me to admit it, but the 4th act starts to fizzle right when it should sizzle. It’s a sad reminder of what happened to “Theef” (7×14), another episode this season that was leading somewhere good and then choked right at the climax.

In particular, that scene where Skinner can’t make up his mind to take down Daryl Weaver goes on two minutes too long. I mean, I get it. If Daryl keeps on living he’ll keep on smoking and more people will inhale tobacco beetle eggs and die. And if Daryl dies then the doctor’s may not get the scientific answers they need to save Mulder and anyone else who might get infected. But Skinner is an Assistant Director at the F.B.I.. I’m pretty sure he knows how to shoot a suspect so as to disable them rather than kill them, especially when that suspect is standing still. His hesitation, no, procrastination doesn’t make sense. Not to mention, Daryl’s bad guy speech would have been much more effective cut in half.

Verdict:

Is it too late to create a “Coulda’ been a contender” category? Because “Brand X” had the potential to be a classic. Instead it’s just a really solid offering. Warts and all it’s still a far sight more entertaining than most of what I’ve seen this season.

B+

Bugs:

Skinner makes the idea of killer bugs sound so fantastic. Wasn’t he around for “Zero Sum” (4×21)? I know, I know. The bees carried a virus. They still behaved abnormally.

Are those pencils in the office ceiling the same ones from “Chinga” (5×10) or does Mulder still get bored often?

Correction, Scully. If Mulder were to pick up that pack of Morley’s he wouldn’t be taking up smoking, he’d be falling off the wagon. Mulder smoked back in “Travelers” (5×15).

If the situation was dangerous enough that Skinner needed to put a detail on Dr. Voss’ family for their safety, why did he let Dr. Voss travel home alone?

Is there any particular reason we’re supposed to believe Morley Tobacco would go so far as to kill Dr. Scobie for testifying against them? When did the mafia take over Big Tobacco?

PSA: It was implied by this episode but never directly stated that the smoke and tar from tobacco plants causes cancer, not nicotine. The smoke chronically irritates the lungs, leading to cancer and a whole other host of issues. Cigarette smoke also contains over forty known carcinogens, marijuana smoke over thirty. Though whether or not marijuana directly leads to lung cancer is still under debate. It’s been linked to testicular cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer and leukemia in the babies of women who smoked while pregnant, though.

Actor Tobin Bell, who plays Daryl Weaver, is our second Goodfellas alumnus of the season and our second 24 alumnus. Or at least, he’s the second of each that I’ve recognized and counted.

The actors must have killed themselves coughing from this episode.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: [Looking at a gruesome picture of Dr. Scobie’s corpse] Can’t blow the whistle with a mouth like that.

———————–

Mulder: Mr. Weaver, did you see or hear anything unusual last night?

Daryl Weaver: Little Korean fellow down the hall dresses like Wonder Woman. But that’s every night.

———————–

Daryl Weaver: Toodles.

 

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22 responses to “Brand X 7×19: They say these things kill people.

  1. I have to be a shameless Shipper for a moment. I just die when she takes his hand in the hospital. The look on her face… 😉

  2. I like this episode. It does fall flat at the end, but, by season seven standards, it’s a winner. I’m also a huge sucker for when Mulder or Scully are in mortal peril and the other needs to save them. Sculls using her science is the best even if she’s a show off for using the scientific name for nicotine. This episode also has another thing I love: Mulder being disgusted at something when Scully is performing an autopsy.

    • You thought so too?! Seriously though. It would have been so much faster to just say “nicotine.”

      And I almost included that moment. She says, “Take a look at this.” And he makes the greatest face.

      • Oh, also in reference to the pencils in the ceiling comment, I feel like that’s Mulder’s go to thing when he’s bored. I think the pencils from Chinga are gone from the fire in The End and these are just new ones. Once Mulder got the x files back in season 6, I feel like he remarked his territory with new pencils. I also noticed that there are pencils in the ceiling of Mulder’s bedroom in ‘all things’. So it’s just his thing that he does anywhere, it seems. It must be uncomfortable, though, to find pencils in his bed if they accidentally fall out of the ceiling…

  3. Skinner in the teaser is always a strong start. Always.

    Bugs. I hate bugs like Indy hates snakes. Starting with the bug and blood swirl in the glass provided a sufficient ick factor, the eaten-away face was… “icing on the cake” probably isn’t the best analogy here. An X File involving the tobacco industry was such a perfect fit, how did Morley Tobacco not take center stage earlier in the series? Throughout this re-watch I found myself looking for signs of “they’re hitting it”. It’s a compulsion. Of course I looked for signs long before “all things” because it’s an addiction. Like nicotine.

    Tobin Bell’s grand entrance emerging from the fog in Dr. Voss’s driveway gave me a moment of “Saw” PTSD. Why did I ever watch that movie, even edited for television? Dennis Boutsikaris who played Dr. Voss is one of those actors I’ve seen everywhere and yet I cannot name a specific film or television series. (Probably not his role as “ Screenplay writer” in the epic TV movie “Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story”.)

    The X Files can never go wrong with bugs. (Granted, “Darkness Falls” wasn’t 42 minutes of genius but I was on my first season XF high…) Some of the tobacco beetle moments brought to mind William Friedkin’s 2006 film “Bug” starring Ashley Judd; not a film for the faint of heart but extremely well done.

    The mutated tobacco beetle reminded me of the current food safety issues/controversy regarding GMO labeling on modified foods. And suddenly I don’t want to think about the GMO I’ve likely consumed today.

    Agree with the observation this episode provided a real sense of M/S danger, which made this re-watch such a genuine pleasure. The moment when Mulder is grossed out over the larvae in the lungs, this was so terrific and reiterates why they’re such a great team. Oh, Scully of the Cast Iron Stomach.

    And the the concern on Scully’s face as she explained to Skinner the worm extraction process… because they are lovers. Pardon me, I’m still in post-all things teaser afterglow.

    Their hand holding at his bedside made me so happy! His gruff post-surgery voice reminded me of the last scene in “End Game” when he grumbles “feel like I got a bad case of freezer burn”, which I remind you also featured bedside hand holding. Her vigil at his room and delivery of the line to his doctor, “for the time being we just wait” as her voice breaks every so slightly… THEY ARE MY DRUG.

    The darkening of Tobin Bell’s teeth to depict the years over tobacco consumption was such a fantastic detail.

    “Mr Weaver I will shoot you.” Long pause as his zippo lighter burned, “No you wont”, I actually wasn’t disappointed by this as you were. I guess I think of Skinner as someone mostly behind a desk and not in the field so those shots aren’t so easy to take. What a great moment of tension, this vile human being who may hold the cure for cancer. There is a “Donnie Pfaster” element here, Weaver is also the monster living next door.

    Scully’s scientific realization saves the day. This brings me great joy. I feel like new XF writers Steve Maeda and Greg Walker have returned Mulder and Scully back from their “all things” out of body experience.

    Scully quote: “You’re not going to start smoking?” Because Scully doesn’t want to taste an ashtray, are we right??

    Salome quote: “When did the mafia take over Big Tobacco?” …there’s a distinction between the two?

    • 1. Obviously, I should have kept going mentioning the little details in this episode. Exactly like you said, the yellow teeth are a great touch and that grossed out look Mulder gives is classic.

      2. It’s been a loooong time since I watched one of the Saw movies. When I was younger, horror just made me laugh. I wonder if I could handle it at all now.

      3. I’ve never even heard of Bug! I’ll look that up.

      4. We needed more of this kind of subtle affection between Mulder and Scully this season and less of the obvious shtick.

      5. Skinner is an ex-Marine. He knows what to do. #WhyYouGottaEmasculateMitchPileggi?

      6. An “out of body experience” describes “all things” perfectly.

    • Flyby comment just to reinforce your statement about Bug (also starring Michael Shannon). That is a fantastic movie – one of my all-time favorite psychological thrillers, and also “bottle episodes” or whatever the equivalent term for movies is.

  4. To be honest, I found the first half of the episode dreadfully boring.

    But I did like how she stopped Mulder from smoking. She knows how to keep those Spender boys in line. ;-))

    • It was the reverse for me!

      But Mulder wouldn’t dare smoke in front of Dr. Scully. He knows better.

      Not that she didn’t smoke in “Three of a Kind” and admit to smoking in the past in “Never Again.” But that’s continuity for you.

  5. #WhyYouGottaEmasculateMitchPileggi?
    *giggles*

    6. An “out of body experience” describes “all things” perfectly.
    #micdrop ;-D

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  12. A nice straight up X File with a lot of dark, gruesome scenes and tension.

    Now, if CC could just think about making this kind of ep in season 11 we could have some great TV to watch…Not that hard. 😉

  13. It was a pretty straightforward and entertaining episode, plus I’m a sucker for Tobin Bell. He was fantastic in the Saw trilogy. Shame they didn’t make any more after the third one.

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