Tag Archives: Fearful Symmetry

First Person Shooter 7×13: Well, that’s rather sexist, isn’t it?


fps215

Stay out of my way, geeks.

 

Season 7 is not going well for me. Then again, it never does.

We passed the halfway point of the season a couple of episodes back and yet I’ve experienced very few twitches and tingles.

I remember having my hopes up for this one back in the day, though. After all, it brought back the Lone Gunmen and I’ve missed these guys. It also brings back sci-fi writer William Gibson and novelist Tom Maddox who brought us Season 5’s “Kill Switch” (5×11), one of my all-time favorite episodes.

This should go well, right?

Then why do I hate this episode? Because I do hate it. Absolutely.

Somewhere buried within the good intentions that made up this episode is some kind of convoluted attempt to tackle issues of entertainment and violence, civilization and instinct, fantasy and reality, and the feminine response to unrealistic male sexual objectification which includes self-glorification as well as objectification. Yes, they threw all of that in there. Really.

Maybe they didn’t exactly mean to tackle all these, just mention or include them all. Maybe they felt they couldn’t present a virtual reality based episode without at least addressing in passing the issues that surround video games in the public discourse.

I don’t know, but mixing up all these potentially thoughtful issues in an episode that’s clearly designed to be a rip-roaring good time feels unfocused. Granted, “Kill Switch” raised a couple of questions in passing about consciousness and creation. But that was it, a couple of questions in passing. Can we create life? Is consciousness digitally transferable? Done. The end.

If I’m wrong I really do apologize, but it feels like this is a case of a script going through too many hands, as though there were several people trying to do several different things.

Mulder: We came, we saw, we conquered. And if the taste of victory is sweet, the taste of virtual victory is not Sweet ‘N Low, nor the bullets made of sugar. Maybe out past where the imagination ends our true natures lie, waiting to be confronted on their own terms. Out where the intellect is at war with the primitive brain in the hostile territory of the digital world where laws are silent and rules disappear in the midst of arms. Born in anarchy with an unquenchable bloodthirst we shudder to think what might rise up from the darkness.

I… This closing monologue… I have no words.

Yes, I do. This has Chris Carter written all over it. (I love you, Chris. I swear.)

But as I said in the review for “Closure” (7×11), these monologues have a way of summing things up for us. It would indeed appear that the overall crux of the story, besides the obvious takeaway that blasting things is fun, is that video games allow us to let loose our own primordial urges but by so doing, we run the risk of creating something new and frightening out of the ooze.

Is that it, Chris? Did I get it?

Ergo, video games serve a vital purpose. Ergo, if we take away this indulgence then men won’t be able to hold their urges in check in a civilized society, like the cops at the precinct when they encounter Jade Blue Afterglow and suddenly forget they’re cops and have seen plenty of strippers. Ergo, accidentally creating something we can’t control, like Matreiya, is the risk we as a society must take.

I realize that these exaggerated versions of gamers and men are meant to be funny and only serve to make Phoebe and Scully look better by the end of the episode. Did they really have to make the girls look good at the expense of the guys? And as much as I like seeing Scully kick butt and wish she had the chance to do it more often, do the girls really look so much better overall? Phoebe comes off as downright selfish – letting people continue to die rather than to destroy her virtual, idealized version of herself. Yes, because that’s feminism. We can be just as violent and self-absorbed as men.

Verdict:

Alright. I realize this is all supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and I know it sounds like I’m taking this episode seriously. The truth is I don’t. I’m just racking my brain trying to figure out some logical, rational, explicable reason why I don’t like it.

Maybe there is no legitimate reason. Maybe I’m mad because they finally brought back the Lone Gunmen, but even they deliver their lines with forced enthusiasm. And these guys always come through for me, even in episodes as bad and as far back as “Fearful Symmetry” (2×18)!

It’s trying to be an X-File, it’s trying to be a sci-fi fantasy, it’s trying to be a comedy, it’s trying to be social commentary… It’s trying and failing. Not that X-Files episodes haven’t been several things at once before, but this attempt isn’t successful. And it’s a little insulting to men and women alike.

Frankly, I’m frustrated and I’m bored. Thank the 1013 heavens that’s about to end.

D

P.S. And don’t get me started on Scully’s head being interposed on Jade Blue Afterglow’s body by way of a compliment at the very end.

Immature, Hormonal Fantasies:

Mindless destruction and sex just seem to go together, don’t they? Scully seems to find it all relatively harmless. I find it mostly gross. I think better of men than this.

In other words, take a man’s idealized caricature of a woman and destroy him with it.

Scully’s leather jacket is back.

Now we know how the Lone Gunmen finance their, er, other projects.

Donkey Lips! From Salute Your Shorts!! I can’t believe I never recognized him before as one third of the geeky trio in the teaser.

All I could think as I started watching this again was, “This must have cost a lot of money.”

“No fair pickin’ on a girl.” Scully would never say this without irony.

I actually find the gear a little hokey.

Questions:

The body of the gamer that died in the teaser waits, unmoved, for Mulder and Scully to cross the country and show up on the scene? No matter what killed him, the company should have been in trouble for not calling the police and leaving him there to rot.

Speaking of bodies, in the autopsy scene, why was Musashi’s head placed between his feet?

Since when does Mulder know all this game design lingo?

Why doesn’t Matreiya kill Mulder when she has the chance?

Best Quotes:

Langly: Dudes! Agent Mulder, what’s up, wild man? Welcome to the land where silicon meets silicone.

Frohike: Can I get you a latte from the bar or perhaps a bottle of designer H20?

——————-

Mulder: Is that him? Is that Daryl Musashi?

Byers: Yeah, that’s him.

Langly: He just stepped into the game.

Mulder: Why is he just standing there?

Ivan: Because he knows no fear. {Editor’s Note: Okay, I chuckled despite myself.}

 

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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.

Fearful Symmetry 2×18: It’s all happening at the zoo.


Sing and sqeak and squawk with the animals.

Coming off of “Colony” (2×16) and “End Game” (2×17), we’ve been on an adrenaline rush. And judging from the first part of this teaser, you’d expect that to continue. There’s an incredible, invisible force tearing through town and causing thousands of dollars in set damage. But by the time we see a dying elephant lying in the road with children weeping over it, I already know that something has gone horribly, terribly wrong.

If I’m to understand this properly, aliens are abducting animals for genetic testing and conservation purposes since we humans aren’t stewarding the planet the way we ought. Said aliens have such advanced technology that they can travel light years through space, abduct animals out of their cages without unlocking them, but they can’t. put. them. back. They’re so worried about preserving these animals that they impregnate them, steal their babies, and then drop them among human beings who they know will kill them if they’re on the loose. Not to mention these animals are so scarred by the abduction experience that they all seem to be in need of a psychologist, or at least Dr. Dolittle.

Mulder gives a vague explanation about how there’s some astrological issue with the space-time continuum that prevents the aliens from putting the animals back safely. So… what? They couldn’t wait a few days till the stars were aligned and the issue was resolved?

More time is spent in exposition about the plight of animals in zoos than is spent on the plot itself. This is Steven DeJarnatt’s only writing credit for The X-Files. Funny, I only have one episode to go on but I think I have a pretty good idea of his political leanings.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not unsympathetic. In fact, I’ve never been fond of traditional zoos myself. I too watched Dumbo as a child and pitied the poor little elephants bound by chains for gross human consumption. That said, I’ll give up my two little doggies for no man. They’d barely last an hour in the backyard let alone in the wild. “Objects for [my] own selfish pleasure?” You bet they are.

I’m being sarcastic. I don’t truly believe this episode is espousing the more radical view of the fictional WAO, but it does have a moral to the story that’s written in all caps. It forces the viewer to mentally engage in a political debate rather than in the story. This isn’t Law & Order, this is a show that features green-blooded alien bounty hunters. Green-blooded.

Here, instead of aliens, you’ll find animals in crates everywhere. And I’ll give the creators some credit; it does serve to heighten the tension. Mulder and Scully are walking around with a relatively small barrier between them and a vicious death. But the underlying plot is so absurd that I find myself not caring. Lovely, frightening wild beasts can only take a story so far. I should care by the time Mulder gets trapped in a room with Sophie and witnesses her abduction, but the climax is so decidedly boring. I admit, however, that watching Willa cry over Sophie’s body did make me a little sad.

You know what makes me sadder? This episode.

Conclusion:

An episode about straight-up cattle mutilations would have been more interesting. As it is, the whole premise of “Fearful Symmetry” ends up being mire that quickly swallows the episode whole. That this episode comes directly after the pinnacle of “End Game” only makes things worse.

Does it sink to the depths of “3” (2×7)? Few episodes can. Is it quite as dull as “Space” (1×8)? Humor saves it from that ignoble fate. Its only saving graces are a chance to see Angry Scully and the all too brief appearance of the Lone Gunmen.

Ah, the Lone Gunmen. Too bad one of their funniest scenes is lost in an episode that’s mostly forgotten. They easily steal the show in this one. Not that that’s hard to do…

So, overall, how did it score on my “Reasons I Watch The X-Files” test?

  • Did it make me laugh? A little.
  • Did it make me happy? No.
  • Did it stir my imagination? No.
  • Did it move me? Eh.
  • Did it freak me out? Heck no.

C-

P.S. In case you think I’m exaggerating about how hard they drive the “Save the Animals” point home, try to make it to the end of the episode and listen to Mulder’s closing voice-over. I rest my case.

Questions/Comments/Complaints:

Ed Meecham has worked at the zoo for years. For what? So he can torture animals for fun? It makes no sense that this man would spend his life caring for animals when he’s not an animal lover. Worse, why does everyone look at him in horror when he shot the tiger that was about to maul Willa Ambrose to death? Heaven forbid.

If an animal has already killed someone, isn’t it policy to put it down? I don’t think Willa Ambrose would have had the authority to order Meecham, or for that matter, the police, not to shoot on sight.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: I’d be willing to admit the possibility of a tornado, but it’s not really tornado season. I’d even be willing to entertain the notion of a black hole passing over the area or some cosmic anomaly but it’s not really black hole season either. If I was a betting man I’d say it was, a…
Scully: An invisible elephant?
Mulder: I saw David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear once.

———————

Scully: What are you looking for, Mulder?
Mulder: Oh, a local paper. I want to see if David Copperfield is in town.

———————

Mulder: It’s all happening at the zoo, Scully. (A Simon & Garfunkel reference, for those of us too young… or too old to remember).

———————

Mulder: Alright, you keep an eye on the WAO.
Scully: And where are you going?
Mulder: Talk to the animals. (AKA: The Lone Gunmen)

———————

Frohike: Beam me up Scotty!
Mulder: Did anybody ever tell you the camera loves you, Frohike?
Frohike: Yeah, the arresting officers at the Free James Brown rally.
Byers: What’s this costing the taxpayers, Mulder?
Mulder: Uh, about 150 bucks an hour.
Frohike: Ouch! Almost as much as Bill Clinton’s haircuts!
Mulder: Where’s Langly?
Byers: He has a philosophical issue with having his image bounced off a satellite.

———————-

Frohike: If that’s the lovely Agent Scully, let her know I’ve been working out. I’m buff.