Tag Archives: Darin Morgan

Unruhe 4×2: Ich habe keine Unruhe.


Scully and the Beanstalk.

The main thing that occurred to me as I sat down to watch this one is that I’m unlikely to watch anything like it again. “Unruhe”, “Tithonus” (6×9), heck, One Hour Photo… Short of finding a period piece, with the advent of digital cameras, the underlying creepiness of photography may be gone for good. Point and click cameras don’t give you that same eerie sound as they capture an image (or is it someone’s soul?). Gone is the sinister subtext of the dark room, where creepy men leer creepily at ghost like images forming on slick pieces of paper. And the Ye Olde One Hour Photo Shoppe has all but gone extinct. Instead of delivering your most personal memories to be ogled by a 40 year old man who still lives with his mother, you can print them out in the privacy of your home, should you decide to print them out at all.

Progress though this may be, it terms of entertainment, it’s a sad loss. This episode is part of the last dying gasp of film.

Fortunately for us, Vince Gilligan wrote this episode before the Revolution was complete. If Darin Morgan owned Season 3, Vince Gilligan is the stand out star of Season 4. His humor isn’t as poignant, but it’s memorable. And more than that, he could give us a classic thriller just as easily as a psychological study or a fantasy romp. He was always, always cinematic. And with “Unruhe”, true to his form, while the characters are exceptionally well written, you could squint your eyes and almost pretend you’re at you’re local theater. This story was built for Mulder and Scully and it serves them well, but you can see how they could be replaced and the story expanded to serve other needs. It’s barely contained at a 43 minute running time.

What they do manage to squeeze in is memorable and engaging. It’s amazing how an X-File really doesn’t need much fuss to be successful; A creepy idea, a villain with three names, a few memorable images, Mulder posing something ridiculous and Scully countering. It’s magic in a can. I don’t think lobotomies have been this frightening since One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Nowadays, when we think of serial killers we mostly think of men who brutalize prostitutes and crack whores. It’s a concept far more removed from the minds of everyday people than it was in the mid-90s when the collective memory of men like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer was still fresh and constantly refreshed in the media by news reports and movies like Silence of the Lambs. Gone are the days when single women watched their backs in the grocery store parking lot, but watching Schnauz stab a hypodermic needle into the flesh of an unsuspecting victim brings it all back.

Gerald Thomas Schnauz, Jr. isn’t one of my all-time favorite X-Files villains, probably because he doesn’t recognize or relish his own evil, but he more than does the job here. And for once, Scully is identifying with the victims and the killer rather than Mulder, our resident criminal profiler. It becomes more and more obvious that the case is wearing on Scully and I like that Vince Gilligan weaves in a little discomfort between her and Mulder throughout the episode, it makes the payoff of Mulder frantically trying to save her that much more satisfying.

And while I’m on the topic of Scully, did you notice the vague foreshadowing of what would come later in her Season 4 arc? It’s so quiet that it might be almost impossible to catch for the first time viewer, but that’s part of what’s so satisfying about rewatching The X-Files, being able to savor the subtleties.

I was able to make out one single word in German: Angst. Funny how that would become the theme of the season.

A

P.S. And as to Scully playing the damsel in distress, which complaints occasionally come up, I don’t even want to hear it. She just rescued Mulder in Distress the previous episode.

P.P.S. This is not the episode to watch if you’re trying to get over a fear of Dentists.

Questions:

Tsk. Tsk. Isn’t Scully supposed to ask if there are any sharp objects she should know about before she pats down somebody?

Comments:

This is the second closing field report/voiceover we’ve had in a row. I rather like that they’re trying hard to pretend that The X-Files isn’t leaving it’s early years far behind in the rearview mirror. And I missed those field reports.

More masterwork from the School of Rob Bowman. The tension in Scully and Schnauz’s first meeting is all in the way he shot it. And don’t even get me started on the glories of all that plastic tarp.

Six fingers = six headstones is rather a stretch, don’t you think?

Howard Unruh, part of the inspiration for this episode, was the first modern mass murderer. How’s that for a legacy?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Stand back, Scully. It’s loaded.

——————-

Scully: She’s been given what’s called a trans-orbital lobotomy. It used to be called an ice pick lobotomy. It involves inserting a leucotome through the eye sockets.
Mulder: So we’re looking for a doctor? Someone with training?
ER Doctor: Not judging by this?
Scully: Whoever did this, Mulder, did it wrong.

——————-

Mulder: So… which one of us gets to use the stun gun on Bruno Hauptmann back there?

——————-

Schnauz: Great. Now they’ve got you talking like Sigmund Freud.

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Season 3 Wrap Up: Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?


On the Big Picture Front

Season 3 is a perennial fan favorite, for obvious reasons. It’s during this era that The X-Files went from a cult hit to a primetime sensation. Far from being a specific genre show, it proved it was capable of changing styles from week to week and still maintain consistency and continuity. One week Mulder and Scully are on the brink of discovering alien life, and the next they’re being overrun by mutant cockroaches. Season 3 is at turns a sci-fi show, a psychological drama, a comedy and a parody.

And more than anything else, it’s the Season of Darin Morgan. Sure he debuted back in Season 2 as the writer of the landmark “Humbug” (2×20) and even earlier than that he provided the story for “Blood” (2×3) and even donned a body suit to play The Flukeman in “The Host” (2×2). But three out of the four episodes he officially wrote for the series aired in Season 3. That’s not even counting his uncredited contributions to episodes like “Revelations” (3×11) and “Quagmire” (3×22), two episodes that delve deeply into the psychological background of Mulder and Scully, laying the basis for years to come for other writers who would take their characters even further.

His presence on the staff actually transformed the show into something that was pliable and therefore viable. How long would The X-Files have lasted if things had stayed as serious as they did in Season 1 and most of Season 2? I daresay there’s an audience for that, myself included, but Darin Morgan introduced an era where The X-Files could lovingly poke fun at itself; this meant that the audience didn’t have to. After all, if you bring up your faults before anyone else can, it serves as a first level of defense. “Fox Mulder is off his rocker, you say? We already know. We called him on it ourselves and beat you to it.” Once that’s out of the way, everyone can sit back and enjoy without their being an elephant in the room.

Self-parody is also a sign of success. “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) could never have happened in Seasons 1 or 2. The X-Files wasn’t set it its ways enough to exaggerate its own image. The audience could laugh at Mulder and Scully being ridiculous because they already take them seriously. And even though it’s not one of my favorites, this is a turning point in the show because from here on out, anything was game. Starting in Season 3, you can see how later episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) would evolve from this series. The writers could stretch The X-Files and it wouldn’t break.

On the Relationship Front

If you’ve been reading and watching along, you’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say. I’m no sentimentalist, but the tension that was written into Mulder and Scully’s relationship for much of this season isn’t exactly my bag. It’s true that they couldn’t go on in the hyper-idealized way that they were in Season 2, where the other could almost do no wrong. And it’s also true that a certain amount of tension and drama creates interest, and I’m all for that. But there were moments this season where I wondered why they were even partners at all since they didn’t seem to work well together. Heck, at moments they were downright antagonistic.

The good side of this is that when Mulder or Scully are divided, it almost invariably means that one or the other is about to benefit from some serious character development. Mulder moves beyond Samantha in “Oubliette” (3×8), even if he doesn’t move beyond the “Samantha Protocol”, and he shows off his criminal profiling genius in “Grotesque” (3×14), a skill that Scully can’t possess at the same emotional and psychological level. For her part, Scully matures in issues of faith in “Revelations”, a spiritual journey you’d think that Mulder would be able to relate to but instead is surprisingly antagonistic toward. And dividing them up for the mythology episodes was a wise decision. More information gets disseminated to the audience for one thing. And for another, Scully begins to develop her own methods of investigation. It’s a nice contrast watching them stumble upon parallel bits of information and come to wildly different conclusions. Neither one of them would get to the truth alone.

But after all that division, the writers reel it back in toward the end of the season and I’m forever grateful. “Pusher” (3×17) and “Wetwired” (2×23) remind us that Mulder and Scully still do have an almost spiritual bond that’s survived the losses and divisions of Season 3. It’s a sweet but brief respite, however. Season 4 will bring Mulder and Scully both closer and further apart than ever before, a rollercoaster I’m currently bracing myself for emotionally.

On the Whole

Season 3 is arguably when The X-Files hit its peak. Looking back, I’d say that it is… but it’s not when The X-Files hit its prime, a point of semantics that I’ll get into much later.

I say this is its peak because at this point, the mythology still feels as though it’s heading somewhere, that the answers we’re waiting for are just around the corner. Anticipation is at its highest point, I believe. Will Mulder lose his mother and soon be the only Mulder left? Will Scully be able to face the details of her abduction? Will they get to the bottom of this Smallpox vaccination drama? Stay tuned.

On the New Tip

I’ve decided to start handing out awards this season. So without further ado…

“Most Improved”
Revelations

“Desperately in need of a rewrite”
Syzygy

“Victim of too many desperate rewrites”
Teso Dos Bichos

“The Copycat”
2Shy

“The Sleeper Hit”
Wetwired

“It doesn’t matter how many times I see it I still won’t like it”
Oubliette

So now my question to you, dear reader, is which episode out of the Darin Morgan era is the one that speaks to you the most?  Is one the best but you hate it? Is one the worst but you love it? And if you have any awards of your own to hand out, please do so below!

Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ 3×20: I’ve just had a little alien experience.


"I know how crazy all this sounds, but I don't care"

This episode is hopeless.

Blasphemy, you say? Well, I said it was hopeless but I didn’t say it was bad.

Part of Darin Morgan’s genius is that he weaves some of the deeper questions of life into his comedies and that gives his work weight without bogging it down. “Humbug” (2×20) asks what it means to be an “other.” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) questions the intersection of free will and fate. “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) explores the limits of human suggestibility.

The key difference is that while all of those episodes subtly address an issue without offering up a solution, “Jose Chung’s” comes to a much more obvious conclusion and it’s not a happy one. The message is that if truth even exists, it’s elusive and you can’t know it. And without truth, there’s no meaning in life. Without meaning, we’re all isolated and alone. See? Hopeless.

Despite its obvious charms, something has never quite clicked between me and “Jose Chung’s”. Call it a glitch in the matrix. Either that or it’s a part of some covert agenda on the part of the military industrial entertainment complex. I’ve always assumed that the reason this episode didn’t jive with me was the humor barrier. I’ve found all of Darin Morgan’s other work on The X-Files hilarious, but the style of “Jose Chung’s” is more obvious and, dare I say, more juvenile. It feels like teenage boy humor to me (no offense teenage boys). That’s not a bad thing. I’m just more of a situational comedy type of girl. It’s about the humor of the absurd and I prefer the humor of the mundane. This whole episode is like a game, an exercise in storytelling more than it is an actual episode of The X-Files.

But I’ve realized the issue goes deeper than that. It’s Morgan’s worldview that’s tripping me up.

As I said, “Jose Chung’s” isn’t an exercise in subtlety. The philosophy of the episode is announced early when Chung tells Scully that, “Truth is as subjective as reality.” Since “the truth” is essentially what The X-Files is all about, or the search for it, anyway, Morgan is really taking loving dig at what he sees as a fruitless effort.

He brings the point home with the way he paints his characters. Take Roky, Faulkner and Mulder for instance. With all three the search for alien life is actually a metaphor for the search for meaning and purpose, the search for truth. Rory’s search leads him to a cult to try to make sense of the universe and chart it out in diagrams that he can comprehend.  Faulkner has a dead-end life that he’s trying to escape so he watches the skies waiting for someone to take him away, to make his life interesting. And Mulder is trying to ease the pain of past trauma and loss hoping that if he can prove the existence of alien life what happened to him and his sister will… what? Make sense?

In the end it’s all for nothing. Scully wastes her life away in the basement at a job that’s pointless since the search for truth is futile. The answers Mulder is looking for elude him once again. The two teenagers who not long ago had been groping each other in the back of a car searching for a connection find themselves more locked inside their own minds than ever. Everyone’s all alone just going through the motions because they don’t know what’s true and they can’t rely on anyone else to tell them because everyone’s perceptions are just as faulty as their own.

Whoo boy.

Verdict:

I was not looking forward to doing a write up on this episode because it’s so beloved by almost everyone else but I. But I am glad that I finally have more insight into my hum ho response to it than, “I don’t get it.” You see, I do believe in truth and that it’s knowable, an idea that’s rather passé in our post-modern age of relativism. Hope necessarily follows.

I suspect that a lot of the concepts in this episode and even in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” probably came out of Darin Morgan’s oft discussed depression and burn out at the time. I’d be curious to know how “Jose Chung’s” would come out if he were to write it now, but such things can never be. With the exception of a few story editing contributions this would be his last writing credit on The X-Files and I think we can all agree that he went out at his creative peak.

Just to clarify, I do like this episode, but it’s not the transcendent experience for me that it seems to be for other fans. Structurally it’s impressive, content wise it’s clever and I can’t say it’s not funny, even if most of its humor isn’t my style.

But, hey, as my father likes to remind me, “Comedy is tragedy.”

A-

Comments Worth Ignoring:

I like how the teaser is a mini version of the whole episode: A big fish came along and ate a little fish and then an even bigger fish came along and ate the big fish. A tale within a tale within a tale. It’s Rashomon run amok.

The whole teenage first love/cry for sex plot always makes me roll my eyes and sigh a little. Even Splendor in the Grass hasn’t cured me of that. Actually, it might have added a gag reflex to my aversion…

Now if only they’d been able to snag Johnny Cash as a man in black. It would’ve changed my whole perspective, I’m telling you.

I love that they use a cheesier version of the theme music during the alien autopsy scene. That’s a classic moment right there.

This whole episode is a joke at Mulder’s expense. I’m glad Morgan decided to take him down a peg or two in a non-mean spirited sort of way.

“I don’t mind making fun of Mulder,” Morgan said. “He’s presented as the seeker of the truth, and to me such people are always somewhat ridiculous.” – I rest my case. About everything.

Best Quotes:

*Editor’s Note: By now you know what I’m going to say. Darin Morgan’s writing should be enjoyed in context to get the true depth of his humor. Stop reading. Go watch.

Chung: Still, as a storyteller, I’m fascinated how a person’s sense of consciousness can be… so transformed by nothing more magical than listening to words. Mere words.

———————-

Mulder: Well, so what if they had sex?
Scully: So we know that it wasn’t an alien that probed her.

———————-

Jose Chung: Aren’t you nervous telling me all this after receiving all those death threats?
Blaine Faulkner: Well, hey, I didn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.

———————-

Mulder: Have you ever found a metal implant in your body?
Cook: [Shakes head]
Mulder: Have you checked everywhere?

———————–

Jose Chung: Seeking the truth about aliens means a perfunctory 9 to 5 job to some, for although Agent “Diana Lesky” is noble in spirit and pure at heart she remains nevertheless, a Federal employee. As for her partner, “Reynard Muldrake”, a ticking time bomb of insanity, his quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche one shudders to think how he receives any pleasures from life.

Syzygy 3×13: Sure. Fine. Whatever.


The X-Files meets Carrie

I confess, this is a tough one to analyze for me. Mainly because I’m not sure what to make of it myself. It’s like a cross between the broad clichés of “Die Hand Die Verletz” (2×14) and the humor of “War of the Coprophages” (3×12). But since it’s neither as frightening as the Morgan & Wong penned “DHDV” or as funny as the Darin Morgan outing “WOTC” it’s difficult to digest in parts. Not to say that it’s horrible. It certainly has some memorably funny moments. And one thing Chris Carter could always do better than any other writer on the show was Mulder/Scully banter. Their digs at each other are the highlight of the episode.

But they’re also the lowlight. By that I mean that the comedy in “Syzygy” relies almost solely on exaggeration. Scully isn’t just a skeptic she’s purposefully obtuse. Mulder doesn’t just wonder at Scully skepticism he berates her for it. It’s as if he found a new friend on the playground in the blonde detective and together they started making fun of his old pal. It’s funny because it’s absurd that these two people who are so close end up nearly hating each other for an episode. But at times it’s hard to watch them be so disrespectful of each other, even through the laughs.

Because of that I’m not sure if coming off of “WOTC” helps or hinders the plot. In defense of it helping, the tension between Mulder and Scully picks up where it left off. However, that only lends this fight more credibility, as if the damn has snapped and Mulder and Scully are letting loose on each other some long held resentments. If so, some of those resentments are pretty serious and that’s part of why “Syzygy” is hard to watch at moments.

That said, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me laugh. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny have incredible comedic timing that The X-Files has only had a few chances to exploit so far in the series. Part of me enjoys hating Mulder so much. Truly, Mulder deserves to be shot in this episode, not because he unwittingly (for the most part) seduces Detective White but because of the snide remarks he makes at Scully’s expense.

Moving away from Mulder and Scully, Margi and Terri aren’t exactly the most compelling Monsters of the Week. And, frankly, their absurd characterization is what throws the episode off at points. Whose idea was it to name these girls “Margi” and “Terri”? From their names to their clothes to the words that come out of their mouths, it’s as if someone who didn’t know any teenage girls in real life took an 80’s stereotype, electrocuted it and threw it in front of the camera.

…And the Verdict is:

I don’t take this episode as seriously as I used to. It’s an aberration. A fluke. If it weren’t, Mulder and Scully could have potentially caused an irreparable rift in their relationship. While I enjoy the contention in the spirit of comedy, past a point the hurt feelings exposed and generated would have to be addressed and dealt with. Instead, when the clock strikes 12 and the syzygy is over, Mulder and Scully turn back into regular old mice; they’re in sync again and all is right with the world. Well, mostly. There’s still that little argument in the car on the way back.

If, however, we keep “Syzygy” within the context of the series, then the tension that began at the end of “WOTC” continues through this episode even to “Grotesque” (3×14); Mulder and Scully are in a state of chronic miscommunication. This is not Season 2’s Mulder and Scully. There are times when that tension is particularly unpleasant to watch, but the end result is Season 4’s Mulder and Scully so all is forgiven.

This episode attempts something similar to “WOTC” but less successfully; its tone isn’t always consistent. I think it’s clear by the end, though, that the content of this episode is meant to be enjoyed and then forgotten. Nothing Mulder or Scully say or do in this episode should be held against them in the long run. It’s an astrological anomaly.

By the by, I do believe that moment in the hallway after Mulder sniffed Scully was the closest he ever came to death.

B

P.S. Is Scully jealous? That’s easy. Yes. But in her defense, any woman whose partner ditched her for a leggy blonde and made jokes at her expense to impress said leggy blonde would have a similar reaction.

Superfluous Questions:

Are the stars to blame for why none of the investigating officers picked up on Margi and Terri’s fake tears and inconsistent affects? They weren’t even convincing sociopaths.

Wasn’t Mulder drunk not a few minutes before he drove away from the motel? I take it the look of barely restrained fury on Scully’s face sobered him up?

Superfluous Comments:

The absurd opening funeral scene is reminiscent of “Humbug” (2×20), no?

This is where I learned what a “screwdriver” was. I remember walking out into the family room to ask dear old Dad what Mulder was doing with that orange juice.

Detective White is Mulder’s second potential love interest in a row. Is Season 3 his season or what?

I can’t decide whether the funniest moment in the episode is Mulder desperately pressing “0” for the operator in a drunken attempt to evade Detective White’s advances or the expression on Scully’s face when Mulder says, “It must be Detective White.”

Zirinka the Astrologist almost steals the show.

Best Quotes:

Scully: And you have physical evidence of these rituals being conducted?
Detective White: No. No, just the murder victims.
Scully: So you have nothing concrete to connect these things to Satanists?
Detective White: [Shakes head]
Mulder: If, uh, you detect a hint of skepticism or incredulity in Agent Scully’s voice it’s because of the overwhelming evidence gathered by the FBI debunking virtually all claims of physical abuse by satanic cults.
Detective White: [to Scully] Is that true?
Scully: [Starts to speak]
Mulder: Don’t ask me.

———————
Scully: Let me guess. They told you about a wild beast entering in on a black mass, the drinking of blood, the sacrifice of an infant… or a blonde virgin.
Detective White: Yeah. That’s right. Excuse me.
Scully: Where’s she going?
Mulder: You don’t suppose she’s a virgin, do you?
Scully: I doubt she’s even a blonde.

———————

Mulder: Let me drive.
Scully: I’m driving.
Mulder: Scully, it’s not what you think.
Scully: I didn’t see anything anyway.
Mulder: Will you let me drive?
Scully: I’m driving. Why do you always have to drive anyway? Because you’re the guy? Because you’re the big, macho man?
Mulder: No, I was just never sure your little feet could reach the pedals.

———————

Mulder: When we were here before…
Zirinka: I’m just waiting for authorization.
Mulder: I’m a Federal Agent!
Zirinka: Last I heard, the federal government couldn’t pay its bills. Okay, you’re good for up to 300 bucks.
Mulder: All right.
Zirinka: How can I help you?

War of the Coprophages 3×12: Dude, that’s some good crap.


"Waste is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

First of all, that opening monologue from the exterminator about the wonders of cockroaches is more satisfying than any purple prose ridden voiceover Mulder or Scully ever delivered. Once again writer Darin Morgan plays off of what we’ve come to expect from The X-Files by giving it to us and then flipping it over. But unlike the previous two Darin Morgan penned episodes, I’m not sure the underlying purpose/theme here is so clear.

Humbug” (2×20) juxtaposed normalcy versus otherness and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) covered fate versus free will. “War of the Coprophages”, while it hints at the fine line between reality and insanity, doesn’t explore the themes so much as it mocks them. Since we can’t be sure of what happened, it’s hard to condemn the people of Massachusetts for panicking when they very well may have had reason to. Overall, I’d have to concede that this episode isn’t quite as successful as his other ones. But it’s still incredibly fun.

The whole episode is an exercise in glorious repetition. Mulder seeks Scully out for her insight, Mulder hangs up on Scully. Mulder comes upon another body that was attacked by cockroaches, Scully comes up with another reasonable explanation. Mulder quotes Planet of the Apes… Bambi quotes Planet of the Apes. Not only that, as I said earlier, Morgan deftly plays with X-Files stereotypes. Mulder’s always ditching Scully and leaving her hanging, well, here it’s an almost compulsive ritual. And no matter how absurd and inexplicable the death Mulder stumbles upon, Scully comes up with an even more random and infinitely more plausible explanation.

So now for the oft discussed question: Is Scully jealous? To which I answer: It’s there, ever so slightly. It’s all in the way Scully says “She?” when she finds out Dr. Berenbaum is a woman. Dana Scully, M.D. surely wasn’t surprised at the idea that a scientist could be a woman. No, never that. Instead I think there was a sudden realization of what Mulder was actually up to while she slept restlessly with her phone on her pillow. Not that there’s anything to go overboard about. Any woman would be annoyed by that. And when Mulder asks to confess something to Scully, something both she and we as the audience suspect is going to be sexual in nature, she looks worried she’s about to be grossed out. She doesn’t look jealous, sad or angry. As for Mulder, once again, he’s flirting with another woman while confessing his fears and insecurities to Scully. It’s sort of like “Fire” (1×11) all over again. Poor Mulder. Like his relationship with Phoebe Green, he should’ve known it would never work; she’s not haunted, abandoned or misunderstood. With the exception of Scully, he doesn’t have an easy time connecting with well-adjusted women.

Not that I’m on his side. I myself want to kill him for leaving Scully hanging in a state of near panic but I’m so busy laughing that I can’t stay mad. She’s thinking he’s been attacked by killer cockroaches and meanwhile he’s macking on an entomologist named Bambi. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up but Darin Morgan apparently can.

Conclusion:

If this episode has a weakness it’s the lack of resolution. I know that’s one of The X-Files’ signature moves, but here we finish watching completely unsure whether the events even really happened. There are too many cockroach swarms for it all to be a coincidence, yet all the deaths have normal explanations. More importantly, where did the metal insects come from, why did they converge on this town and what made them leave? Who created these mechanical marvels? In the end, the unanswered questions are no big deal because it’s such a jolly ride.

It’s fun to see how Scully spends her evenings for one thing. She cleans her gun, eats dinner while watching the news, gives Queequeg a bath, reads a little Truman Capote and eats a tub of ice cream by herself. It’s so hilariously domestic considering she spends her working hours chasing flukemen and such. Scully had a few off episodes not too long ago, “Oubliette” (3×8) comes to mind. But between this and “Revelations” (3×11), her character is on the fast track to respectability again. Morgan’s version of her is both loveable and feisty. What a relief.

I’ll admit that the last moment between Mulder and Scully still annoys me a bit. He has his nerve. So Mulder loses the girl and Scully rubs his nose in it. But you know what? He deserves it.

A-

Random Musings:

The area is in a panic. The townsfolk are raiding the convenience store. There’s a Sailor stocking up on… pantyhose??

Bill Dow AKA Dr. Chuck Burks is back, only this time as Dr. Newton.

Ken Kramer AKA Dr. Berube AKA Dr. Browning is back too, only this time as Dr. Ivanov.

Scully’s vehement defense of the theory of Evolution feels slightly odd coming straight off of “Revelations”.

Best Quotes:

*Editor’s Note: You know the drill. It’s a Darin Morgan episode. Quotes won’t suffice. Break out your DVDs or pull up Netflix and get started.

Scully: Hello.
Mulder: I think you better get up here.
Scully: What is it?
Mulder: It appears that cockroaches are mortally attacking people.
Scully: I’m not going to ask if you just said what I think you just said because I know it’s what you just said.

———————-

Mulder: I see the correlation, but just because I work for the federal government doesn’t mean I’m an expert on cockroaches.

———————-

Mulder: Well, that all makes perfect sense, Scully, I don’t like it at all. Did you know that the federal government, under the guise of the department of agriculture, has been conducting secret experiments up here.
Scully: Mulder, you’re not thinking about trespassing on government property again, are you? I know you’ve done it in the past but I don’t think this case warrants…
Mulder: It’s too late. I’m already inside.

———————-

Mulder: They’re conducting legitimate experiments. I met an entomologist, a Dr. Berenbaum, who agrees with your theory of an accidental importation of a new cockroach.
Scully: Did he give you any idea of how to catch them?
Mulder: No, but she did tell me everything else there was to know about insects.
Scully: She?
Mulder: Yeah, did you know that the ancient Egyptians worshipped the scarab beetle and possibly erected the pyramids to honor them? Which may be giant symbolic dung heaps?
Scully: Did you know the inventor of the flush toilet was named Thomas Crapper?
Mulder: Bambi also has a theory I’ve never come across…
Scully: Who?
Mulder: Dr. Berenbaum. Anyway her theory is…
Scully: Her name is Bambi?
Mulder: Yeah, both her parents were naturalists. Her theory is that UFOs are actually nocturnal insect swarms passing through electrical air fields.
Scully: Her name is Bambi?
Mulder: Scully, can I confess something to you?
Scully: [Wincing] Yeah, sure, okay…
Mulder: I hate insects.
Scully: You know, lots of people are afraid of insects, Mulder. It’s a natural instinctive…
Mulder: No, no, no. I’m not afraid of them. I hate them. One day, back when I was a kid, I was climbing this tree when I noticed this leaf walking towards me. It took forever for me to realize that it was no leaf.
Scully: A praying mantis?
Mulder: Yeah, I had a praying mantis epiphany and as a result, I screamed. And not, not a girlie scream, but the scream of someone being confronted by some before unknown monster that had no right existing on the same planet I inhabited. Did you ever notice how a praying mantis’ head resembles an alien’s head? The mysteries of the natural world were revealed to me that day but instead of being astounded I was repulsed.
Scully: Mulder… are you sure it wasn’t a girlie scream?

———————-

Dr. Ivanov: Anyone who thinks alien visitation will come not in the form of robots but of living beings with big eyes and grey skin has been brainwashed by too much science fiction.

———————-

Mulder: Scully, if an alien civilization were technologically advanced enough to build and send artificially intelligent robotic probes to the farthest reaches of space, might they not have also been able to perfect the extraction of methane fuel from manure? An abundant and replenishing energy source on a planet filled with dung-producing creatures?
Scully: Mulder, I think you’ve been in this town too long.

———————-

Scully: Let me guess… Bambi.
Dr. Berenbaum: Fox told me to wait out here while he checked inside first.
Scully: [Mouths] Fox.
Dr. Berenbaum: Should I come along with you?
Scully: [Loads gun] No. This is no place for an entomologist.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose 3×4: Nobody does anything without a reason.


Darin Morgan has done it again. It’s another flawless X-File. He’s written an episode that’s so perfectly executed I find myself struggling to write anything about it at all other than, “Oh my word! So awesome!!!” I realize such outbursts don’t count as critique in the traditional sense, but it’s hard to review an episode that even now, many years after I first saw it, finds me laughing out loud at new moments. I’ll try, but I make no promises.

We can’t talk about “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” without giving homage to Clyde Bruckman himself, the marvelous Peter Boyle. Most will know him from Everybody Loves Raymond and sadly, he passed away a few years back. Fortunately, he left us with some great Television and Movie memories. I have to say, Darin Morgan’s legendary writing aside, Peter Boyle’s sardonically wise portrayal makes this episode. He’s equal parts sad and snappy. And while you’d think the ending would turn this into a dreary episode, we so relate to Bruckman’s witty struggle that even suicide can’t stop the party.

Bruckman is a dream come true for Mulder who initially worships his psychic power with the awestruck innocence of a little leaguer in front of Mickey Mantle. When Bruckman attempts to lead them to a body, Mulder is so over-eager during the car ride he might as well have asked, “Are we there yet?”:

Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to die but I can’t think of a more undignified one than autoerotic asphyxiation.
Mulder: Why are you telling me that?
Bruckman: Look, forget I mentioned it. It’s none of my business.

Probably this is just Bruckman trying to shake a puppy dog off of his leg, but who knows? It would certainly be an ignominious end not out of character for Mulder. However, Scully’s responding smirk belies any seriousness.

The episode isn’t all jokes, though. Like “Humbug” (2×20) before it, it has some important life questions buried within the narrative. Questions, mind you, not answers.

Bruckman: Why does anyone do the things they do? Why do I sell insurance? I wish I knew. Why did this woman collect dolls? What was it about her life? Was it one specific moment where she suddenly said, “I know, dolls!” or was it a whole series of things, starting when her parents first met, that somehow combined in such a way that in the end she had no choice but to be a doll collec[tor].

That right there is the whole crux of the story. The killer, Puppet, did he choose his fate or did his fate choose him? Right at the beginning, we see the killer and Bruckman meet and dance a shuffle of fate. Was it by chance?

Do we live our lives hemmed in by destiny? Puppet refers to his life as “a mere formality.” He thinks that he does the things he does because he’s destined to. In truth, he does them because he’s insane. Is that fate or free will?

Bruckman: No, you don’t kill me yet.
Puppet: I don’t? Why not?
Bruckman: How should I know?

So which side of the debate is Bruckman on? On the surface, he makes it clear to Mulder that there’s nothing one can do to stop the future. As he so aptly puts it, how can he see the future if it doesn’t already exist. Yet, despite his protestations, he helps Mulder and Scully; if not out of any sense of moral obligation then in a final effort to do something more with his life than sit back and wait for the inevitable to occur. And who knows? Maybe by changing the future he can change his past.

…And the Verdict is:

Bruckman may not have changed his own fate, one that it appears he was aware of from at least the beginning of the episode and probably much earlier, but he did affect Mulder’s destiny. Or did he? Whether or not the killer’s visions were accurate or not, who can say? They had certainly come true up to that point so I’m inclined to think Bruckman did some good. After all, “That’s not the way it was supposed to happen.”

But what about Bruckman? You’d think a suicide would put a damper on the whole thing, but somehow, poignant though it is, it isn’t depressing the way it would read on paper. Does he kill himself out of obedience to fate? Or is it because his job is finished, he’s done his good deed and now there’s no need for him to put himself through the torture of knowing the future anymore?

Darin Morgan has an incredible ability to exceed the audience’s expectations about what an X-File is by mocking those very expectations. He raises questions without giving us answers. Me, I’m not so sure that destiny and free will are conflicting concepts. Is it unreasonable to think that one exists inside the other? Or even better, because of the other?

Like “Humbug” you can take a deeper message from it if you want or, my personal favorite, don’t take anything from it at all but just sit back and enjoy it.

A+

Comments:

So, does Scully die or doesn’t she? You heard the man. She doesn’t. You hear that, Chris Carter?? Don’t you pull a funny one in X-Files 3.

Mulder can read tea leaves? Like the Fiji Mermaid leap he makes in “Humbug”, Mulder’s powers of deduction are exaggerated for effect.

Best Quotes:

Editor’s Note: Most of the jokes in this episode are better in context, not as quotes. Either way, I’d have to transcribe the whole script to include the “best” and that still wouldn’t do it justice. Please, enrich your life and go watch it.

Madame Zelma: Mister, please, you’re hurting me.
Puppet: I know, I know, I’m sorry. But you’re a fortuneteller. You should have seen this coming.

————————

F.B.I. Photographer: They say the eyes capture the last image a murder victim sees before they’re killed.
Detective Cline: What do they say about the entrails?
F.B.I. Photographer: Yuck.

————————

Detective Havez: Is it true you asked for some help on this case?
Detective Cline: This guy’s supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing.
Detective Havez: I heard he was a bit… unorthodox.
Detective Cline: He comes highly recommended.
Detective Havez: Yeah. I saw him on TV.
Detective Cline: Hey, so he’s a publicity hound. As long as he gets results.
F.B.I. Photographer: I once worked on a case he did. Very spooky.
Detective Cline: As long as he gives us leads, I don’t care how big a kook…
[Mulder walks in]
Detective Cline: Who the hell are you?

————————

Detective Cline: Look, all I know is that, so far, Yappi has provided more solid concrete leads on this case than you have. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get an APB out on a white male, 17 to 34, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo, who’s impotent. Let’s go.

———————–

Detective Cline: It’s kind of creepy isn’t it? The Stupendous Yappi said the first victim’s body has been dumped somewhere, then we find it in a dumpster.
Mulder: Ooh. I just got a chill down my spine.

———————-

Bruckman: [Looking at Mulder’s badge] I’m supposed to believe that’s a real name?

———————

Scully: We can’t come up with suspects by having visions.
Bruckman: Jealous?

———————

Scully: All right. So how do I die?
Bruckman: You don’t.

———————-

Mulder: If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?

———————-

Puppet: There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for some time now. You’ve seen the things I do in the past as well as in the future.
Bruckman: They’re terrible things.
Puppet: I know they are. So tell me, please, why have I done them.
Bruckman: Don’t you understand yet, son? Don’t you get it? You do the things you do because you’re a homicidal maniac.
Puppet: That… that does explain a lot, doesn’t it?

Humbug 2×20: I think I hit my left ventricle.


Finger Licking Good

“Humbug” starts off with a classic Monster of the Week teaser, or so you think, until you realize the monster is actually the good guy… and the prey. It’s amazing that even though you would think that… it’s one of the most frightening teasers The X-Files ever did. Straight away you know you’re not only in for a twist on the typical, something that The X-Files is already good at, but you’re in for a twist on the typical X-File. This is the first time we see the show lovingly mock itself and it’s such jolly good fun that it quickly becomes a tradition.

“Humbug” unearths our presumption, our prejudice, really, that everyone wants to be “normal” and that by “normal” we mean perfect and without blemish. Upon first learning of the case, Scully is so distracted by Jerald Glazebrook’s skin that she pays no attention to the details of his murder and instead says with politically correct pity, “Imagine going through your whole life looking like this.” I’m sure she fancies herself empathetic. Gone are the days when your average person would have felt secure in bullying or mocking such people, instead we stuff them full of knowing glances and sympathetic nods. But Scully makes a gross misstep in that like the rest of us, she assumes that we’re the lucky ones and that no one in their right mind would want to look like Mr. Nutt rather than Mulder. By the by, I’m not ragging on Scully. I’m guilty of the same thoughts myself, which is exactly one of the reasons why this episode is so engaging. We’re forced to look at ourselves in a funhouse mirror. That the story concludes with Dr. Blockhead making the same word-for-word observation about Mulder that Scully made about Glazebrook. How strange that in a society more obsessed than ever with eliminating every wrinkle, every unsightly hair, every crooked tooth, there would be those that blasphemously enjoy their imperfections. Pure. Television. Genius.

For this we can only stand in awe of X-Files legend, writer Darin Morgan. A comedy writer reluctantly converted into joining the staff of a sci-fi show, he didn’t realize at the time that he penned an episode that in retrospect is easily identifiable as a giant evolutionary leap forward for the show. It opened up whole new possibilities for story ideas and, most importantly, humor. The X-Files has always had its share of funny one-liners, it’s true, but this is the first time an episode has been as equally focused on getting a laugh out of its audience as eliciting a scream. One of my major regrets on behalf of The X-Files is that Darin Morgan was around for so few episodes. Yet, unsurprisingly judging by his first outing, he’s one of the best-remembered players.

We also can’t go without acknowledging the directorial contribution of the late, great Kim Manners. His use of mirrors in this episode is Stupendous. The scene where Hepcat Helm is killed is pretty much all filmed in reflection and is a masterpiece. (Have I used enough superlatives to make my point yet?) The funhouse… I’m sorry, Tabernacle of Terror scene ain’t half bad either.

And I can’t let this review go by without paying tribute to the most memorable ensemble cast The X-Files ever put together. It’s no secret that most of these “actors” are actual freaks and geeks and it shows. They’re playing the same exaggerated versions of themselves that they play in real-life sideshows.

What’s so wonderful about this town that time forgot is that they have their own brand of normalcy. This fanciful community has it’s own set of rules. It’s a world turned upside down where the stranger you were born the more respect you receive. Scully is as much an oddity and an interest to Lanny as his appendage of a conjoined twin is to her. Morgan turns flips his own premise inside out again by not merely showing us society’s prejudices against the weird, but showing the prejudices those on the outside have against society. They’re not to be sympathized with because we pity them too much or not enough, but because they’re exactly the same as us, issues and all.

Even though I wholeheartedly love the humor of later seasons, what I like about this episode is how underplayed it is. I’m not knocking later episodes like “Small Potatoes” (4×20) or “Bad Blood” (5×12). Never that!! But like I said earlier, in this episode humor is equal to horror and later on, there will be episodes purely for the sake of humor itself. I just appreciate that in this early era The X-Files isn’t overly self-conscious. Mulder and Scully’s quiet reactions to the madness in this episode are subtle bits of glory.

Conclusion:

This is one of those few episodes where I can find not a single flaw. Not one. It’s gross. It’s funny. It’s shocking. It’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s perfect. I’ll be able to say the same of another Darin Morgan penned episode come Season 3, but I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you which one.

Moreover, it successfully delivers a message without being preachy or worse, boring. Yes, I’m looking at you “Fearful Symmetry” (2×18).

If you like, you can take away the feel-good moral that everyone is strange in their own way and everyone is special. Or you can just sit back any enjoy the fact that the strange and the normal alike are made fun of equally in “Humbug.” Even David Duchovny in all his manly grandeur isn’t safe.

A+

Bepuzzlements:

Why are Mulder and Scully on a serial killer case, less than typical though it is? There’s no hint of paranormal phenomenon. Sometimes we’re reminded with a jolt that it’s not just the supernatural, it’s also unsolvable cases that get shunted down the tube to the X-Files division. Not that the show plays up that angle often.

Comments:

Mulder, the admitted porn addict, indignantly comes to Scully’s rescue and wards off the innocent Mr. Nutt. Mulder: The Gentleman Pervert.

OK, if I’m going to make a full confession, Mulder pouncing on the Fiji Mermaid angle out of nowhere is a little weak. But, hey, Mulder makes illogical jumps pretty much every episode. Consider this the show taking another jab at itself.

Scully delivers a summary to The Human Blockhead at the end of the episode that obviously would have been delivered to Mulder if it wasn’t for the need to set up for that last, brilliant gag.

I don’t have an uncle who’s an amateur magician… and I have 9 uncles not including the ones that married my aunts.

Best Quotes:

I could pretty much copy over the entire script here, but instead you should go watch it and I’ll limit myself to a few gems.

Hepcat Helm: Who are the rubes?
Sheriff Hamilton: These are FBI agents Scully and Mulder. This is Hepcat Helm, he operates a carnival funhouse.
Hepcat Helm: Oh man, how many times have I told you not to call it that! It’s not some rinky dink carny ride. People go through it they don’t have fun, they get the hell scared out of them. It’s not a funhouse, it’s a tabernacle of terror.
Sheriff Hamilton: It’s a funhouse.

——————-

Mulder: Tell me, have you done much circus work in your life?
Mr. Nutt: And what makes you think I’ve ever spectated a circus? Much less been enslaved by one?
Mulder: I know that many of the citizens here are former circus hands, and I just thought that…
Mr. Nutt: You thought that because I am a person of short stature, that the only career I could procure for myself would be one confined to the so-called “Big Top.” You took one quick look at me, and decided that you could deduce my entire life. Never would it have occurred to you that a person of my height could have possibly obtained a degree in Hotel Management.
Mulder: I’m sorry. I meant no offense.
Mr. Nutt: Well then why should I take offense? Just because it’s human nature to make instantaneous judgements of others based solely upon their physical appearances? Why I’ve done the same thing to you, for example. I’ve taken in your all-American features, your dour demeanor, your unimaginative necktie design, and concluded that you work for the government, an FBI agent. But do you see the tragedy here? I have mistakenly reduced you to a stereotype, a caricature, instead of regarding you as a specific, unique individual.
Mulder: But I am an FBI agent.
Mr. Nutt: Register here, please.

——————-

Lanny: Mr. Nutt, the kindhearted manager here, convinced me that to make a living by publicly displaying my deformity lacked dignity. So now I carry other people’s luggage.