Tag Archives: Grotesque

Release 9×16: I wanted to get close to you, Agent Doggett.


Release312

Luke, he is your father.

I’m happy for Doggett. And I’m even happier for myself because I think I’ve finally learned to like this episode. I don’t know how readily I’d pop it in the player to pass the time, but I think this episode reads much better when you’re not impatiently waiting for the show to end and Mulder to return and big explosions and stuff.

The thing that turned me off of it initially, besides great expectations, was the same thing that threatened to turn me off again this time. I realize that Rudolph Hayes is supposed to be annoying. Heck, if Reyes says you’re annoying, you’re annoying. But the actor’s brutal attempts to be weird gnaw at me at moments.

Still, I’m trying to milk the show for all it’s worth this rewatch so I pushed past that and was rewarded. It had to be done, really. Out of our two new leads Doggett has been around longer and has more of a backstory. Consequently, we’re more invested in him as an audience. It would have been a real disappointment if after all the time we’ve spent getting to know and like him, we never found out what happened to his son.

Because as I said way back in “Patience” (8×4), I do really like Doggett. I liked him back when the show first aired too. He’s a very well fleshed out character and from what I’ve read, Robert Patrick genuinely enjoyed playing Doggett and was happy to be a part of The X-Files. I think that shows in his performances.

Also, we needed to wind things up with Follmer as well who we haven’t seen since “Providence” (9×11). I don’t know if I completely buy that he would give up everything, including his career and his precious image, to kill Regali in such an open and indefensible way. But it’s good that he has something genuinely emotional to play. I’m only realizing now that he was never really utilized as a character other than to get in the way of the leads and create tension for them. In other words, he took over Kersh’s role from last season. He’s just slimier while he does it.

And, as usual, the most interesting parts of Reyes are connected to Doggett’s history. We finally find out why she dumped Follmer. It turns out that she caught him in bed with the mob. And one of the mob guys he was connected to was an associate of the man who kidnapped Luke. The mob associate that was paying off Follmer caught the kidnapper abusing Luke, and after being seen by Luke, kills him. That’s quite an interesting set of coincidences, isn’t it? I’ve played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon more convincingly.

Though that’s not nearly as much of a stretch as a mentally unstable man successfully applying for and getting into the F.B.I. Academy under a false identity, past all the interviews, psychological testing and background checks, then contacting Doggett on the down low and managing to finagle a class with Doggett’s good friend and former partner. :::sings::: I smell a contriva-nce!

Okay, the force-fit the puzzle pieces together. But it still works somehow and I think Patrick’s performance has a lot to do with that. Doggett is the believer this episode, yet that sudden turnaround works because you can feel that he wants to believe. He needs closure at all costs and he’s willing to open his mind to get it. The same thing that caused him to be stubborn in the face of extreme possibilities, the death of his son, is now the thing that drives him to consider them.

And Reyes’ about face in the face of his about face I find a welcome change of pace. Again, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. You can tell that what’s driving her is the overwhelming desire to protect Doggett from more pain. She’s a good fit for him. Even Doggett’s ex-wife thinks so.

Which is a little awkward, no? But if they didn’t make it clear that Doggett’s first marriage was peacefully over, it would be impossible to both introduce his ex-wife who he’s been through so much with and push him into Reyes’ arms by the end of the episode. There would be romantic drama when we’re supposed to be focused on finding Luke.

In that regard, I find the last two scenes especially satisfying. Doggett hears what happens to his son’s death directly from the killer. And I really must have been into it this time because by that time I was calmly encouraging Doggett to shoot him. “Go ahead. No court in this land will convict you.” But Follmer takes the decision out of mine and Doggett’s hands.

So see? Everyone’s free. Regali’s freed from his body. Follmer’s free from the psychological noose around his neck. Doggett and the former Mrs. Doggett are free to mourn their son. And Doggett is free to propel himself into Reyes’ arms somewhere on what is clearly the California coast. Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen.

Verdict:

I know it’s too little, too late but I’ll say it again: These cases that are less fantastical are better suited to Doggett and Reyes. There’s nothing truly paranormal happening here. No, we don’t get all the answers as to how Rudolph Hayes made the connections. But it’s entirely possible that his obsessive Schizophrenia allowed him insight that others missed because of his almost inhuman focus. It’s crazy but it’s not that crazy.

The F.B.I. scam really is crazy, though.

Whatever it takes, I guess. Because this is as close to a happy ending for Doggett and Reyes as we’re going to see. I’m only sad that these characters seem to be catching their stride just as we’re about to go.

B+

Notes from the Institution:

The call backs to what we already learned in “Empedolces” (8×17) are appreciated. However, suddenly Luke’s been dead nine years? I thought that sounded off and I checked. Before, we were told he died in 1997.

Doggett pawing in the putty reminds me of “Grotesque” (3×14).

There was, of course, no room to deal with the fact that Scully had just lost her own son. Even if there had been, this episode was actually filmed before “William” (9×17). If it had been filmed before, I’m sure Gillian Anderson would have found a way to work those emotions into her face regardless.

I knew Follmer had a heart. I guess he drew the line at mob guys killing babies.

Doggett’s wife is played by Robert Patrick’s real life wife. You’ve seen her before… or at least, you saw her sleeping form in “John Doe” (9×7).

Doggett wouldn’t have gone to arrest him Rudolph Hayes. He’s too close to the case. If the suspect had been killed or something, he would’ve come under fire.

Unlike Doggett, his ex has made her peace with not knowing what happened and is determined to move on and not dwell on her son’s death. That’s cool. She’s kind of annoying, though. How’s the man supposed to get absolute proof if you don’t help him?

Out of the two of them, you would think she would be more likely to feel guilty, not because it’s her fault, but because she was the one watching Luke at the time. She’s almost too far past the entire event.

Best Quotes:

Doggett: Cadet, you should know there’s a real good chance you’re nuts.

——————–

Follmer: Is it me or, uh, is this becoming an odd conversation?

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Folie à Deux 5×19: See, if you’re not smiling, they can hear it.


The Natural Look

Vince Gilligan is a television genius and this episode has his sense of humor written all over it, rendering it unnecessary to even check the credits for his name. Telemarketing Zombie Grasshoppers? C’mon. We all know who’s responsible for this.

These… insects… are like something out of a 1950’s B sci-fi movie. It’s only one halting step away from the anonymous office worker who took off his hat one day and revealed an over-large pair of red compound eyes. Maybe the charm of that is lost on you, maybe it isn’t, but the zombies aren’t actually the focus of this episode anyway. They’re just a vehicle to showcase the current depth of Mulder and Scully’s partnership – I say “partnership” but it’s more like an “unbreakable psychic bond.”

Think about the way the events of the episode unfold: Mulder bewails his fate. Scully attempts to share Mulder’s fate. Mulder spares her his burden. Scully insinuates herself anyway. Mulder admits he needs Scully. Scully saves Mulder. Scully bewails her fate.

Yes, actually, I have pretty much described the entire series, I Want to Believe included.

One thing I especially love about Vince Gilligan’s episodes of The X-Files, or one person I should say, is Scully. Underneath the comedic icing of episodes like “Small Potatoes” (4×20) and “Bad Blood” (5×12) are subtly nuanced views of her character. This episode, even though the focus is ostensibly on Mulder, is no different. Where Mulder’s character falls into a foreseeable and highly anticipated decline consistent with everything he’s always been, it’s Scully who takes another imperceptible and yet vital step forward in a progression that will be significant in not only the immediately following season finale, but in the movie and the next season to come.

I bet you think this is where I explain how important and gratifying it is that Scully has come to trust Mulder, how she’s almost substituted his instincts for her own. But what’s more significant for Scully’s character is how far Mulder is now able to trust her. If Mulder’s computer-induced daydream of a roundhouse kicking Scully comes to save the day in “Kill Switch” (5×11) was just that, a daydream. Here’s the real thing.

Scully believes in Mulder so strongly that she can see what he sees. Similarly to the events of this episode but with less humor, Scully was worried about Mulder’s sanity in “Grotesque” (3×14), but she didn’t fall down the rabbit hole with him back then. Now their simpatico is such that she can’t help but adopt his psychosis. Surely, it’s not the phenomenon itself she comes to believe in, even if she does see it with her own eyes. Afterward she falters in her explanation of it before Skinner like a guilty schoolgirl. No, rather, Scully has reached the point where it doesn’t matter if what she sees is real or not, what matters is that she and Mulder are seeing the same thing.

“Folie à Deux” is a partnership-focused episode and in it The X-Files firmly establishes just how far Mulder and Scully have come in their relationship since the beginning, a not so subtle reminder right before “The End” (5×20). It’s especially significant in light of the emotional upheaval Scully’s about to experience with the advent of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Mulder just affirmed Scully’s place in his life in the most explicit terms he ever has. Does she believe him? I don’t see why she wouldn’t. Will she continue to? That’s complicated.

Scully questions why she follows Mulder back in “Quagmire” (3×22), she pouts over it in “Never Again” (4×13), she’ll complain the fruitlessness of it all innumerable times in the future, and yet she stays. Bottom Line: Scully doesn’t believe in the mission, she believes in the man.

Verdict:

If there’s one complaint, one reason why this episode doesn’t garner as many accolades as it could, it’s that those silly insects, the villains of the story, are so cheesy it’s distracting. But then, after all, how scary can a giant bug be? A spider the size of your hand, that’s scary. Once a pest passes the size of a soccer ball, it crosses the Rubicon into comical. The whole thing would have been more of a fright fest if Pincus had been a straight zombie or vampire and they had bypassed the insect angle altogether, but I don’t think that was ever Gillligan’s intent. The comedic undertones are intentional. And considering our arch-villain Pincus is a man-sized grasshopper, I think the visual effects team did an impressive job.

Dial and smile, Gary.

A-

Zombieland:

Telemarketers or zombies, what’s scarier? Their monotone scripts sound like zombie-speak anyway.

How in the round world did Scully get to Chicago so fast?? She hung up with Mulder just before he was taken hostage yet she arrives in front of the building while the SWAT team is still organizing itself. Just once, couldn’t someone write some actual time into the timeline?

Shirley Temple and Bo Jangles are on the television in one scene. Way to combine classic moments in pop culture.

Nice bit of continuity – Mulder’s finger is still broken from the last episode. Vince Gilligan was always a master of continuity nods.

It’s an episode that starts off seemingly about a crazy man holding people hostage and then turns into another thing altogether. Echoes of “Duane Barry” (2×5), anyone?

This is another classic case of Mulder manipulating Scully into an autopsy.

Why is it that every episode where Mulder “frees” Scully from having to jump into the fray with him, she ultimately refuses to stay away? “Tooms” (1×20), “Little Green Men” (2×1), “End Game” (2×17).

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Monsters? I’m your boy.

———————

Mulder: I must have done something to piss him off.
Scully: What do you mean?
Mulder: Get stuck with this jerk-off assignment. Or have I finally reached that magic point in my career where every time somebody sees Bigfoot or the Virgin Mary on a tortilla, I get called out of my basement ward to offer my special insight on the matter.
Scully: You’re saying “I” a lot. I heard “we.” Nor do I assume that this case is just a waste of our time.
Mulder: Well, not yours anyways. There’s no reason both of us should go to Chicago. I’ll take care of it. [Walks away]
Scully: Mulder?
Mulder: I’m Monster Boy, right?

———————

Mulder: Scully at the risk of you telling me “I told you so”, I think it’s time for you to get down here and help me.
Scully: I told you so.

———————

Mulder: Scully, you have to believe me. Nobody else on this whole damn planet does or ever will. You’re my one in five billion.

Paper Hearts 4×8: Tell me about this dream.


"Tut, tut, child! Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

Writer Vince Gilligan first popped up on The X-Files’ roster with Season 2’s “Soft Light” (2×23) before breaking out with the hallmark episode “Pusher” (3×17) in Season 3. It turns out that Gilligan began as a screenwriter and was a fan of The X-Files as a regular ole’ viewer long before he came on staff. This explains both his predilection for cinematic stories and why this episode is almost unnervingly cannon in content.

For a man who claimed that mythology episodes weren’t his strong suit, Gilligan is awfully accurate about the myriad of X-Files facts that he scatters throughout “Paper Hearts”, an episode that uses the mythology as its base even though it’s certainly not a mythology episode and can barely be categorized as a Monster of the Week. It’s more a psychological study than anything else, along the lines of “Irresistible” (2×13) and “Grotesque” (3×14). But I digress. Every fact except Mulder’s birthday makes its way in here through such fleeting references as a mention of Mulder’s former mentor Reggie Perdue who was killed in “Young at Heart” (1×15) and a quote from the episode “Aubrey” (2×12). That’s not even counting the word-for-word recreation of Samantha’s abduction with adult Mulder inserted into the mix, a scene that’s perfectly done.

Clearly, “Paper Hearts” is written by a man who understands the language of fandom.

And like the fans, Vince Gilligan is well aware that the whole premise of The X-Files hinges on Mulder’s belief that his sister Samantha was abducted by aliens. If indeed she turned out not to be, the payoff wouldn’t be as grand. And indeed, eventually it wasn’t.

That’s why this episode isn’t pretending to be a legitimate explanation for what happened to Samantha but an exploration of the possibilities. What Gilligan is tapping into is that seed of doubt. Mulder himself stated back in “Little Green Men” (2×1) that he wasn’t sure if his memories of Samantha’s abduction were real, and since then he’s run into a couple of different versions of “Samantha”, or at least her clone.

What is Mulder to believe? Is she still out there somewhere? Is this whole alien conspiracy a ruse as Scully claims in “Paper Clip” (3×2) so that the men behind a set of secret and sadistic experiments can hide their crimes?  It’s an issue that will come up again for Mulder later in the season and will be explored at length in Season 5. But I digress.

Part of the reason I used to not enjoy this episode was because I could so easily dismiss the idea of a serial killer being responsible for what happened to Samantha. The main reason is that I always go into Monster of the Week Withdrawal around this point in the series. We haven’t had a really satisfying one since “Unruhe” (4×2) and “Paper Hearts”, while technically a Monster of the Week episode, is more of a character driven episode than a scary or paranormal one.

That said, it’s satisfying in its real world horror in the same way that “Irresistible” is. And it’s far more satisfying than the one note insanity of “Grotesque”. In the same vein of both of those episodes, there’s very little of the supernatural to speak of, if indeed anything of it exists at all. And that’s just fine because the implication of what Roche is doing to these little girls is worse than the vague fetishism of Pfaster in “Irresistible”.

Not only that, but similarly to what Mulder experienced with Modell in Gilligan’s other masterpiece, “Pusher”, this is an adversarial game. There’s a vast difference between having a Monster to hunt and a Monster to be outwitted. The villains that are a match for Mulder in terms of cleverness always turn out to be the most memorable. (This is why Samuel Aboa in “Teliko” (4×4) can’t pull off what Eugene Victor Tooms does in “Tooms” (2×20). For one thing, he doesn’t have three names. That’s always a tip off.)

Roche is more than just your run-of-the-mill sociopath; he’s a match for Mulder intellectually. It’s another game of which genius can outplay the other. One almost thinks Mulder and Roche could have been friends… if Roche wasn’t a sadistic pervert. At the very least they get each other. Admittedly, the “nexus” idea is a little weak as a plot device. But I suppose Gilligan had to give some sort of a name to their unusual connection. And, after all, this is The X-Files. Something has to remain unexplained.

Conclusion:

This season is low on scares but high on character development. It makes sense because the show is a major hit at this point in its run; this means that the writers are trying to keep themselves out of a rut, the audience is calling for more information on their favorite characters and the actors are looking for a way to show off their skills. It only makes sense to give Mulder and Scully more time to shine than they have on their average case.

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were more than up to the task. And that Tom Noonan as Roche… whew! He’s so cavalier that he almost transcends being creepy.

And I just love the way that Gilligan has written these characters. I particularly love Scully in his episodes as she’s almost always a woman to be reckoned with. Here her barely restrained anger is palpable and even Roche seems a little afraid of her. Her eyes were saying something along the lines of “I will drop you.” Not only that, when it comes to her partner she knows when to hold ’em and knows when to fold ’em. She chastises him when necessary and ignores his mistakes when the situation calls for it. The strength of her compassion for Mulder in this episode is memorable and considering what episode is coming up in just a few days, it’s an emotional buoy of sorts.

Now Mulder, well, what’s most interesting is that Mulder is coming to the more rational conclusion that his sister was simply kidnapped, not abducted by aliens. Yet he’s coming to a rational conclusion in the most irrational way so that at least we know he hasn’t changed… at all.

David Duchovny really should have gotten an Emmy for his performance in this one.

Scully: You’re right, Mulder. It’s not a match. It’s not her.

Mulder: It’s somebody though.

Oh, what a powerful scene. In a season that’s going to give me lots of reasons to hate Mulder, thank you, David Duchovny for reminding me that I love the heck out of this character.

In closing, I’d just like to note that this episode is another strike against the “Mulder as Jackass” stereotype that’s hijacked his legacy over time. Mulder closes a potential door to the answers he’s seeking in order to save a little girl, just as he’s closed doors and will continue to close more doors for Scully’s sake. Mulder is a deeply flawed human being, but he’s an incredibly humane one as well.

A

Questions:

The nexus theory still doesn’t explain how Roche knew what model vacuum cleaner The Mulders had in their house.

Comments:

In another point of continuity, remember the scene in “Conduit” (1×3) where Scully tries to stop Mulder from digging up the potential grave of Ruby Morris, another little girl lost. Even their positions are the same. The difference in this case is that rather than hinder him, or even just watch him break the rules, Scully puts Mulder’s emotions above procedure and digs right alongside him. I heart these two.

Yep. It’s true. David Duchovny sunk that shot on the first take.

I almost committed a travesty of justice by failing to mention The Magical Mystery Tour of Whimsy that Mark Snow’s score takes us on this episode. Consider it mentioned.

Best Quotes:

Scully: You said it yourself once. You said that a, a dream is an answer to a question we haven’t learned how to ask.

———————

Scully: Don’t you think the car might have been searched at least once already?
Mulder: Not by me.

———————

Mulder: Sixteen victims, John. How come you said there were only thirteen?
John Roche: I don’t know. Yeah, thirteen sounds more magical, you know?

———————

John Roche: How about this? Sink one from there and I’ll tell you.
Mulder: [Nothing But Net]
John Roche: Trust a child molester?

———————

Roche: This man, this man hit me!
Guard: I didn’t see it.
Scully: I did.

———————

Roche: It was Karen Ann Philiponte. She lived in a green rancher in… East Amherst, New York. Minter grew outside her window. I stood outside her window atop springs of mint. It smelled wonderful.
Scully: [Through gritted teeth] What year?
Roche: July… 1974. I had her mother on the hook for an Electrovac Argosy, but at the last minute she said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
Scully: [Drops pen in disgust]
Roche: Oh well.

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


On the Big Picture Front

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

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

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

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

On the Relationship Front

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

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

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

On the Whole

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

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

On the New Tip

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

“Most Improved”
Revelations

“Desperately in need of a rewrite”
Syzygy

“Victim of too many desperate rewrites”
Teso Dos Bichos

“The Copycat”
2Shy

“The Sleeper Hit”
Wetwired

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

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

Hell Money 3×19: I’m more haunted by the size of my mortgage payment.


Boo.

I mentioned in the last episode the fact that The X-Files had nary a success with stories that relied on an ethnic/cultural myth. There will be others that fail similarly, “Teliko” (4×4) and “Alpha” (6×16) come to mind, but none is a better example than “Hell Money”. The reason is that “Hell Money” takes what would actually be a frightening premise for your typical police procedural and attempts to turn in into an X-File by clouding it in Chinese ghost stories only to present the whole thing to an audience who isn’t actually frightened by Chinese ghost stories.

There’s a cultural disconnect when it comes to the cursed remains of ancestors in “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and fake money paid to ward off spirits here in “Hell Money”. Most often, someone who isn’t raised on these myths and legends has a hard time taking them seriously. So not only does the episode first have to educate and explain the significance of the myth, something that already takes away from it’s ability to frighten, but then it has to convince us why we should be scared. That’s a rather discouraging combination.

That’s all too bad because it takes away from an episode that could have worked wonderfully, just probably on a different show. This is one of the few X-Files episodes where absolutely nothing paranormal happens outside of a few anesthesia induced hallucinations. Like “Grotesque” (3×14) earlier in the season, the story is about human evil, except that in “Grotesque” evil possesses a man almost against his will while in “Hell Money” evil takes the form of men consciously preying on the desperate. I don’t have to tell you which picture of evil is more disturbing.

Which is why on a lot of levels this episode does work. Despite the overabundance of exposition there are moments that are frightening, just not in the paranormal sense. Certainly this idea of a lottery where kidneys and eyeballs are at stake is fabulous. (I can’t quite believe I just typed up that sentence.) And the corruption of authority, in this case, police corruption, is never too old a tale. Not to mention if the cruelty and callousness of the game doesn’t grab you there’s the whole burning men alive in the incinerator bit.

The Verdict:

This episode feels like a script from Law & Order was cut and pasted into an X-File with random lines about ghosts thrown in. With the possible exception of a frog crawling out of a corpse, there’s no moment where I say to myself, “This must be an X-File.” Why were Mulder and Scully called in to begin with? There was nothing supernatural/abnormal about the initial murders other than that they were gruesome serial killings so I don’t see why they would have peaked even Mulder’s interest. The ghost symbol wasn’t even known about till Mulder and Scully arrived on the scene.

It’s a good story and a scary story, it just suffers from being presented on the wrong platform and with an unnecessary excess of cultural baggage. I can’t say I don’t enjoy it more than a few other episodes this season.

I also have to give this episode credit for having one of the most horrific endings ever on The X-Files. It’s truly terrifying, more than enough to bump it up a grade.

B

The Comments:

This was writer Jeffrey Vlaming’s second and last episode on the show. His first was “2Shy” (3×6).

That a man being burned alive would be able to write anything at all, let alone anything legible, let alone that his last message would be some vague reference to Chinese lore…

Hsin’s motivations never completely make sense to me. Just from the nature of the game, it’s only a matter of time until you lose something more valuable than a spare kidney. Risk of death aside, if he loses both eyes, for instance, he could end up spending as much on his own care and rehabilitation as he needs for his daughter’s surgery. The same goes for everyone else in the game. But I don’t suppose we’re meant to ruin this whole schtick by imposing logic on it.

You can win a lot more than 2 million dollars in the Powerball and you don’t have to risk life and limb. I’m just sayin’.

I can’t let this episode pass without mentioning the appearances of a young Lucy Liu and a young B.D. Wong. Consider them mentioned.

The Questions:

Does Mulder purposefully skip days between shaves?

Detective Chao bled out all over the place when the “ghosts” kill Johnny Lo in the teaser, that’s why they had to replace the carpet. So why is it that he failed to replace the carpet padding? If you’re going to do it, do it right.

The Best Quotes:

Scully: His name was Johnny Lo. He moved here about six months ago from Canton, still in the INS application process. He was a dishwasher in Chinatown.
Mulder: How many dishes do you have to break before your boss tosses you in an oven?

——————-

Scully: So now we’re chasing ghosts?
Mulder: “Who you gonna call?” Ghosts or ancestral spirits have been central to Chinese spiritual life for centuries.
Scully: So you’re saying the ancestral spirits pushed Johnny Lo into the oven and turned on the gas?
Mulder: Well, it sure would teach him to respect his elders wouldn’t it?

——————–

Scully: Do you know how much the human body is worth, Mulder?
Mulder: Depends on the body.

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.

Syzygy 3×13: Sure. Fine. Whatever.


The X-Files meets Carrie

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

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

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

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

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

…And the Verdict is:

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

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

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

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

B

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

Superfluous Questions:

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

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

Superfluous Comments:

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

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

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

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

Zirinka the Astrologist almost steals the show.

Best Quotes:

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

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

———————

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

———————

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