Scary Monsters 9×12: I want to believe.


ScaryMonsters253.jpg

Scully: Do I detect a hint of negativity?

Mulder: No! Yes. Actually. Yeah. – “Detour” (5×4)

The announcement that The X-Files would be ending at the end of the season came after “John Doe” (9×7) aired, but it also came while “Scary Monsters” was in production. How much of the writing team’s understandable feelings of disappointment, loss and rejection made it into what was probably an already completed script, I can’t say. But whether the timing was purely coincidental or not, “Scary Monsters” gives us insight to some of 1013’s conflicted feelings about the fandom that both loved them and betrayed them by disappearing in droves.

Leyla Harrison: Agent Mulder wasted no time closing that case. I just try to think like him. What would Agents Mulder and Scully do if they were in this situation?

Doggett: Agents Mulder and Scully aren’t in this situation. Agents Doggett and Reyes are.

————-

Gabe Rotter: [Looking at Mulder’s ID badge] So, this is Johnny Fabulous, huh? “Oh, Mulder’s so smart! Mulder’s so dreamy!” That’s all Leyla ever talks about. “Mulder and Scully, Scully and Mulder.” Blah, blah, blah.

————-

Leyla Harrison: I really do have to commend you, Agent Doggett. You solved this case. If it weren’t for you … I don’t even like to think what would have happened. I have to say, it’s clear to me now that you were better equipped for this challenge than even Agent Mulder would have been, absolutely. I mean, your lack of imagination saved our lives.

Doggett: Gee, thanks.

————-

[In the basement office]

Gabe Rotter: So, this is where the magic happens?

Leyla Harrison: It still happens. I’m happy it’s in good hands.

 

Um…. Fellas, you know I love you, but my nose hasn’t been tickled by pixie dust in a good long while now.

I’m not sure if “Scary Monsters” is a defense of the advent of Doggett and Reyes or a concession that Doggett and Reyes couldn’t quite cut it in the hearts of fans. Judging by the way the episode ends, I’m more inclined to consider it the former, one final argument to say that everyone from the actors to the crew have been doing a great job all along, but we fans, as represented by Leyla Harrison, have been too infatuated with Mulder and the way things used to be to recognize that.

“It’s been a very strange season,” Carter said. “We lost our audience on the first episode. It’s like the audience had gone away, and I didn’t know how to find them. I didn’t want to work to get them back because I believed what we are doing deserved to have them back.”

Weeellll.

Let’s consider just this episode for a moment since “Scary Monsters” is technically what we’re here to talk about.

The character of Leyla Harrison is back and she’s brought a friend. I already discussed my conflicted feelings about Leyla in the review for “Alone” (8×19), but suffice it to say, she was created as a representation of the fans and was named after a deceased fan. Despite the sweetness of the concept, she wearies one in her execution.

Even Scully looks awkward to see her.

Yet here she is, making sure to maintain the meta in a final countdown to the series finale that’s already fraught with meta. “Improbable” (9×14) was meta and “Sunshine Days” (9×18) will be meta squared. Still, Leyla is around as both another genuine tribute to the fans that have stuck out Season 9, and as a way of not-so-subtly telling those fans to give it up already and come around to the charms of Doggett and Reyes.

I submit that the fans that are still watching are not the ones who need to hear that message. That’s preaching to the choir.

And if you haven’t had your fill of self-awareness, there’s Tommy. Tommy is your average little boy… with an imagination so vivid and powerful that the people around him buy into the reality of his creations wholeheartedly. Oh, and he goes around saying, “I made this.”

Sounds like a little show I know.

It’s a cute idea. The whole episode is a relatively cute idea and I’m not mad at it. But it’s not particularly anything outside of a self-referential jab to the ribs. I’m neither scared nor moved nor very amused, even though the scenes between Scully and Gabe Rotter are the best parts of the episode.

Gabe Rotter feels more like an over-the-top goofy character off of The Lone Gunmen, which was the same for the character Dr. Rocky Bronzino in “Lord of the Flies” (9×6), also written by Thomas Schnauz who wrote for both shows. “Scary Monsters” is only slightly more sure of its footing than “Lord of the Flies”, but it’s still unconvincing in tone.  According to my copy of LAX-Files, Thomas Schnauz admits it was written in “basically panic.” Considering The X-Files’ famous production schedule, I can believe that. The problem is, it shows.

It’s been showing. The ratings must have been a disappointment but the ratings tell the story. If the audience had come back would they have been excited? Satisfied? Thoroughly entertained?

The X-Files used to be great all the time, magic almost all the time, but lately it’s been chronically good to middling. Sometimes it’s downright confusing and aggravating. As sad as it makes me to admit it, I would argue that Season 9 was destined to fail.

There’s a sentimental moment at the end of “Scary Monsters” when Leyla and Gabe come face to face with Mulder’s “I Want to Believe” poster. We all want to believe, which is why like the characters who get so wrapped up in Tommy’s imagination that it becomes real to them, some of us find ourselves passionately loyal to a television show. We believe in it because we want to.

And we’re still here.

Verdict:

I wasn’t sold on the X-File itself, but I did think the resolution to the case was well done. Mulder would have believed in Tommy’s reality. Doggett succeeds because he couldn’t believe in it. When it comes to solving X-Files cases, there’s more than one way to skin a giant bedbug…

Which is why I’ve been saying since Season 8 that it wasn’t necessary to so exactly repeat the Skeptic/Believer dynamic, but let me hop back off my soapbox.

It’s kinda nice to have one more creepy kid story before we go. Still, I can’t help thinking one good spanking would’ve nipped this all in the bud long ago.

B-

Pure Imagination:

Why wouldn’t Mulder’s ID have been turned in the day he was fired from the F.B.I.?

Cats have imaginations?

Mulder’s fish tank is in Scully’s apartment again.

So that ending… Is that a subtle hint to stop watching so much TV because it’s stifling our imaginations? ‘Cause that’s, sadly, about to be arranged.

Mostly, I’m pretty sure the ending is a homage to “D.P.O.” (3×3), which is also mentioned by Leyla earlier in the episode.

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24 responses to “Scary Monsters 9×12: I want to believe.

  1. That Chris Carter quote always makes me shake my head. It’s like a caricature, just the very portrait of an artist who fancies himself a misunderstood genius.

    TV lives and dies by viewership. If no one’s watching your show anymore, it’s not a good show anymore. If you want the fans back, you’ve gotta change; if you don’t wanna change, you don’t want them back.

    For me, that quote solidifies my conviction that the X-Files’ meteoric ascent to Pop-Culture Phenomenon™ status went straight to the heads of the 1013 team, which in turn, in one of the oldest stories known to man, directly resulted in its downfall.

    • My thought is that Carter & Co. may have spent too much time with the material and been way too close to it to realize the audience wasn’t seeing what they were seeing. I talked a lot about this in the review for “Provenance” but I think after the original mythology, they thought they had to go bigger, badder and uncut. And the premise for the original mythology was pretty ridiculous when you think about it. How could they tell ahead of time that the next one would be too ridiculous even for most rabid fans?

      I also think the original weaknesses of the series either worked in its favor or were covered over by the compelling nature of the Mulder and Scully partnership and the way they made even the weirdest cases seem interesting and believable. Once the plot failed, those weaknesses became more prominent.

      It’s hard to fault them for thinking they were doing everything right when, for a while, everyone thought they were. But it does feel like a Greek tragedy, doesn’t it?

      • > “I also think the original weaknesses of the series either worked in its favor or were covered over by the compelling nature of the Mulder and Scully partnership and the way they made even the weirdest cases seem interesting and believable.”

        I couldn’t agree more. Mulder and Scully sold even the silliest X-Files with the strength of their chemistry. Those two characters could have carried any story, and they elevated what could have been just another genre show into something really remarkable. The X-Files could never have been another Law & Order, carrying on interminably with an ever-changing cast of characters. When Duchovny left, it was game over. But you’re right, it’s hard to fault them for not wanting to accept that it was over.

        • Yes, exactly!! But at the time, most people thought it could easily be a paranormal procedural. Instead, it was really a story about the personal journey of two people and the discoveries they made along the way. They didn’t necessarily set out for it to be that, but that’s what it became as early as Season 1. It wasn’t just the cases, though they were great. But even when they weren’t great, it was the way they investigated them together.

          I think some of it had to do with their youth – they approached these X-Files with a certain amount of inexperienced awe and wonder and idealism.

          If you’re interested, we went into this in “Daemonicus“.

          I sound like a broken record…

      • “My thought is that Carter & Co. may have spent too much time with the material and been way too close to it to realize the audience wasn’t seeing what they were seeing. ”

        The very first dramaturgy class I took, my professor (who had worked professionally in theatre, tv and film) told us that every time she (or someone she knew) worked on a new project, without fail, after their involvement the director/writers, etc. would comment on how valuable the input of the dramaturg was. Because they were normally SO close to their vision that they just assumed what they were thinking was coming across – but in basically every case – it wasn’t!

        That’s what this makes me think of – how valuable even just ONE opinion outside of the writer’s room could have been. An ‘outside eye’ to look over the plot lines and scripts and go “uh, guys, you think this is what’s happening…but really, THIS is what’s happening”. The problem is so often, directors and writers don’t feel they NEED such input because they know best…and that is what I see in that quote from Chris Carter.

        YES he’s the one who created Mulder and Scully and the X-Files – and I for one will always be incredibly grateful! – but at some point you have to accept that your characters may have gone in a direction completely different than what you intended AND you have to accept that movement and continue on in that vein and not try to overcorrect. No you cannot please your entire audience all of the time, BUT you can do justice to your characters and these last two seasons they simply didn’t.

        This is one of the episodes I actually really like Doggett and Reyes in but that enjoyment is tempered by Layla’s presence. Scully and Gabe’s scenes are GOLD but it’s mostly because it’s nice to see Scully balancing trying to do an ‘autopsy’ while not waking up the baby (ie, balancing her work with being a single mother to an infant which I have been waiting for ALL season!) because I personally think it proves that dynamic is just as compelling (more than even) as a freaking alien messiah baby :/.

        “Still, I can’t help thinking one good spanking would’ve nipped this all in the bud long ago.” AMEN! (however, the kid who played Tommy is definitely creepy so I’ll give him that and I also forgot Scott Paulin played the dad! I adore him the few times I’ve seen him in Castle)

        • The very first dramaturgy class I took, my professor (who had worked professionally in theatre, tv and film) told us that every time she (or someone she knew) worked on a new project, without fail, after their involvement the director/writers, etc. would comment on how valuable the input of the dramaturg was. Because they were normally SO close to their vision that they just assumed what they were thinking was coming across – but in basically every case – it wasn’t!

          This sounds fascinating to me. I would love to know more about the contributions of a dramaturg vs. a playwright or a script writer.

          I’d be curious as to how the writer’s room was functioning at this point. Was there still a lot of regular and strong input from the other writers like in the early days? Maybe there was but it doesn’t really feel like it on the audience end. And the passion of the writers isn’t coming across on screen the way it was in earlier seasons. Maybe desperation is key to creativity.

          Seeing more of Scully’s work-life balance would have been interesting, but I think they had too many characters to write for now to do any of them complete justice. Alas.

          • I worked as a dramaturg with some friends of mine on a new musical they were writing a couple years ago and it was nuts the things their director and I pointed out to them that they never thought of. One instance was: in the show, an elderly couple is out to dinner for their anniversary – sounds normal right – but the kick was they made it very clear in the script that the couple’s relationship has been strained for years and they have basically drifted apart…so WHY then would they be ‘celebrating’ their anniversary? My friends had these looks on their faces when we brought that up – neither one of them had thought of it from that perspective because they were both so close to the story.

            It seems like this season could have really benefitted from this type of influence – someone outside of the writer’s room ‘stream of thought’ that could look at the writers and go “uh…guys…?”

            Obviously the writer/director still have creative power but the dramaturg is really there to look at the story with a more critical eye. I’ve had times when I’m reading over a new play and I don’t know HOW to fix the problems that arise but I know there ARE problems – identifying them is my job, fixing them is up to the writer/director.

            I would be interested to know about the happenings in the writer’s room as well at this point…I think what’s frustrating to me is that a lot of the time writers and actors (as well as other people involved in these shows) won’t come out and just say “WOW that was really horrible work…let’s talk about why it didn’t work”. They may do it internally but not to the world at large – and it makes it seem like if they DO say something bad about the experience then they aren’t grateful or there will be repercussions or something…

            I would have so much more respect for, say Chris Carter, if he came right out and said: “I made some huge mistakes in those last couple seasons and I hope I can rectify that in the eyes of the fans and the characters because it’s important to grow and evolve and acknowledge that not everything you do is going to be wonderful. Sometimes, things will just be utter s**t!” It’s more self aware and also realistic…but alas…I doubt that will EVER happen for Mr “platonic relationship for 9 seasons”…ugh…*eye roll*

            • That’s really interesting! Maybe I’ll get the chance to learn more about it up close someday. It sounds like a cool field.

              I guess we’ll never know exactly what was going on in the writer’s room. I wish there were transcripts or something, just out of curiosity. I’m sure there are at least some things they would change in retrospect… but then, that’s the frustrating thing about retrospect. Time renders you impotent.

              I’m pretty sure DD spoke out about the stilted scripts in Season 7 and some fans got mad at him. But I’d have to go back and do some interview research.

              • It’s really an amazing field that’s just starting to find it’s footing in the US – it’s been a big deal in Europe and especially in Germany for a couple centuries.

                Did you listen to the audio file that Melissa posted on Twitter – DD and GA full on scoffing about some of the worse episode of the series (ie Space and Teso) … it was awesome!

        • > “That’s what this makes me think of – how valuable even just ONE opinion outside of the writer’s room could have been. An ‘outside eye’ to look over the plot lines and scripts and go “uh, guys, you think this is what’s happening…but really, THIS is what’s happening”.”

          I agree with Salome; this has really piqued my interest in dramaturgy! I tend to be a nitpicker, regardless of what I’m watching, and I frequently find myself asking “did the creators really expect me not to notice this inconsistency?” Maybe the real answer is that they didn’t notice it themselves?

          • Some of these things, between being so familiar with the story and then having to edit the story down to 42 minutes screen time, I’m not sure they do always realize when stories don’t play well. This is also what makes test screenings so valuable, but I don’t think they do that with TV shows as much as movies, do they?

          • I do the exact same thing! I’m such a nitpicker so that’s why Dramaturgy interested me so much…it’s like I basically have a Masters in nitpicking 😀

            • I’ve said for years that CC should’ve had a copy editor on staff to point out the inconsistencies, plot holes and WTFs … Did not know that’s what dramaturgists do. Copy editor or dramaturgist, would he have listened, though? He didn’t even have a show bible.

              That podcast is hilarious.

  2. I was staring to like this episode until I realized it was basically the show reprimanding the fans for not liking what it was giving them and caused it to fail. Not cool, 1013, because we are the reason you even got to the level of fame you did. What the fans giveth the fans can taketh away. Sorry, CC, but that’s the reality. I hope the revival proves that he got this message.

    As far as things that I did like in this episode: the creepy kid, the scene with Doggett and Reyes in the car when the “blood” spews out of the vents, Scully trying to tolerate Leyla and Gabe, the autopsy of the cat, the fact that Scully must keep out Mulder’s old ID somewhere prominent for Gabe to have found it.

    I thought is was a tad out of character that Scully wouldn’t have been able to eat her lunch while looking at crime scene photos. This is the woman who, in Bad Blood, was craving pizza when she saw that was the last meal of the victim she was cutting open. She has an iron stomach.

    Also, did the show forget that Mulder basically solved a case like this in How The Ghost Stole Christmas? He and Scully almost shot each other until he realized it was all in their heads. Mulder could definitely have solved this case. Don’t take down my main man to lift yours up!

    • This is what comes of watching too many times. Watching this episode before, I recognized it as a Doggett and Reyes appreciation episode. But I didn’t pick up that it was also a light reprimand. And, again, the ones who are watching are not the ones you should take that up with.

      Scully, AGAIN, steals the show even though she’s technically not on the case. And that’s a good point about Scully not being squeamish.

      *I* forgot that HTGSC was very similar to this! They kind of have done this before, but with ghosts.

      Mulder could definitely have solved this case. Don’t take down my main man to lift yours up!

      Thanks for making my morning.

  3. I am going to watch this one because I do not remember this episode at all– but with what you said about Tommy and everything happening in his head…is he like Tommy Westphall?

  4. I sort of imagine the writing process for this episode as 1013 drinking whiskey and rye singing “this’ll be the day the show died.” You can tell, because basically every aspect of this episode is copied from the bygone days of the show.

    -Leyla Harrison? “Alone.”
    -Parasites that make you go crazy kill yourself? “Ice.”
    -Dead cat? “Syzygy.”
    -Creepy kid? Too many episodes to name.
    -Parasite crawling through Monica while she screams at Leyla Harrison to cut it out? “Roadrunners.”
    -Bleeding from the eyeballs? “Theef” and “Chinga.”
    -Hallucination where none of it’s real? “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”/”Field Trip.”
    -Staring at the IWTB poster in reverence? Again, too many to name.

    I think I would have enjoyed this episode more if they’d left well enough alone, but the whole thing just feels like a toddler kicking and screaming in the middle of a grocery store when he doesn’t get his way. I’m looking at you, 1013.

    That fire scene is AWESOME, though.

    • the whole thing just feels like a toddler kicking and screaming in the middle of a grocery store when he doesn’t get his way.

      Your analogies are everything to me.

      I think… I think they meant it to be paint-by-numbers in a cute, nostalgic, “throw everything we ever had back at them” sort of way. It’s just ineffective. If the show had been in a better place creatively at this point, they might have been able to pull it off. And, dare I say it, DD could have sold the humor? Instead, just like you said, it feels like a slightly embittered tantrum. “You want it? You got it. Take it.”

  5. Just rewatched … Mostly to see Scully autopsy a dead cat on her kitchen table 😊 and we get Mulder’s badge and the fish tank. Yes!

    Squeamish!Scully bothered me. So NOT Dana “I’m a medical doctor” Scully. Keeping Mulder’s badge too, tho I like to think she swiped it, or else Skinner got it for her after Mulder went underground.

  6. This had some good moments but it all felt..I don’t really know how to say it. A shadow of what was perhaps? I really felt nothing. No tension, No feelings of worry or angst, not scared…nada.

    I liked the premise but did not buy the kid or father’s performance. I thought Doggett, Scully and the boyfriend were the best of the eps.

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