Tag Archives: Apocrypha

The X-Files Movie Part 1: So much for little green men.


Little green man?

This story is so epic it spans 37,000 years. And if that isn’t enough evidence for you, they also changed the logo.

We open on two linebackers cavemen who stumble upon a cantankerous alien in an ice cave. This alien looks like nothing we’ve seen before on The X-Files where when unreliable glimpses of aliens are shown, they’re grey-green children with bug eyes in rubber suits. This alien has claws and sounds and moves suspiciously like a panther. One of the pre-historic men survives the fight, but the blood the alien leaves behind starts moving on it’s own. And already we have our first major revelation of the movie: the Black Oil is alien blood.

This means the sentient Black Oil that we were introduced to way back in  “Piper Maru” (3×15) isn’t just alien in nature, it’s the essence of the aliens themselves. Oh, and by the by, these aliens? They’re a far cry from the benignly mute little munchkins we’ve been used to envisioning the Colonists as. If this is who they’re dealing with, is it a wonder the Syndicate would rather serve than resist? Or is what we see here all there is to the aliens? Hmm.

Fast forward several millennia or so and four adventurous small town boys on lone from some heretofore unknown Stephen Spielberg film are digging holes in the Texas desert. One of them, Stevie, who looks like a miniature version of Alex Krycek, falls into the same ancient cave where our two Neanderthals from the opening met their fate long ago. Skulls are all that remain of anything human, but the Black Oil is still alive and slicking and it decides to infect Stevie post-haste.

Four firemen come to Stevie’s rescue and fall prey to the Black Oil themselves. No sooner are the firemen gonners than a crew flying unmarked helicopters and driving unmarked tanker trucks arrives on the scene and led by a worried looking man named Bronschweig proceed to take over operations.

I had you big time.

Sometime later and not too far away in Dallas, the F.B.I. is combing a federal building for a bomb that’s been reported. Mulder and Scully, meanwhile, are combing a building that is not federal and that is not under a bomb threat. That’s our team. Which begs the question, why would anyone in their right mind have Mulder and Scully hunting bombs? The X-Files burn up and this is what they have them doing? How does this match their skill set?

I have to pause here to give enthusiastic kudos to Chris Carter et. al. because this introduction of Mulder and Scully is epic (I’ll be using that word a lot this review, so brace yourselves). It’s all kinds of perfect. Not only does it tell any new viewer everything they need to know about these two people, their personalities and their relationship in a clean, efficient and fun way, but it’s enough to send any faithful fan into convulsions of Squee.

Scully smiles. Scully has fun. Scully cracks jokes. Do the events of this movie take place sometime in Season 1 and someone forget to tell me?

I’m being melodramatic, but it really isn’t often that we see Scully so loose and easygoing. And then quickly afterward to get a hefty dose of Angry Scully when she orders the evacuation of the building, it’s fangirl paradise. Though I must say, both Mulder and Scully are awfully casual for two people searching for a bomb, but we’ll let that slide for the joy of it all.

The way Mulder finds the bomb is genius; it’s just like The X-Files to take something as innocuous as patronizing a vending machine and turn it into your worst nightmare. However, having discovered the bomb, Mulder would be insane to actually open up the machine and risk blowing them all to oblivion. Mulder’s crazy but he’s not insane.

What gives me more pause than that, though, is the level of coincidence the plot is already forced to rely on. Mulder, off the X-Files mind you, happens to be investigating a bomb threat being used by a shadow government to hide the truth about extra-terrestrials. Mulder guesses based on no other evidence but his own instincts that the bomb won’t be in the building that was reported. Then, out of all the other buildings surrounding the federal building, he picks the right one to search, the one that really does have the bomb. Then, after giving up the search, he happens to pick the vending machine with the bomb in it to try to buy a drink from. Playing with coincidences as if they were building blocks is a dangerous game for a storyteller to play.

S.A.C. Michaud, played all too briefly, but memorably by an intense Terry O’Quinn, says that he will defuse the bomb, but Mulder and Scully don’t get to see him watch the clock run down without even attempting to do so. It’s a powerful moment and I can only dream that in some archive somewhere is a deleted scene giving us more insight into Michaud’s character.

I may not know why Mulder and Scully have joined the bomb squad and it may be riddled with coincidences, but this whole ten-minute sequence is perfectly executed.

One would think that having stumbled into the salvation of hundreds of people Mulder and Scully would come home to a ticker tape parade, but instead they’re sent before the Office of Professional Review Panel to explain why there were five people they missed, never mind the fact that it wasn’t their mistake that caused this mess. It makes no sense. It also doesn’t make sense to dispose of the alien infected bodies in an elaborate bomb plot rather than to, I dunno, cremate them. I can only assume that somewhere in the back of this is the Syndicate and/or Cigarette-Smoking Man looking to move Mulder out of the way once and for all.

Whatever the reason for this mess, Scully isn’t interested in being reprimanded and reassigned. If there are no more X-Files and no Mulder to work with, there’s nothing left worth doing at the F.B.I.. Mulder is shell-shocked when she sheepishly breaks the news to him and decides that evening to soak his professional and personal problems in booze. It’s not my favorite scene since something about his Spooky Mulder speech feels forced to me, but the writers had to find some reasonably inconspicuous way to let newcomers in the audience know why Mulder’s chasing aliens in the first place.

Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil, played by television and movie veteran Martin Landau, introduces himself to a drunken Mulder and lets him in on the secrets behind the Dallas bombing. Mulder, duly intrigued, fetches Scully in the middle of the night for an impromptu autopsy. If those firemen and the boy were dead before the bombing, they need to know. The scene where Mulder bluffs his way down to the morgue by intimidating the soldier is nearly play for play a repeat of a scene in “The Red and the Black” (5×14).

It’s quickly obvious that the fireman Scully examines hasn’t died in an explosion. The night guard isn’t nearly as quick to discover that he’s been had by Mulder. When he and his fellow soldiers do come for Scully, she makes a couple of awfully quick escapes that owe much to movie magic but are entertaining nonetheless.

Burn it. Like the others.

Meanwhile, CSM has learned from Bronschweig that this time the Black Oil hasn’t just infected its host, it’s gestating inside him, growing itself a physical body. CSM decides to keep it alive in order to test out the one potential weapon they have against the Colonists: a weak vaccine against the Black Oil virus. The 3784th Law of Movie Dynamics says that will never happen the way he intends.

Kurtzweil breaks down for Mulder the general outline of the conspiracy. Much of it long time viewers had already guessed, but this serves as more than confirmation. It also lets us know the Syndicate’s practical plans for carrying out colonization. The date for this has already been determined, and although it’s not explicitly given, we know that it will be during a holiday when people are traveling. Hint, hint!

As usual, Scully resists Mulder when he tries to pull her on a ridiculous chase only to show up after all. After complaining that she can’t afford to miss her meeting with O.P.R., Scully surprises Mulder by showing up in Dallas where he’s already trying to find evidence of a cover-up in the debris from the bomb site. Scully, who magically goes from pathologist to anthropologist, takes a quick look at fossilized bone fragments taken from the site that show the same evidence of massive infection that she saw in the body she autopsied earlier.

Help! I need help!

Back at Bronschweig’s secret base, we come to one of my favorite parts of the movie. Bronschweig is abandoned by his minions and buried alive with the fully gestated alien monster. The look on his face when he realizes what’s happening to him still fills me with cold horror. And, oh, how I remember my best friend and I covering the theater in giggles when the alien extended its malevolent claws. (Cut us some slack, we were 15).

After this is our first official introduction to Conrad Strughold. If the Syndicate has a leader, it’s him. I say “official” introduction because we’ve run into Strughold before. It was his mining facility that Mulder and Scully discovered the endless rows of medical files in during “Paper Clip” (3×2). Here we meet the man himself and it’s as he’s breaking disheartening news to his fellow conspirators: the Black Oil isn’t out to control us, it means to feed on us.

This begs several questions. We’ve seen the Black Oil trap people in coma-like states in episodes like “Tunguska” (4×9), we’ve seen it possess people and take over their wills as recently as “The Red and the Black”. If the Black Oil, the sentient essence of alien life, has always intended to repopulate the human race with itself through gestation, what’s with the comas and the mind control? Were the powerful men behind this collaboration with the aliens really so ignorant of their plans? And why, now that they have a viable vaccine, don’t these men do as Well-Manicured Man suggests and resist rather than facilitate the apocalypse?

I think they key is that the Black Oil is sentient. It doesn’t randomly take effect but chooses when and how to act. In other words, it knows when to hold ‘em and knows when to fold ‘em. Also, the samples of the Black Oil that the Syndicate has been able to get their hands on up to this point have been small and recent. They aren’t from this ancient, pre-historic stock that may not be aware of the rest of its race’s plans to negotiate surrender with the Syndicate. If it did, it probably would risk tipping them off to its actual power.

For their part, the Syndicate feels as though open resistance would be an idealist’s response and a mistake. The vaccine they have is still not 100% effective and so it has to be administered fairly quickly after infection, though it’s already much improved over the vaccine they stole from the Russians, the one that took its sweet time in curing Marita Covarrubias in “The Red and the Black”. Rather than fight with such a weak arsenal, they’d rather continue to remain under the Colonist’s protection until such time as they’ve gathered enough information to defeat them. Or so they say.

New facts of biology which have presented themselves.

The one hold out is WMM who has finally had enough of the aliens’ lies. When we’re introduced to him in the film, we see him spending time with his grandchildren and it’s clear from his benevolent expression where his priorities lay, in the future of his progeny. Now the tensions that have played out between him and the rest of the Syndicate during Season 5 come to a head. The scene where WMM faces off against the rest of the Syndicate, all the shots with him in it show him alone vs. the shots of the others show them all grouped together. What a great choice to visually show the underlying divisions between them.

Of course, the problem of Mulder comes up again. His digging is about to gum up their conspiratorial machine. Unsurprisingly, the idea of killing him is bandied about yet again as it has been since Season 2’s “Ascension” (2×6). Is Mulder really so important that they can’t kill him without risking their plans? We saw a glimpse in “Patient X” (5×13) of Mulder’s reputation in certain circles, but it wouldn’t have hurt for the show to have given the audience more of a sense over time of Mulder’s influence because, as it stands now, it’s hard to believe anyone with an I.Q. over 30 and a clean bill of mental health is listening to him. But I can’t fault them for trying to give an explanation where there is none. The longer the series continues and the higher the stakes are raised the more it feels as if the Syndicate is foolish not to kill Mulder, but we can’t have a show without a hero. Chris Carter then has no choice but to come up with an explanation for why he’s still around.

Since Mulder’s off limits, the Syndicate decides to take the sadistic approach and take away that which he loves the most, that with which he can’t live without. Cut to Scully.

You all look like door-to-door salesmen.

I should roll my eyes here at the blatant cheesiness of this moment, but no, I grin like an imbecile. However, we’ll save my gushing for Part 2 when we discuss the evolution of Mulder and Scully’s relationship in detail.

Moving on… while their futures are mapped out by others, Mulder and Scully are on the trail of the Black Oil the Syndicate has harvested from the ancient cave and is hauling away in unmarked tanker trucks. Their chase leads them to a mysterious field out of Children of the Corn, minus the children. It’s here that Mulder and Scully discover that bees are being kept, bees that pollinate corn in the middle of the desert. Like in “Herrenvolk” (4×1), these bees are carriers of the alien virus, the Black Oil, through their pollination of genetically modified corn. It’s bees like these that will eventually be released on the population of the world to infect them when Colonization goes down.

This is where we run into the most unbelievable set of coincidences Fight the Future tries to sell us. Based on Strughold’s comments and a not so subtle hint that Scully is the key to breaking Mulder’s spirit, we know that the Syndicate plans to take Scully away. If the insinuations are to be believed, the Syndicate cleverly arranges Scully’s infection and abduction through a precisely placed Arthropod. Right.

A better answer is that they intended to do something to Scully, but didn’t actually get around to it. Mulder and Scully stuck their noses where they didn’t belong and a bee took her out first. No doubt the Syndicate knew they had been to the site and were monitoring their calls, so when Mulder called 911 and described Scully’s symptoms one of their minions was on hand to intercept her before the real ambulance arrived.

It’s either that or the Syndicate leads Mulder and Scully magically to the tanker trucks and then to the giant Jiffy Pop poppers, knowing that they’d go inside, releases the bees and programs one of the said bees to sting Scully and not Mulder. But it doesn’t sting Scully right away, oh no. It crosses state lines. It survives a plane ride. It’s instructed to wait until every Shipper in the theater is falling out of their chair in painful anticipation before it strikes.

My motor functions are being affected.

Even for a series that isn’t afraid to harness the power of coincidence, this is too extreme to take seriously. It’s a good thing then that I don’t care if it actually makes sense or not.

Post-sting, Mulder is shot by the same man who bumped into him after planting the bomb in Dallas. He wakes up to the Lone Gunmen, who show up mainly so they can put a “We Were Here” bumper sticker on their car because they barely register on the screen before they’re gone again. Mulder makes a quick date with Kurtzweil to drill him for the answers that will lead him to Scully, but he’s too late. WMM has gotten there first. It’s just as well for Mulder since Kurtzweil had been out of the Syndicate loop so long he knows next to nothing and WMM is in such a generous mood that he spoon feeds Mulder the answers he’s looking for. I should’ve known then that Chris Carter wouldn’t let the character live. He would’ve made things far too easy for Mulder and they have a mythology plot they need to drag out.

I always assumed WMM knows he’s about to die in his final scene. He already suspects his colleagues will be out to get him, he even says as much to Mulder. And why else would he shoot the driver and then get back in the passenger seat? But if that’s the case, why doesn’t the bomb go off when Mulder shuts the passenger door right before WMM closes it again and sets the bomb off? Was it remotely activated? Could WMM have done it himself? Someone ask Chris Carter at the next convention.

Trust no one, Mr. Mulder.

Mulder wastes no time in taking the vaccine and the information he’s been given and setting out for Antarctica. Thankfully, we’re spared the minutiae of his trip and we catch up with him right as he stumbles onto the alien spaceship. Literally. He stumbles onto the alien spaceship by falling through a well-placed hole in the snow. Those coincidences are running amok.

After five years on the X-Files and even longer spent searching for the truth about alien life, Mulder gets to see an alien spaceship from the inside. But he doesn’t have much time to marvel at the money spent on special effects for this movie as time is running out for Scully’s vaccination window. Not to worry. Though the spaceship is filled with rows of occupied pods, Mulder finds gestational Scully within seconds of discovering them.

Unfortunately for Mulder, administering the vaccine, weak though it may be, to Scully, results in the entire spaceship being compromised. In some pre-programmed attempt to save itself, the dormant spaceship awakes and turns on the heat in order to more quickly gestate the little alien babies. This means that not only does Mulder have to carry out a limp and goo covered Scully, he has to do it while evading alien teeth.

Of course they both make it. So do CSM and his lackeys who were guarding the spaceship from above at Base 1. But the everlasting question on every Phile’s heart is: How do they get home?

We don’t know how they avoid hypothermia, nor where Mulder hid the satellite phone, nor how Scully miraculously winds up with a pair of shoes even though Mulder didn’t know he’d find her naked, but they do make it back to Washington, D.C. where Scully goes before the O.P.R. panel yet again only this time, she has even less evidence and an even wilder story. Don’t tell her that, though, since her new found confidence is so impressive she cowers the O.P.R. into silence.

Mulder is in a different frame of mind altogether and bitterly complains that he and Scully are, yet again, right back where they started. No proof. No definite answers. No justice. Just the two of them riding nowhere, on their way back home. Mulder may complain, but for me, that’s all I need.

If I quit now, they win.

And somewhere in Tunisia, the bees drone on…

The Verdict:

This script was written by Carter and Spotnitz in two weeks during Season 4 and filmed during the hiatus between Season 4 and Season 5. That means they not only had to plot a feature film fast enough that it could be developed and filmed in time, but they also had to plan out the rest of Season 4 and Season 5 in order for the story to work. On top of that, the movie needed to be a sufficient lead-in to Season 6 in terms of the mythology.

So, yes, there are some less than sophisticated moments in the plot. I’m no I Want to Believe Basher, but as fans have pointed out about The X-Files’ long-awaited return to the big screen, it’s a film with some flaws. If we’re honest with ourselves, Fight the Future is no less flawed but it faces less criticism because, frankly, it’s more fun. It’s easier to overlook gaping plot holes when you’re busy oohing, ahhing and giggling.

There are some forced dramatic moments that should bother me, but I’m so in love that they don’t. They work where they wouldn’t in a lesser show. Yes, I still say “show” and not “movie” because the backstory of the series is what makes this movie great. The history of its characters is what allows them to take sentimental liberties that would torpedo a lesser franchise because it gives the events that occur a weight that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Rides like this are why I go to the movie theater. And they’re why I used to tune in to The X-Files week after week. I can’t say they made something here that’s going to wind up on AFI’s list of the top 100 movies of all time, but they did the fans proud.

Stay tuned because for our next installment, we’ll Ship the heck out of this movie.

A

The Trivialities:

That super slide Mulder goes on in the spaceship is worthy of something out of Goonies.

Is there a reason Mulder litters Byers’ suit jacket on the ground? I mean, other than to make David Duchovny look like an action hero?

They put too much makeup on Gillian Anderson. It’s caked like she’s about to open on Broadway. She still looks gorgeous, though.

There’s a great shot in the F.B.I. hallway were we get a clear view of Scully’s shoes. They’re boss.

I’m sure this is just me, but there’s a moment when Well-Manicured Man says “The location of Agent Scully and the means to save her life,” and then switches the vaccine from one hand to the other before gesturing Mulder into the waiting car – I love it. There’s something about the rhythm of it and the sound the vaccine package makes.

The Nitpicks:

Mulder just happens to fall down the rabbit hole that will take him to the heart of the alien spaceship? Let’s not call it coincidence; let’s call it Providence.

I understand that Mulder took off a layer of his clothing to put on Scully when he discovered her nakedness, but where did the shoes she’s wearing come from?

In the end, Blythe Danner’s character says there’s now evidence and S.A.C. Michaud was implicated in the bombing. What evidence is this that she speaks of?? Mulder and Scully didn’t bring any souvenirs back from Antarctica.

If the Syndicate didn’t know that the virus would gestate, what about the alien spacecraft they had their base on top of where a bunch of people are suspended ice with little aliens in their bellies? Aren’t CSM and his men the ones that transferred Scully into the ship in the first place? What’s more, the bee that stings Scully infects her with the version of the Black Oil that gestates. Assuming they could even re-genetically engineer the corn fast enough to allow for that, they wouldn’t want to. It would clue the Colonists in to the fact that they know the truth and would erase their advantage.

Scully escapes detection by the military guards in the morgue, but will somebody please explain to me how she exits this heavily guarded hospital without being noticed?

Grabbing Scully’s wrist when bees are swarming them seems like a pretty dumb move on Mulder’s part. What if one was trapped inside her clothes?

The Players:

Bronschweig is played by Jeffrey DeMunn, AKA Dale from The Walking Dead, AKA That Guy from That Movie and That Show. Ubiquitous much? I kid, but he does an awesome job here.

There’s also an uncredited appearance by Jason Beghe, David Duchovny’s long-time friend who introduced him to acting. Watch that scene by the vending machine closely and you’ll recognize him from “Darkness Falls” (1×19).

You’ll also recognize Gary Grubbs, the Fire Captain, as the Sheriff in “Our Town” (2×24).

One of the great casting coups of this film is that they landed Martin Landau of Mission Impossible fame among much other work. Personally, I knew him better as Geppetto in The Adventures of Pinnochio which I saw during my JTT phase… which immediately preceded my X-Files phase.

Casting Armin Meueller-Stahl as Strughold was no small accomplishment either.

The impressiveness doesn’t end there. Actress Glenne Headly is a little overqualified for her brief role as Bartender.

Did I mention they even brought in Blythe Danner?

Doesn’t Stevie, the kid who falls down into the cave, look kinda like a baby Krycek?

The Quotes:

Bronschweig: Sir, the impossible scenario that we never planned for? Well, we better come up with a plan.

—————————

Scully: I saw your face Mulder. There was a definite moment of panic.
Mulder: Well you’ve never seen me panic. When I panic I make this face. [Demonstrates]
Scully: That was the face.
Mulder: You didn’t see that face.
Scully: I saw that face.

—————————-

Mulder: Scully, you know that face I just showed you? I’m making it again.

—————————-

Bartender: So, what do you do?
Mulder: What do I do?
Bartender: Mmm hmm.
Mulder: I’m the key figure in an ongoing Government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman and child on the planet. [Laughs] So, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me “Spooky.” Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who’ll listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s going to be the shit storm of all time.
Bartender: Well. I would say that about does it, Spooky. [Takes his glass]

—————————

Mulder: I woke you. Did I wake you?
Scully:  No.
Mulder: Why not? It’s 3:00 in the morning.

—————————

Kurtzweil: Are you familiar with the Hanta virus, Agent Mulder?
Mulder: Yeah, it was a deadly virus spread by field mice in the southwestern United States several years ago.
Kurtzweil: According to the newspaper, FEMA was called out to manage an outbreak of the Hanta virus. Are you familiar with what the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s real power is? FEMA allows the White House to suspend constitutional government upon declaration of a national emergency. Think about that! What is an agency with such broad-sweeping power doing managing a small viral outbreak in suburban Texas?
Mulder: You’re saying it wasn’t such a small outbreak.
Kurtzweil: No, I’m saying it wasn’t the Hanta virus.

—————————-

Scully: This is weird, Mulder.
Mulder: Very weird.
Scully: Any thoughts as to why anybody would be growing corn in the middle of the desert?
Mulder: Well, those could be giant Jiffy-Pop poppers.

—————————–

Langly: What can we do?
Mulder: You can strip Byers naked.
Byers: What?
Mulder: I need your clothes.

——————————

Strughold: You look hot and miserable. Why have you traveled all this way?
CSM: We have business to discuss.
Strughold: We have regular channels.
Smoking Man: This involves Mulder.
Strughold: Ah. That name, again and again.
Smoking Man: He’s seen more than he should have.
Strughold: What has he seen? Of the whole he has seen but pieces.
Smoking Man: He’s determined now. Reinvested.
Strughold: He is but one man. One man alone cannot fight the future.
Smoking Man: Yesterday, I received this… [Telegram Reads: X-FILES REOPENED. STOP. PLEASE ADVISE. STOP.] {Editor’s Note: Telegrams still exist???}

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Memento Mori 4×15: You think a lot more of me than you let on.


The hug heard 'round the world.

This episode opens with something I’m generally not too fond of: An X-Files voiceover.

You can always tell when Chris Carter has written one and they’re always slightly overwrought and self-consciously poeticized. In this one, Scully sounds marvelously unlike an investigator and even less like a scientist. Who knew she majored in Physics but minored in English Literature? Snarkiness aside though, much of this episode is spent establishing that Scully is Scully no matter what her circumstances are. Sickness doesn’t cause her to call up her mother sobbing because that’s not who she is. She doesn’t run to Mulder in frantic desperation because that would be a betrayal of herself. Why her words would become flowery when her mind is not is beyond me. On the plus side, the monologue does get the point across quickly that Scully is dying and there’s nothing she can do about it.

What kind of reaction will this produce in Scully? Will there be any deathbed confessions? Probably not. Based on their track record, we all know that Mulder and Scully aren’t about to embarrass themselves with any alarming declarations, however we as the audience might hope. The foundation of their relationship is unspoken, like an iceberg, the most important parts remaining invisible but assumed and understood based solely on what we can see. One of the reasons “Memento Mori” is so special is that it does allow us some concrete but still subtle proof of how Mulder and Scully really feel about each other. No more guessing.

To suddenly force Mulder and Scully’s relationship out into the wide open would undermine it at the risk of its losing it’s effectiveness. So what happens? Scully writes a diary that lays her thoughts bare, only for Mulder to read it outside of her presence. This gives loyal fans an incredible payoff but also a reason to keep watching since Mulder and Scully are still fundamentally silent. Everything’s understood, nothing has to be said, our assumptions are confirmed and validated, the status quo is maintained.

Gillian Anderson won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series for this one. It’s not too hard to see why since she takes Scully to a place of both vulnerability and strength that we’ve never seen from her before. But really, the glories of this episode are almost equally shared between 3 leads, the other two being David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi who also give us some complicated and incredibly nuanced performances.

Mulder, despite his disavowal of Scully’s fate, I believe is actually less in denial than she is. Scully admits there’s no hope then flatly refuses to face her death or admit that she’s anything other than “fine.” Mulder, on the other hand, recognizes that Scully is dying; it’s just that he refuses to believe there’s nothing he can do about it. Like his relationship to the larger conspiracy, he believes it exists but also believes that he somehow has the power to change it. (In fact, it isn’t until he believes that he’s helpless to affect the outcome of events that he momentarily gives up, but that will be a long time in the future). He doesn’t cry and he doesn’t rant, instead he hunts, throwing himself even deeper to the conspiracy that did this to Scully, into the danger that he brought Scully into, in hopes that he can save her from this threat that he’s partially responsible for. This episode avoids losing itself in sentimentality by forcing its characters into action.

Skinner doesn’t sit idly by either. After refusing to set up a meeting between Mulder and CSM, he wastes no time in making his own Faustian bargain with the chain smoking Grinch. I know there’s a lot of talk about there among Skinner/Scully Shippers as to what this means about Skinner’s feelings for Scully that he would sacrifice himself on the altar of CSM to find a cure for her disease. But as much as Skinner cares for Scully and wants to see her healed, I actually think that this transaction has more to do with his relationship with Mulder who, despite a relatively minor difference in age, seems to be a pseudo-son to him. Rather than allow Mulder to be corrupted, he takes up that cross himself and suffers in silence. It’s really one of Skinner’s most heroic moments on the show. He loses his soul yet somehow keeps his integrity.

Then there are 3 other… bonus heroes. I’m glad that the Lone Gunmen show up in this one because they give the episode that bit of fun that it needs to avoid taking itself too seriously. True, this is a story about the devastation of cancer, but it takes place in a show about alien conspiracies and paranormal activity. The writers can only wax so poetic without risk of losing their audience.

Speaking of the overarching conspiracy, this is the first “mythology” episode since Season 2’s “Red Museum” (2×10), a time when the mythology was still largely unformed, that doesn’t actually present any new mythology information. The underlying plot isn’t advanced, only reaffirmed, which is why I would hesitate to categorize this as a mythology episode at all but really a stand-alone episode with mythology elements. Actually, I should clarify, as there is one new bit of information: some of the human genetic material used to create clones and drones comes from the embryos of abductees, Scully included. But it will take a good 4 years… that’s right, 4 years… before Mulder will reveal this secret to Scully in the episode “Per Manum” (8×8). Although, it happens in flashback so really it took him 3 years, but still.

Verdict:

By the opening of this episode it’s like the events of “Never Again” (4×13) never happened. To be sure, when death arrives petty disputes have a way of disappearing. But I suppose we’ll never know if Mulder and Scully worked through their issues or just forgot about them when a much larger monster came along that required all their powers of concentration.

It doesn’t really matter. As much as this episode involved a love letter of sorts from Scully to Mulder, it feels like a love letter to the fans. Scully’s cancer, like her abduction that caused it, gives a human face to the conspiracy and reminds us that this whole show really is about 2 people, their trials, tribulations and adventures. We wanted more insight into their characters and now we have it.

But I still could’ve done without that purple prose.

A

Comments:

Grey-Haired Man makes a return. He was last seen in “Apocrypha” (3×16).

The clones are back! Not to be confused with the drones we were introduced to in “Herrenvolk” (4×1) despite the fact that the same DNA created both.

Carter and Spotnitz were working on Fight the Future at the same time as this script. I wonder what that knowledge will reveal when the movie finally comes up.

“It’s part of what makes these such Romantic, heroic characters is that they always put their personal lives on the back seat. In fact they, they really don’t have much in the way of a personal life whatsoever. Um, they’re people on a quest. They’re, they’re really both united and separated by their quest.” – Spotnitz

I feel so justified in my assessments now. See above.

Nice tie in to the visuals of both “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (1×23) and “End Game” (2×17).

Scully really deserved to be chewed out by her mother. I love that this show represents death and dying in a realistic way. People still get mad at each other.

Speaking of people getting mad, it’s still too bad that the scene between Scully and her brother Bill had to be cut. Thankfully, we’ll get another chance to hate him real soon.

Is it Shipper suicide if I admit I’m glad they cut the kiss?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: [Handing Scully flowers] I… stole these from some guy with a broken leg down the hall. He won’t be able to catch me.

———————–

Skinner: So you want to set up a meeting. With whom?
Mulder: Cigarette man. I have no doubt in my mind he’s behind this.
Skinner: You’ve come to be before like this, Mulder.
Mulder: Yeah, well, this is different. This is different, I’m willing to deal now.
Skinner: Find another way.
Mulder: No! I need that meeting.
Skinner: You deal with this man, you offer him anything and he will own you forever.
Mulder: He knows what they did to Agent Scully! He may very well know how to save her!
Skinner: If he knows, you can know too but you can’t ask the truth of a man who trades in lies! I won’t let you.

———————–

Smoking Man: It’s funny. I always thought of you as Fox Mulder’s patron. You’d think under your aegis that he wouldn’t be consigned to a corner of the basement.
Skinner: At least he doesn’t take an elevator up to get to work.
Smoking Man: You think I’m the devil, Mr. Skinner?

————————

Mulder: Pick out something black and sexy and prepare to do some funky poaching.

Terma 4×10: They’re all honorable, these honorable men.


A White Russian.

Believe it or not, I have only just realized, on what must be at a minimum my 6th viewing of this episode, that Krycek is the one who ordered retired assassin Vassily Peskow on his mission in the first place under the name of Comrade Arntzen… Arntzen being the name Krycek gave when he infiltrated Mayhew’s militia back in North Dakota and set off the chain of events that would lead Mulder to him and eventually to Tunguska.

Is Krycek even Krycek? Is he the American-born son of Russian immigrants turned conspiracy double-crosser or is he a Russian-born Soviet plant named Arntzen who has been lying even to the Syndicate this whole time? My bet is that he’s a Russian who infiltrated the American branch of the conspiracy as a spy. It’s the explanation that best matches his nature.

It makes sense that the Russians would be antagonistic. For one thing, the Cold War isn’t so distant a memory from the point of view of the mid-1990’s. But also, it seems that the Russians, as far as we’ve seen, are the only major world power that’s not at least partially involved in the Syndicate’s machinations. “Anasazi” (2×25) is evidence that the Syndicate’s reach extends to at least all the WWII Axis powers that are clearly in on the game (though admittedly it wouldn’t have been tough to convert Nazis to their cause). The French are a little on the outs as we see in “Piper Maru” (3×15) when they’re scrambling for evidence and information, but there’s no indication of any antagonism. The Russian Bear is another story, however, and Krycek is the perfect face for their stereotyped image.

Getting some solid clues regarding Krycek’s backstory is tantalizing enough, but the real scene-stealers of the episode, in my humble opinion, are the darling duo of Well-Manicured Man and CSM. The barely contained antagonism between the two of them is priceless. And for once, CSM has a reason to gloat, an opportunity he relishes since usually he’s the one whose mistakes have to be cleaned up. They’re like foes that are forced to be friends.

Anyway, it would appear that some of the tension between them is caused because not only is Well-Manicured Man’s girlfriend killed, but the implication is that she was targeted because of her research for the Syndicate. She was testing a vaccine against the Black Oil on her convalescent patients. The problem is, the Syndicate wasn’t supposed to have access to the Black Oil, the samples were smuggled out of Russia as we saw back in “Tunguska” (4×9). The Russians, led it seems, by Krycek, decide to put a stop to American progress by wiping out not only those involved with arranging the experiments, but by killing the subjects also eliminating the American stores of Black Oil. This leaves Russia well ahead in the vaccine race.

The American experiments weren’t exactly speeding along anyway, since all they’d managed to do was to force the Black Oil to go dormant in their elderly test subjects. The Russians at least had a vaccine that would expel the Oil even if it didn’t yet protect against reinfection.

Maybe if our national test scores were better?

And the Verdict is…

Just on the sheer weight of its meaty revelations, I actually enjoy “Terma” more than “Tunguska”. Objectively, I’m not sure it’s really a better hour of television, but I certainly get more out of it, especially now that the storyline is finally beginning to make sense to me. Besides, who can resist Mulder sauntering into the Senate hearing to just the right dramatic beat? And who can forget that “tea bag dippin’ hand?”

“He wants you to know the Cold War isn’t over.”

A

P.S. As always, check out http://www.eatthecorn.com/eps/4X09_4X10.htm for some mythology clarification.

P.P.S. Updated to add this because I love it so: http://imadethischriscarter.blogspot.com/2011/09/x-files-4x10terma.html

Annoying Comments:

I love the idea of an older assassin… an assassin who shares his apples and takes the bus. He’s certainly charming enough.

The tagline for this episode, “E pur si muove”, means “And yet, it does move”, which is supposedly what Galileo said what the Inquisition forced him to recant his assertion that the Earth moves around the Sun. No doubt this is meant draw a parallel between our own little Galileo, Agent Mulder, and his, er, enthusiastic stance before the Senate committee. Too bad some of the irrefutable evidence he cited in his speech is now in question. Ah, Mulder. Even when he means well he slides so close to irritating sometimes.

Lingering Questions:

Why did the Syndicate put Senator Sorenson up to this investigation to find out Mulder’s whereabouts if they already knew where he was? I think we’re assume that it’s just to slow up Mulder and Scully’s investigation, but that doesn’t seem like a completely logical step.

Is the version of the Black Oil that we’ve seen in this two-episode arc supposed to be an even more basic form of alien life? The pre-evolutionary version of the more advanced Black Oil that we saw in “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha” (3×16)? Perhaps this version ended up on earth accidentally via the meteor while the previous version was purposefully sent by the aliens. Or maybe the previous version wasn’t meant to be left on earth either but was a casualty of war… Color me Clueless.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: I’m not going to die.
Prisoner: No? Why not?
Mulder: I have to live long enough to kill that man Krycek.

———————

Well-Manicured Man: [Smokes a cigarette]
Cigarette-Smoking Man: That’s a nasty habit. It’s bad for the health.
Well-Manicured Man: Health is the least of my concerns at the moment.
Cigarette-Smoking Man: Yes… [Lights a cigarette] According to reports your… personal Physician suffered a serious riding accident here on your property.
Well-Manicured Man: Dr. Charne-Sayre was murdered.
Cigarette-Smoking Man: By whom?
Well-Manicured Man: If I knew, do you think I’d be standing here talking to you?
Cigarette-Smoking Man: So… you need me now, a man of my capabilities, is that it?
Well-Manicured Man: This was a professional hit.
Cigarette-Smoking Man: Really? And you out here all alone, so vulnerable… Were you sleeping with her? Surely you wouldn’t be so foolish as to put the project at risk for the sake of your personal pleasures?

———————-

Scully: Several of the men on this committee are lawyers. It is my experience that lawyers ask the wrong question only when they don’t want the right answer.

———————-

Mulder: It’s good to put my arms around you… both of them.

Tunguska 4×9: These men, they make it up as they go along.


Shock and awe.

The Black Oil is back, or should I say, the Black Worms have arrived. This time it’s not transporting itself through human carriers, but it’s being excavated and transported within ancient rocks. However creepy its earlier form may have been, this is the first time I think a mythology episode ever tiptoed this close to the horror genre. Those little worms are memorable and fantastic.

I said earlier that a mythology primer is almost necessary to keep track of the various forms of alien and half-alien life we’ve been exposed to. If it would have been nice before it’s vital now. Is this the same Black Oil that we were introduced to in “Piper Maru” (3×15)? That version was decidedly unwormlike, but more than that, it “possessed” human beings to further it’s own agenda, clearly having sentience. It could also use its radioactive properties as a weapon if need be.

This new (same?) version acts more like a basic organism than something highly evolved. When expelled from one person, it makes no effort to jump to the next and so preserve itself. And it certainly doesn’t possess or manipulate anyone. Instead it puts them in a sort of coma, the purpose of which isn’t ever explained.

And what about the Black Oil’s eventually to be revealed version in Fight the Future? Reconciling that incarnation of it to the story at large is a headache I’ll save for another time.

Needless to say that after numerous rewatches, this two-parter still leaves me a tad confused. Okay, I’m lost. That doesn’t completely interfere with my enjoyment of it, though. After all, Krycek’s back and hanging off of balconies and such. Scully’s at her Sculliest in that Senate hearing. And, most of all, I had sorely missed Well-Manicured Man.

On a less satisfying note, you’ll think I’m naïve, but this watch is the first time I realized that Marita Covarrubias was inserted to add some sex appeal to the show. She doesn’t serve much of a purpose outside of that, which is probably why outside of giving Mulder access to a few bits of information, she hasn’t actually done anything yet and we’re already a third of the way through the season. Funny how the show becomes a sensation and then they feel like they have to add a femme fatale to give it some flavor. Wasn’t Scully doing the job just fine?

Alright, I’m being mean because I’m biased. That strangely affected cadence of hers gets on my nerves. She wouldn’t actually become interesting until Season 5 when they let her hands dirty with conspiracy much. Let’s look forward to it, shall we?

Conclusion:

“They found me in North Dakota” is not a sufficient explanation for how Krycek escaped from that former military silo in which he was so memorably abandoned in “Apocrypha” (3×16). Either a radical militia broke into the silo while on a hunt for supplies and he charmed them with some reasonable explanation for why he was locked in the silo in the first place, or, to hear Terry Mayhew tell it, he escaped and came looking for them. The first scenario seems more likely, but whatever version is closer to the truth at least we can know for sure that Krycek is lying. Why? Because he always lies. Watching him betray Mulder to his torturers in Tunguska is one of his more satisfying double-crosses.

But what is the man really up to? Did Mulder really lead him to Tunguska or the other way around? Who’s he working for now and what’s his agenda?

There should be a lot more to discuss in “Terma” (4×10) when hopefully things will begin to connect. This episode is solid in terms of the experience, but it presents more questions than it answers. That’s partially because it’s the first of a two-part arc, and even more so because it’s a mythology episode.

I’m starting to remember how many threads of the mythology never got woven into the whole

A-

Bepuzzlements:

How did Krycek reach his hand up that high to pull his would-be assassin down over the balcony?

Comments:

Scully’s hair suddenly got shorter. Now she truly has the “Scully cut.”

Krycek is like a brat throwing a tantrum sometimes.

I remember when you could freely enter the gate area of an airport like that.

Best Quotes:

Krycek: They found me in North Dakota. They liberated me on a salvage hunt. Hey, you go underground, you got to learn to live with the rats.
Mulder: I’m sure you had no trouble adapting.

———————-

Krycek: These men, they fear one thing: exposure. You expose him, expose his crimes, you destroy the destroyer’s ability to destroy.
Mulder: The only thing that will destroy this man is the truth.
Krycek: The truth, the truth… There is no truth. These men just make it up as they go along. They’re the engineers of the future. They’re the real revolutionaries.

———————-

Krycek: You can’t leave me out here! I’m going to freeze to death!
Skinner: Just think warm thoughts.

———————-

Mulder: I’m leaving the window rolled down. If I’m not back in a week I’ll call Agent Scully and to come bring you a bowl of water.

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man 4×7 – This isn’t the ending that I wrote.


You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

“No one would kill you, Frohike. You’re just a little puppy dog.”

Oh, if he only knew.

Mssrs. Morgan and Wong are back in a slightly different format this time. Rather than co-writing, Morgan authors the script while Wong sits in the director’s chair. In fact, for his directing debut Wong would go on to win the Emmy for Best Direction. That’s no mean feat.

As they would in all four of their offerings this season, Morgan and Wong try their best to think outside of the frame of a typical X-Files episode, in this case changing up both form and content. Besides giving us an almost Shakespearean play quite clearly delineated into four acts, there’s a fluctuating tone to the tale so that we’re never quite sure from one act to the next whether we’re watching a history or a parody, if this is CSM’s view of himself, Frohike’s view, or the view put forth by the seedy magazine Frohike nabbed the story from.

Even more significantly, this is the first episode where David Duchovny doesn’t make an onscreen appearance. He’s essentially limited to a book-ending set of voiceovers. Gillian Anderson narrowly misses this technicality by appearing in a single scene in flashback. At first watch, I remember missing Mulder and Scully. Over a decade later, I appreciate getting a more in depth look at such a fabulous character.

Certainly CSM deserves it by now.

Part I – An Extraordinary Man

Here’s where everything starts going Forest Gump on us. We always knew CSM was a significant man behind the scenes, but just how significant is he? Well, it turns out that he was the lone gunman that day on Dealey Plaza. Oh, and he didn’t always smoke cigarettes.

Actor Chris Owens makes his X-Files debut here. He would go on to play CSM again in flashback, as well as two other memorable characters, The Great Mutato and Jeffrey Spender. He plays the role with such seriousness that you can believe in this young CSM, that he wasn’t always evil, just pragmatic and ambitious, and that it was a downhill spiral from there.

Part II – A Jack Colquitt Adventure

And now we jump forward in time to CSM the would-be Civil Rights activist, AKA author Raul Bloodworth.

This CSM has successfully and speedily climbed his way up the middle management ladder of the netherworld. Young though he is, he’s powerful enough to chastise J. Edgar Hoover to his face. It seems that the F.B.I. has been under his control since long before Mulder and Scully came into play.

But what’s striking is how typically unfulfilling his day job is. He spends his nights typing pathetic manuscripts living off of beer, cigarettes, and unfulfilled dreams. And while his job description requires that he root out Communism in all its forms, he secretly sympathizes with liberal dreamers, thinking so highly of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that he honors him with a more… personal assassination.

At this point, I’m starting to believe we’re hearing less of Frohike’s news article while more of CSM’s sense of self-importance is creeping in.

Part III – Buffalo Wants it Bad

If we thought CSM was stuck in a crappy boardroom job before, now his position has rusted into the downright mundane. CSM has successfully defeated the Communists. But like every man who reaches the pinnacle of his profession and finds there’s nowhere else to go, he’s left weary and unfulfilled. He goes from killing presidents to rigging football games because, well, what else is there to do? Now it’s hard to see this as anything but a parody.

Getting to see Deep Throat again is a real treat. And their brief, opaque and slightly comical conversation is the highlight of the whole episode. It’s hard to put much stock in their talk, however, as some points don’t agree with the larger mythology arc. But since this is fantasy anyway, you can take and leave what you will.

Part IV – Pack of Morleys

And now, like any great hero, it’s time for CSM to have his heart broken.

I love that they work in that flashback to the “Pilot” (1×79), where CSM was more an enigmatic if ominous presence rather than the Darth Vader that he’s become. This way we can consider who he was and who he’s come to be.

He’s no longer an idealist. He’s not even a realist. He’s just a middle-aged man stuck in a shallow life whose memories of youthful dreams grow duller with every year.

I remember at the age of 14 how my best friend and I found that monologue hilarious. In fact, I had it memorized… and tacked up on my wall. That’s 14 for you. Always drawn to the innocent and uplifting.

Now it’s a bit tedious, and, dare I say it? It tries too hard. It’s amazing how our tastes change.

Conclusion:

Originally, the title was supposed to be “Memoirs of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, reflecting Morgan’s intention that this be a true account of CSM’s past. Chris Carter came in and added both ambiguity in the title and in the narration. Not only can we not be sure of the accuracy of CSM’s memories, we can’t even be sure the plot is being driven by CSM’s mind or by Frohike’s.

The seriousness of the story was supposed to be driven home by the killing of Frohike at the end of the episode, a plot point that 1013 Productions justifiably balked at. While I enjoy that Morgan and Wong weren’t afraid of thwarting the party line, the desire to kill off Frohike represents a serious misjudgment of the tone of the series. Sure, Chris Carter liked to claim that no one’s really safe on The X-Files. But then, he also likes to say that no one ever really dies on The X-Files either. Just like Deep Throat in this episode, ghosts return without warning.

Why? Because Deep Throat’s presence adds value to the series’ development at this point? No. Because the fans love him and nostalgia is a powerful force.

Even aside from emotional reasons, killing Frohike would have ill fit the tone of the episode, which lent itself to something just short of a parody. Taken as a whole, it makes CSM, as Chris Carter so appropriately put it, “sort of a silly person.” I’m not so sure he can be silly and frightening at the same time, despite the fact that Morgan’s goal was to make CSM a real threat again:

“I told Chris, ‘Look, the Cancer Man is becoming a bore. When you get to episode one hundred and he and Mulder have the guns to each other’s heads, I’m not going to worry, because the Cancer Man has never done anything. I’m telling you right now, you’ve got the Cancer Man as a wuss ball. He’s nothing. He’s got to do something dangerous.’”

Maybe they missed that CSM had both men exposed to the Black Oil’s radiation killed and his henchman, Luis Cardinal killed in “Apocrypha” (3×16). Or that he keeps trying with all sincerity to kill Krycek. Or that he just had X killed in “Herrenvolk” (4×1).

The truth is, whatever the pile of murders on his conscience, the audience will never seriously believe that he’ll kill either Mulder or Scully. We’d have no show if he did. It’s enough to show that he’s willing. Suddenly turning things deadly serious by killing Frohike would have lent credence to the whole tale, which would have made some obvious issues of cannon more of an issue.

Besides, Morgan and Wong created the Lone Gunmen. Why so eager to kill one of them off? (As an aside, it’s interesting how in television you can create something only to find that it’s no longer yours. Not only do they characters take off on their own based on an audience’s response and interpretation of them, but production companies and film studios end up having more of a say in their future than you do.)

The best thing about this episode is that it’s clever, in both form and content. Is it great? I can’t quite call it that because I still get bored at moments, but I appreciate what Morgan and Wong were trying to do here. Once again, they’re pushing the boundaries of the show. In that regard, it’s not as successful as “Home” (4×3) but it’s surely not as polarizing as “The Field Where I Died” (4×5)… thank goodness.

At times the story is a little bogged down by the nitty gritty of History. Because of this, it moves slowly. And there’s nothing paranormal to speak of save for a fleeting view of a dying alien. But looking back on the history of the show, it’s nice to have this change of pace, if only to prove that The X-Files could do it.

B+

Comments:

Whatever details Morgan and Wong may have missed, there’s a nice thread of continuity with Deep Throat. He mentions having served in Vietnam and in “Little Green Men” (2×1), Mulder claims to have seen his funeral at Arlington Cemetery. That explains that.

Even the acts are filmed in different colors. Saturated 1960’s hues for the Kennedy assassination, black and white for the second act, reflecting the majority of photos of the Civil Rights era.

Questions:

Who is CSM writing a letter of resignation to? How do you resign from The Syndicate? Do they have a payroll? And why is he purposefully leaving a paper trail??

Best Quotes:

William Mulder: My one year old just said his first word.
Smoking Man: What was the word?
William Mulder: JFK.
Smoking Man: Catch you later, Mulder.

———————–

Smoking Man: What I don’t want to see is the Bills winning the Super Bowl. As long as I’m alive that doesn’t happen.
Third Man In Black: Could be tough, sir. Buffalo wants it bad.

————————

Smoking Man: So did the Soviets in ‘80.
Third Man In Black: What? You saying you rigged the Olympic hockey game?
Smoking Man: What’s the matter? Don’t you believe in miracles?

————————

Deep Throat: I’m the liar, you’re the killer.
Smoking Man: Your lies have killed more men in a day than I have in a lifetime. I’ve never killed anybody.
Deep Throat: Maybe I’m not the liar.

————————

Smoking Man: Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there’s a peanut butter cup or an english toffee but they’re gone too fast and taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits of hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.

————————

Smoking Man: I can kill you whenever I please… but not today.

Quagmire 3×22: Well, Captain, what now?


Romancing the Stone.

This is one of the most oft quoted episodes for understanding Mulder and Scully’s psychology and more importantly, the dysfunctionality of their relationship. The X-File itself isn’t very good, but the episode is quite fun. I wouldn’t quite characterize it as a comedy episode, but it is “light”, possibly due to the influence of Darin Morgan on Kim Newton’s script.

Before watching this again, I was prepared to write a speech about how it’s no coincidence that the two episodes that offer the most insight into Scully’s character this season were written by a woman. After all, Kim Newton is also the writer who brought us “Revelations” (3×11) where Scully’s background of faith is explored. And yet, it turns out that Darin Morgan is an uncredited writer on “Quagmire”. Rumor has it that the famous “conversation on a rock” is entirely his. Not only that, but according to Chris Carter, Morgan also contributed a “tremendous” amount of work, uncredited, for the script for “Revelations” as well. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time mentally dwelling on his episodes lately, but I never really appreciated how truly Darin Morgan-esque this episode is. True, it’s written by Kim Newton and Darin Morgan is only an uncredited contributor, but his stamp is unmistakable.

Is that not Morgan’s voice we’re hearing again after all? The characterization here is in keeping with his previous episodes. Mulder is chasing after the ridiculous and rather than looking like an abnormally clever investigator he’s painted as obstinately, if endearingly foolish. Scully, on the other hand, is chock full of insight. Then there are the recurring characters like the stoners, and even Queequeg, who were introduced in his earlier work. Not to mention the tone of certain characters like the Sheriff, and certain gags like Bertram‘s trashy hat are telltale signs. You can tell Morgan didn’t write the whole thing but it smacks of his scent. The tone actually reminds me of “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) in a lot of ways.

But enough about a question we’ll never know the answer to and back to the episode at hand. This is one of those episodes that everybody enjoys and yet it’s somehow not a fan favorite. I suspect that’s because the X-File itself isn’t very interesting. The charm of this episode is in watching Mulder and Scully interact in a most domesticated fashion. From their first moments on the screen in that funny little car ride, instead of having their typically clinical conversation about a mysterious case, they’re bickering over bringing the dog rather than putting him in a kennel.

It’s hilarious. And it’s a nice change of pace because it’s been a while since we’ve been reminded that Scully actually finds Mulder amusing. This was more their relationship dynamic in Season 1. Season 2 they were almost romantically devoted to each other (we’ll get to that definition in a moment) but Season 3 has been devoted to taking the bloom off the rose; all their faults are out in the open. This episode continues that theme by delving into the psychological complexities of their unusual relationship.

The X-Files itself has always been a romance on several levels. Setting aside for a moment the more obvious definition of romance as an idealized love, friendship or otherwise (which The X-Files also depicts), first it’s a literary romance, and I don’t mean the kind of fiction with Fabio on the cover. The Oxford English Dictionary defines literary “romance” as “a work of fiction depicting a setting and events remote from everyday life.” (And wouldn’t you know it, the theme of the episode, Moby Dick, is a famous romance novel from the 19th century.) Connected to that definition, “romance” is also considered “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.”

Now, store that information away for a moment while we discuss Scully. The question that’s subtly addressed in this episode is why is Scully still here? After all, she clearly doesn’t believe in the work; most of it, like this case, she finds patently ridiculous. True, over the past year she’s become personally involved by a set of tragic circumstances. But the man who killed her sister has been killed and she’s shown some serious reluctance to address or even try to remember the circumstances of her abduction. By the end of the last mythology episode, “Apocrypha” (3×16), she infers that the answers aren’t sufficient because they won’t bring justice. So again I ask, what is she still doing here?

Back when I reviewed the “Pilot” (1×79) I argued that despite her protestations, Scully enjoys the mystery and excitement of the X-Files and of Fox Mulder himself. Mulder gets so much flack sometimes because he’s not a realistic character and he isn’t meant to be, that’s Scully’s job. Mulder is Don Quixote, he’s Hamlet, he’s Captain Ahab. He’s given himself a monumental, otherworldly quest, one that’s dangerous, ridiculous, and incredibly exciting all at the same time. Truth be told, there’s a fantasy element to The X-Files and Scully is the audience’s stand-in; she’s whisked away into events that can’t be possible yet suddenly are.

So how does she feel about that? Well, usually she protests that the whole situation is either too dangerous or too absurd, and yet… Notice that when Mulder brings up similar legends to Big Blue, Scully is already familiar with them! As a kid she read up on them, but then she “grew up and became a scientist.” Again when they’re on the lake in the middle of the night searching for this legendary Big Blue, Scully starts to believe herself as she sees that blip coming toward her on the boat’s monitor. The look on her face isn’t that of a clinically detached scientist.

As I said earlier, Mulder, even in the context of the reality of The X-Files, is a fictional character; he’s the type of person you meet once in a lifetime. And he’s invited Scully to chase the “white whale” of alien life with him. For all her science and practicality, it’s a proposal she can’t resist because at heart, Scully is a little girl who used to read stories about men like Mulder and live vicariously through them. He’s her childhood bedtime story come to life.

Might she not be finding in Mulder a childlike faith that she thought she’d lost? I wonder whether if she had never met Mulder or seen what she’s already seen working on the X-Files if she would have returned to the church the way she did in “Revelations”. Perhaps she would have gone through life distancing herself from what she used to believe as though faith without proof was a game for children and she was a grown up. I think Mulder’s faith inspires her even as she scoffs at what it is he has faith in.

Much is made in later seasons of the idea that Scully sees Mulder as a father figure, a jumping off point from Scully comparing Mulder to Captain Ahab in this episode and from the fact that her nickname for her father was Ahab. However, I think that to take the logical leap that since both men are “Ahab” to her that they both occupy a similar place in her life is faulty. It’s true that both Mulder and Captain Bill Scully are strong and smart, but there isn’t much to compare between them besides that.

Scully sees Mulder as Captain Ahab, a romantic and tragic figure doomed to chase something that he’ll never catch and drive himself to madness in the process. In contrast, Bill Scully’s disapproval when Scully dared do something as “reckless” as join the F.B.I. was enough to cause tension between a once close father and daughter. The man was as straight-laced as it gets. He served his country, he served his family and he came home. Despite his nickname, Bill Scully was no Ahab. Bill Scully is called Ahab but Mulder is Ahab.

Now, Captain Ahab is hardly anyone’s knight in shining armor so let’s be clear, that’s not how she sees Mulder. This whole season has been an eye-opener for Mulder and Scully’s characters in regards to each other. They’re not faultless, two-dimensional characters any longer. There’s been a tangible amount of tension as well. But it seems as though when the varnish wears off they actually love each other more, not less.

Conclusion:

Now that we know more of the history of her character, Scully’s instant like of Mulder in the “Pilot” makes sense. Rather than putting her off with his ridiculous theories the way he does most of the F.B.I. is, he intrigues her. Just because Scully realizes that Mulder is off his rocker doesn’t mean she doesn’t admire his insanity and stubbornness

Despite the danger and loss, and mostly in spite of her own disbelief, Scully sticks around because of the romance of the situation she finds herself in. Sure there are moments where she winds up wet on a rock in the middle of the night, but that’s the price that has to be paid. Her eyes are open to Mulder’s weaknesses and faults. And yet that element of romance, of mystery and excitement is still there… sometimes.

Whether they catch the whale is superfluous. It’s adventure on the high seas regardless. And if some days are more mundane than others, if more often than not she ends up stranded on a rock, at least her life isn’t mundane as long as she sticks with Mulder.

B+

P.S. Another sub-genre of Romance is the chivalric tales of knights errant. I suppose that would make Mulder the rusty armored knight and Big Blue the dragon he failed to kill.

Comments:

Oh, Queequeg, we barely knew ye!

In Moby Dick, the character of Queequeg was a cannibal. Make of that what you will.

Best Quotes:

Queequeg: [Barks]
Scully: Nature’s calling, I think we should pull over.
Mulder: Did you really have to bring that thing?
Scully: You wake me up on a Saturday morning, tell me to be ready in five minutes, my mother is out of town, all of the dog sitters are booked and you know how I feel about kennels. So, unless you want to lose your security deposit on the car, I suggest you pull over.

——————–

Dr. Farraday: See this is what always happens. This is how it starts.
Mulder: What?
Dr. Farraday: The deflection, sleight of hand… See, whenever an issue requires any real thought, any serious mental, effort people turn to UFO’s and sea serpents and Sasquatch. Afternoon talkshows and tabloid TV, they’ve reduced our attention span to the length of a soundbite so that soon our ability to think will be as extinct as the Rana sphenocephala frog.
Mulder: I’ll take that rambling diatribe to mean that you don’t believe in the existence of such a creature.
Dr. Farraday: I’m not even going to grace that statement with a reply.

——————–

Mulder: Hey Scully, do you think you could ever cannibalize someone? I mean if you really had to.
Scully: Well, as much as the very idea is abhorrent to me, I suppose under certain conditions a living entity is practically conditioned to perform whatever extreme measures are necessary to ensure its survival. I suppose I’m no different.
Mulder: You’ve lost some weight recently, haven’t you?
Scully: Yeah. So I have. Thanks for… [Glare]

———————

Scully: I called him Ahab and he called me Starbuck. So I named my dog Queequeg… It’s funny, I just realized something.
Mulder: It’s a bizarre name for a dog, huh?
Scully: No. How much you’re like Ahab. You’re so… consumed by your personal vengeance against life whether it be its inherent cruelties or its mysteries, that everything takes on a warped significance to your megalomaniacal cosmology.
Mulder: Scully, are you coming on to me?

——————–

Scully: Well, you slew the big white whale, Ahab.
Mulder: Yeah, but I still don’t have that pegleg.

Avatar 3×21: I’m not signing those papers.


Little Red Riding Hood.

“Avatar” is one of those few episodes where we open with one of our stars instead of just an X-File itself. A rare honor indeed and here it is bestowed upon Skinner so relatively early in the series. He also bears the dubitable honor of participating in the first real sex scene on The X-Files in said intro. Needless to say, things quickly go awry and he wakes up next to a beautiful blonde who looks like she just crawled out of The Exorcist.

Ah, Skinner. Finally a follow up look at his inner workings heretofore only briefly hinted at in “One Breath” (2×8). Here’s a silent yet sensitive man who is reluctant to give up on his marriage, so instead of signing his divorce papers he goes for a drink… and sleeps with a strange woman… because he’s reluctant to give up on his marriage.

Wait. Skinner’s married?

That’s right. Walter Skinner has been married for 17 years. It looks like the reason he has Scully down as his emergency contact in “Apocrypha” (3×16) is because he and his wife have been separated for some months. Skinner/Scully shippers may suffer vain imaginations at their own peril. From the sound of things the only reason for the separation is the typical “he doesn’t talk to me anymore” issue. The prostitute doesn’t come in until later…

…the prostitute that CSM hired through one of his minions. It’s nice to see that the bad blood between CSM and Skinner is still festering; it adds a sense of continuity to the episode. That and the fact that Skinner further elaborates on the story of his near-death death experience that he first told Mulder about in “One Breath”. It turns out that along with nearly walking into the white light, he had a bit of a visitation. Which leads me to the crux of this little review.

I used to wonder why this episode is called “Avatar” which in Hindu mythology is a human incarnation of a deity when the paranormal star of the episode is a “Succubus.” Thanks to a single sentence of insight in an IMDB review I think I finally figured out the connection.

The old woman that Skinner keeps seeing is not a sexually possessive and dangerous succubus as Mulder initially suggests, she’s his wife, Sharon… who is actually an avatar. She’s his protector. She protected him from death in Vietnam, now she’s protecting him from the machinations of CSM. It’s the same creature, but for years she either was or took the form of his wife. Once his wife was separated from him, she came to him in dreams. It isn’t until they separate that she begins coming to him in dreams again. When he sees the old woman at the police station, it’s because Sharon has shown up. When he wakes up on the couch to see the old woman screaming, the police come to the door to tell him that Sharon’s been in an accident. This is why Sharon somehow knows what CSM has been up to and what Skinner needs to do to stop the man who framed him.

See how simple that sounds when it’s all laid out? Yeah, it’s too bad the episode doesn’t do that.

Now, we all know that The X-Files likes to err on the side of vagueness and that’s what we love about it. But take it from “Gender Bender” (1×13), leaving the audience completely nonplussed is never the way to go. The plot goes well right up through where Mulder’s succubus theory enters the picture, but there’s no follow-through after that. Which is why most are generally left with the incorrect impression that Mulder was right in his assumption even though he briefly mentions in passing that he must have guessed wrong.

And finally…

The lingering question is what happened to Sharon Skinner? I would say that she died. Whether or not they intended to imply that at the time, I don’t know. But nothing else could explain why she never shows up again even though Skinner puts his ring back on at the end of the episode. Besides, would you divorce your guardian angel? Not only that, but even within the context of the episode her sudden, miraculous awakening goes unnoticed by the hospital staff who would have been monitoring her from the nursing station. More than likely this is a moment only visible to Skinner because she’s his personal avatar. There’s a deleted scene that takes place just before Skinner spills his guts to an unconscious Sharon that would lend credence to the theory that she was all set to recover. But if so, where did she go? Her disappearance equals a de facto death regardless.

Overall, this episode is much, much better than I remembered. However, it’s still too convoluted to be called “great” and there isn’t much by way of scares or revelations. Also, as we’ve already gone over, little to nothing of the plot is clear by the end.

Mitch Pileggi does an admirable job here, though, and he deserved a Skinner-centered episode. Apparently, this was David Duchovny’s idea as a way of giving himself a break for a week, though it turns out his character is still in almost every scene. He and Howard Gordon teamed up for the story and while I don’t hate the finished product, I do wish that Skinner felt like more of a headliner and less of a bystander in his own story. Most of the episode is spent watching Mulder and Scully solve the case while he sits idly by and watches his world unravel. But hey, at least he’s the hero in the end.

B-

Comments:

This is yet another episode where Mulder’s theory is completely off. She’s not a succubus, she’s an avatar. So there. There are so few of these moments that I have to keep track.

Once again, despite all evidence to the contrary, once Mulder has faith in someone he refuses to let go. The man is inherently trusting. I’m telling you.

Like “Oubliette” (3×8), this is another episode where the supernatural element isn’t evil. In fact, this time it’s a force for good, albeit a slightly frightening one.

Best Quotes:

Lorraine Kelleher: I don’t know what to say.
Scully: Well you can start by telling us if she was working last night and if she was, who paid for her company.
Lorraine Kelleher: I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Mulder: I guess that would hurt future book sales, huh?
Lorraine Kelleher: You’d be surprised who some of my clients are.
Mulder: No, I don’t think I would be.
Scully: I also doubt that they’d want to get entangled in a homicide investigation
Mulder: Look, we just need one name from you. Who hired Carina Sayles?
Lorraine Kelleher: Let’s just say you both work for the government… and so do I.

———————

Skinner: I got through that experience like most eighteen-year-olds. By numbing myself with whatever was around. I was no choir boy. I inhaled.

———————

Mulder: They used us to do it, didn’t they? They used the X-Files.
Scully: How’s you know?
Mulder: Cause I think Skinner’s been outmaneuvered, Scully. They found a weakness and they’re exploiting it.
Scully: But why?
Mulder: To keep us it check. You remove Skinner and you weaken us.

———————-

Skinner: I had to tell you, Sharon, before anything else happens. I’m not signing those papers. For a lot of reasons. Most of them I’m just realizing myself for the first time. Some of the things I’ve seen, the violence and the lies that I’ve witnessed men inflict on one another… I could never tell you that. Not that I ever stopped believing in the work, but there were contradictions that I, that I couldn’t reconcile, which meant shutting down part of myself just to do my job. I never told you what I should have told you… that what really got me through each day was knowing that I’d be sleeping next to you that night. Knowing that I had a reason to wake up in the morning. I’m not sure if you can even hear me now or if it even makes a difference to you anymore, but I at least wanted you to know that.