Tag Archives: Alex Gansa

Grotesque 3×14: You never fit your own profile.


Art Therapy

“Grotesque” is a unique episode and admirably ambitious, yet I can’t help feeling that it takes itself a little too seriously at moments. And that, of course, just makes me want to roll my eyes at the most inappropriate times. I appreciate the plot and the concept and while it’s mostly successful, I feel slightly disengaged when I watch it. It’s sort of Mulder’s answer to the Scully-centered episode “Irresistible” (2×13) where the line between the paranormal and natural human evil is blurred, but this one is psychological rather than emotional. Good, and admirably ambitious, but not great.

Last time we actually saw Mulder care about someone’s negative opinion of him we were still somewhere in Season 1, when the memory of his former glory days at the F.B.I. weren’t far behind him and you could tell that the occasional dig still hit a nerve. Skepticism directed at Mulder’s abilities/sanity is nothing new. “Squeeze” (1×2) and even “Lazarus” (1×14) give us a glimpse at how often there’s sniggering behind his back. But every time we meet one of Mulder’s former colleagues, Jerry in “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) and Reggie in “Young at Heart” (1×14), they have a healthy respect for Mulder’s capabilities. Heck, later on there will be Diana Fowley, another former partner who, er, recognizes Mulder’s strength. Between what we know of these characters’ relationships with him and his current partnership with Scully, to know Mulder is to love Mulder, or at least to learn to appreciate him despite himself. This is the first time we’ve seen someone who worked alongside Mulder actually dislike him. And it’s the first time in a long time that Mulder has reacted to anyone’s dislike. So what is eating Agent Patterson?

We never really find out why Mulder irritates Patterson so. But I remember having this genius friend in High School who aced Latin even though she spent 99% of every class passing notes with me, when she even came to class that is. Our teacher couldn’t stand her. I suspect something similar is going on with Patterson and Mulder. Either that or he’s the stereotypical 1950’s father who can’t tell his son how proud he is of him but put a few drinks in him and he’ll have no problems telling the rest of the world. I’m leaning towards the former as his venom toward Mulder denotes both admiration and jealousy.

His relationship with Scully in this episode isn’t much better. The further down the rabbit hole he goes the more he consciously shuts her out. Season 3 has seen the writers as a whole putting distance between Mulder and Scully in quite a few episodes. Things were too perfect between them in Season 2 to continue that way; they’d lack depth in the long run. But maybe there’s too much distancing going on now. Too often only one of them has enough of a personal connection to solve a specific case. Whatever happened to them figuring it out together? That hasn’t really occurred since “2Shy” (3×6) or possibly “The Walk” (3×7). Even “Nisei” (3×9) and “731” (3×10) saw them going down different investigative paths and drawing different conclusions. I submit that such a device makes logical sense in mythology episodes where the writers need to disseminate lots of material to the audience, and it allows both Mulder and Scully to grow as characters. But at some moments this season I’m left wondering why they’re even partners when they’re not working together.

I think soon the collective writing club at 1013 Productions comes to realize the Mulder and Scully seesaw is tilting too far in one direction and they start adding weight to the other side for the last half of the season, a development which I’m forever grateful for. It’s not that I don’t agree that Mulder and Scully should have independence, autonomy and interests apart from each other and even apart from the X-Files. That was part of what I enjoyed about “Revelations” (3×11) was that Scully had a supernatural niche all her own. I just miss seeing them work as a team rather than acting as an antagonist of sorts in each other’s individual drama.

The Verdict:

Besides the less than inspirational interpersonal dynamics, my other bone to pick with this episode is that the solution is too clear from the beginning. Only someone from the crime team knew the ins and outs of the murders? Then someone from the crime team committed the murders. And it’s certainly no shock when Patterson, obsessed with finding the killer, turns out to have found his killer’s obsession instead. In fact, we’re expecting it. With the 1980’s/1990’s rise to prominence of Criminal Profiling, the tale of an investigator becoming what he hunts isn’t exactly fresh and new. I couldn’t say for sure, but I don’t believe it was fresh in 1995 either.

I don’t think “freshness” is a concern here regardless. It’s a vehicle to let David Duchovny strut his emotional stuff, which he certainly does a solid job of. This episode is about exploring more of the tragic side of Mulder’s nature and his ability to intuitively understand people, the gift that’s actually a curse. Writer Howard Gordon, even more so when working with partner Alex Gansa, has a propensity toward the solemn and the serious when it comes to giving us X-Files. His previous offerings include “Conduit” (1×3), “Born Again” (1×21) and “Sleepless” (2×4), all episodes with a rather grim sense of loneliness, a theme echoed again here. He also successfully adds poeticism into the mix in “Dod Kalm” (2×19). “Grotesque” reminds me a lot of “Dod Kalm” in tone and theme; both show us a man slowly turning into what he hated and both are continually swathed in blue light.

After all that tepid to cold praise, I do like this episode. It’s a brave departure from the norm. I just wouldn’t turn it on to have a good time.

B

Peanut Gallery:

It’s a little difficult to believe Mulder went that crazy that fast, but then, they only have 43 minutes.

I kinda dig the exploration of insanity vs. demon possession. Which is which and how do we know? Like “Irresistible” before it, we don’t get a straight answer in the end.

Didn’t Mulder already have his tortured soul moment in “Oubliette” (3×8)? Maybe that doesn’t count since this one brought up Samantha and this one has absolutely nothing to do with his sister issues?

Scully’s one moment of glory in this episode, as she cocks her chin in Skinner’s office, is my favorite part.

Best Quotes:

Scully: So you’re not going to tell me when your love affair with Patterson ended?
Mulder: Patterson never liked me.
Scully: I thought you were considered the fair-haired boy when you joined the bureau.
Mulder: Not by Patterson.
Scully: Why not?
Mulder: Didn’t want to get my knees dirty. Couldn’t quite cast myself in the role of the dutiful student.
Scully: You mean you couldn’t worship him.
Mulder: Something like that, yeah.

——————–

Mulder: Patterson had this saying about tracking a killer. If you wanted, uh, to know an artist, you have to look at his art. What he really meant was if you wanted to catch a monster you had to become one yourself.

——————–

Agent Patterson: I have to tell you, I am really disappointed in you.
Mulder: Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you by not disappointing you.

——————–

Agent Patterson: My advice to you, Scully: Let Mulder do what he has to do. Don’t get in his way and don’t try to hold him back… because you won’t be able to.

——————–

Skinner: Are you worried about him, Agent Scully?
Scully: No, sir.
Skinner: Off the record.
Scully: [Cocks her head]
Skinner: So am I.

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Born Again 1×21: Not in this lifetime, anyway.


Status: Unexplained

Before watching, I had made up my mind to try and like “Born Again” this time around. There are no new X-Files episodes forthcoming, so I had better appreciate what I do have, right? Besides, I might find a new kindred episode like I did with “E.B.E.” (1×16). Well, this episode was not meant to be a kindred, though I did give it my best shot… possibly my second best shot as I hadn’t had coffee yet that morning.

The teaser is OK, but I could find better banter in an elementary school play than the stilted dialogue between Detectives Barbala and Lazard. It’s painfully amateurish. What’s worse, the connection that Lazard has to the “Tooms” (1×20) case feels forced. It’s a little beneath the quality of writing on this show, actually.

Speaking of writing, reincarnation never proved to be a convincing topic on The X-Files (and they tried at least 3 times). Maybe the problem is that it’s hard to play out a story of reincarnation in such a way that it feels distinct from a possession or a poltergeist. Little Michelle is supposed to be the reincarnated soul Charlie Morris and instead it feels like his ghost has possessed her. She’s a separate personality being bogged down by his memories rather than the same personality unable to move on. Once Charlie’s bloodlust is satiated, Michelle goes back to normal.

Regardless, a tale of murder is only as good as its villain. We could relate to Charlie’s need to avenge himself if only his partners in crime were just a tad more despicable. They come close. If only the writers had come right out and said that Fiore betrayed his partner in order to get to his partner’s wife. The way things are left unspoken, it could be inferred that he comforted her out of guilt and regret. I suppose that could still make for high drama if done right. But it’s awfully hard to identify with Charlie when we never meet him. Maybe that’s the true downfall of a reincarnation plot. We only get to know the original protagonist through an intermediary. Short of making the villains such that we want to reach through our television screens and choke them ourselves, I don’t know how the writers could have made Charlie’s situation sufficiently sympathetic.

The lone interesting aspect of this episode is that Mulder comes away from Scully’s challenge admitting that the hypnosis session was “inconclusive.” He is listening. And like in “E.B.E.”, he’s paying more attention to what Scully says than he at first appears to. That little interchange is about as much as we get this episode on the Mulder/Scully partnership front. Sad. They took a couple of steps forward and then started marching in place.

And the Verdict is…

It’s Janice! You know, from Friends! The best part of the episode is recognizing her. There’s little else to get excited about in an episode that amounts to little more than TV filler. It’s like a long car ride with no scenery and definitely the least memorable of all the “scary kid” episodes.

I’ve said before that there was a general upward trend in the quality of episodes during the last half of Season 1. I lied. Well, sorta. As far as production quality goes, it’s steadily improving. The show itself feels closer to coherent, more like the producers and writers have a solid vision whereas the beginning of the season was an exploration. The X-Files is gaining it’s own tone, it’s own look and feel at this point. This certainly feels like an X-Files episode, just not a great one.

Even the worst X-Files episodes have a few redeeming qualities that they tend to share in common. The premise is usually interesting even when it doesn’t pan out. Mulder and Scully’s signature interaction is fun to watch. And in later seasons especially, the cinematography is lovely. Unfortunately for “Born Again”, it came along before The X-Files’ cinematic era, Mulder and Scully’s relationship didn’t yet have the depth that later episodes could rely upon and even the underlying story felt like reheated pizza. (The movie Ghost anyone?) We don’t even need to go back that far. Wasn’t a guy coming back from the dead to avenge his own murder the plot of the earlier Season 1 episode “Shadows” (1×5)? And wasn’t there a girl who couldn’t escape his memories and desire for vengeance? Yeah, that wasn’t particularly successful either. But it was better than this. This is one of those rare episodes I liked more before I rewatched it.

To sum it up, this is the only DVD in my entire X-Files collection where the picture skips in parts… and that doesn’t bother me.

D+

Nagging Questions:

How do Mulder and Scully get to the scene of the crime so quickly?

Scully puts together that Morris’ death was only made to look like a signature hit based on the coroner’s report. The coroner and the police couldn’t figure that out back when it happened?

Why is it that the guest stars consistently wear better ties than Mulder?

General Observations:

With the Minnie Driver look alike this could almost be a pre-quel to Remember Me.

A Mulder voiceover! Now, that’s new.

The look on Scully’s face during the autopsy as she realizes Mulder’s hunch has proved correct yet again is almost worth the price of admission.

Best Quotes:

Detective Lazard: Excuse me. Could I talk to you for a second?
Scully: I just started the autopsy…
Detective Lazard: Yeah, I don’t thing he’s going anywhere.

Lazarus 1×14: The plot thickens.


Time to take a personal day.

If I compare Lazarus to the previous episode, “Gender Bender” (1×13), then the show has improved in quality. So why don’t I enjoy it as much? Even though this is a solid episode with good performances, it somehow remains less than memorable. It’s still a far sight better than most of the episodes in the first half of the season and is a part of the general trend upward in quality that we see during the second half of Season 1. This may mark the first time where we see more of an episode from the guest character’s POV than either Mulder or Scully’s. Not that I’ve counted screen time or anything, but we definitely see a significant portion of the action from Dupre/Willis’ perspective. Does it help or hurt? I’m not sure. At least it adds a new dimension to the show and paves the way for more substantial guest spots later on. Maybe if we had seen some of “Fire“(1×11) from Phoebe Green’s POV…

What was meant to make this episode is part of what keeps its characters at a distance: Dupre/Willis’ love for Lula feels cloying rather than passionate. Desperate love could’ve worked if they had pulled it off. However, for it to work we would have to feel it and understand it rather than just see it. Why is Dupre so connected to Lula? What is it about her that makes him dependent on her? We don’t really get a chance to experience their chemistry. And if this relationship is so deep, why can’t he see that it isn’t co-dependent; that she doesn’t care for him as much as he does her? If we had seen Lula at least feign passion in return, maybe we could have bought it. As it is, she looks reluctant and disengaged even in the teaser. I understand that she’s probably feeling guilty about her betrayal, hence her quiet, but if so then where did the guilt go by the end of the episode? Later on she betrays Dupre/Willis with relish and without an ounce of hesitation.

On to the true dynamic duo, Scully is once again confronted with the paranormal in her personal life, but the conclusion is up to interpretation and Mulder wisely lets her come to that conclusion on her own. At least we know he’s coming to understand her. But then there goes that “Dana” again… I suppose this is meant to be our clue that Scully being missing is personal for Mulder. It’s unnecessary. It’s already touching that Mulder would stand up in front of a group of men who are skeptical of his every thought and give an emotionally vulnerable plea for them to find someone who was already more than a partner to him. And on that note, I can’t be the only one to find it ironic that in later seasons Mulder’s emotional state in regards to Scully bears more than a passing resemblance to Dupre’s desperate dependence on Lula. OK, Mulder doesn’t turn into a homicidal maniac. But there are definitely moments when you feel like he would turn into a homicidal maniac if something were to happen to Scully.

And the Verdict is…

If socially alienated Mulder has an ex-lover, why wouldn’t Scully?

We see them only for the briefest of moments together at the beginning of the episode, after that, Scully never truly sees Jack Willis again. This makes it hard to gauge the merits of their relationship based on interaction. We can only go by what we’ve already seen of Scully’s relationship with her father and by Scully later observes about herself and men in “Never Again” (4×13). I can’t say that Lazarus really delves into Scully’s psychology like “Beyond the Sea“(1×12), but it does build on what “Beyond the Sea” started in that because of her relationship with her father, Scully has a natural attachment to men in authority. Jack Willis, after all, had been her instructor at the academy.

One thing Scully never expressly admits but that we can surmise between her relationships with both Willis and Mulder is that Scully is apparently into guys who are restless and obsessive. So Scully likes authority and at the same time perversely enjoys bending the rules. What was that story Boggs told about a little girl smoking cigarettes?? Reading between the lines, it was probably Willis’ single-minded obsession that destroyed their relationship. (This is where the ominous music comes in.) One day, when Scully writes her autobiography, I’m sure I’ll be proven right.

If I were to pinpoint a weakness, “Lazarus” suffers from a plot that’s dependent on relationships it didn’t have the time to establish. An altogether solid episode, just not one for the books.

B+

Nagging Questions:

Why does Lula even help him steal the medicine in the first place if she only plans to let him die? Talk about a waste of energy.

We’re supposed to believe that this audio expert drags all this heavy equipment down to the basement office rather than Mulder just going to him?

Why is no one concerned about the X-File within an X-File? Willis’ heart stopped beating for 13 minutes yet he bounces back like a jackrabbit with no signs of brain damage or even physical weakness. They should study him for the cure for cancer.

On that note, why would Scully, a doctor who understands the consequences and a woman practical by nature, attempt to bring Willis back after 13 minutes of no oxygen flowing to his brain? Wouldn’t she assume he’d be a vegetable?

I’m not so sure this criminal could step into the role of FBI agent so easily. And just how did he know about Willis’ passion for catching them? How does he know it’s the biggest case of Willis’ career? Had they run up against him before? Had they ever exchanged words? If so, it’s never indicated. Once he escaped, sans clothes, from the hospital, how did he figure out Willis’ name and address?

General Observations:

Did I just hear the words “alien virus”?

Is the Maryland Marine Bank a precursor to the later Craddock Marine Bank in “Monday” (6×15)?

Mulder’s testing of Willis comes off as a bit callous, especially considering he’s aware of Scully’s history with the man at this point.

What’s with Scully being a magnet for dangerous men with tattoos?

The random guest scientist every episode is later replaced by go-to guys. I’m looking forward to Pendrell.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I love the name Lula.

Best Quotes:

Professor Varnes: Well the pilot became increasingly disoriented, schizophrenic his doctor claims. Until one day, he strangled his wife… with an extension cord.
Mulder: [Exchanges a glance with Scully] It’s a nice story.

———-

Agent Bruskin: Mulder says he’s got something.
Agent: What? An alien virus, or new information on the Kennedy assassination?
Agent Bruskin: Hey, Mulder’s all right. Just pay attention, you might learn something from the man.

Fallen Angel 1×9: I think you knocked out a filling.


Even aliens dig the Magic Mirror.

We’re due for some little green men. “Space“(1×8) didn’t fit the standard alien profile and even if you count that, we just went 5 episodes without a UFO of any kind. How is this lack rectified? Mix a crashed UFO with an invisible alien until just combined, crack in a sad Scully then sprinkle Mulder in black jacket stealth mode and you have yourself a “Fallen Angel”. Oh, and serve on a platter of obligatory military stonewalling.

I was watching this episode for the fourth time when it occurred to me for the first time: it would be fun to be Max Fenig. I’d give up a lot for that trailer of his. Really, his character is like a prelude to The Lone Gunmen. I haven’t researched it, but I wonder if the success of this character led directly to their creation. If so, I wouldn’t be surprised. His character definitely steals the show this time around. Though the glory isn’t his alone…

Let’s just take a moment and give a round of applause for the enigmatic Agent Scully’s arrival. The lighting, the staging, the posing… I love it all. Her entrance? Fabulous. I can’t even begin to count the number of times Scully ends up having to bail Mulder out like this (though I’m sure someone else has) but she always does it. Admittedly, as the series progresses, she becomes less annoyed and more resigned. That’s part of the beauty of their relationship. It’s surprising how consistent their formula is even this early on in the series.

Not everything can be as consistent as these two are. One possible glitch in the great continuity continuum? The aliens aren’t evil. Or at least, their role is ambiguous enough that Mulder can dare defend them. This missing alien pilot only kills because our military is trying to hunt him down. Understandably, the mythology evolved over time and probably at this point in the series didn’t exist in any coherent form. Still, try as I might, my perspective is that of someone looking backwards, not someone watching for the first time. It can’t be helped. Some aspects of this episode don’t fit into the overall puzzle easily. The invisible alien abducts Max, so this is part of the larger conspiracy, right? Fast-forward to “Tempus Fugit” (4×17) and it feels like we have a completely different set of aliens doing to abducting. For instance, what happened to the scar behind the ear thread?

Here’s where I discuss the clear and present parallels to “Requiem” (7×22). Now, by no means is this blog spoiler free. I assume that if you’re reading my thoughts on an episode you’ve either already watched it or don’t care if you ruin it for yourself. But for the sake of those initiates who are merely watching Season 1 on their way to Season 7, I won’t mention just how similar these two episodes are. I’ll only say that some of the special effects echo each other and help serve to bracket the series. The similarities may even help thread together some of those jumps in continuity.

And the Verdict is…

I’m going to share a dark and dirty little secret: mythology episodes sometimes bore me. (Insert collective gasp here.) Now, I’m not saying I don’t love the mythology, I just love the characters more and often “mythology” is code for “aimless shenanigans.” With that out of the bag, I freely admit that I never much liked “Fallen Angel”. I’ve always found it dull and somewhat aggravating, especially since despite Mulder’s emphatic assertions he knows absolutely bupkiss. Don’t tell him I said so, but Agent Mulder has a self-righteous streak.

Even so, fear not, I can joyfully say that I’ve changed my mind about “Fallen Angel” upon this last viewing. This episode is more subtle than I used to give it credit for. Max Fenig is quietly hilarious and the wordless exchanges between Mulder and Scully are priceless. Scully is frustrated with him in the beginning, suckered by his puppy dog eyes in the middle and sad for him by the end…. Which may just sum up the entire series.

Mulder knows that Scully pities him and I would say that this is a large part of the reason he responds to her character at all. He realizes that she does want him to succeed, if not because she herself believes, then because she’s one of the few people that sees anything good and worthwhile in Mulder. I would even say that he tolerates her sometimes ill-timed intrusions into his investigations because he knows she’s trying her best to keep him out of trouble. It takes her a while before she realizes he’s determined to go down in flames. Fortunately for both agents, he just misses that trip to hell this episode.

B-

I’m Still Scratching My Head:

Why would Mulder use a state rental car?? Is he that cheap? Rent the car with your own money, man.

How does Mulder get away with half of the things he pulls? The forest is swarming with military, there are helicopters overhead, but watch him just scooch on past.

General Observations:

A shadow of continuity from The Jersey Devil? Mulder uses a professional camera.

We never see aliens go invisible again. Cloaked ships? Sure. But that’s different.

Wait, maybe we never see the aliens go invisible… because they’re invisible! Whistles theme music.

The alien can pass through solid objects too? No wonder they had to reduce the abilities of the aliens in later episodes. No one could fight against them if they had more super powers than Superman.

Check Mulder’s embarrassed glance at Scully when his alter-ego is exposed.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: I didn’t order room service.

————

Scully: Good Luck.
Mulder: I’ll break a leg.

Ghost in the Machine 1×6: I taught him everything he knows.


Believe the badge.

“Ghost in the Machine” is the granddaddy of government cover-up: Half-Caff X-Files. I say Half-Caff because they aren’t paranormal and neither are they, well, normal. These are the cases that explore the realm of science fiction rather than horror. They are not lesser than, by any means. Only they aren’t a part of the mytharc and they aren’t MOTW episodes either. Usually, these types of episodes focus on the dangers of technology, biotech or otherwise. In this case, it’s artificial intelligence.

Dear Reader, may I draw your attention to the glance Mulder gives Scully when Jerry mentions that they were former partners. He looks for the world as though Scully had met a past lover of his, as though she wouldn’t want to know there had ever been anyone before her. On her part, Scully drops her friendly smile. Mulder and Scully may not be romantic, or even overly attached at this point, but they are most definitely territorial. Mulder even tries to downplay his “previous relationship” by saying they merely “worked together.” You can’t hide your sordid past forever, Mulder.

Jerry’s entrance is where Mulder’s demonstrable loyalty to his friends, even when they don’t deserve it, becomes evident. He may not make attachments easily, but once he does he’s loath to let go. He shows these same feelings toward Diana Fowley multiple times and even toward Skinner in “Redux II” (5×2) when Scully has him pegged as a traitor. To an extent, this aspect of his personality is what allows Phoebe Green to take advantage of him again in “Fire” (1×11), though that time he walks into her web willingly. It’s akin to his fascination with outcast females, no doubt tied to the loss of Samantha. He’d rather not lose again.

There’s something nostalgic about the scene where Scully tries to get Mulder to seek help. The character dynamics here hold true pretty much to the end of the series, which is a feat. Scully argues the irrationality of Mulder’s premise, Mulder sticks to it anyway. Scully tries to get Mulder to take a reasonable course of action, Mulder ignores her and goes off without any real explanation. Good times.

Unlike “Shadows” (1×5) before it, at least we can say we now know more about our two favorite agents.

And the Verdict is…

This one is largely ignored by the fandom and generally panned, but without its precedent, we wouldn’t have had episodes like “F. Emasculata” (2×22), “Wetwired” (3×23), and the some kind of awesome “The Pine Bluff Variant” (5×18). We’ll call it a government cover-up and not a conspiracy so as not to confuse it with the series mythology, which it’s only tied to by a very loose shoestring. Little grey-green men aren’t so much as hinted at.

There is a lot more meat here than I remembered eating the first 4 or so times I watched it. I would now go so far as to say it’s underrated. True, the visuals and electronics are dated, that can’t be helped. Also, the “villain”, the AI is sadly lacking in personality. The series missed an opportunity to create a truly frightening sentient computer, an error they later rectified in “Kill Switch” (5×11).

But there are a few golden moments hiding in this episode. How about Scully kicking butt and taking names? What fun when she walks in all bruised and beaten up, ready to shoot. She, of course, does the improper thing and sides with Mulder over the government. Pull a gun on her partner, will you? We haven’t seen Scully like this since “Deep Throat” (1×1).

Speaking of Deep Throat, Deep Throat himself makes a welcome return, proving that if dangerous technology exists the government will try to buy it and hide it. After all, you can’t trust the government. You can only trust Mulder and Scully.

C

General Observations

Mulder and Scully had to pay $8.50 for that rinky-dink lunch? Psh.

Apparently, TPTB don’t bother reprimanding these two agents at this stage of the game. They escaped censure in Deep Throat and it appears that the Department of Defense won’t be taking revenge on them either.

Nagging Questions:

What are Phone Freaks, Data Travelers, and Techno Anarchists? The times, they have a-changed.

What’s with all the strips of paper in the air conditioning shaft? It looks more like a garbage disposal.

More importantly, Scully shooting bullets inside the shaft seems equally as suicidal as her throwing herself directly into the fan.

Best Quotes:

Scully: How come you two went your separate ways?
Mulder: I’m a pain in the a** to work with.
Scully: Seriously.
Mulder: I’m not a pain in the a**?

Conduit 1×3: I’ll send him a bundt cake.


They’re heeeere!

If the “Pilot” established that Samantha’s abduction was the driving force behind Mulder’s crusade, “Conduit” takes the idea further by proving that it’s also a deep source of emotional pain for him. While not the scariest or most inventive episode, “Conduit” successfully provides the groundwork for Fox Mulder’s character over the next 9 seasons and so it holds up over time.

There’s something touching about the way Scully, if she doesn’t directly stand up for Mulder, keeps Blevins from breaking his heart. Mulder doesn’t know it, but Scully’s trying to help him by asking her skeptical questions. She’s looking for a reason to defend this case to their superiors. Yes, Scully cares enough about Mulder’s feelings not to tell him what went on with Blevins. Apparently, she hasn’t forgotten their motel bonding in the “Pilot”. Even her later attempt to get him to stop looking for his sister was probably a well-meaning effort to end his suffering. Well-meaning. Misplaced.

Call me over-analytical, but I think this exploration of Mulder’s motivations means that other aspects of the series make more sense as well. Most notably, Mulder’s pain over Samantha’s abduction is easily identifiable with his innate empathy for anything that hurts, be it man or beast. This plays out all the way into Season 8’s “The Gift” (8×11).

In particular, Mulder has the oftentimes irritating desire to rescue maidens all forlorn. No Rapunzels, mind you. They might be in distress but the women Mulder feels drawn to are hardly damsels, they’re damaged. And they are legion… “3” (2×7), “Oubliette” (3×8), “The Field Where I Died” (4×5), “Mind’s Eye” (5×16) and we could keep going. Conduit’s Ruby Morris is the forerunner of all these. Somehow these troubled women are the way that Mulder sees his sister; left to rot, ignored or shunned by the rest of society. I won’t go too much into it here, there are still 9 seasons to go. But it’s gratifying to see the character continuity the show was able to maintain despite the army of writers that came and went.

This episode contains, for me, one of the most uncomfortable moments in the entire series. Scully crossed a line here. She had no business telling Mulder to stop looking for his sister. Who is Scully at this point, to Mulder, that she can take that kind of liberty? This isn’t her emotional battle and she hasn’t been with Mulder long enough in the trenches for her angry plea to carry any wait. I think she’s aware of it since for the rest of the episode she’s more subdued and less argumentative. The expression on Mulder’s face makes you wonder for a moment if he’ll ever forgive Scully. It’s a testament to the trust they’ve already built that he ever lets her in again. But he does, even before the end of the episode. As much as I love Scully, I hope she felt guilty. (Not too guilty, though. She did allow Mulder that illegal grave dig, after all.)

I must admit, that image of Kevin standing in the woods before the light is quite effective. But the off-roading bikers? How many fake-outs can they give in one episode without anything truly dramatic happening? The note from a mysterious stranger, the men in black, none of it panned out into anything interesting. This is a character piece loosely disguised as a mystery.

In the end, we don’t know anything other than that Ruby was abducted, which is exactly what we learned in the teaser. At least now Scully understands the little boy inside her partner better. Maybe that will cause her to be more sensitive in the future… and maybe not. Should I mention “Sein Und Zeit” (7×10)?

And the Verdict is…

Apparently, this episode had to rely on atmospheric gimmicks; a note on the car, a girl who disappears too quickly to be relieved, g-men knocking down the door, and white wolves out of nowhere. However, none of those things bring to mind alien abductions and maybe that’s why this episode doesn’t really work. It’s just a little too introspective for my taste.

It does, however, give us more insight into the psyche of Fox Mulder. It also shows us that while Scully pities him, she’s also frustrated by his annoying ability to see his sister in the face of every missing girl.

This may be where I officially got sick of Samantha Mulder, and it’s only the second episode her ghost shows up in. The obvious parallels between Samantha and Ruby exhaust rather than intrigue me. The matching swimsuit pictures, well… I must be the most cold-hearted X-Phile in the nation, but I remain unmoved.

Still, it’s good to see Mulder’s character fleshed out and explained. It’s one thing to think your sister was taken by aliens, it’s a much more powerful thing to be so consumed by guilt and loss that the only outlet for your grief is tilting at windmills. And if the series hadn’t laid the foundation early on for Mulder’s angst, this whole search for the truth would have seemed hollow, as though Mulder merely wanted to show-off.

So, is Fox Mulder crazy or crazy like a Fox?

C+

Bepuzzlements:

Why are defense satellite transmissions coming through little Kevin’s TV screen? How does he hear/see all those little ones and zeroes? And what on earth is the connection to Ruby’s disappearance? What good does it do the aliens to read our transmissions and then transmit them back to the American public? And if they aren’t defense transmissions but important pieces of high culture (where was Bugs Bunny?) then how did the NSA mistake them for defense transmissions?

Is the white wolf the new red herring? What was the point other than to freak out the audience? Oh, wait…freaking out the audience….

General Observations:

There are some series continuity errors here in regards to Samantha’s abduction, but we have to cut the writers some slack. They had no idea how big the show would be and once it was popular, they had to spice up the abduction scenario a little bit.

This is the first and probably last time we’ll see Mulder seeking solace in a church. Was the voice he mentions at the end the government, the aliens, or God? And please don’t say CC was already going all “Biogenesis” (6×22) on me.

I do believe this is also Mulder and Scully’s first interrogation. I can’t say I pictured Mulder as the bad cop.

Love the creepy note-giving. But doesn’t their running across the street give away the charade?

The soundtrack when Tessa disappears in the library is classic Mark Snow. It gives the case an element of eeriness even though nothing special is actually going on.

Call me easy, but I really liked tough biker dude.

Best Quotes:

Blevins: In essence, Mulder is petitioning the Bureau to assign a case number to a tabloid headline. (Post-Modern Prometheus, anyone?)

———————-

Mulder: Who, me? I’m Mr. Congeniality.