Tag Archives: Avatar

The Unnatural 6×20: Trust the tale… not the teller.


You rebel.

I really didn’t know if I wanted to watch an X-File written and directed by David Duchovny. It’s not personal. It’s impersonal. In order to preserve the integrity of the fantasy that is the character I love, I’m one of those viewers who religiously avoids certain actors in any outside roles… including the ones they play in the movie called Real Life. That’s right, I’m a David Duchovny ascetic. I can probably count on one hand the number of interviews with him I’ve actually watched or read in the whole 14 years I’ve been obsessing over this show – clichéd but true. I was even reluctant to go hunting down background information on “The Unnatural” for this review, lest mine eyes alight on anything that might tarnish their purity.

Now, I know he’s gotten story credit before on various mythology episodes like “Colony” (2×16) and even on the Skinner-centric “Avatar” (3×21), but contributing ideas and even lines is mighty different from helming an entire episode, one that would be his vision from start to finish. I don’t know if I want to know how David Duchovny sees Mulder… or The X-Files for that matter. And I can’t say that “The Unnatural” reveals nothing about his mindset, but fortunately for me (and fortunately for David Duchovny?), what it does reveal I’m OK with. Actually, I’m more than OK with. And the way I realized that went something like this…

[Sitting bracingly on the edge of the bed] Well, here we go. Just try to ignore what it says on the credits. There are no credits. There is no spoon. This is just another X-File. If you don’t like it, you can always pretend it never happened. David Duchovny? What David Duchovny? I see what you did there with that “Is it a UFO?” shot. OK, that was cute. Not that anyone in his or her right mind is going to take on a shotgun with a baseball. Still it’s cute. Stories about race tend to bore this black girl, but whatever. I’m going to keep an open mind. I am. I am. I AM. And theeeere’s the alien. A comedy episode, I see. [Sigh] Well, we’ve made it through the teaser just fine. Look alive, we’re back at the F.B.I. Oh, casual Friday at the office? Oh, casual Saturday at the office. Wait. Did she just… huh? Is that… huh? Am I watching flirty repartee? I mean, openly flirty repartee?? Did Scully just smile? Did Scully just laugh? Wait. What’s happening here? Hold on. Wait. What??? [Massive intake of breath] David Duchovny is a Shipper!

Holy Queen of the Reticulans. Congratulations. You now have my full attention.

And at that point, whatever else happened, I was already appeased. So, Mulder and Scully jones satisfied, I sat back to watch the rest of the action almost indifferent as to whether it was good or not. But lo and behold, the meat of this episode, yes, even without our two leads, is a joy all on its own.

An X-File with a comedic bent is nothing new, but we’ve never had an episode that turned the deadly serious backbone of the series, the mythology itself into a kind of playful romp. The Alien Bounty Hunter affecting a Southern drawl and being knocked out by a baseball? Who could have predicted this would work?

By some extra-terrestrial miracle, it does. Helped along by a lovely, memorable soundtrack and some joyful performances. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but I get the distinct impression that all the actors involved were having a good time. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing routine about this episode – they probably relished the chance to jump out of the box.

But, ironically, the character that this episode is mostly about is only in maybe a third of it. That’s right, cleverly disguised in an ode to baseball is a loving jab to Fox Mulder’s ribs.

Mulder: Let me tell you something; I have been ripe for years. I am way past ripe. I’m so ripe I’m rotten.

Mulder: Whatever. I don’t really care about the baseball, so much, sir. What I care about is this man in the picture with you, I believe to be an alien bounty hunter.
Arthur Dales: Of course you don’t care about the baseball, Mr. Mulder. You only bothered my brother about the important things like government conspiracies and alien bounty hunters and the truth with a capital ‘T’.

Mulder: It’s official. I am a horse’s ass.

Similarly to writer Darin Morgan, though I think with a little more actual love for the character, Duchovny seems to have a healthy disdain for Mulder’s self-righteousness. This episode is a life lesson astutely aimed in Mulder’s direction – Get out of the basement, dude.

More than Mulder, though, “The Unnatural” is clearly about the game. The game I’ve only ever been to one time… and it was for a Shakespeare class… which may say deeper things about my life than I should probably be sharing, but anyway… I have to admit that even my grossly uncoordinated self wants to go out and play a pick-up game of baseball after watching this. I love the retro clothing, the old-fashioned stadium, the sun shining on the grass, the hick accents, all of it.

And casting Jesse L. Martin, then of Ally McBeal and now of Law & Order fame, was brilliant. His good-natured performance sets the tone for all the flashback scenes, which means he sets the tone for pretty much the entire episode. It doesn’t hurt that he’s nice to look at, either. And I don’t mean that in a skeevy, lustful sort of way. I mean that he has a pleasant, all-American sort of face. It’s a face you can trust, which makes it easy to believe in him as the darling of his community.

And while I’m gushing, I make no secret of the fact that I love the character of Arthur Dales. Alas, after filming two days worth of his scenes, actor Darren McGavin suffered a stroke and was unable to return, which meant his scenes had to be scrapped. M. Emmet Walsh was able to fill in at the last minute as Arthur Dales, brother of… Arthur Dales. It’s a sad loss, but if you have the DVDs you can check out the deleted scenes with Darren McGavin for yourself and confirm that they would have been just as charming. And I say it’s a loss only because I’m already attached to Darren McGavin and his character, but M. Emmet Walsh stole the show. If only both men had been able to come back and guest star. Ah, my list of X-Files shoulda-woulda-couldas grows longer.

“Darling” is the word that comes to mind when I think of this episode. From beginning to end, it’s cute without being queasy. Between the MSR and the nostalgia and the not-so-latent messages about cross-racial understanding it could have easily turned to schmaltz, but it stays just this side of it. It’s a meaningful love letter written with cheeky irreverence.

Verdict:

Here’s the thing about my David Duchovny boycott. It’s not just David Duchovny, it’s also Gillian Anderson. And here’s the thing about my David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson boycott, it’s to protect my own Fangirl health. Imagine if I watched Gillian in something I’m itching to see like Moby Dick, and there I observed a tick, a look, a tone of voice that in my head is Scully’s exclusively. If the thought, “That’s not Scully’s thing, that’s Gillian Anderson’s thing” were to intrude on my X-Files viewing I’d be horrified, let alone if her love life, political opinions, or anything other frustrating non-essential bit of gossip were to trouble me while I was trying to watch.

I’ll not have it. I can’t have it. And so I abstain.

It’s not that I know nothing or hear nothing about them. I just don’t seek information out and try to avoid it when I can. Being able to watch The X-Files in peace is all I care about. And episodes like “The Unnatural” remind me why I want to work so hard to protect that peace.

Nothing is allowed to interfere with this little corner of my joy.

Mulder: You’ve never hit a baseball, have you, Scully?
Scully: No, I guess I have, uh… found more necessary things to do with my time than… slap a piece of horsehide with a stick.

Josh Exley: It was like music to me… First unnecessary thing I ever done in my life and I fell in love. I didn’t know the unnecessary could feel so good.

It’s quite lovely. An homage not only to baseball, but to all the unnecessary things in life that give us joy. The unnecessary that gives us the joy and the strength to go about our necessary business.

Hint. Hint.

A+

Bottom of the 9th:

Yes, that’s Vin Scully, our Scully’s namesake, announcing the game.

One of the more wonderful little moments in this episode: The music seamlessly changes from “I got a brother in that land” to “I got a sister in that land” when we open on Mulder and Scully’s famous nighttime baseball lesson.

I’ve never hit a baseball either. But no strapping, if oddly named, Fox Mulder has offered to put his arms around me and show me how it’s done. Imbalance in the Force?

Oh, and by the way, that midnight baseball epilogue is more full of sexual suggestiveness than I ever fully appreciated. I mean, I always knew it was there, but dang. o_O

We already established back in “Agua Mala” (6×14) that Arthur Dales was down in Florida. I guess we’re to assume he was merely a Snowbird who divided his time between there and the D.C. area and now he’s officially moved?

Best Quotes:

Arthur Dales: What you fail to understand in your joyless myopia, is that baseball is the key to life — the Rosetta Stone, if you will. If you just understood baseball better all your other questions your, your… the, uh… the aliens, the conspiracies they would all, in their way, be answered by the baseball gods.

——————-

Arthur Dales #2: You say “shape-shifting.” Agent Mulder, do you believe that love can make a man shape-shift?
Mulder: I guess… women change men all the time.
Arthur Dales: I’m not talking about women. I’m talking about love. Passion. Like the passion you have for proving extra-terrestrial life. Do you believe that that passion can change your very nature? Can make you shape-shift from a man into something other than a man?
Mulder: …What exactly has your brother told you about me?

——————–

Mulder: You’re making me feel like a child.
Arthur Dales: Perfect. That’s exactly the right place to start from, then, isn’t it?

——————–

Scully: Mulder, this is a needle in a haystack. These poor souls have been dead for 50 years. Let them rest in peace. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Mulder: No, I won’t sit idly by as you hurl clichés at me. Preparation is the father of inspiration.
Scully: Necessity is the mother of invention.
Mulder: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Scully: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.
Mulder: I scream, you scream, we all scream for non-fat tofutti rice dreamcicles. [Much giggling ensues]

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S.R. 819 6×10: At least you didn’t get your ear bit off.


Call Dr. Scully.

I’m in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

And I know I’m not the only one. For all those who have gone into withdrawal after the admittedly extended period of light-hearted antics that make up the first third of Season 6, we’re about to have four heavy-duty episodes in a row. Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more.

Krycek was a deceiver ever. And the official battle between him and Skinner has begun, though it’s been brewing since “The Blessing Way” (3×1) when Krycek and Luis Cardinal put a hurtin’ on Skinner in the stairwell of a hospital. It escalated after Skinner handcuffed Krycek to his balcony in “Tunguska” (4×9) and left him to suffer from exposure. See why revenge is never the answer?

Not that the stoically upright Skinner is a vengeful kinda guy, though it’s clear from his introspective soliloquies in this episode that he doesn’t consider himself any sort of hero.

Well, I do. And Scully’s right, Skinner judges himself too harshly.

Yes, he had to compromise himself early on in his relationship with Mulder and Scully, but it’s obvious Cigarette-Smoking Man had an unpleasant hold on his career, perhaps even wielding blackmail as a weapon. But no sooner does he get the chance than Skinner bucks CSM’s authority and aids Mulder in his quest as early as “Ascension” (2×6). Even before that he showed signs of sympathy. Remember his, “This should have been an X-File” comment in “The Host” (2×2)?

He proved to be Mulder and Scully’s protector in episodes like “End Game” (2×17) where he pummels Mulder’s location out of Mr. X in an effort to save his life and in “Paper Clip” (3×2) when he extorts the safe return of Mulder and Scully out of CSM by threatening to release classified information on the conspiracy. In fact, it’s that episode where Skinner officially crawls out from under CSM’s nefarious shadow. Too bad his hard-won independence doesn’t last long. By the time we reach “Avatar” (3×21), CSM has cooked up a cold dish of revenge framing Skinner for murder. And while Mulder and Scully… and his soon to be ex-wife… deliver Skinner out of that trap, he willingly walks back into CSM’s clutches in “Memento Mori” (4×15) in order to, what else? Save Scully. By “Zero Sum” (4×21) he’s a patsy again, but though his position may be compromised his loyalty never is.

Despite not being much older than they are, Skinner plays the harsh but protective father to Mulder and Scully. He’s willing to get his hands dirty so that they don’t have to, not because his conscience is seared but because the soldier in him is willing to sacrifice to win the war. If Skinner were to die now he would not die in vain. Mulder and Scully would have been dead long ago if not for him.

But not once did it occur to me that Skinner might actually die, no more than I though Mulder might really be dead at the end of “Gethsemene” (4×24), which is the best evidence I can give of Skinner’s unofficial status as the third lead on The X-Files; so indispensable has this character become, this character that was never intended by Chris Carter to be a major role, that it’s hard to take the threat of his death seriously.

I never believed they’d do it, but Chris Carter & Co. did consider it. Mulder and Scully no longer worked under Skinner so he was no longer absolutely vital to the plot and because he had changed over the years from a mysterious and potentially dangerous figure to a stalwart ally, he had become too predictable, too reliable. Fortunately for Skinner lovers, the plot potential in this new hold Krycek gains over Skinner convinced The Powers That Be that interesting things could still be done with the character. Thank heavens because can you imagine Season 8 with no Skinner? ::shudders::

The question is, how does a man as self-sufficient as Skinner, who has already escaped the clutches of CSM himself, wind up with his life in the hands of Ratboy? I confess, I never really understood the plot till now so for those fans as slow on the uptake as I am, here’s a rundown:

It all starts with Tunisia. And if that sets off bells of recognition in your head, it should. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there were some oblique implications here that Syndicate leader Strughold who, as we see in Fight the Future, has his base of operations is in Tunisia, is behind the S.R. 819 conspiracy. That would also explain how Krycek originally got involved since last we saw him in “The End” (5×20) he was working for the Syndicate under the authority of Well-Manicured Man. Since Well-Manicured Man is now deceased (sniffle), it’s safe to say Krycek’s loyalties within the organization have moved on. Or safer to say that his only real loyalty is to himself.

Krycek is working on his own in keeping Skinner alive. We can assume he wants him alive and at his mercy so that he can use him for his own agenda later. The Syndicate has a man at the F.B.I. in Jeffrey Spender, now Krycek has his own man on the inside, reluctant though he may be.

The original plan was to export this potentially dangerous nanotechnology to Tunisia, and possibly into the hands of Strughold and the Syndicate, under the guise of the World Health Organization. Before that happened, S.R. 819 had to pass inspection by scientist Kenneth Orgel and the F.B.I.’s own Skinner, a safeguard that was usually a mere formality. However, Orgel understands the potential consequences of the nanotechnology falling into the wrong hands and goes to warn Skinner, but is infected to keep him from talking. Skinner too is infected and is supposed to be killed but Krycek intervenes.

From what Mulder says to Skinner at the end of the episode and the surprised look on Scully’s face when Skinner claims not to be able to recognize the bearded man who tried to kill him, it looks like Mulder and Scully are aware that Krycek is behind all this. But they still don’t know what he’s up to and they certainly don’t know why Skinner refuses to give him up. As in the first Skinner-centric episode, “Avatar”, Mulder and Scully’s concern for their former boss is touching. As before, they drive the investigation to save Skinner only this time to better effect because Skinner doesn’t sit passively, fatalistically by while they work. The determination he starts this episode with must make it especially grating on him to have to slip right back into his old compromising ways.

Verdict:

I can’t say I love “S.R. 819” the way I love Skinner himself because though there’s a tangible sense of urgency, the plot is a little obscure and aside from Skinner’s pulsing veins, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But I do appreciate the potential mythology implications and I welcome the return of Krycek with open arms. I was one of those taken by surprise when he reappeared. Maybe even “Stevie Wonder would see that one comin’”, but I didn’t.

If my memory serves me correctly, and that’s by no means a guarantee, this was the series’ final Skinner-centric episode. That’s rather surprising considering there are three more seasons to go but it makes it all the more irritating that there’s no resolution to what happened to Skinner’s wife Karen, a character both introduced and discarded back in “Avatar”.

I wasn’t looking for anything detailed. A brief mention from a hospital orderly would have sufficed. “The patient is Walter Skinner. Widowed. Works for the F.B.I.” or “Walter Skinner – Divorced. No known relatives. In case of emergency contact Special Agent Dana Scully.” See how easy that would have been?

My only consolation is that I think there could be a cleverly veiled reference to “Avatar” here:

Mulder: This morning, you woke up…
Skinner: I woke up.
Mulder: Alone?
Skinner: Yes. Alone.

Then again, that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

B+

The Peanut Gallery:

While I don’t think anyone fell for it, those opening moments of the episode where they would have us believe that Mulder is the F.B.I. agent about to die are well done. I quite like the idea of scaring the audience. If only that silly episode preview hadn’t ruined the surprise…

We haven’t seen Senator Matheson since “Nisei” (3×9) and the truth is, I don’t even remember him in it. The connections in congress Mulder so famously depends upon in the “Pilot” (1×79) have all but become obsolete in the current stage of the mythology. However, I’m glad they brought Matheson back one last time, if only to drive home the point that Mulder has fewer people he can trust than even he once believed. That makes the fact that one of his allies is now seriously compromised… and that he doesn’t know it… even more poignant.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if Senator Matheson were secretly a member of the Syndicate?

It makes me a little sad to think the ear-biting references might be lost on this new generation.

Mulder and Scully are forbidden any contact with Skinner. Don’t they know there are cameras at the F.B.I.?

Parts of the movie score are recycled several times in this episode. And there’s an overhead shot of the highway that looks recycled as well – there’s no way that shot was in a television budget.

I’ve never read the fanfic, but I’m sure the Skinner/Scully Shippers had a field day with this episode.

That abandoned warehouse set is striking. I especially enjoy the lighting when Mulder walks in on the Senator.

I recently found out that Nicholas Lea (Krycek) is about to guest star on Supernatural. That’s an interesting coincidence since both Steven Williams (Mr. X) and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) have guest starred on that show for a series of episodes. Ah, when fate binds souls together…

This reminds me of the good old days when Scully often stared in wonder and computer screens looking at scientific data that shouldn’t exist.

I dig the “Chinga” (5×10) reference, John Shiban. I dig it.

Best Quotes:

Skinner: I was boxing. I must’ve gotten tagged.
Nurse: Yes, you did. At least you didn’t get your ear bit off. That’s something, right?

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, the good news is… your dilation’s back to normal. Plus you still have both your ears.
Skinner: I heard that one.

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, you’re lucky. He’s on a government HMO – no one’s even bothered to handle the samples yet.

Zero Sum 4×21: You’ll find it’s not that easy to walk away.


Smoking Kills.

Remember the “Killer Bee” scares of the 1990s? Remember the news reports of swarms migrating through the Southwestern United States? Remember My Girl?

Bees are freaky, but The X-Files already knew that since we were first introduced to the guest stars of this episode back in the Season 4 opener “Herrenvolk” (4×1). “Zero Sum” gives them top billing this time around, however. It must be due to the rise of the union.

I’m still not sure I understand how Smallpox plays into all this, even though this aspect of the mythology storyline was introduced way back in “Paper Clip” (3×2). I now count myself thoroughly confused.

Based on what we learned in Season 3, the project, as managed by the Syndicate and a handful of unsavory Axis power scientists, uses Smallpox vaccination records to track human subjects for their alien-human hybridization experiments. This is confirmed and further explained at the start of Season 4 in “Herrenvolk” when we learn that this genetic tagging was made possible through the SEP, the Smallpox Eradication Program, and that Drones, those created by the project as something more than human but less than a hybrid, are being used to catalog and track these tags from strategic positions within the Federal government.

Check.

But why bees? And why reintroduce Smallpox into the world?

As to the bees, I think we’ve covered that. Bees are freaky and that’s enough. Using, oh, say, Chicken Pox vaccinations to conduct illegal tests on unsuspecting citizens would be duly horrifying, but not in a peak-through-your-fingers in delightful agony sort of way.

Still, why Smallpox and why now? I can only guess, and this really is a guess, that the Syndicate, having only truly come into contact with the Black Oil for the first time in Season 3, is now aware that the Black Oil will be the method of infection, the virus, the tool for turning human beings into a slave race of the Alien Colonists. Since their job is to facilitate colonization (meanwhile subverting the whole process behind alien backs), they’re trying to figure out the most efficient method for spreading the virus. The time has not yet come for colonization, the aliens I guess are taking their sweet time, so the Syndicate is giving this whole mass infection thing a dry run of sorts using an alternate virus: Smallpox.

You would think that creatures who can stop time and transcend space (see “Max”) would be fully capable of infecting a planet of backward humans without assistance, but I gather they’d prefer the process not to be messy and so have employed the Syndicate who, despite their best efforts, always seem to draw attention to themselves.

I still believe there must be a better, more efficient, less dramatic way of infecting people. But then, would there be any point in watching? No. And besides, I really enjoy this craziness.

Conclusion:

This is one of those (thankfully) rare episodes where Scully doesn’t appear and even Mulder’s role is greatly reduced. But if they have to step back, I’m glad Skinner could come forward. This is a much, much more satisfying outing for his character than “Avatar” (3×21), an episode that will probably be skipped on my next rewatch now that I’ve done my duty and reviewed it. Not that it was horrible, mind you, just dull. “Zero Sum”, despite its less personal subject matter, actually does Skinner more of a service by developing his character through his own actions rather than a quick, perfunctory speech toward the end of the episode. (Mulder and Scully did most of the legwork in “Avatar” rather than Skinner). This time, we get to learn more about who Skinner is through how he interacts with CSM and Mulder, and how thoroughly he can sanitize a crime scene. Skinner certainly isn’t one, like Mulder, to spend a lot of time analyzing the whys and wherefores of his predicament. He has a duty, he does it. If he makes a mistake, there are no excuses.

We finally see the effect of the deal with the Devil Skinner made with CSM back in “Memento Mori” (4×15); he essentially sold his soul for the cure to Scully’s cancer so that Mulder wouldn’t have to. I know why Skinner did it, but what’s in it for CSM? I suspect it’s just an exercise in power. Remember, Skinner used to be under his thumb before he rebelled and broke ties completely with that famous kiss off in “Paper Clip”. I don’t think CSM appreciated that much. Certainly, he could have used a minion that was far more experienced at covering up a crime than employing Skinner to do his dirty work. But this is something that he can hold over Skinner’s head, blackmail, to keep him in line. No more back talk from the Assistant Director.

Watching these two spar back in forth is part of the fun of this episode, which outside of the excitement the bees bring, doesn’t actually add much of anything to the mythology even though it focuses on it. In this respect, it reminds me of both “Memento Mori” and the soon to come “Demons” (4×23). In the same vein, the ending really resolves nothing, although it does ad a pleasurable twist to the proceedings. And at the very least, Mulder has even more confirmation that he can trust Skinner, a trust that will be crucial come the opening episodes of Season 5.

Believe it or not, not that one would have any reason not to, this was the first episode of The X-Files that I actually watched on Fox during it’s usual timeslot. At this point, FX was still airing Season 2 reruns and the show was on its very long summer hiatus between Seasons 4 and 5. I didn’t even know who Skinner was at that point. Still enjoyed it though.

B+

Bepuzzlements:

Is Marita really working for CSM? Her predecessor, Mr. X, ostensibly was as well. But clearly he was actually working against his boss from the inside. It remains to be seen where Marita Covarrubias’ loyalties actually lie.

Unnecessary Additives:

I really enjoy this teaser. The bathroom scene is a little reminiscent of “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) without the comical edge. And watching Skinner stroll suspiciously out of Mulder’s office in the dark, the light falling revealingly on Mulder’s nameplate, is the perfect ending.

That playground scene is a winner.

Best Quotes:

Marita Covarrubias: I’ll tell him what you want me to tell him.
CSM: Tell him what he wants to hear.

————————

CSM: Agent Scully stands to live a long and healthy life. I would hope the same for you, Mr. Skinner.

————————-

First Elder: Details are everything. Much more important than your vague assurances.
CSM: Well, you’ll have to trust my assurance that any other breaches have been handled.
First Elder: Handled by whom?
CSM: I’ve a man in place. A man with no other choice but to succeed.
First Elder: And what assurance can you give us that he can be trusted?
Second Elder: We can’t risk even the slightest exposure.
CSM: He has nothing to expose… except his own duplicity.

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.

Piper Maru 3×15: High Noon in Hong Kong.


I've got a little something in my eye.

The legendary Black Oil makes its first appearance on The X-Files. Huzzah!

Now, I’m as excited as the next Phile about the introduction of new levels to the overall mythology mystery. But I’m beginning to notice a trend where the writers are giving us new information every mythology episode without necessarily providing new answers. We learned about the UFO at the bottom of the ocean in “Nisei” (3×9) and we found out about the disk in “Anasazi” (2×25), but we still haven’t found out what’s on the disk besides the location of the UFO let alone the significance of the downed UFO itself. Instead, Carter and Spotnitz bring in the Black Oil which is more than sufficient to distract us from the fact that we still know nothing. This isn’t a complaint because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. But I’m starting to understand why cracks in the mythology’s wall expanded in later seasons. Some holes have to be plugged before you can drill new ones.

Apparently the writers are planning to introduce a new foreign power in every mythology episode, just so we’re constantly reminded that this is a global conspiracy. “Paper Clip” (3×2) belonged to the Germans, “Nisei” to the Japanese and now the French make an appearance, the first non-WWII Axis power to do so. What exactly do the French want with the UFO anyway? More than likely, they just want to become “a player”, as CSM would say. Other than that, they don’t seem to have any kind of historical stake in the conspiracy. I suppose that’s why they don’t last long since I don’t believe we ever hear from the French again. We move onto the Russians in Season 4. I’m still wondering why we never hear from the Italians. Too romantic?

But enough rambling. Krycek is back and we have to enjoy him and his sliminess because after this arc we won’t see him again for almost a full season. It looks as though he’s managed to crack the security protocols on that Defense Department disk he ran off with in “Paper Clip”. This means he’s one of the few people in the world who know the scope and scale of the conspiracy outside of the Syndicate. He’s capitalizing on that, literally, by selling the Syndicate’s secrets to the highest bidding government. Meanwhile, no one in the Syndicate outside of CSM knows that Krycek is even alive and that the disk hasn’t been destroyed. Surprise!

On the emotional end of things, Scully finally gets to grieve for her sister Melissa. When Skinner mentions that it’s only been 5 months since her death (another case of 1013 Production’s date smudging) there’s a sense of incredulity I feel every time I hear that. Scully lost her sister but essentially went through the last 12 episodes without showing any signs of loss, sadness or melancholy. Odd, yes But I don’t believe it’s an oversight. Season 3 is the season where not only does the mythology take on a recognizable form and continuing narrative, it becomes distinct, even completely separate from the stand-alone episodes. Except for a passing comment in “D.P.O.” (3×3) where Scully references “all we’ve been through”, Mulder and Scully act as though most major mythology events never happened… until they reach the next mythology episode and things pick up where they left off. It’s not a bad thing, really. It allows the viewer to breathe for stretches of time and just enjoy the more genre specific episodes without worrying about keeping up with overall storyline.

There isn’t much to discuss as far as character development because the mythology is quickly becoming a mini action adventure series within a series where Mulder and Scully, for the most part, are just stand-ins for the audience. They’re there to solve the mystery and don’t have much time to explore their own inner workings, though that starts to change again in Season 4. But I have to give one last note on my man Skinner. We’ve already seen Skinner battle Mr. X on Mulder’s behalf in “End Game” (2×17), now it’s Scully’s turn to earn Skinner a beating. Skinner’s attitude with CSM’s goons is so awesome, but he’s turned into such a noble hero that it’s not surprising when later on the writers decide to put some cracks in his armor with “Avatar” (3×21). Maybe he’s gotten a little too cool for school. I don’t know, but I enjoy it so I don’t care. Skinner’s a bear and Mulder and Scully are his cubs. Play at your own risk.

Final Verdict:

These Season 3 mythology episodes are some of Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter’s best work on the show. They were able to strike the right balance of emotional and thrilling moments. Since this rewatch I’ve made it my mission to understand the ins and outs of the mythology plotline I’m enjoying it even more. But even back when I understood nothing I loved the Black Oil. Who wouldn’t? Throw in a cowardly Krycek and noble Skinner into the mix and I’m sold.

Oh, and that vision of a pilot kept alive by an alien entity banging on his plane window at the bottom of the ocean? Awesome.

A

Lingering Doubts:

That a man Scully new briefly in her past, that she wasn’t even close to, would hold key, first-hand information about the Black Oil situation is a real stretch to me. Carter and Spotnitz really make it work, though, and that flashback scene is effective.

It’s kind of a copout that Krycek was magically able to get the disk translated and copied when it was supposedly impregnable. But, then again, that was only a plot device in “Paper Clip”. In “Anasazi” Scully was able to print out the information to have it translated.

In the “Nisei”/”731” arc it’s hinted that the ship Talapus was on a mission to salvage a UFO and now that’s been confirmed. They salvaged it and CSM had it moved knowing that the disk with the secret of the UFO’s location was on the loose. But if Talapus had already made it to where the Black Oil crash landed with the UFO, why didn’t the Black Oil come up to the surface with one of the men of Talapus instead of staying with the P-51 Bomber? I can only assume that Talapus never sent a man down there but somehow brought it up by purely mechanical means, but that seems a stretch.

Random Tidbits:

A very young Michael Bublé is recognizable as one of the men aboard the submarine Zeus Faber.

I like that the teaser doesn’t necessarily read as a mythology episode. We have no way of knowing if this strange black entity is alien or if it’s just a new, freaky phenomenon that Mulder and Scully will have to investigate.

Best Quotes:

Scully: I’m just constantly amazed by you. I mean, you’re working down here in the basement, sifting through… files and transmissions that any other agent would just throw away in the garbage.
Mulder: Well, that why I’m in the basement, Scully.
Scully: You’re in the basement because they’re afraid of you, of your relentlessness. And because they know that they could drop you in the middle of the desert and tell you “The Truth is Out There” and you’d ask them for a shovel.
Mulder: That’s what you think of me?
Scully: Well, maybe not a shovel. Maybe a backhoe.

————————

Wayne Morgan: What the hell is that?
Mulder: Looks like the fuselage of a plane.
Scully: It’s a North American P-51 Mustang.
Wayne Morgan: Yeah, sure is.
Mulder: I just got very turned on.

————————

Skinner: Who are you guys?
Grey-Haired Man: We work for the intelligence community.
Skinner: Remind me not to move there.

————————

Krycek: I didn’t kill your father.
Mulder: Now you tell me.
Krycek: It wasn’t me.
Mulder: Oh yeah. Then who was it?
Krycek: I don’t know.
Mulder: Either way, Krycek, you’re a liar.