Tag Archives: Ghost in the Machine

Rm9sbG93ZXJz 11×7: Intruder alert.


 

TXF_S11E07_(9).jpg

Run before the computers start talking for you too.

 

First, I just want to say it: The title of this episode is obnoxious. Apparently, it translates to “Followers” in Base64. Which makes sense as I was wondering why the name of the unmanned restaurant Mulder and Scully ate at was “Follower” or “Followers” in Japanese. How’s that for a heavy-handed hint?

Second, I have to say it: I saw Kristen Cloke’s name in the credits and cold shuddered. Yes, I’m happy to see women writers on The X-Files. No, I haven’t forgotten “The Field Where I Died” (4×5) and the love affair between her and Glen Morgan that birthed it. Yes, I wish them all the best. No, I would prefer not to be reminded of a previous television trauma.

Third, I’m going to confess: The reason this review is late is not that I didn’t watch [insert name here] on the night that it aired and not because I didn’t type up my initial musings that same evening. No. I haven’t bothered to post this review or the review for “Familiar” (11×8) because I’ve been too busy binge-watching The X-Files, The Real X-Files, to stop and slide backwards (forwards?) into entertainment darkness.

In my defense, my intentions were innocent. The overall taste of disappointment and disillusionment this revival has left in my mouth drove me back to the Pilot (1×79). I had to make sure I had seen what I knew I had once seen. I’ve been obsessed with this show for two decades for a reason, dangit. I know there was magic here once.

So off to the Pilot I went. And you know what? There it was. The Magic. Or should I say, there were several different types of Magic gelled to form an overall Magic. Well, one magical exploration led to another, and another, and another. And before I knew it, I was popping episodes like Pringles and I couldn’t stop. I mean, you don’t understand. This was one of those binge-watches where you’re falling asleep and you keep nodding off and rewinding and nodding off and rewinding because your mind won’t let you rest until you know what happens at the end of the episode.

You see the curiosity here? I already know what happens at the end of every episode.

My word. This stuff is like visual crack.

Anyway.

Back to the cold reality of The X-Files in 2018. Writers Shannon Hamblin and Kristen Cloke are taking us where every sci-fi franchise known to man, including The X-Files, has already taken us. (Though I still contend that The X-Files was never truly science fiction, only touching on it occasionally, but was instead more of a romantic mythical quest wrapped up in a paranormal fantasy.) I still remember some bogusly deep paper for a film class in college about some random 70s movie where the AI that ran a “smart house” ran amok a la HAL 9000. You know what? Scully’s Roomba-by-another-name is no HAL. And you know what else? After this latest binge-fest I’ve been on, I think my initial takeaway from this episode was correct, that this episode is too based in reality to recreate the fantastical magic that The X-Files had at the height of its powers. If I laughed at all, it’s because I was ruefully reminded of my own father’s struggles with Alexa, not because I was joyfully taken by surprise. If you’re going to go somewhere with a story, go somewhere right on the edge of an unseen world and partially peel back the curtain, because I’m sitting in a room with a Smartphone, a Roomba, and goodness knows what else and I’m neither afraid nor intimidated since I already know it’s not that bad. Sheesh.

Verdict:

This experiment in minimal dialogue is a cool concept, especially on a famously talky show. But after a minute, it felt forced and gimmicky. They get trapped in a building together and don’t talk? Really?

And I dunno. Once upon a time, Japan was associated with all things high tech. But once upon a time, I went everywhere with my Sony Walkman.

This whole idea would have been a lot cooler in the 90s. And in the 90s, the show would have been in full swing, just waiting for someone to toy with its status quo a la Darin Morgan. A high-concept episode like this needs to exist in the context of a more established series (because let’s face it, the Revival is a new, independent animal), one that’s gliding along like a well-oiled machine. And if it had, it might have worked better.

Then again, I stayed up late the other night because I was more interested in and entertained by the famously low-tech and talky “Space” (1×8) than I was by this entire episode. #TruFax

Even the ending felt falsely sweet. I wish someone would stop feeding me Sweet ‘N Low and telling me it’s sugar.

F

Artificial Intelligence:

When I saw this title on my DVR, I seriously thought it was a glitch.

“You have arrived at your final destination.” I see you, Glen Morgan.

In 20+ years, the voice of Artificial Intelligence hasn’t improved since “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6). No, it hasn’t improved since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tell me, do computers have to sound like computers?

The Scully Hair has returned sans fanfare or explanation. I guess that’s how it should be.

Scully laughed! Finally.

Scully’s wearing sneakers again for the first time I can recall since Season 3. Unless… I’m trying to think back to “Chinga” (5×10). Those weren’t sneakers, were they?

“Never again!” I see you, Glen Morgan.

Mulder has a map in his car? I didn’t know they still made those.

And now we know: Mulder and Scully aren’t living together.

Who would have walked into that Blade-Runner-on-Lysol restaurant to begin with?

“This Man” makes his second appearance this season.

“Queequeg.” I see you, Glen Morgan.

Does Mulder normally keep a baseball bat by the door?

The warehouse scene with the slowly encroaching robots feels more like something out of Dr. Who. Exterminate.

I thought the running vibrator joke was crass, and it is, but it’s also oddly relevant:

Vulnerable vibrator: Security researchers find flaw in connected toy

I get it. The AIs are like our children. Our followers. They learn by our example, through observing us. Yeeeeaaah, okay. Then why when I type “I’ll have the fish” in Japanese into Google Translate does it still think I’m saying “I am a fish”? How about you follow context?

Best Quote:

Mulder: Why is your house so much nicer than mine?

*Seriously, though. Where would Scully have found this California-style midcentury modern masterpiece in the suburbs of D.C.? Scully has spent most of her adult life working as a grunt for the federal government. Stop this nonsense. Thanks.

Advertisements

This 11×2: You’ve really turned a corner.


 

1102_Promotional_(7)

Adorbs.

 

So, I realize the Twitter generation is probably beside themselves with Glee right now. Me? I am amused. I am also confused.

When we left off last episode, Chris Carter and I weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye. He was gazing somewhere around my kneecaps. Skinner had just been propositioned by that immortal cockroach, CSM, and he smelled like it. Mulder is not fond of the smell of Morleys and told him so. Ergo, we find ourselves at the beginning of “This” episode with Mulder and Scully reluctant to step within two feet of Skinner, they’re so distrustful of him.

But let me take a step back. Before we even get there, how ‘bout them shootouts, eh? I bet you didn’t know that Chris Carter lent Mulder and Scully out to former X-Files writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa so that they could get special ops training from Jack Bauer. Mine is not to judge, mine is only to say that I thought the opening teaser was a 9 that would have been a 10 if there were one, two, three fewer schizophrenic cuts during the action. Even with the frenetic action, those few minutes were a far sight better than 90% of Season 10 and on par with the other 10%… all of which occurred during “Home Again” (10×2).

Still, I would’ve appreciated just a tad more emotion on Mulder and Scully’s part over Langly’s sudden resurrection. But like I said, mine isn’t to judge.

Back to Mulder and Scully’s unjustified mistreatment of the one person in this world they can trust besides each other, Skinner explains this hullabaloo was due to an Executive Order from the White House. The White House has hired private contractor Purlieu to question Mulder and Scully about… well, he never says what about. About Langly? But how did the White House know to engage Purlieu before Langly contacted Mulder and Scully? The unholy trinity, the inverse images of the Lone Gunmen, they showed up before Langly raised his staticky head.

I’m assuming Skinner was out there in the middle of the Virginia woods because he was on his way to warn Mulder and Scully, but I’m not sure why either the White House or Purlieu would tell Skinner ahead of time what they were about to do, especially since Skinner’s history with Mulder and Scully has to be well known. Heck, it’s a part of those digitized X-Files that have now been disseminated across the globe.

Meanwhile, back in the Unremarkable House, Purlieu tries to trace Langly through Mulder’s phone and those Russian Reds trigger a… KILL SWITCH!!!

Glen Morgan, please pat yourself on the back for name dropping one of my favorite episodes: “Kill Switch” (5×11). Somebody’s been eating their Wheaties and checking their X-Files Wiki. I mean, the knowledge dropping… Mulder watching Deep Throat’s funeral through binoculars, Mulder and Langly’s shared birthday, KILL SWITCH!!!

In fact, for a minute, I thought this was going to be a repeat of the “Kill Switch” plot, that two lovers uploaded their consciousnesses into an AI and sprouted internet wings. Speaking of lovers, I bet you didn’t know Langly had a girlfriend.

And she’s normal.

I’d love to buy it, 1013. I really would. But, I don’t have that much money in my pocket.

Anyway. This frighteningly normal girlfriend of Langly’s did an abnormal thing. She made a pact with Langly to give their brains to Purlieu so that they could “live” eternally (?) in a computer simulation after death.

There are many things I don’t understand about this, but since you and I both have places to be, let me limit myself to two:

  1. What is so spectacular about merely storing your memory if your goal is to live together forever? It isn’t like they’re truly conscious. Everyone in this episode stressed that this is only a simulation. And the simulation will end, as it did, when someone pulls the plug.
  2. Why did the real person have to be dead before their memory within the simulation could “come into consciousness”? That’s awfully convenient to the plot.

Reasoned reasons or not, former girlfriend Karah Hamby leads Mulder and Scully on a Pub Quiz treasure hunt back to her classroom (puh-lease), where she schools them old school on a projector before Langly’s doppelganger rises from the dead just in time to kill her before dying again.

As it turns out, Langly handed over his mind to Purlieu with a plan already in said mind of how to test the simulation from the inside. You know, just in case paradise grew pale, which it did.

I suppose it puts a poop in your party when your mind is being mined by a shadowy Syndicate. I hesitate to capitalize “Syndicate”, but as far as we know, this new Syndicate represented by Erika Price is a continuation of the old Syndicate. The old set out to put the alien in humans, the new wants to put humans in space. And now we know the true purpose of the simulation, for all Erika Price tries to confuse Mulder with a smokescreen about evolution: the purpose is to use the greatest minds of a generation to gain the knowledge needed to colonize space. I gather asking a bunch of living MIT professors would let the cat out of the bag.

Not that Mulder would ever have considered the mind dump Price described as “evolution”.

Verdict:

You know what? I’m now less confused than I was when I started typing up these little musings. Funny how explaining what you don’t understand can help you.

This hard-earned clarity frees me up to enjoy this episode even more. Because while I may not be dancing a jig, I’m satisfied. Probably about as satisfied as this two-season revival is ever going to make me. I’m not quite at “Home Again” levels of satisfaction, but “This” just gave me something I never thought I’d have the pleasure of seeing again: A Half-Caff episode of The X-Files.

For the uninitiated, a Half-Caff episode revolves around an experimental technology or science that the government or a powerful private entity seeks to control and cover up. There’s a government conspiracy, just not one related to the mytharc. It’s a tradition that started way back in “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) and ended in “Brand X” (7×19) after dying a slow death in popularity after Season 3. But now, the tradition continues.

In this case, it’s not the technology itself that’s so valuable, but the minds the technology gives Purlieu access to. Langly’s mind, even in its confused state, turns to Mulder.

It’s a touching thought. And Langly’s tearful recall of Scully, combined with Mulder and Scully banter that’s over a decade overdue, not to mention that classic early season evidence-erase ending, is nearly enough to get my heart rate up. Nearly.

Yes, maybe the plot is easier to decipher after a rewatch. And yes, the Mulder and Scully banter was old school on point… mostly.

I mean, I know Mulder can be silly. I welcome the return of The Incurable Sarcasm. But would he really be counting loudly in the stairwell when he and Scully are on a stealth mission? Sure, he would make fun of someone who hit on Scully. But would he do it in front of the security guard and break the ruse that’s supposed to get them in the building? Yes, Scully had her fair share of zingers. But would she really joke about alien butts?

Like I said, though. I’m not here to judge. And you know what? It wasn’t “My Struggle III” (11×1)… or I… or II… and it was good.

B+

The Questions:

Are there still no security cameras in the F.B.I. parking garage? Seriously? No guard? Nothing?

Why does Mulder have to be the one to kill CSM? Hmm?

Is Erika Price Mulder’s new nearly equal nemesis now that CSM has graduated to demigod?

How did Dr. Hamby get access to Langly’s tombstone to change the date? Did he leave her in his will?

How did she get access to Deep Throat’s tombstone to change the cross? Did he leave her in his will?

How did she know about Deep Throat’s connection to Mulder when he was buried under his real name and Mulder didn’t know his real name? Langly hacked the info and gave it to her because he knew she’d be able to use it when he was buried in Arlington cemetery one day even though he could have no way of knowing that?

Mulder recognized Deep Throat’s tombstone, among all these lookalike tombstones, as the one he saw from a distance, through binoculars, over 20 years ago? This, but he didn’t recognize his name on the tombstone?

So is Langly alive or not? You’ll notice that question is never truly answered.

The Backup:

The Bureau’s not in good standing with the White House these days. *snort*

“We can’t go to OUR HOME.” – You caught that, didn’t you?

And you also caught the “all things” (7×17) couch pose, yes?

Mulder and Scully made it through the 90’s without visiting an internet cafe, but here they are. And you thought internet cafes were extinct. I didn’t appreciate the PTSD “Trust No 1” (9×8) flashback, though. Scully StupidTM circa 2002.

Mulder’s taking evidence from crime scenes. Even his line delivery is back on point. I have mixed feelings about the “adorbs”, though.

Scully’s hair is so much better. It could still be even better, but at least it’s not embarrassing.

The day The X-Files references The X-Files referencing Silence of the Lambs. See “The Truth” (9×19/20), “The Jersey Devil” (1×4), and pretty much the entire plot of “Beyond the Sea” (1×12).

In case you were wondering about the 4th Gunman in the photo – This Man – The namesake of this episode?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Frohike look 57 to you when he died?

Scully: Frohike looked 57 the day he was born.

……………

Mulder: Who needs Google when you got Scully?

……………

Scully: Maybe he saw Mulder in his dreams.

Mulder: Who hasn’t?

Underneath 9×9: You can’t think Milli Vanilli is cool!


Underneath-Screenshot-2

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

– Romans 7:18-21
I had no earthly recollection of this episode.

It has the dubious distinction of being the only episode of The X-Files that I ever missed when it aired. It was my freshman year in college and I woke up in my dorm room with a start and realized that I’d missed my show. It was a sad moment because it was a blemish on my perfect record of fanservice. It was made sadder still because I knew I probably hadn’t missed anything interesting.

And those were the days when you couldn’t run to the internet the day after a show aired to watch what you missed. Sleeping through The X-Files that night meant I had to wait until the DVD set came out to see it, and there was a relatively long turnaround time on that.

So I watched it… eventually. But for the life of me, it didn’t take in my head. I only remembered bits and pieces as I rewatched it for this review.

And you know what? I was wrong that night. I had missed something interesting.

Now, it could be that I find it unduly interesting coming off of the first half to a season that has been alternately aggravating, boring, laughable, and occasionally mildly entertaining. After all, I had completely forgotten the content of “Underneath” so it couldn’t have been that great either. And it probably still isn’t that great.

But for whatever reason, I was invested from the teaser this time and I found myself more entertained than I’ve been all season. My heart hurts a little for Robert Fassl, aka The Cable Guy, because he looks truly innocent and tormented. I really, really want to know what’s happening to him. Quick! We need some paranormal investigators to figure out what happened to the victims and clear his name.

Unfortunately, half the X-Files team is working to prove his guilt. That would be Doggett, who as it turns out was one of the arresting officers that night thirteen years ago, when Fassl was found looking guilty as sin in the house of the deceased.

You have to admire Doggett’s integrity in this episode. Yes, he’s as resistant to extreme possibilities as ever and one has to wonder when he’s ever going to open up a little bit. After all, he’s seen his fair share of the inexplicable now. But he genuinely wants to get to the truth of the matter, which is more than can be said of the District Attorney charged with seeking justice on behalf of the people.

And even Reyes proves herself genuinely useful! She’s not just a sidekick with a crush on Doggett, she’s actually an intelligent woman whose background in Religious Studies offers her unique insight into this case. For once, her leap in logic isn’t based on her feelings but, in echoes of Mulder, a unique ability to connect the seemingly disparate dots.

And wait for it… even Scully isn’t dead weight! That dark cavern that has opened up before you is my mouth gaping in shock.

Could it be they’ve found a way to utilize all three characters believably on the same case? Are we getting more insight into who Doggett is and who he used to be? Is that Reyes walking around in a Matrix coat? Gee golly willikers.

Between the three of them they solve this case, but it turns out that for all the compassion the teaser inspired in me, Fassl was the one responsible for these gruesome murders. My compassion wasn’t completely misplaced, though. This is a man trapped in the endless cycle of his own sin and who hasn’t been there?

Verdict:

In many ways, this reads like a classic X-File to me – a man so in denial, unable to face his own evil, that he accidentally creates a monster he can’t control. Yes, parts of it are a little standard, but I like standard. I miss standard. This case could have easily fit in the Mulder and Scully era, yet it perfectly fits our little duo plus one. So thank you, John Shiban, for bringing us back to basics.

One has to wonder what they would have done if they had merely caught Fassl instead of having been forced to kill him. Is there a treatment for split-body disorder? Is there an app for that? Or is recognition and repentance the cure? I find Fassl’s story interesting. And for Season 9, this is the most I’ve enjoyed myself so far.

But, Krycek, what are you doing here?

B+

ZZ Tops:

How would Fassl have replaced the cover over the cable access hole behind himself?

The actor who plays Fassl with such pathos, W. Earl Brown, graduated from The Theatre School at DePaul University one year before Gillian Anderson. He’s been in lots of things, most famously Deadwood. Actress Lili Taylor who guest starred in “Mind’s Eye” (5×16) is also a fellow alumnus.

John Shiban has been a writer on the show since Season 3, but this was his first directing effort.

Giving Doggett a close former partner who breaks his heart through his lack of integrity is a good choice. It reminds me of how the audience learned more about Mulder in Season 1 through his relationships with former co-workers – “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), “Fire” (1×11), “Young at Heart” (1×15).

That beard, tho.

Best Quotes:

Doggett: A cop I know, a man I respect deeply, he told me one time, “You don’t clock out at the end of your shift unless you know you did everything you could.” That’s what this is about. Me not clockin’ out.

———————-

Bob Fassl: I pray all the time. I pray even when it looks like I’m not praying.

Kill Switch 5×11: He invented the internet.


You've got mail.

As a general rule of thumb, when The X-Files wanted to blow up things they called in director Rob Bowman. Even without remembering to check the credits, I could feel him all over this episode and that’s a good thing. Bowman tends to specialize in adventures, which is no doubt why Fight the Future will eventually be entrusted to him, and “Kill Switch” is accordingly a romp of a tale, barely stopping for breath in between story beats, and may I just say that’s a very good thing.

In more ways than one, this is an evolutionary upgrade from Season 1’s “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), the only other X-File to feature a plot based around Artificial Intelligence. (Both fitting episodes to watch while the world is still mourning the loss of Steve Jobs.) The main difference being, well, besides a better story, better acting, better cinematography, better technology, a better wardrobe, etc., is that the government is in no way involved this time. Unlike the typical X-File involving futuristic technology, this isn’t a matter of a super secret science being hunted down or captured for the selfish purposes of a few, here the technology is doing the hunting and has become the predator. It’s a late 21st Century illustration of survival of the fittest, Silicon Valley style.

There’s another factor that both takes me nostalgically back to Season 1 but then again reminds me of how far the show has come since then: Scully. This has to be one of my favorite Scully episodes. True, the fact that she dismisses Esther’s story so easily in spite of the evidence is a little irritating, but I’m so happy to have her sarcasm back in full form that I’m willing to let that slide. It’s almost like her character flashed back to Season 1, cracking one-liners with her trademark smug smirk. Except that now she’s even more of a force to be reckoned with, spitting out phrases such as “screwing around” and tossing roundhouse kicks like this is a Kung Fu movie.

Speaking of whose Kung Fu is the best, I’m sure many would think less of me if I explained just how satisfying it is to watch the climax to the virtual reality scenes knowing that the A.I. has picked up on the fact that in Mulder’s subconscious, Scully arriving to save the day and eviscerate his porn star fantasy makes perfect sense.

On a related note, they strike me as similar somehow, Esther and Scully. They are more than a match for each other in this episode, which I think explains some of Scully’s initial resistance to Esther, as Scully is usually the smartest and most impressive woman in the room. Maybe if they shared more similarities on the surface Scully wouldn’t have been so annoyed by her or if Esther were just an idiot Scully could have ignored her, but dealing with someone who grates on you instantly but who you can’t quite one-up, it’s a recipe for a bad attitude.

Whatever the cause of the clash, they’re both highly intelligent, willful, sarcastic, and they are both inordinately attached to one man, Esther in a romantic way and Scully… well… it’s complicated. In fact, it’s not until Esther cries over her lost David that Scully’s compassion melts her animosity and the two women finally come to a truce. But watching them both enter the A.I.’s trailer in the end, Scully to rescue her man and Esther finding hers dead and gone, Scully’s face the picture of concern and Esther’s of shocked sadness, it drives the parallel home. What are we supposed to draw from that? Probably nothing at all. But I like getting more insight into Scully out of her interaction with another character. Mulder doesn’t typically bring this side out of her.

Verdict:

This is one of those episodes that I’m not sure how other people feel about because I don’t hear it discussed much, a fact that leads me to think it may be underrated. Speaking for myself, I love “Kill Swith”, just love it. It’s exactly the type of adventure fantasy that I eat up with just a hint of MSR thrown in. It even has the Lone Gunmen for comic relief! How am I supposed to dislike it? I may even enjoy it more than it actually warrants, but I make no apologies. There’s no accounting for taste.

It’s interesting that like the previous episode written by guest writer Stephen King, “Chinga” (5×10), this one is also penned by a well-known author, or rather, two authors: William Gibson and Tom Maddox, both a part of the cyberpunk movement. Consequently, back-to-back we’ve had episodes that are somewhat of a departure for the show in theme, distinctly leaning almost point-by-point to the specialties and trademarks of these authors. I consider both episodes successful experiments, which is somewhat surprising considering one-off writers on The X-Files usually miss the mark dramatically, ex. “Schizogeny” (5×9). Maybe it’s the caliber of the writers here or the level of collaboration between them and the staff writers, I couldn’t say. Maybe like Vince Gilligan before them they were actually fans of the show before coming aboard and understood what they were getting into before they signed up for the project, which I suspect is the strongest contributing factor.

So, back to my Mulder is Scully-Crushing Theory: I rest my case.

A+

Nitpicks:

I love the teaser and I think it’s deliciously clever, but the question must be asked: Why didn’t the fool just push the button?

That scene when Scully pulls into the rest stop out of sheer frustration… how exactly does a handcuffed Esther get herself out of the car?

Leftovers:

So, did David get a chance to upload himself into the system before he died or was he being held as a virtual reality prisoner the same way that Mulder was? I lean toward the latter only because if he was a part of the A.I., I don’t see why he would have killed Gelman and why he would have attempted to kill Esther. More likely he would have tried to contact her and tell her what he had done so she could join him in a code based Happily Ever After.

The actress who plays Esther Nairn, Kristin Lehman, was on Rob Bowman’s show Castle this week. Coincidence?? I’m sure the look on my face as I studied her intently and understanding slowly dawned was comical. Who knew how hard it is to recognize someone without raccoon eyes?

This is yet another episode where Scully rescues Mulder instead of vice versa, for anyone keeping score.

Considering this is one of the rare times that The X-Files used source music in an episode’s soundtrack I will only say that the opportunity isn’t wasted. The use of Twilight Time is charming.

Best Quotes:

Byers: Jobs and Wozniak at Apple, Gates and Allan writing Basic, the Home Brew computer club’s first meetings… Gelman was there.
Frohike: Now they’re power brokers and billionaires. Back then they were just… inspired nerds.

——————-

Frohike: This is a one-off. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gelman built this?
Mulder: That may be what got him killed.
[The Lone Gunmen exchange shocked looks.]
Langly: Heavy casualty.
Frohike: A brother goes down.

——————-

Scully: No more screwing around. We need a name. Your real name.
Esther Nairn: Invisigoth. You want my address? It’s T-O-A-S-T.

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.

Grotesque 3×14: You never fit your own profile.


Art Therapy

“Grotesque” is a unique episode and admirably ambitious, yet I can’t help feeling that it takes itself a little too seriously at moments. And that, of course, just makes me want to roll my eyes at the most inappropriate times. I appreciate the plot and the concept and while it’s mostly successful, I feel slightly disengaged when I watch it. It’s sort of Mulder’s answer to the Scully-centered episode “Irresistible” (2×13) where the line between the paranormal and natural human evil is blurred, but this one is psychological rather than emotional. Good, and admirably ambitious, but not great.

Last time we actually saw Mulder care about someone’s negative opinion of him we were still somewhere in Season 1, when the memory of his former glory days at the F.B.I. weren’t far behind him and you could tell that the occasional dig still hit a nerve. Skepticism directed at Mulder’s abilities/sanity is nothing new. “Squeeze” (1×2) and even “Lazarus” (1×14) give us a glimpse at how often there’s sniggering behind his back. But every time we meet one of Mulder’s former colleagues, Jerry in “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) and Reggie in “Young at Heart” (1×14), they have a healthy respect for Mulder’s capabilities. Heck, later on there will be Diana Fowley, another former partner who, er, recognizes Mulder’s strength. Between what we know of these characters’ relationships with him and his current partnership with Scully, to know Mulder is to love Mulder, or at least to learn to appreciate him despite himself. This is the first time we’ve seen someone who worked alongside Mulder actually dislike him. And it’s the first time in a long time that Mulder has reacted to anyone’s dislike. So what is eating Agent Patterson?

We never really find out why Mulder irritates Patterson so. But I remember having this genius friend in High School who aced Latin even though she spent 99% of every class passing notes with me, when she even came to class that is. Our teacher couldn’t stand her. I suspect something similar is going on with Patterson and Mulder. Either that or he’s the stereotypical 1950’s father who can’t tell his son how proud he is of him but put a few drinks in him and he’ll have no problems telling the rest of the world. I’m leaning towards the former as his venom toward Mulder denotes both admiration and jealousy.

His relationship with Scully in this episode isn’t much better. The further down the rabbit hole he goes the more he consciously shuts her out. Season 3 has seen the writers as a whole putting distance between Mulder and Scully in quite a few episodes. Things were too perfect between them in Season 2 to continue that way; they’d lack depth in the long run. But maybe there’s too much distancing going on now. Too often only one of them has enough of a personal connection to solve a specific case. Whatever happened to them figuring it out together? That hasn’t really occurred since “2Shy” (3×6) or possibly “The Walk” (3×7). Even “Nisei” (3×9) and “731” (3×10) saw them going down different investigative paths and drawing different conclusions. I submit that such a device makes logical sense in mythology episodes where the writers need to disseminate lots of material to the audience, and it allows both Mulder and Scully to grow as characters. But at some moments this season I’m left wondering why they’re even partners when they’re not working together.

I think soon the collective writing club at 1013 Productions comes to realize the Mulder and Scully seesaw is tilting too far in one direction and they start adding weight to the other side for the last half of the season, a development which I’m forever grateful for. It’s not that I don’t agree that Mulder and Scully should have independence, autonomy and interests apart from each other and even apart from the X-Files. That was part of what I enjoyed about “Revelations” (3×11) was that Scully had a supernatural niche all her own. I just miss seeing them work as a team rather than acting as an antagonist of sorts in each other’s individual drama.

The Verdict:

Besides the less than inspirational interpersonal dynamics, my other bone to pick with this episode is that the solution is too clear from the beginning. Only someone from the crime team knew the ins and outs of the murders? Then someone from the crime team committed the murders. And it’s certainly no shock when Patterson, obsessed with finding the killer, turns out to have found his killer’s obsession instead. In fact, we’re expecting it. With the 1980’s/1990’s rise to prominence of Criminal Profiling, the tale of an investigator becoming what he hunts isn’t exactly fresh and new. I couldn’t say for sure, but I don’t believe it was fresh in 1995 either.

I don’t think “freshness” is a concern here regardless. It’s a vehicle to let David Duchovny strut his emotional stuff, which he certainly does a solid job of. This episode is about exploring more of the tragic side of Mulder’s nature and his ability to intuitively understand people, the gift that’s actually a curse. Writer Howard Gordon, even more so when working with partner Alex Gansa, has a propensity toward the solemn and the serious when it comes to giving us X-Files. His previous offerings include “Conduit” (1×3), “Born Again” (1×21) and “Sleepless” (2×4), all episodes with a rather grim sense of loneliness, a theme echoed again here. He also successfully adds poeticism into the mix in “Dod Kalm” (2×19). “Grotesque” reminds me a lot of “Dod Kalm” in tone and theme; both show us a man slowly turning into what he hated and both are continually swathed in blue light.

After all that tepid to cold praise, I do like this episode. It’s a brave departure from the norm. I just wouldn’t turn it on to have a good time.

B

Peanut Gallery:

It’s a little difficult to believe Mulder went that crazy that fast, but then, they only have 43 minutes.

I kinda dig the exploration of insanity vs. demon possession. Which is which and how do we know? Like “Irresistible” before it, we don’t get a straight answer in the end.

Didn’t Mulder already have his tortured soul moment in “Oubliette” (3×8)? Maybe that doesn’t count since this one brought up Samantha and this one has absolutely nothing to do with his sister issues?

Scully’s one moment of glory in this episode, as she cocks her chin in Skinner’s office, is my favorite part.

Best Quotes:

Scully: So you’re not going to tell me when your love affair with Patterson ended?
Mulder: Patterson never liked me.
Scully: I thought you were considered the fair-haired boy when you joined the bureau.
Mulder: Not by Patterson.
Scully: Why not?
Mulder: Didn’t want to get my knees dirty. Couldn’t quite cast myself in the role of the dutiful student.
Scully: You mean you couldn’t worship him.
Mulder: Something like that, yeah.

——————–

Mulder: Patterson had this saying about tracking a killer. If you wanted, uh, to know an artist, you have to look at his art. What he really meant was if you wanted to catch a monster you had to become one yourself.

——————–

Agent Patterson: I have to tell you, I am really disappointed in you.
Mulder: Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you by not disappointing you.

——————–

Agent Patterson: My advice to you, Scully: Let Mulder do what he has to do. Don’t get in his way and don’t try to hold him back… because you won’t be able to.

——————–

Skinner: Are you worried about him, Agent Scully?
Scully: No, sir.
Skinner: Off the record.
Scully: [Cocks her head]
Skinner: So am I.

Guest Post – X-Files: A Shipper Guide, Part 5


*Editor’s Note: Nina is a long time X-Phile and shipper extraordinaire. (Seriously. You guys thought I was rabid.) You can find more of her humorous insights into The X-Files, Supernatural, 24 and other fandoms on her tumblr at myspecialhell.tumblr.com. Here’s the final installment of her Season 1 analysis. You can check out parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 herehere, here and here. Agree/disagree with her observations? Duke it out in the comments section. We can’t wait to hear what you guys think!

And with that, take it away, Nina!

Biased, completely personal, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Tooms

~ It’s amazing how things change, isn’t it?
 – Mulder (Tooms)

Eugene Victor Tooms is one of the most beloved mutants among the Philes, and Tooms is the episode all the Philes recall for two things mostly: the introduction of Assistant Director Walter Skinner[1], a character who would become more and more important in the show, and for the infamous conversation in the car.

Just out of curiosity: what’s the what with Mulder, Scully and stakeouts, anyway? Between Tooms and Pusher one can’t help but wonder!

I remember when I first saw Tooms and the conversation in the car. I remember that my jaw hit the floor. For a moment I really thought they were going to go at it. I mean, usually, when a scene like that happened in another show, next we knew the two lead characters were kissing like there was no tomorrow.

How naive, uh?

Even before the scene in the car, it was clear that Mulder and Scully had truly become partners  at work: there was trust, there was complicity. Scully didn’t hesitate to put herself on the line for Mulder, when talking to Skinner.

She was supposed to be the spy, she was supposed to be the tool to close the X-Files…and yet, there she was, defending Mulder.

Skinner had ordered Scully to make sure things were done by the book, and yet when she went to Mulder, while he was checking on Tooms, it wasn’t the job she was worried about. Do you remember Deep Throat? In the episode she was worried about what she was going to write in her report. She had come a long way from that night…and she showed it.

SCULLY: Mulder, you know that proper surveillance requires two pairs of agents, one pair relieving the other after twelve hours.

MULDER: Article 30, paragraph 8.7?

SCULLY: This isn’t about doing it by the book. This is about you not having slept for three days. Mulder, you’re going to get sloppy and you’re going to get hurt. It’s inevitable at this point.

MULDER: A request for other agents to stake-out Tooms would be denied. Then we have no grounds.

SCULLY: Well, then I’ll stay here. You go home.

(Mulder sighs.)

I’ve always loved how Mulder seemed genuinely concerned about Scully’s career in the scene in the car. I think that was the first time Mulder actually voiced concern about Scully’s career. He had come a long way too from the pilot episode and the infamous lines:

“So, who did you tick off to get stuck with this detail, Scully”

And

MULDER: That’s pretty good, Scully.

SCULLY: Better than you expected or better that you hoped?

MULDER: Well… I’ll let you know when we get past the easy part.

When Scully was assigned to the X-Files, she had basically zero experience on the field, Mulder had seen her becoming a good agent, one whose career he felt the need to protect, feeling his was already in the crapper. The fact that he acknowledged that he had put Scully’s career and reputation and her possible future within the Bureau in jeopardy, spoke volumes of the depth of their bond at that point.

MULDER: They’re out to put an end to the X-Files, Scully. I don’t know why, but any excuse will do. Now, I don’t really care about my record, but you’d be in trouble just for sitting in this car and I’d hate to see you to carry an official reprimand in your file because of me.

After such an opening from Mulder, it was no surprise that Scully felt the need to do the same.

(Scully sighs.)

SCULLY: Fox…

Why did she call him Fox?

Why was she embarrassed while she said his name?

They were venturing into an unknown territory. Mulder and Scully sucked at those kind of emotional displays, if we choose to consider the original timeline of the series, they had been working together for two years, yet, that was the first time either of them opened up that way. Mulder had just told Scully that he valued her work, that he valued her both as a person and an FBI agent and Scully wanted to…open up as well, by calling him Fox.

(Mulder laughs. Scully looks at him.)

MULDER: And I… I even made my parents call me Mulder. So… Mulder.

I think Mulder was panicking. He was surprised by Scully, by the shyness in her voice, and by the sudden turn that conversation was taking…so he panicked. It’s not a fanwank, it’s not fanon…it’s the only plausible explanation I’ve ever been able to give to what he said…

Although I think Mulder fell for Scully at first sight, I really don’t think he was ready to explore the feelings he had for his partner, he didn’t have the energies to focus on anything else that it wasn’t the X-Files.

I believe, I strongly believe that at the time the events of Tooms took place, Mulder was in full denial, as far as his feelings for Scully were concerned.

He had too much going on through his head, his life was devoted to a cause that was not only time consuming but demanding everything out of him. It took him a couple of tragic events to wake up and smell the coffee.

So Mulder panicked, and babbled about making even his parents call him Mulder. Scully, though, needed to tell her truth, for once.

SCULLY: Mulder, I wouldn’t put myself on the line for anybody but you.

Mulder’s look when Scully told him those words was priceless: he was floored by Scully’s admission.

In “Squeeze” Mulder had said that the need to mess with people outweighed the milestone of humiliation. While I think that he wasn’t lying to Scully when he  told her that, I also believe that at that point, Mulder needed someone to trust…and needed someone to have faith in him, to trust him.

Mulder had been alone for quite some time, whether it was willingly or not, is not important…his work on the X-Files had slowly shaped into a crusade, I’d wager Mulder felt the loneliness, the frustration that came from being unheard. I don’t think he gave a damn about what people thought of him, but the human need to be believed, especially knowing that he was telling the truth, had to be quite a burden.

He had accepted the loneliness as one of the prices to pay, to sacrifice at the altar of his faith: the truth. He hadn’t lied to Scully when he had said he had a life…the X-files were his life. However, to hear such a line, bearing an implicit trust, a commitment, and mostly faith in him, I think it floored him.

Mulder had another proof that he wasn’t alone in his search, that there was someone who would look for the truth with him, someone who, finally, believed him, believed in him.

MULDER: If there’s an ice tea in that bag, could be love.

SCULLY: Must be fate, Mulder. Root beer.

(Mulder kiddingly sighs.)

You’re delirious. Go home and get some sleep.

He reacted with humor. That’s a coping mechanism Mulder used all the time. When things got difficult he eluded fear and panic with humor.

My God, how much I still love the guy!

I don’t think Scully was hurt by Mulder’s reaction. I mean…c’mon, she had eyes! And she could read him pretty well…she knew that he had gotten the message, and she knew it was appreciated.

Maybe that’s a fanwanking…but I’ve always loved how Mulder didn’t let Scully go after Tooms. On a practical reason, I know it was because of Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, but to me that was other than a very sweet gesture, just another proof of how protective Mulder had become of Scully…especially if you compare this with such episodes as Ghost in the Machine.

The final scene let us understand that things were going to change very soon, for Mulder and Scully. Mulder watched a caterpillar cocoon and commented on how amazing it was how things changed.

He said a change was coming for them…

Of course he was talking about the X-Files…but the caterpillar cocoon symbolized their relationship as well.

The X-Files had to be shut down, their relationship had to die a little for it to really blossom.

The Erlenmeyer Flask

Aka: they’re shutting us down

~ I should know by now to trust your instincts.

Why? Nobody else does

 – Mulder and Scully (The Erlenmeyer Flask)

The Erlenmeyer Flask was a painful episode for me to watch. It was the first mytharc episode, it was the episode where Deep throat[2] died. Mulder and Scully had their first taste of hell…of the conspiracy in its glory, and they were burned by it, badly.

Scully came to a few important understandings concerning Mulder and his crusade. In the pilot episode he had told her that there were people who were trying to cover up the truth. I’ve always thought that she hadn’t really believed …not even when their motel rooms were burned down…but the episode showed Scully that there was indeed a conspiracy, that Mulder was nowhere near as paranoid as he appeared.

She witnessed things…for the first time and she felt the need to apologize to Mulder, who, on the other hand didn’t think apologies were necessary.

The look in Mulder’s eyes when Scully apologized to him, was priceless…in Tooms she had told him that she wouldn’t put herself on the line for anybody else…and in The Erlenmeyer flask, she told him she believed him, she told him that she trusted his instincts.

They had really come a long way from the pilot episode. In Ice, Mulder had told Scully that he wanted to trust her, but throughout the first season Scully had never really said anything about trust.

Of course, she had showed her trust to him, in such episodes like Young at Heart, EBE, Darkness Falls.

It was somewhat heart breaking to hear Mulder’s reply to Scully’s words: “Why? Nobody else does.”

I love how Mulder, who apparently brushed off Scully’s words, showed how he actually took them into consideration…he showed it when talking with Deep Throat and told him to cut the crap and talk already, to skip the whole Obi-wan kenobi routine…

It showed how Mulder valued Scully’s words, how important they were to him. She had been assigned to the X-Files to be a spy, but in the end she had become his only ally, the only one who would tell him the truth.

But Scully did more than telling Mulder that she trusted his instincts, she risked her career, her life, to save Mulder when he was kidnapped.

At the end of Tooms, Mulder had said he felt a change was near, and never truer words were spoken. The last scene of the first season finale…is heart breaking, the circle closed with two scenes similar to the final scenes of the pilot episode: Mulder called Scully to tell her that the X-Files had been shut down.

They’re shutting us down

There is a world in this line. As much as Chris Carter’s writing became sloppy in the latter seasons, as much as I still have issues with him, the final scene of the last episode of the first season is so powerful that it took my breath away and it still does. The scene is very dramatic, but in pure X-Files fashion is downplayed, to let the viewers absorb the blow.

“They’re shutting us down”

For Mulder, Scully had become part of the X-Files, for Mulder, Scully had become his partner. The X-Files were the core of Mulder’s life… for him to include Scully, to acknowledge her role in them, was a testament of how much she meant to him.

Scully was incredulous at the news: she had really come to love her job, she had really come to an understanding about her job, she knew that she would always be Mrs. Spooky, chasing little grey men, to people, but she knew as well that their job, was important. They had become partners and friends…and their new found strength was taken away from them.

The X-Files were closed, but their relationship was going to enter a new level very soon.


[1]              Played by Mitch Pileggi

[2]              Played by Jerry Hardin