Tag Archives: F. Emasculata

Medusa 8×13: Hot, sticky and crawling in the dark.


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I thought this theme was finished, but “Medusa” brings us back to another classic subclass of X-File, the kind where our two leads mix with a rag tag group of experts in a remote location and stumble upon a dangerous, previously undiscovered organism. I’m thinking, of course, of “Ice” (1×7), “Darkness Falls” (1×19), “Firewalker” (2×9), even “Detour” (5×4) and “Dod Kalm” (2×19). “Medusa” is of the same order, it just takes place not in a primeval forest or in the bowels of a volcano, but in the otherworldly, subterranean realm of the Boston underground. And if Season 8 has been good for anything, and it is good for something, it’s for bringing us back to the classic scare. It’s also good for Scully expressions, but that’s a conversation for a later episode.

I haven’t heard much mention of “Medusa” on the interwebs, so I can only assume it doesn’t get either much love or hate. From me, it gets love. It may not be the most radically inventive episode, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to work.

Maybe it’s the way the neurons fire in my brain, but this skin-eating creature freaks me out. I get involuntary chills every time I see those electric sparks. It’s not the grossest thing The X-Files has ever done, but it bothers me. The irrationally obstinate local authorities are back and they bother me too, but in a different way. It is what it is, I suppose. Someone has to get in the way of our protagonists, but sometimes I wish the antagonism had a legitimate motive. But without an obstacle, our team wouldn’t have anything to team up against.

Scully and Doggett spend most of this episode separate, which is how they’ve also spent most of the season. Up to this point, they haven’t felt like much of a team at all despite being given such a great emotional set up back in “Roadrunners” (8×5). But one of the things I like most about “Medusa” is that I finally feel like Scully and Doggett are working together and not just alongside of each other. Oddly, their separation here bonds them because they’re forced to depend on each other.

This is especially a test for Doggett, who admirably accepts Scully’s refusal to enter the tunnels herself without question and follows her every instruction without resentment, even when she sends him into clear danger. See that? A real man’s man can take orders from a girl without sacrificing any of his manliness.

Doggett has to learn to trust Scully, which so far he hasn’t had reason to do yet. Up until now he’s questioned Scully’s theories and conclusions. He’s questioned her judgment. But in the face of dire circumstances and opposition from a suspiciously contrary lieutenant, Doggett shows remarkable solidarity with Scully.

Scully already has reason to trust Doggett, but she still hasn’t trusted him with the truth of her pregnancy. This is the first time we’ve seen her consciously reluctant to take a physical risk and much of the emotional tension in this episode relies on the audience’s awareness of Scully’s pregnancy and the potential jeopardy to the baby.

This is also the first time that Scully shows real concern and care for Doggett, a care possibly fueled by guilt that by keeping him in the dark she’s putting her partner in more danger. Here she’s asking him to risk dying a gruesome death without her physically present to watch his back and she’s not telling him why. Knowing Doggett, he would’ve done it in a heartbeat, but still.

And let me just say again that I like Doggett. I like his military-bred willingness to do what needs to be done. I like his respect for Scully and her seniority in the X-Files. I like that he’s willing to risk his life to save a jerk who knocked him out and left him for dead. That’s a good guy, right there. And for the first time, I feel like I’m not just watching Doggett I’m actually rooting for him. Scully isn’t the only one who’s becoming emotionally invested in the man.

Verdict:

Much thanks to writer Frank Spotnitz for reminding us that not every X-File is about paranormal phenomena or alien conspiracies. The X-Files division investigates the unexplained, including events with purely scientific causes.

I’m also grateful to see Scully acting something other than bored or sad. Righteously angry and guilty will work for a change of pace. She’s also not acting like Mulder! Whew! For what feels like the first time this season, she’s solving an X-File as Scully the Scientist and not as Scully the Wannabe Mulder.

One weakness I do spot, besides the inexplicably obdurate local authorities, is the miraculous appearance of the little boy in the tunnels. You know, the mute little boy who somehow knows exactly what Doggett is looking for and leads him to it, the one who serves no purpose other than to allow Scully to connect the dots and whose origins are left unexplained. Actually, to be really real, the whole ending is rushed and weak. Somehow, that doesn’t ruin the experience for me, though. Because that’s what it is: a tense, dark, sweaty experience that lasts for a while and then suddenly lets up – A description that applies to several of my favorite episodes.

B+

Seawater:

Hello, Penny Johnson Jerald. I loved to hate you on 24.

Scully asks Doggett to uncover bodies killed by some unknown contagion. Is she nuts? Didn’t she learn anything from “F. Emasculata” (2×22)?

I enjoyed seeing Scully go off on Deputy Chief Karras. She was this close to a Scully Squared ™ moment.

Scully and Doggett share a cute moment in the hospital when Doggett is clearly embarrassed that Scully might see something she shouldn’t while he’s wearing his hospital gown. I can’t help but remember how easily Mulder walked around Scully in his underwear as early as “Fire” (1×11).

Best Quotes:

Deputy Chief Karras: Agent Scully is a medical doctor. Who they tell me has a lot of experience with equivocal deaths.

Melnick: Equivocal? [Laughs] Hey, I mean you’re dead or you’re not, right?

Scully: Deaths for which there may be many explanations or for which an explanation may be hard to find.

Lyle: [To Doggett] What about you?

Doggett: I’m just a good shot.

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Roadrunners 8×5: You’re going to be so loved.


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Highway to hell.

Warning: Do not take this episode with food. May cause stomach upset.

I flailed all through this, but not for my usual fangirl reasons. The sheer grossness is mindboggling. I haven’t contorted my face this much since “F. Emasculata” (2×22).

My king, writer Vince Gilligan, is back… boy, is he back… with his first serious X-File since “Tithonus” (6×9). The only solo offerings he gave us in Season 7 were comical so I guess he’s trying to make up for lost time. I don’t know. But I know he’s freaking me out.

One of the things I love most about Gilligan’s writing is his characterization of Scully. Too often Scully is left to look bored and aloof, because we know that all serious scientists are bored and aloof. Gilligan, though, likes to give her new things to do, things that bring out other sides of her. And he gives her back some of the sarcasm she originally had in Season 1. I find it interesting that his last serious X-File was Scully-centric too.

Scully’s in real trouble this time. She’s on a case alone because, while she’s stopped resenting Doggett, as demonstrated by her procuring the desk she promised him, she would still rather not have him around. The X-Files don’t matter to him the way they matter to her and she wants to keep him on the periphery. Besides, there’s no sense in getting attached when Mulder will be back soon. But what Scully’s forgotten is how many times she’s nearly died investigating an X-File.

One of the things I liked about the good but not great “Brand X” (7×19) was that it was the first time in a long time that it felt like there was a very real threat to Mulder. Well, it’s Scully’s turn. I haven’t feared for her life like this since I don’t know when. She’s surrounded by the faithful from hell and she has a giant slug stuck in her back that thinks it’s the second coming of Jesus. I’m pretty sure that’s called a “pickle.”

Right from the teaser, we see a bus full of zombie-like strangers calmly stone a crippled man to death in the desert in the middle of the blackest night. Don’t hold any horror tropes back, Vince. It starts freaky and it only gets freaky-er.

Scully gets trapped in this little village after being sabotaged by Marty Taylor from Home Improvement. Then she’s introduced to this guy with a thing crawling up his spine. He’s got a big hole in his back where it went through, and Dr. Scully seems to think the best medical course of action is to squeeze the hole to see what comes out of it

Here’s where Scully starts to get a little gullible. It could possibly read out of character that the townspeople catch her off her guard, but I think she is on her guard. She knows these people are up to something and she doesn’t trust them. It’s exactly because she doesn’t trust them that she’s inclined to think the guy with the thing up his back is a victim, which really, he is. As a doctor, her heart also naturally goes out to the patient. Why she’d give him her gun though…

The result is a scene in a dark barn that’s deliciously horrible. Scully slowly realizes she’s cornered, she struggles, the crowd is shouting, “Amen!” as yet another crippled man get stoned to death. Oh, the creepiness. I know what happens and I had to watch through my fingers.

The good news is this madness gets Scully riled up. And Scully may be in trouble this episode, but she’s no damsel in distress. Nosirree. This is another moment brought to you by Scully Squared ™. Even tied up and gagged she’s causing trouble and starting fires. That’s my girl.

However, there’s no way she’s getting out of this on her own. Doggett shows off his investigative skills and has a couple of cool moments himself before showing up to help Scully. One character trait he and Mulder do share is that they both trust their instincts. His instincts tell him something’s wrong in this no-name town. I especially like seeing him knock Marty Taylor the gas station attendant out. And then he cuts that thing out of her back. Ugh! Now that’s commitment. I’m sorry. If it were me, Scully would have had to die. There’s no way I would have been within thirty feet of her back. And then he holds it with his bare hands. Kill me.

Verdict:

All hail King Gilligan because this was the perfect way to bring Scully and Doggett together. Not only has he saved her life, he’s saved her baby’s life. Scully can’t hate him now. And a very mature Scully is forced to realize that she can’t keep treating Doggett like he’s sort of her partner. He’s here and she’d better accept him. Or else.

And while I miss the Mulder/Scully dynamic as much as anyone, I don’t think “Roadrunners” suffers from the loss of it. We’ve had episodes without one or both of them before and few of those are quite this memorable.

In summary, “Roadrunners” freaks me the heck out.

A+

Pocket Change:

This guy is stranded in the middle of the night, hails a bus, and then insults the driver after she picks him up? What, does he want to end up stranded back on the road? Then he doesn’t even bother to ask where the bus is going, just puts on his headphones and settles down for the ride.

It’s so dark, I can’t see what Scully finds when she looks at Mr. Milsap’s phone plug.

Danny’s back!

Is Scully going to be in the hospital every other episode this season?

It’s funny, when I thought ahead to this episode I figured it would be Vince Gilligan. These X-Files writers really do distinguish themselves.

“F. Emasculata” also involved buses in its grossness.

I don’t think we’ve seen Scully have a proper freakout since “Wetwired” (3×23).

Mulder wasn’t mentioned at all this episode…

Best Quotes:

Scully: What did you put in me?! I’m going to get every last one of you bastards!

Mr. Milsap: No! You’ll love us. You’ll protect us. You’ll teach us, make us better than we are. We’re taught not to envy, but I do envy you so… that you’ll soon be one with him.

Scully: Him?! That thing in my spine is a “him“?!

————————-

Doggett: [On phone] Just talked to a guy who had a gun in his pocket and I don’t mean he was happy to see me.

Drive 6×2: At this point, I want to see him alive even more than you do.


Space: The Final Frontier

You should know that before I wrote up this review I spent my morning watching a longwinded interview of Vince Gilligan by the Archive of American Television, the joy of which may be found here.

I want to upfront about this because yes, watching this may have slightly elevated my bias, but I want to assure you that this highly favorable and unbalanced accounting of my thoughts has in no way been altered from it’s original intent which was already decidedly favorable and unbalanced. Thank you for understanding.

———————-

 I love this episode, and I may even love it a little bit harder knowing that I’m somewhat alone in my regard for it; someone has to make up the fan slack. All I can say is that between “Drive” and Breaking Bad, when writer Vince Gilligan and actor Bryan Cranston get together good things seem to happen.

True to his unofficial title on The X-Files as the King of Continuity, Gilligan opens on Mulder and Scully this episode by cluing us in to the fact that our two leads are working Domestic Terrorism now. This (belatedly) explains the entire beginning of Fight the Future and why Mulder and Scully were in Dallas searching for a bomb in the first place. Since Mulder and Scully haven’t earned reassignment on the X-Files, they’re still stuck in this department. And, unfortunately for Mulder in particular, most of their work isn’t as exciting as combing federal buildings for bombs. However, why are Mulder and Scully being sent places like Dallas and Iowa? The local field offices can’t handle that? Think of the expense! No wonder our government’s in debt.

Another one of the more clever ideas used in this episode is that not only are Mulder and Scully investigating separately as they sometimes do, but they’re stripped of the crutch of constant communication with each other. Mulder’s cell phone dies a painful death on the highway and Scully is forced to figure out what Mulder is up to from a distance based on vague clues in his behavior. Not only does this highlight the different ways that Mulder and Scully have of getting to the truth, with Mulder intuitively piecing together clues as to how to keep Crump alive and Scully using her science to find the source of the problem, but it also shows just how great a team Mulder and Scully are even apart and how far they’ve come to trust each other that Scully is so easily able to interpret Mulder’s puzzling actions from afar.

I’m also impressed that since the move of the entire production to L.A., the crew at 1013 has been able to keep the interiors dark and the aesthetic of The X-Files intact even though the blinding California sunlight is hard to ignore. There’s also a great, otherworldly scene where Scully and a group of scientists go investigating Crump’s trailer at night, a great way to avoid the issue of glaring sunlight altogether. Between the eerily lit anti-contamination suits and the myriad flashlight beams the trip to the trailer looks like a walk on the moon. And if we have to be in California, they might as well put California to good use which they do by taking us all the way to the Pacific Ocean in that lovely finale to Mulder’s roadtrip with Crump.

All of these things are good things and already more than sufficient for an enjoyable episode, but the real heart and soul of “Drive” is Patrick Crump himself, played by the then relatively unknown Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle wouldn’t premier for over another year).

His character is an odd mix of red neck and patriot and provides an interesting foil to the East Coast ease of Fox Mulder, not that the two men are completely different. In fact, there are times when Mulder doesn’t sound much saner than Crump himself. But when even Fox Mulder rolls his eyes at your conspiracy theories, you know a hard line has been crossed. The unlikable Crump makes for an unlikely character to drive (no pun intended) the story, but he successfully does this for a couple of reasons.

First, despite Crump’s overt racism, you get the feeling that underneath the garbage he’s been taught beats the heart of a true man. Why? Because of his determination to live, and more than that, to live with dignity and without interference from outside forces. It’s not the same desire to survive that we see in the Syndicate, a sort of sinister selfishness. Crump wants to live because it’s his American, scratch that, his human right to do so. Just like it’s his right to let trash spill out of his mouth if he so chooses.

Second, Crump’s philosophies aren’t all that dissimilar to our beloved Mulder’s which creates a chemistry and connection between the two men, despite their overt antagonism, that’s fun to watch. They have a certain mutual understanding and respect by the end of the episode, a bromance, if you will. Despite their obvious differences in lifestyle and opinion, both men have attitude in spades and both men possess a fierce determination to survive and by doing so, stick it to a government that invaded their lives and tore them apart.

Yet, Crump doesn’t seem to get much love on the internet and a guest spot that probably deserves legendary status in retrospect is largely ignored. Could it be that Bryan Cranston does so good a job that some in the audience take his racist rantings seriously? I don’t think that’s the spirit in which it was intended. You’re meant to roll your eyes at his nonsense, not shake your fist.

For me, it’s the strength of character, the determination in this otherwise offensive man that gives him enough recognizable humanity so that I can’t help but sympathize. By the end I’m rooting for him wholeheartedly and the moment when both Mulder and we realize that he’s not going to make it is unexpectedly heartbreaking.

At least Scully bravely standing up to Kersh, who proves in this episode to be just as inflexible and unsympathetic as his expression promises in “The Beginning” (6×1), lightens the emotional load in the final moments of this episode. I can’t wait to see what other plans he has to make Mulder and Scully’s lives miserable.

Verdict:

Would “Drive” make my top 10 list of favorite episodes? Probably not. But that’s not because I can find anything wrong with it. And I absolutely do get a kick out of it, several in fact. From Mulder’s classic impatience in the beginning to Scully’s deliciously gross autopsy and one heck of a guest star, I can’t see where it makes a misstep. Well, except for maybe that hokey newscast it opens with. But that’s easily forgiven, especially as I suspect it was meant to be cheesy.

Both the sense of urgency here and the, well, head-explosions remind me forcefully of “F. Emasculata” (2×22) and that’s a good thing. But I hesitate to call this a Half-Caff episode because while there is a dangerous science involved, the government isn’t seeking to control it but instead may have accidentally and unknowingly unleashed it. The jury is still out as to whether Crump and his wife were unofficial or inadvertent test subjects for the Navy.

Either way, this is an unexpectedly poignant story about citizens losing their dignity at the hands of a government that’s supposed to preserve it.

A

Sugar Beets:

Fun Moment – When Virgil Nokes opens the door for Mulder and Scully only to let it slam back on them.

Am I the only one that gets a kick out of the fact that Mulder says “stoopid” rather than “stupid?”

When Crump first notices his nose bleed a high pitched ringing is cleverly inserted into the score, mimicking Crump’s symptoms for the entire audience. That’s brilliant. Except that I’m surer than ever that tinnitus could drive a person mad.

The scene where Scully calls Mulder when Crump has him at gunpoint and he calmly answers as if nothing’s wrong forcefully reminds me of “Herrenvolk (4×1). But that time it was Scully being held hostage by the Alien Bounty Hunter and Mulder calling her on the phone, oblivious.

Oh, how I begged Scully to stop poking around in that dead woman’s ear.

I’m digging Mulder’s knew haircut. The Elvis look was wearing thin.

There are clear echoes of the movie Speed here, which makes me want to take a trip down pre-adolescent lane and go rewatch it.

How about that needle Scully’s sporting is the stuff of nightmares?

Best Quotes:

Scully: Uh, Virgil Nokes? I’m Agent Scully. This is Agent Mulder. We’re with the F.B.I.
Virgil Nokes: Jehovah’s Witness?
Scully: No, sir, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mulder: But we do have a free copy of the Watchtower for you, if you’d like.

———————-

Mulder: If you stop moving you die? I think I saw this movie.

———————-

Mulder: Crump? Crump, what else can you tell me about what’s happening to you?
Patrick Crump: Mr. Crump. You call me by my last name, you say Mister in front of it.
Mulder: Mister. I got you.
Patrick Crump: Not Crump. Mr. Crump.
Mulder: I can think of something else I’d like to call you. I could put Mister in front of that too if you’d like.
Patrick Crump: You know, what kind of name is Mulder, anyway? What is that, like… like, Jewish?
Mulder: Excuse me?
Patrick Crump: Jewish. It is, right?
Mulder: It’s Mr. Mulder to you, you peanut-picking bastard.

———————-

Mulder: Well, on behalf of the international Jewish conspiracy I just need to inform you that we’re… almost out of gas.

The Pine Bluff Variant 5×18: Oh, is this the Pepsi Challenge?


Musta been something I ate.

We were overdue for this.

The last three episodes haven’t been… bad… they’ve just been rather quiet and unassuming, a characteristic I know how to appreciate but, dang it, this is The X-Files. I should be nearly falling off my chair with excitement more often than not. Usually, that kind of adrenaline rush is brought on by vile beasties and such, but “The Pine Bluff Variant” ignores the usual scares for an old-fashioned, Hollywood style action mystery – it’s a welcome departure.

This episode is a pure thriller from top to bottom. I don’t think the series ever had another episode that was quite like it in tone and if not for a few key elements like the familiar characters, the distinctive cinematography and particularly horrific effects of the biotoxin, it wouldn’t even feel like an X-File. The closest episode to it in style would have to be “F. Emasculata” (2×22), which has a rare sense of urgency to it for a non-mythology episode, with “Sleepless” (2×4) running second just because both episodes are echoes of The Manchurian Candidate in their own way.

All three episodes are what I like to refer to as Half-Caff: They involve a more generalized and vague government conspiracy than the mythology proper that’s centered around a highly coveted piece of science or technology. It’s one of my favorite sub-types of Monster of the Week episodes because the “monster” is so much more dangerous than an individual mutant, it’s all encompassing and nearly invisible – it’s a government. And isn’t The X-Files, a product of men who grew up in the Nixon era, a show grounded in government distrust? It’s a foundation of cement, really. The monsters, the aliens, they’re all just stand-ins and allegories for groups of nameless, faceless men with all the power and none of the integrity, men who control the future of the masses while exercising no self-control over their own whims. At least, that’s how you’ll feel if you watch too much of this show.

Mulder made a mistake and opened his mouth a little too wide back in “Patient X” (5×13) voicing not only his then doubts as to the existence of extra-terrestrials, but also some particularly jaded views on the Federal government. I always appreciate continuity on The X-Files when I see it, and goodness knows it becomes a hot commodity in later seasons, so I think it was clever of writer John Shiban to throw in a nod to a significant moment earlier in the season.

But back to Mulder… thank heaven for this episode! Mulder has either been irritating or relatively useless for the last five episodes, that is when he’s even present. Finally, he’s redeemed as our anti-hero hero and I’m forcefully and gleefully reminded why I love this man… er… character. Yes.

Mulder has one of his greatest moments ever here with his,  “If you touch me again you better kill me!” line. Actually, that entire interrogation scene is golden both for Mulder’s sarcasm and his action hero antics. If you haven’t watched it in a while, please do. Pop it in the player a moment for your own sake. Go on. It’s okay. I’ll wait.

………….

And we’re back.

Not to be outdone, Mulder isn’t the only one with a chance to shine, Scully wakes up this episode and I just love her when she has attitude. I know her little feet can’t reach the peddles but I swear, she’s more dangerous than Mulder. U.S. Attorney Leamus has no idea how narrowly he escaped a hurtin’.

The villain isn’t the only object of her wrath, either, as wonderfully evidenced in that scene where Scully tracks Mulder to an out of the way motel. Scully’s furious at Mulder, more so because he’s lying to her than because he’s colluding with a dangerous criminal. Even so, she doesn’t betray him when she has the chance. It’s like I said back in “Demons” (4×23), Scully will defend Mulder whether he’s innocent or guilty, as long as he needs her she will compulsively be there. She might not be happy about it, though.

Things were supposed to be a little tense between Mulder and Scully this season what with Mulder’s doubts about the existence of aliens and Scully dealing with the after-effects of her cancer, but whatever the writers intended, for the most part, they didn’t pull it off. I can’t think of when the characters have ever felt closer.

Verdict:

This is absolutely the best episode John Shiban ever gave the show solo and it’s one of the best examples of how The X-Files could transform itself from week to week and from genre to genre. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I don’t see it pop up more often on “Best Of” lists.

I’m still not sure what the government gets out of this in the end. Were they using these terrorists to test the biotoxin or were they trying to retrieve the stolen technology from them? If the former, were the terrorists aware they were being used? Is August Bremmer a government plant put there to organize and control them into using the weapon the way the government sees fit?

In the end, I just don’t care. I enjoy the ride far too much to be disappointed by my own inability to follow a plot.

I’ve always loved this episode, but watching Scully and Skinner walk into that movie theater again with flashlights flashing… it just may have rolled up into my top ten favorites.

A+

Random Comments:

Kate Braidwood, the daughter of Tom Braidwood, the First Director on the show and the actor who plays Frohike, shows up in this episode as the Usherette.

Putting the biotoxin on the bank’s money sounds scary in theory, but it would never make it out into the general population anyhow. The moment someone who worked at the bank touched it they’d die, which would lead to an investigation, which would lead to the money being confiscated. After all, how can anyone pass on the cash without flesh?

So the motel featured so heavily in this episode… I feel as though I’ve seen it several times, a fact which I can neither confirm nor deny. But if I’m not much mistaken, it’s not only the motel from “Conduit” (1×3) and “Wetwired” (3×23), but possibly from “Colony” (2×16) and “Tempus Fugit” (4×17) as well. But I’m not going to bother to go back and check so…

The set design and lighting in that F.B.I. conference room is immaculate. Come to think of it, the set designs throughout this entire episode are amazing.

Oh, my Shippers, you caught that moment, right? Right? Right.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Maybe you can tell me what’s going on.
Motel Manager: What?
Scully: There seems to be a problem. A man just told me you gave him keys to my room. Room 130.
Motel Manager: Who are you?
Scully: Who am I? Who is he?
Motel Manager: Mister, uh, Kaplan.
Scully: Mr. Kaplan?
Motel Manager: Yes.
Scully: Thank you.
Motel Manager: Are you the wife?
Scully: Not even close.

———————-

Scully: Exactly what agency are you guys from?
Agents: [Stony silence]
Scully: Obviously not the Office of Information.

———————-

Scully: Oh, Mulder, what did they do to you?
Mulder: [Winces]
Scully: This needs to be set. You’re in pain.
Mulder: Yeah, if you keep pullin’ it around like that…

———————-

Mulder: If you don’t hear from me by midnight, feed my fish.

Synchrony 4×19: Puts a whole new spin on being your own worst enemy.


I got chills. They're multiplyin'.

I don’t think we’ve had an episode of The X-Files so purely scientific since “F. Emasculata” (2×22) or at least “Wetwired” (3×23), and both of those episodes involve a certain amount of conspiracy and machination. “Synchrony” is unique in that not only does it focus solely on theoretical science, it takes a decidedly personal approach in doing so. Don’t expect a shadowy informant to make a superfluous appearance in this one.

This is episode is brought to you by the letter “G.” “G” for writers Howard Gordon and David Greenwalt, an interesting pair indeed. Greenwalt was a co-executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a co-creator of the spin off Angel, so his pedigree is nothing to sneeze at. But this episode was destined to be Greenwalt’s only episode of The X-Files which makes it hard to gauge how much of “Synchrony” is his and how much can be attributed to series regular Howard Gordon. That said, Gordon had a knack for writing about hubris, or more specifically, about the havoc that can be wrecked by overly brilliant men or men who overly think they’re brilliant, so I’m betting he’s responsible for most of this. It’s the prevailing theme in many of his episodes such as “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), “Firewalker” (2×9) and even “Fresh Bones” (2×15) among others.

This isn’t the most successful of the lot, mostly due I think to issues of science and somewhat bland characters, but it’s still a solid and enjoyable offering. The main problem is that a time travel story can easily get lost in its own set of paradoxes no matter how skillful the writers. For instance, If Old Man Nichols kills his younger self, who in the heck is going to travel back from the future to assassinate everyone involved in the project in the first place? And for that matter, why didn’t he just aim for his younger self from the get go? That would’ve stopped the whole project in its tracks since it’s his Cryobiology that makes time travel possible.

You would think that meeting your younger self, the version of yourself that most people wish heartily they could knock some sense into, would provide a springboard for more existential angst. But I don’t think this episode really has time to explore the emotional issues of Old Man Nichols or of the younger Jason Nichols once he discovers that he’s both a murderer and a genius (well, the latter he already strongly believed). Instead, most of its time is spent slowly revealing the science behind the plot and what little time for emotional development that’s available takes place between Old Man Nichols and, well, everyone else but himself.

Then there’s the fact that Old Man Nichols’ motivations for taking on such a gruesome responsibility are given only brief lip service at the end of the episode. Exactly how unlivable had these ambitious scientists unwittingly made the future? Why is time travel more of a curse than a gift? And if their joint success turned out to be such a tragedy, why did neither Lisa or Yonechi come back with him to undo what they accomplished? Could it be that Nichols is the only one with regrets?

I have more questions than comments, but that’s pretty much to be expected whenever time travel comes up as a subject. As I said earlier, paradoxes are inevitable and I’m no physicist, I’m a fuzzy; I don’t have the feet for wading in these waters. But when I compare this episode to more successful interpretations of time travel, like Back to the Future and a handful of Star Trek: TNG episodes, it comes up wanting. There were a lot of issues to potentially explore and so without narrowing in on one or two of them, all of them ending up getting the short shrift.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy this one, mind you. And considering it originally aired over 14 years ago I think it actually holds up rather well. Probably the most effective part of this episode is the Fire and Ice theme. The X-Files is nothing if it’s not inventive when it comes to death and watching a frozen body melt and then burst into flames is not without its charms.

And the Verdict is…

This is yet another episode where Mulder is 10 steps ahead of everyone else without much evidence to go on, but it would have been nice if Scully had taken more of a lead in what is essentially one of the few purely sci-fi episodes of The X-Files. After all, Scully’s the scientist here and indeed, she’s a scientist with a working knowledge of time travel theory! Sure, Mulder brings up her graduate school theory on time travel, but only to use it against her. This never really struck me before but looking back, I suspect it would have been more interesting to have Scully face up to her own former self and her former beliefs as she did in “Revelations” (3×11) and as Old Man Nichols has to do, literally, over the course of this episode. Psychological time travel paralleled with physical time travel? It sounds like a good match to me.

B

Nagging Questions:

Why is Old Man Nichols so determined to save Lucas Menand in the beginning of the episode when he’s otherwise only determined to kill? Why waste time trying to save the life of one enemy when he’s willing to kill his friends? And what’s more, why risk exposure when it’s best to complete his mission as quickly as possible?

Couldn’t Old Man Nichols think of a better way to kill people than not really killing them? Poison maybe? Something so that he could actually succeed in preventing the future.

For that matter, why kill them all? Just removing one part of the equation would have prevented eventual success. Technically speaking, Old Man Nichols could have stopped after killing Yonechi.

Nagging Comments:

What his with the guy who plays Yonechi, Hiro Kanagawa, dying particularly gruesome deaths? Who could forget fungus exploding from his throat in “Firewalker”?

Best Quotes:

Coroner: I haven’t been able to make a definitive determination as to cause or time of death. There’s been some internal disagreement over how to proceed.
Scully: You mean with the autopsy?
Coroner: Yes… but mostly whether to cut or to saw.

———————–

Mulder: You ever seen a body in such an advanced hypothermic state?
Scully: Hypothermic? Mulder, this man’s an icicle.

———————–

Scully: Well, my best guess would be that he’s been exposed to some kind of chemical refrigerant like liquid nitrogen. Possibly even ingested it.
Mulder: Well, you see what happens when you drink and drive?

———————–

Mulder: “Although common sense may rule out the possibility of time travel, the laws of quantum physics certainly do not.” In case you forgot, that’s from your graduate thesis. You were a lot more open minded when you were a youngster.

F. Emasculata 2×22: This is Smokey and the Bandit.


Hey, Mister...

“F. Emasculata” is famous for being one of the grossest, if not the grossest episode that The X-Files has ever done. It even outdoes “The Host” (2×2). Whatever synapses are misfiring in my brain, I actually love this episode for its gratuitous distaste. I scrunch up my mouth and watch through my fingers every time.

This episode relies largely on the distrust of Big Pharma that was pervasive in the ‘90s. Who are we kidding? It still is. Somehow, it’s easy to believe that a big, faceless corporation would be willing to subject the human race to anything to build its empire. We Americans in particular are distrustful of any large concentration of power and money. I’m only touching on this lightly, but it’s exactly that collective fear that is at the heart of the mythology; there’s a small group of men hoarding their power and saving themselves at the expense of the little guy.

I have to say I had forgotten how much overlap there was in early seasons between the overarching mythology and minor, mini conspiracies perpetrated by the Federal Government. CSM is back for the first time since “One Breath” (2×8) not because extra terrestrials are involved but to give the goings on in this episode a diabolical edge. Enjoyable as it is to see him, I’m not so sure his presence serves the plot. Scully later reiterates everything he says but in a less sinister fashion and with more conviction. Regardless, once again the government is running secret tests on innocent civilians only this time they have a partner.

Those who have been following for a while know that I refer to these types of episodes as “Half-Caff” X-Files. They’re not paranormal or supernatural, instead there’s a science or technology that the government is trying desperately to control. “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) was the first of its species. I enjoy these types because they tend to be a little more scientific. “F. Emasculata” is not. The science of the disease is never explained. Why should it have been? The thrill isn’t in discovering its cause it’s in watching those horrible boils explode.

Speaking of a lack of science, how can Scully possibly be as stupid as she’s presented??? She’s a doctor. She knows that germs can be spread in a multitude of ways, yet in the face of a contagion whose method of communication is unknown, she opens up a sealed body bag with only a pair of gloves and a cheap mask. If it’s bad enough that the bodies are being incinerated, it’s bad enough that you should put on a containment suit, woman. And then she takes off her mask!! I’m incredulous, that’s what I am. If we’re going to be perfectly honest, it’s because of Scully’s recklessness that Dr. Osbourne dies.

Maybe to make up for the sheer lunacy of her actions in that scene, we later get a glimpse of Heroic Scully. Why does Scully keep from Mulder that she might be dying? Either that’s too heavy a conversation to have over the phone and/or she knows Mulder would stop what he’s doing and go to her rather than put his full effort into stopping this thing. Even if Scully’s stupid, she is sweet.

On a last film school related note, much of this episode is filmed in shadow. I know, I know. That’s pretty much every episode of The X-Files. But even more so here, when CSM first appears on the scene, he’s filmed almost entirely in the dark except for his eyes. At other moments, actors are lit from a single light source such as the fire from the incinerator or a slot through a cell door creating a heightened sense of tension and drawing our minds away from any holes the story might have. It’s no surprise that we have Rob Bowman to thank for this.

Conclusion:

How much should people know? Does the public have a right to know everything? Does knowledge always help, or can it sometimes endanger? “You can’t protect the public by lying to it.” Oh, Mulder, you know better. At least Scully is able to talk some sense into him. This means CSM was right too, for once. Could he be right when it comes to the mythology as well?? If you take it as a whole, “F. Emasculata” is arguing for full disclosure, only I’ll give it credit for acknowledging the risk involved.

Now, while I thoroughly enjoy this episode I’ll be the first to tell you that the whole premise is faulty. Mulder claims Pink Pharmaceuticals conducted this secret experiment to avoid having to go through years of FDA trials and get their drug on the market faster. The whole point of FDA trials, first of all, is that they are a line of defense between manufacturers and the American public that can’t be circumvented; you have to show proof of all your collected data. Ergo, a secret experiment is useless when it comes to getting FDA approval. But what really gets me is that I don’t know what Mulder’s on about since there’s no drug being tested at all! So what would they get approved? They’re spreading a disease just to see what it will do, to understand the science behind it (which vaguely reminds me of the Tuskeegee Experiments). It’s not a stretch to conclude that they’re creating a problem so that they’ll have a jump on the competition in learning how to solve it and eventually earn themselves revenue. But there are some serious variables involved before that can happen, as the events of this episode bear out.

I bet you think after all that griping I’m about to downgrade this episode. How could I do that when I enjoy it so much? So the plot has some pitfalls. Whatever excuse they need to bring me those boils a-poppin’ is just fine.

A-

Questions:

Wouldn’t Pink or the government have warned the U.S. Marshalls that there’s a contagion? These escaped men pose a threat to their testing as they’re outside of the focus group and unmonitored. The situation is tumbling out of control, something they don’t want because that would only draw more attention to what they’re doing. You would think that they’d make more of an effort to contain the situation by preventing others from being infected, if only so that no one would catch on to what’s actually happening.

Comments:

It’s interesting to see Dean Norris (U.S. Marshall) in his younger days before Breaking Bad, a series he stars in that’s written and created by fellow X-Files alum Vince Gilligan. Plug.

Best Quotes:

Scully: According to the briefing, prisoners escaped by hiding in a laundry cart.
Mulder: I don’t think the guards are watching enough prison movies.

——————–

Smoking Man: In 1988 there was an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Sacramento California. The truth would have caused panic. Panic would have cost lives. We control the disease by controlling the information.
Mulder: You can’t protect the public by lying to them.
Smoking Man: It’s done every day.
Mulder: I won’t be a party to it. [To Skinner] What about you?
Smoking Man: You’re already a party to it. How many people are being infected while you stand here not doing your job? Ten? Twenty? What’s the truth, Agent Mulder?

——————–

Mulder: What about you? Where do you stand?
Skinner: I stand right on the line that you keep crossing.

——————-

Skinner: Agent Mulder, I’m saying this as a friend. Watch your back. This is just the beginning.

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


Believe the badge.

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

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

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

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

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

And the Verdict is…

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

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

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

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

C

General Observations

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

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

Nagging Questions:

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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