Tag Archives: Half-Caff

Kitten 11×6: He’s a good man.


 

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Do you see the dead person?

 

My first thought at the opening of this episode: FINALLY. A Skinner-centric X-File.

My second thought: Hey, that guy looks like a chubby Haley Joel Osment.

(!!!!!)

I guess this was just an episode for 90s reunions.

The last time we saw Kersh in “The Truth” (9×19/20), he was on our side. Color me confused. I guess when the Super Soldiers magically disappeared he began to doubt Mulder and Scully’s conspiracy theories? Weird.

What’s weirder is that I walked away from a Skinner episode without feeling like I understood Skinner any better. I mean, okay. I get that nuggets of government distrust were implanted deep down within his soul many years ago. And? So? This explains why he famously headbutted Mr. X so many years ago? This explains why he sold his soul to CSM for the cure to Scully’s cancer? This explains why he cradled a drugged and beaten Mulder in his arms on a dark and snowy night?

I know I’m being difficult and I don’t really mean it. “Kitten” doesn’t try to kid us that Skinner’s love for Mulder and Scully is primarily based on his latent doubts about the good old U. S. of A. But this just may explain why he never seemed completely at ease with CSM in his office even before he outed himself as an ally of the X-Files. Frankly, I always thought it was because he was a decent man with a moral compass who didn’t like being bossed around. I suppose it could have gone deeper.

Even so, outside of some internal emotional conflict over the war in Vietnam (and how many Americans already share those?) I honestly don’t feel like I know Skinner any better after this. He has the same moral core I always thought he did, even if his duty sometimes ran counter to his personal feelings. That, my friends, is what you call “a soldier”.

Regardless of how much we did or didn’t find out, I’m grateful for any extra attention paid to our too long unacknowledged third lead. Skinman for the win.

This episode, though… it’s just kind of “there”.

The Mulderisms are on point. Thank you for that, Gabe Rotter. But after watching and rewatching it, I can confirm that nothing much happens. Oh, a throwback to the mind-control cropdusters of “Blood” (2×3) happens, but not much else.

Wait, let me take that back. Mulder and Scully kinda sorta come to their senses without ever actually apologizing for the way they’ve treated their closest ally all season. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Verdict:

Let’s put to bed this ridiculous lack of trust Mulder and Scully have been showing Skinner lately, shall we? Because it is ridiculous. Walter Sergei Skinner has put not only his career but his very life on the line too many times for these two for them to treat him the way they have been.

The monster? Meh. It’s a half-caff episode of mythology disconnected government conspiracy mixed with a serial killer style “Monster” of the Week. Neither aspect of the mystery faired all that well.

As an episode of The X-Files, it falls flat for lack of plot. But at least it isn’t flat-out horrible.

C+

Uninventive Nicknames:

This town looks too big to only have one doctor. Just look at the number of cubbies in the morgue.

Okay, who can explain to me the tooth thing? I realize it’s a side effect of the gas. But why are all these people losing teeth without showing any symptoms of visions or violence? Have they been exposed to a more sophisticated version of the gas that the government is just waiting for the right opportunity to trigger? Was Skinner exposed before or after he came looking for Kitten? Is Kersh coming back???

If this has suddenly and understandably given you an itch for Skinner-centric episodes that you want to scratch, “Avatar” (3×21), “Zero Sum” (4×21), and “S.R. 819” (6×10) are all waiting at a Fox.com near you.

And, yes. They’re all better than this episode.

Funny, they’re all cases where Skinner’s in trouble and Mulder and (except for one instance) Scully have to save his reputation and/or his life. Pattern much?

I appreciate the diegetic use of John Cale.

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


 

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Adorbs.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she’s normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B+

The Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Backup:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Frohike look 57 to you when he died?

Scully: Frohike looked 57 the day he was born.

……………

Mulder: Who needs Google when you got Scully?

……………

Scully: Maybe he saw Mulder in his dreams.

Mulder: Who hasn’t?

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


 

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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 notwithstanding. 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.