Tag Archives: Half-Caff

Brand X 7×19: They say these things kill people.


 

BrandX70

I’m having War of the Coprophages flashbacks.

I was really excited to watch “Brand X” again. Honestly, my memories of the last few seasons are a lot fuzzier than the early parts of the series. (You can probably guess which episodes I watch more often.) The hidden blessing in that is getting to relive episodes afresh. And what I did remember of “Brand X” was good. Very good.

We have Skinner in play, and he so rarely gets to move from behind his desk. I think Mitch Pileggi was brought on the court mainly because Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were still busy in post-production for “all things” (7×17) and “Hollywood A.D.” (7×18) respectively, but I’ll take any excuse to see more of Skinner.

I also haven’t seen a Half-Caff episode in nigh forever and I’ve missed them. For those who don’t know, Half-Caff is my own obsessive-compulsively subclassed category of X-File that involves a newly discovered science or technology with world-changing implications. Here-to-fore, however, they’ve also included a government conspiracy to get a hold of or control said science. “Brand X” is slightly different since there’s no government conspiracy, only a corporate one. But I’m counting it because I can.

Morley Tobacco takes the place of the government this episode and so is appropriately shady and secretive. Except for the good Dr. Voss, who shows signs early on of wanting to switch allegiances to the good side of the Force. He smirks in response to Mulder’s sarcasm at the conference table, anyway. But Dr. Voss has a problem. He and Dr. Scobie’s noble experiment, to genetically engineer a tobacco plant that wouldn’t cause cancer when smoked or inhaled, backfired. Oh sure, they developed a non-toxic plant. However, the tobacco beetles evolved to match the new supply and now their eggs are being inhaled along with the smoke. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty picture when the eggs hatch. Just ask the late Dr. Scobie.

Initially, we think Dr. Scobie’s been killed because he’s a whistleblower and the company didn’t want him revealing their nefarious secrets to the world. Whistleblowers were a hot topic in the 90’s and so was Big Bad Tobacco. I wonder if generations of X-Philes to come will recognize the plot of The Insider buried in all this. Even if they don’t, in a world where the GMOs vs. Non-GMOs debate has only gained traction over the years, this episode is oddly still relevant. Can we make nature better? Will we kill ourselves trying?

For first time writers on the show, Steve Maeda and Greg Walker give us a pretty classic X-File, the anomaly of Skinner being out in the field not withstanding. Steven Maeda will go on to write several more episodes including one of my later season favorites, “Audrey Pauley” (9×13).

There are lots of little moments, especially in the beginning, that I enjoy about this episode. I love the opening shot of smoke billowing out of a chimney and how it subtly introduces our subject. Seeing Dr. Scobie’s glass of icy water with pinkish swirls of blood floating around in it gives me a delicious sense of foreboding. It also warms my Philish heart to see Mulder and Scully coming to Skinner’s aid. I realize he’s their boss and technically they have to show up whether they want to or not, but it’s nice that they want to. Oh, and it’s the first time, probably all season, that I’ve felt like either Mulder or Scully were in real danger. “Signs and Wonders” (7×9) didn’t convince me. This actually feels like Mulder’s on the verge of death.

The atmosphere, particularly in the indoor scenes where they could block out the L.A. sunlight, is perfect. (The X-Files was gorgeous.) The villain is vile. (That’s right. You go ahead and smoke your neighbors to death. ‘Cause this is America, man. E pluribus uh…) The deaths are disgusting. (And I take perverse viewing pleasure in that.)

Everything’s moving with tense, expectant energy and then… the ending flattens like Coke in a cup.

Sigh. It pains me to admit it, but the 4th act starts to fizzle right when it should sizzle. It’s a sad reminder of what happened to “Theef” (7×14), another episode this season that was leading somewhere good and then choked right at the climax.

In particular, that scene where Skinner can’t make up his mind to take down Daryl Weaver goes on two minutes too long. I mean, I get it. If Daryl keeps on living he’ll keep on smoking and more people will inhale tobacco beetle eggs and die. And if Daryl dies then the doctor’s may not get the scientific answers they need to save Mulder and anyone else who might get infected. But Skinner is an Assistant Director at the F.B.I.. I’m pretty sure he knows how to shoot a suspect so as to disable them rather than kill them, especially when that suspect is standing still. His hesitation, no, procrastination doesn’t make sense. Not to mention, Daryl’s bad guy speech would have been much more effective cut in half.

Verdict:

Is it too late to create a “Coulda’ been a contender” category? Because “Brand X” had the potential to be a classic. Instead it’s just a really solid offering. Warts and all it’s still a far sight more entertaining than most of what I’ve seen this season.

B+

Bugs:

Skinner makes the idea of killer bugs sound so fantastic. Wasn’t he around for “Zero Sum” (4×21)? I know, I know. The bees carried a virus. They still behaved abnormally.

Are those pencils in the office ceiling the same ones from “Chinga” (5×10) or does Mulder still get bored often?

Correction, Scully. If Mulder were to pick up that pack of Morley’s he wouldn’t be taking up smoking, he’d be falling off the wagon. Mulder smoked back in “Travelers” (5×15).

If the situation was dangerous enough that Skinner needed to put a detail on Dr. Voss’ family for their safety, why did he let Dr. Voss travel home alone?

Is there any particular reason we’re supposed to believe Morley Tobacco would go so far as to kill Dr. Scobie for testifying against them? When did the mafia take over Big Tobacco?

PSA: It was implied by this episode but never directly stated that the smoke and tar from tobacco plants causes cancer, not nicotine. The smoke chronically irritates the lungs, leading to cancer and a whole other host of issues. Cigarette smoke also contains over forty known carcinogens, marijuana smoke over thirty. Though whether or not marijuana directly leads to lung cancer is still under debate. It’s been linked to testicular cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer and leukemia in the babies of women who smoked while pregnant, though.

Actor Tobin Bell, who plays Daryl Weaver, is our second Goodfellas alumnus of the season and our second 24 alumnus. Or at least, he’s the second of each that I’ve recognized and counted.

The actors must have killed themselves coughing from this episode.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: [Looking at a gruesome picture of Dr. Scobie’s corpse] Can’t blow the whistle with a mouth like that.

———————–

Mulder: Mr. Weaver, did you see or hear anything unusual last night?

Daryl Weaver: Little Korean fellow down the hall dresses like Wonder Woman. But that’s every night.

———————–

Daryl Weaver: Toodles.

 

S.R. 819 6×10: At least you didn’t get your ear bit off.


Call Dr. Scully.

I’m in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

And I know I’m not the only one. For all those who have gone into withdrawal after the admittedly extended period of light-hearted antics that make up the first third of Season 6, we’re about to have four heavy-duty episodes in a row. Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more.

Krycek was a deceiver ever. And the official battle between him and Skinner has begun, though it’s been brewing since “The Blessing Way” (3×1) when Krycek and Luis Cardinal put a hurtin’ on Skinner in the stairwell of a hospital. It escalated after Skinner handcuffed Krycek to his balcony in “Tunguska” (4×9) and left him to suffer from exposure. See why revenge is never the answer?

Not that the stoically upright Skinner is a vengeful kinda guy, though it’s clear from his introspective soliloquies in this episode that he doesn’t consider himself any sort of hero.

Well, I do. And Scully’s right, Skinner judges himself too harshly.

Yes, he had to compromise himself early on in his relationship with Mulder and Scully, but it’s obvious Cigarette-Smoking Man had an unpleasant hold on his career, perhaps even wielding blackmail as a weapon. But no sooner does he get the chance than Skinner bucks CSM’s authority and aids Mulder in his quest as early as “Ascension” (2×6). Even before that he showed signs of sympathy. Remember his, “This should have been an X-File” comment in “The Host” (2×2)?

He proved to be Mulder and Scully’s protector in episodes like “End Game” (2×17) where he pummels Mulder’s location out of Mr. X in an effort to save his life and in “Paper Clip” (3×2) when he extorts the safe return of Mulder and Scully out of CSM by threatening to release classified information on the conspiracy. In fact, it’s that episode where Skinner officially crawls out from under CSM’s nefarious shadow. Too bad his hard-won independence doesn’t last long. By the time we reach “Avatar” (3×21), CSM has cooked up a cold dish of revenge framing Skinner for murder. And while Mulder and Scully… and his soon to be ex-wife… deliver Skinner out of that trap, he willingly walks back into CSM’s clutches in “Memento Mori” (4×15) in order to, what else? Save Scully. By “Zero Sum” (4×21) he’s a patsy again, but though his position may be compromised his loyalty never is.

Despite not being much older than they are, Skinner plays the harsh but protective father to Mulder and Scully. He’s willing to get his hands dirty so that they don’t have to, not because his conscience is seared but because the soldier in him is willing to sacrifice to win the war. If Skinner were to die now he would not die in vain. Mulder and Scully would have been dead long ago if not for him.

But not once did it occur to me that Skinner might actually die, no more than I though Mulder might really be dead at the end of “Gethsemene” (4×24), which is the best evidence I can give of Skinner’s unofficial status as the third lead on The X-Files; so indispensable has this character become, this character that was never intended by Chris Carter to be a major role, that it’s hard to take the threat of his death seriously.

I never believed they’d do it, but Chris Carter & Co. did consider it. Mulder and Scully no longer worked under Skinner so he was no longer absolutely vital to the plot and because he had changed over the years from a mysterious and potentially dangerous figure to a stalwart ally, he had become too predictable, too reliable. Fortunately for Skinner lovers, the plot potential in this new hold Krycek gains over Skinner convinced The Powers That Be that interesting things could still be done with the character. Thank heavens because can you imagine Season 8 with no Skinner? ::shudders::

The question is, how does a man as self-sufficient as Skinner, who has already escaped the clutches of CSM himself, wind up with his life in the hands of Ratboy? I confess, I never really understood the plot till now so for those fans as slow on the uptake as I am, here’s a rundown:

It all starts with Tunisia. And if that sets off bells of recognition in your head, it should. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there were some oblique implications here that Syndicate leader Strughold who, as we see in Fight the Future, has his base of operations is in Tunisia, is behind the S.R. 819 conspiracy. That would also explain how Krycek originally got involved since last we saw him in “The End” (5×20) he was working for the Syndicate under the authority of Well-Manicured Man. Since Well-Manicured Man is now deceased (sniffle), it’s safe to say Krycek’s loyalties within the organization have moved on. Or safer to say that his only real loyalty is to himself.

Krycek is working on his own in keeping Skinner alive. We can assume he wants him alive and at his mercy so that he can use him for his own agenda later. The Syndicate has a man at the F.B.I. in Jeffrey Spender, now Krycek has his own man on the inside, reluctant though he may be.

The original plan was to export this potentially dangerous nanotechnology to Tunisia, and possibly into the hands of Strughold and the Syndicate, under the guise of the World Health Organization. Before that happened, S.R. 819 had to pass inspection by scientist Kenneth Orgel and the F.B.I.’s own Skinner, a safeguard that was usually a mere formality. However, Orgel understands the potential consequences of the nanotechnology falling into the wrong hands and goes to warn Skinner, but is infected to keep him from talking. Skinner too is infected and is supposed to be killed but Krycek intervenes.

From what Mulder says to Skinner at the end of the episode and the surprised look on Scully’s face when Skinner claims not to be able to recognize the bearded man who tried to kill him, it looks like Mulder and Scully are aware that Krycek is behind all this. But they still don’t know what he’s up to and they certainly don’t know why Skinner refuses to give him up. As in the first Skinner-centric episode, “Avatar”, Mulder and Scully’s concern for their former boss is touching. As before, they drive the investigation to save Skinner only this time to better effect because Skinner doesn’t sit passively, fatalistically by while they work. The determination he starts this episode with must make it especially grating on him to have to slip right back into his old compromising ways.

Verdict:

I can’t say I love “S.R. 819” the way I love Skinner himself because though there’s a tangible sense of urgency, the plot is a little obscure and aside from Skinner’s pulsing veins, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But I do appreciate the potential mythology implications and I welcome the return of Krycek with open arms. I was one of those taken by surprise when he reappeared. Maybe even “Stevie Wonder would see that one comin’”, but I didn’t.

If my memory serves me correctly, and that’s by no means a guarantee, this was the series’ final Skinner-centric episode. That’s rather surprising considering there are three more seasons to go but it makes it all the more irritating that there’s no resolution to what happened to Skinner’s wife Karen, a character both introduced and discarded back in “Avatar”.

I wasn’t looking for anything detailed. A brief mention from a hospital orderly would have sufficed. “The patient is Walter Skinner. Widowed. Works for the F.B.I.” or “Walter Skinner – Divorced. No known relatives. In case of emergency contact Special Agent Dana Scully.” See how easy that would have been?

My only consolation is that I think there could be a cleverly veiled reference to “Avatar” here:

Mulder: This morning, you woke up…
Skinner: I woke up.
Mulder: Alone?
Skinner: Yes. Alone.

Then again, that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

B+

The Peanut Gallery:

While I don’t think anyone fell for it, those opening moments of the episode where they would have us believe that Mulder is the F.B.I. agent about to die are well done. I quite like the idea of scaring the audience. If only that silly episode preview hadn’t ruined the surprise…

We haven’t seen Senator Matheson since “Nisei” (3×9) and the truth is, I don’t even remember him in it. The connections in congress Mulder so famously depends upon in the “Pilot” (1×79) have all but become obsolete in the current stage of the mythology. However, I’m glad they brought Matheson back one last time, if only to drive home the point that Mulder has fewer people he can trust than even he once believed. That makes the fact that one of his allies is now seriously compromised… and that he doesn’t know it… even more poignant.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if Senator Matheson were secretly a member of the Syndicate?

It makes me a little sad to think the ear-biting references might be lost on this new generation.

Mulder and Scully are forbidden any contact with Skinner. Don’t they know there are cameras at the F.B.I.?

Parts of the movie score are recycled several times in this episode. And there’s an overhead shot of the highway that looks recycled as well – there’s no way that shot was in a television budget.

I’ve never read the fanfic, but I’m sure the Skinner/Scully Shippers had a field day with this episode.

That abandoned warehouse set is striking. I especially enjoy the lighting when Mulder walks in on the Senator.

I recently found out that Nicholas Lea (Krycek) is about to guest star on Supernatural. That’s an interesting coincidence since both Steven Williams (Mr. X) and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) have guest starred on that show for a series of episodes. Ah, when fate binds souls together…

This reminds me of the good old days when Scully often stared in wonder and computer screens looking at scientific data that shouldn’t exist.

I dig the “Chinga” (5×10) reference, John Shiban. I dig it.

Best Quotes:

Skinner: I was boxing. I must’ve gotten tagged.
Nurse: Yes, you did. At least you didn’t get your ear bit off. That’s something, right?

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, the good news is… your dilation’s back to normal. Plus you still have both your ears.
Skinner: I heard that one.

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, you’re lucky. He’s on a government HMO – no one’s even bothered to handle the samples yet.

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


Musta been something I ate.

We were overdue for this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

………….

And we’re back.

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

A+

Random Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

———————-

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

———————-

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

———————-

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

Unusual Suspects 5×1: Sure, baby. My kung fu is the best.


Do I look like Geraldo to you?

I have to say, as fond as I was of the Lone Gunmen, coming off of the emotional rollercoaster that was the “Gethsemene”/”Redux”/”Redux II” trilogy, I was not looking forward to sitting through an episode sans the Mulder/Scully dynamic.

It’s not that it wasn’t high time the Lone Gunmen got their own episode. Who didn’t look forward to their brief, two minute guest spots of comic delight? No, it’s just that I was dying to see what life was like now that the threat of Scully’s cancer had passed. What I wanted was a real meat and potatoes X-File and a good heart to heart between our leads a la the “conversation on the rock” scene in “Quagmire” (3×22).

Unrealistic expectations notwithstanding, I wasn’t disappointed in this episode. I was feeling impatient, yes, slightly irritated even. But that’s not “Unusual Suspects” fault. In retrospect, probably the wisest thing the 1013 Productions crew could have done was to give us a little comic fluff, a slight departure from the series’ norm in the wake of the drama that just went on. There’s no sense in trying to compete with the unrelenting tension of the previous episode.

Now we’ve covered why “Unusual Suspects” starts off as an underdog even before it airs, much like the Lone Gunmen themselves. So what does this episode have going for it?

1. The Lone Gunmen (Duh): Fans had been clamoring for a while to see the nerdy trio get their own episode. Skinner had one. Even Cigarette-Smoking Man had one. Surely the Gunmen had it coming. Honestly, their characterizations don’t disappoint. Byers was seemingly the least likely to be the focus of an episode, considering the popularity of Langly and Frohike especially, but that was a clever move from writer Vince Gilligan. Byers is the most normal of the bunch and watching him of all people turn paranoiac is satisfying and it grounds the events of the episode. In fact, it reminds me of how The X-Files is originally told from Scully’s decidedly normal point of view. That’s precisely where its sense of wonder came/comes from.

2. That Retro Swag: Maybe the desire not to compete with the emotional impact of “Redux II’ is part of why “Unusual Suspects” is not only a departure in content, it’s a departure in time. Off we go back to the days before Mulder opened is precious X-Files, back to the dark ages of 1989, when cellular phones were larger than the heads that cradled them. We even get to see Mulder whip one out in an understated moment of pure comedy. Truly this is where the Gunmen belong, surrounded by impossibly bulky and outdated computer equipment.

3. X: After just a full season, X is back. As Chris Carter famously said, “No one ever really dies on The X-Files.” X has returned to do what he does best, clean up a leak and protect a potentially dangerous advancement in science to make sure the government is the only one to profit by it. Isn’t that how we learned to love him in episodes like “Soft Light” (2×23) and “Wetwired” (3×23)? And I have to say, corny though it may seem to some, I enjoy the tie-in to the mythology here. I love that X knew Mulder long before Mulder knew him, that we get to see him when he already must have been working for Cigarette-Smoking Man, and most of all, I love that he indirectly names the Lone Gunmen.

4. Mulder’s Innocence: It seems clear from their introduction in “EBE” (1×16), though it is never directly stated, that Mulder knew the Lone Gunmen long before he met Scully. We never did question how or why. I guess I just assumed that he met them somewhere along the way, maybe in a MUFON meeting somewhere. We also knew that Mulder’s search for Samantha and his belief that she was taken by aliens was the foundation of his start on the X-Files, (You’ll note how Gilligan cleverly has Mulder make his way to the “Alien Life” themed booth), but we also knew that Mulder didn’t always believe in aliens, neither was he always such a pain in the backside of the establishment. So his hypnotic regression therapy sessions with Dr. Werber weren’t solely responsible for his mental and social downfall after all.

And the Verdict is…

Checks in the plus column aside, I’m not sure this episode is a resounding success. It’s fun, to be sure, but Susanne Modeski’s paranoia, the paranoia that was the catalyst for all the rest, is a bit of a hard sell in the end. It’s a little over the top… except for that part about not being able to trust your dentist.

Speaking of Miss Modeski, perhaps the issue is more akin to what went on in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). We have an outsider in a stand-alone episode who the audience is suddenly required to accept as an intricate piece of the mythology puzzle. Here it works better because Susanne Modeski only inspires the X-Files in an indirect way and only has the briefest contact with Mulder himself – no eternal soul pact required.

Lastly, the Modeski character brings in some fun elements of Film Noir. Even though she turns out to be one of the good guys, she still plays The Femme Fatale by leading an otherwise law-abiding man down a dangerous and morally ambiguous path. Poor Byers never had a chance.

In the end, I enjoy it and I probably enjoy it more in retrospect just to relish as much of the Lone Gunmen as I can get.

B+

Miscellaneous:

Still not so sure why Frohike recruits Langley to help with the hack. I thought he said his kung fu was already the best?

This is our first Vince Gilligan solo script since the masterpiece that was “Small Potatoes” (4×20).

Nice touch having Mulder answer the phone with, “Hey, Reggie.” No doubt this is the era when he was still working under Reggie Perdue of “Young at Heart” (1×15) fame. Vince Gilligan always was a Phile at heart – he remembered the little details.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the series. There are 201 episodes of The X-Files and this is #100. Well, technically there are 202 episodes, but that’s only because the series finale is counted double.

Why are they selling bootleg cable right in front of representatives of the Federal Government? Was that legal back then and I missed it?

That “Holly’s” daughter’s name was supposedly Susanne Modeski should’ve Byers’ first clue. Well, second after the whole sugar thing. Susanne isn’t exactly a name you heard on many little girls in 1989.

One has to wonder why X bothers to let the Lone Gunmen live at all.

And, finally, how could I ignore the nice little guest spot by Detective Munch? My how that character gets around a television set.

Best Quotes:

Munch: Start with your name and birth date.
Byers: John Fitzgerald Byers. 11-22-63.
Munch: Seriously.
Byers: I was named after JFK. Before the assassination my parents were going to name me Bertram.
Lieutenant Munch: Lucky you.

——————-

Byers: You’re talking about a premeditated crime against the United States government!
Frohike: Hey, your second today. [Removing Byers’ FCC badge] Welcome to the Dark Side.

——————-

Langley: There’s no game here.

——————-

Langly: Government hack is a snap. Last week I got into the Maryland DMV, changed my endorsement so I could handicap park. [Byers stares] I got tinnitus.

——————-

Modeski: No matter how paranoid you are, you’re not paranoid enough.

——————-

Frohike: Now I’m sorry. You’re telling me that the U.S. government, the same government that gave us Amtrak…
Langly: Not to mention the Susan B Anthony dollar…
Frohike: Is behind some of the darkest, most far-reaching conspiracies on the planet? That’s just crazy!
Langly: I mean, like this guy [Byers] works for the government!

——————-

Mr X: Behave yourselves.
Byers: That’s it? You’re just trying to intimidate us, to scare us, so we’ll keep quiet!
Frohike: [Under his breath] Byers, I swear to god, I’ll shoot you myself.
Byers: It’s all true what Susanne said about you people, isn’t it? About John F Kennedy! Dallas!
Mr X: I heard it was a lone gunman.

——————-

Lieutenant Munch: Do I look like Geraldo to you? Don’t lie to me like I’m Geraldo. I’m not Geraldo!

——————-

Byers: You want the truth?
Mulder: Yeah. I want the truth.
Byers: You might want to sit down, this is going to take a while. The truth is… none of us is safe. Secret elements within the U.S. government seek to surveil us and control our lives.
Mulder: What?!
Frohike: Tell him about the hotel Bibles.
Byers: Yeah, I’m coming to that. It all started with Susanne Modeski…

Wetwired 3×23: You’re the only one I trust.


Mulder for a day.

I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t we already see this episode and didn’t they call it “Blood” (2×3)?

Admittedly, the two episodes are similar in premise. Both are “Half-Caff”, pseudo mythology type episodes (Which, by the way, we haven’t had all Season 3. Believe it or not, there hasn’t been one since “Soft Light” (2×23) and I’ve missed sensing CSM’s shenanigans behind these technology and science driven conspiracies). Both involve technology based mind-control experiments secretly carried on by the U.S. government.

Or do they? In “Blood” the trigger was actually a pesticide, the result was that people saw messages in all sorts of mechanical devices that drove them to violence. “Wetwired” addresses the T.V./Violence correlation specifically and doesn’t bother dragging other modes of communication into the picture. By now I’m sure you can smell the irony; a television show prone to violent images is pondering whether images on television can lead to violence in real life. Talk about self-conscious.

But when you consider the source, the subject makes sense. This episode is written by Visual Effects Supervisor Mat Beck who presided over the show’s first 5 seasons as well as both movies. Is it any wonder he’s interested in the effect of the image on the American public? But most importantly, why didn’t he write more??

Believe it or not, I actually enjoy “Wetwired” more than all the world-class mythology episodes this season. (Shock!) There’s something meaty about it. We have the Lone Gunmen, X, CSM, mind control, a paranoid Scully, and some great emotional beats on the M&S front to boot. It’s so chock full of X-Files goodies that I find myself wondering why Chris Carter didn’t add Mat Beck to the writing staff.

But enough about background and concept and on to the episode itself. You would expect that if anyone on The X-Files would go psycho it would be Mulder. And in fact he’s done it before and under similar circumstances when CSM’s forces drugged him nearly into paranoid oblivion in “Anasazi” (2×25). Mulder also trashed his apartment looking for bugs in “E.B.E.” (1×16) the way Scully does here, but she does it with more flair, don’t you think? Mulder’s always so close to the edge of insanity as it is that it’s more fun to watch cool, calm and collected Scully lose her mind for a bit. It’s more satisfying. In particular, there’s a great moment when Gillian Anderson leans into the camera, wide-eyed and chomping on ice. Classic.

That’s all fun and games but the real meat is what Scully’s paranoid about. It makes sense that Scully’s deepest fear would be Mulder’s betrayal. She’s devoted her life to this man. She’s made her quest her own and has suffered in the process. It’s not like she’s the one looking for a “white whale.” She’s still here, working on the X-Files, because she believes in Mulder, not because she believes in little green men. What a nightmare it would become if she suddenly found it was all a lie. Mulder didn’t trust her. He didn’t depend on her. In fact, he was out to get her. It’s like that moment in “End Game” (2×17) when the Bounty Hunter morphs into Mulder and attacks Scully. It’s horrible because it shouldn’t be. Mulder should be the last person, save Maggie Scully, who would ever hurt her… er, purposefully anyway.

Verdict:

This is definitely one of my favorite episodes of Season 3. It might not be as inventive as some, but it has all the necessary ingredients of a good X-File and is always, always fun to watch.

Both Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny turn in some great emotional performances on this one. And it’s nice to have the mutual importance of Mulder and Scully’s relationship confirmed at the close of a season that features a lot of loss and tension in the partnership. The Shipper in me is satisfied.

But I especially love how it ends, with that short but memorable scene between X and CSM. Now we know that X is one of CSM’s hired guns and it’s him X has been undermining in order to feed Mulder information. How long can the apprentice work against his master without being found out? When X looks into CSM’s cold, dead eyes and lies I still get an ominous chill.

A

Questions:

Even after the Lone Gunmen’s short and pithy explanation of the magic of television, we still never learn exactly how CSM & Co. are creating paranoia in the viewing public, just that something must be being transmitted through the signal. And for that matter, how far did this experiment reach? And for how long? They wouldn’t have stopped at a handful of murders.

Surely this episode calls for a follow-up with some exploration of X’s background. So what happened to it? Mulder confronts him on being too much of a coward to fight the power himself, CSM glares at him with thinly veiled suspicion… His character is just begging to be revealed at least a little.

Comments:

He’s red-green colorblind. Finally, an explanation is given for the atrocity of Mulder’s ties.

Did I mention the teaser is awesome? ‘Cause the teaser is awesome.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: It’s just you, me and the drug dealers.
Plain-Clothed Man: Well, this area’s always been known for its criminal element.
Mulder: Especially when Congress is in session.

———————

Mulder: I just watched 36 hours of Bernard Shaw and Bobbi Battista. I’m about ready to kill somebody too.

———————

Mulder: All I know is television does not make a previously sane man go out and kill five people thinking they’re all the same guy. Not even ‘Must See TV’ could do that to you.

———————

Mulder: What do you think, Scully?
Scully: I think television plays a large part in both of these murderers lives.
Mulder: As it does in almost every American home. But television does not equal violence. I don’t care what anybody says. Unless you consider bad taste an act of violence.

———————-

Scully: I was so sure, Mulder. I saw things and I heard things, and… it was just like world was turned upside down. Everybody was out to get me.
Mulder: Now you know how I feel most of the time.

———————-

Smoking Man: Have you completed your work?
Mr X: All the personnel and hardware has been removed. But Mulder still has one of the devices.
Smoking Man: That proves nothing. What about Mulder’s source?
Mr X: He’s been eliminated.
Smoking Man: And his source? Who’s he working with?
Mr X: That person remains unknown.

Soft Light 2×23: We just handed over the A-bomb to the Boy Scouts.


Free Monk Preview.

I’m going to get it out of the way and say what we’re all thinking: It’s Monk! Yup, Tony Shalhoub is the guest star this episode. At this point in his career he was already pretty well known for his comedic role on Wings. The man is great at playing jittery, nervous little fellows. Alright, now that that’s taken care of…

Reactions to “Soft Light” tend to be a mixed bag but it’s panned by many. Thinking back to my first watch through the series, I liked it OK, but my 14-year-old self certainly didn’t appreciate its humor or the interplay between its characters. It’s not a banner episode and not at the level of the two that precede it, but it does provide a good amount of undervalued entertainment.

The opening scene where we’re introduced to Scully’s former student, Detective Ryan, is clever. It’s clever because it exists less to establish who Detective Ryan is than who Agent Scully isn’t. She isn’t the same ambitious young woman, green because she had never been in the field, who began work on the X-Files 2 years ago. We’re reminded that she was similar to Detective Ryan back in the beginning (though certainly more confident, cocky even). But a crash course in “Life With Mulder” has left her a little more open-minded, shall we say. She even goes so far to check the heating vent for body-manipulating mutants, a sly reference to “Squeeze” (1×2).

Mulder is spot on when he angrily asserts that Detective Ryan is no Agent Scully. Sure Scully was ambitious and proud and eager to prove herself a man among boys, but she would never put her reputation above the safety of others, which is what Ryan does over the course of the episode. Scully, however, still relates to her position as a young, female investigator making her way amongst closeted male chauvinists. She makes excuses for her almost like a big sister would. Still, I can’t help but think she needed a better protégé. Detective Ryan’s character is sufficient enough in that she serves to highlight Scully’s evolution, but she’s rather bland, don’t you think? Even when she did finally turn on Mulder and Scully she could have done it with a little more verve. Get a backbone, woman. As her character stands, her death scene is only vaguely satisfying.

::Abrupt Transition Alert::

I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how funny Mulder and Scully are together in “Soft Light.” Their comfort level with each other alone is worth the episode and the teasing is priceless. As I said in regards to “Humbug” (2×20), the humor in these earlier seasons was subdued and underplayed. This is why there are so many “blink and you’ll miss it” moments in the first few years that take a rewatch to finally notice and appreciate. Ergo, I can see an episode I’ve already watched at least 6 times and only on the 7th watch notice Mulder’s comedic expression as Scully hops on the elevator behind him. Please go check it out if you don’t remember what I’m talking about. I just love that the director doesn’t feel the need to play up the moment or to linger too long on their faces for a reaction.

In other news, Scully isn’t the only character study in this episode. She has to share the spotlight with Mr. X and his shadowy motivations. One line in particular stands out: “Mr. Mulder, I didn’t kill him.” After he’s just talked a good game about Mulder being his errand boy and not the other way around, why does he want to absolve himself in Mulder’s eyes? Could it be that even X feels guilt? Between this moment and the scene in “One Breath” (2×8) when he gives Mulder information on the men responsible for Scully’s abduction, I think it’s clear that X has a conscience buried somewhere deep down in him. The speech he gave in “One Breath” about once being like Mulder wasn’t just blowing smoke. Now we learn that he’s helping Mulder out of some emotional debt to Deep Throat. It would be nice if the history of their relationship had been explored a little more but that’s one giant “Alas” for The X-Files. Whatever spilled milk there is to cry over, it is fun to watch Mulder get played by X since he does have a nasty habit of assuming that others are at his beck and call.

If you add up the open window into Mulder and Scully’s partnership, the humor, the touch of Scully angst and an inexplicably destructive power it all comes out to an enjoyable episode. The coup de grâce is that wonderfully haunting ending where we get a close-up of the vanquished Dr. Banton, a single tear running down his cheek.

Conclusion:

Here’s where I should confess that Season 2, for all its occasional missteps, is one of my favorite seasons and not just because it’s unabashedly gross. Sometimes my fellow fans complain that the episodes became too predictable early on in the series, too formulaic. To that I say that it’s true episodes like this one tend to follow certain guidelines that are easily recognizable after a while. But it’s not until you have a successful, familiar formula that you can break it. ‘Humbug” couldn’t have happened in Season 1. The later, more creative episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) and “Triangle” (6×3) would have been nonsense if episodes like “Soft Light” hadn’t already become standards in the collective consciousness of the public. It’s like there’s a mantra on repeat in your head, “This is an X-Files episode. This is an X-Files episode.” And while it’s nice to occasionally break it up with, “This is an X-Files episode?” I still enjoy hearing that broken record. Call me OCD.

I also enjoy that the series has fallen into a regular rhythm of episodes that are all at about the same level of coolness. The X-Files is now pretty consistent and if it has to be a little formulaic to pull that off, so what? Remember the jarring ups and downs of Season 1??

But I’ve digressed enough. Back to “Soft Light.”

It’s pretty good.

B+

Questions:

The most common complaint is that the science in this episode doesn’t make sense and is inconsistently applied; Banton’s shadow should consume everything, so why only humans? I take it that it only affects carbon-based life forms or something to that effect. Maybe that doesn’t make real sense scientifically, but that’s what we’re supposed to believe. Besides, the plot has built-in escape route because Banton stumbled upon a science that he doesn’t fully understand himself. He’s running from the government because he wants a chance to study himself to figure out how to stop this thing. A cop out? Sure. But a reasonable one.

Comments:

This is the first episode penned by Vince Gilligan (swoon). More on him later.

This is our second Half-Caff episode in a row; there’s a new, powerful science that the government is trying to get its grubby hands on. It’s not paranormal, but it sure is strange.

Best Quotes:

Detective Ryan: Agent Scully, what are you looking at?
Scully: Uh, the heat register.
Detective Ryan: You don’t think anyone could have squeezed in there?
Mulder: You never know.

——————-

Scully: Spontaneous human combustion?
Mulder: I have over a dozen case files of human bodies reduced to ash without any attendant burning or melting, rapid oxidation without heat.
Scully: Let’s just forget for the moment that there’s no scientific theory to support it.
Mulder: Okay.

——————-

Mulder: Check this out. My newest tool in the fight against crime. [Laser Pointer] $49.95 at your local hardware store.
Scully: Neat trick. For your birthday I’ll buy you a utility belt.

——————-

Mulder: See this guy, he’s always here. What’s he doing?
Scully: Looking at the floor.
Mulder: Why’s he doing that?
Scully: Probably the same reason he spends his whole afternoon in the train station.

——————-

Mulder: In the videotape, Dr. Banton kept staring at the floor. I’ve been trying to figure out what he might have been looking at.
Scully: Well, maybe the exposure affected his mind. Nonsensical repetitive behavior is a common trait of mental illness.
Mulder: You trying to tell me something?

——————–

Mulder: He believes the government is out to get him.
Mr X: It’s tax season. So do most Americans.

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


Hey, Mister...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

A-

Questions:

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

Comments:

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

Best Quotes:

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

——————-

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