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Home Again 10×2: You’re gonna be all right now.


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The thing about raves is that they’re shorter than rants. So I warn you right now that I don’t have much to tell you. There wasn’t a whole lot of deep observation going on as I watched this episode, just pirouettes and prancing.

You would think, you would think, that the episode where Maggie Scully dies would have left me feeling bereft and befuddled with tears. If I adored Maggie Scully, then what’s with the goofy grin on my face that won’t be suppressed?

I can’t help it. I’m home again.

I’m Special Agent Dana Scully and this is Special Agent Fox Mulder.

And we’re done here. My life is complete. That one initial shot of the two of them was worth both the eight year wait after I Want to Believe AND having to sit through all of Season 9. I actually had to fan myself. With a literal fan. It has red and pink flowers on it.

I knew within the teaser, when that classic Mark Snow soundtrack started playing, that this was the direction I personally needed to show to go in. And within the first two minutes of Mulder and Scully on the case, barring any fourth quarter fumbles, I knew this was going to be in the A range. Here’s your one chance, Fancy. Don’t let me down.

Then Petula Clark gave a post-mortem comeback performance and it was all over for me. Diegetic music hasn’t been used to send a victim to the River Styx like this since “Kill Switch” (5×11). And of course, we can’t forget the legendary use of “Wonderful! Wonderful!” in “Home” (4×3), which is what we’re obviously intended to remember.

Oh, wait. I’m sorry. I take that back. This is when it was all over.

Scully: Back in the day, didn’t we ever come across the ability to just wish someone back to life?

Mulder: I invented it. When you were in the hospital like this.

Scully: You’re a dark wizard, Mulder.

Mulder: What else is new?

Yes, we’re only halfway through, but I’m already quite certain that this will remain my favorite moment of the revival. Nay, but this dotage of mine o’erflows the measure. This may very well go down as one of my favorite Mulder/Scully moments in the entire series.

Speaking of Mulder’s mysterious powers and mysteriously well-placed flashbacks, this probably should’ve been called “One Breath Again”. I just can’t get over the looks on their faces as they both remember the events of that episode. See? This is what I’m talking about: the way they bring their entire history into their every interaction. This is what I’ve been missing. No, some emotional context is not too much to ask for.

On that note, this very history and context is why the “breakup” as such is an exercise in dramatic futility. Their “relationship” is their history; it’s their partnership. A casual viewer can see clearly that there’s a connection here that goes as deep as the ocean, and no amount of surface level machination is going to penetrate that depth. It’s also a connection that need not be worn on the surface. It needn’t even come up in onscreen conversation as an issue, as it didn’t here and no one missed it. For Spock’s sake, no one wants to watch them play at playing house. Just let them be.

And is it just me, or is this the first time this actually feels like a natural continuation of the series proper rather than an exercise in nostalgia? I feel like tapping complete strangers on the shoulder and saying, “This is my show,” not, “This is The X-Files: Millennial Edition,” or “This is The X-Files: Alt-U Version ft. Mulder and Scully Wax Figures.”

If the characters came back last episode, the show itself is back in classic form now. Yes, it’s modern, updated and evolved. But all the round pegs are going into round holes again.

You’re responsible. If you made the problem, if it was your idea, then you’re responsible. You put it out of sight so that it wouldn’t be your problem, but you’re just as bad as the people that you hate.

That was deep, Scully. You wouldn’t be talking about Chris Carter and you and William, would you? Call me crazy, but I find this episode more emotionally on point than “Founder’s Mutation” (10×5) which read more like a dirge than a reckoning. Here Scully is finally coming to grips with having abdicated responsibility for William, and to unsuspecting, ill-equipped strangers at that. Well, she sort of does, anyway.

I know now why Mom asked for Charlie, even though he was out of her life. She wanted to know before [s]he left that he’d be okay. She gave birth to him. She made him. He’s her responsibility. And that’s why she said what she said to us. She wanted to make sure that we’d be responsible, and know that William’s okay, even though we can’t see him. I know that as parents we* made a difficult sacrifice to keep him safe, that it was for his own good to put him up for adoption. But I can’t help but think of him, Fox {Ew}. I can’t help it. I believe that you will find all of your answers. You will find the answers to the biggest mysteries and I will be there when you do. But my mysteries, I’ll never have answered. I won’t know if he thinks of me too or if he’s ever been afraid and wished that I was there. Does he doubt himself because we* left him? What questions does he have of me? The same that I have of this coin? And I want to believe, I need to believe, that we* didn’t treat him like trash.

Whoa, Nelly. You hold it right there, Miss Uber M.D.. “We???” Wherefore comes this “we”? Not to guilt trip you or anything, but “we” didn’t give William away. “We” weren’t there. You were there. I know. I was there. I watched Chris Carter make you do a bad, bad thing. But thanks ever so for at least again acknowledging Mulder’s presence in the sacred bed.

When it comes to responsibility for William being gone, it’s a convenient “we,” but when it comes to what or who William needs she reverts back to the singular. I forgive you, Scully.

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s always a good sign when I start yelling at my television screen.

Verdict:

Yes. Yes. Absolutely, yes. Never leave me again.

I’m dang sure going to miss Maggie Scully and Sheila Larken’s memorable performances. But if she had to go out, at least she went out right. Only after having watched Season 9 can you appreciate the magnitude of that.

And it’s true that as much as we may love our families, when it comes to our parents especially, there are parts of one another as individuals that we can never know. There was more to Maggie Scully than Scully could ever hope to find out. And there’s more to Scully than William will ever realize.

Now, you heard Maggie. Go get your boy.

A

Comments and Commentary:

That’s the darkest ICU I’ve ever seen.

1 demerit for Scully calling Mulder “Fox.”

“I didn’t bring him here. He came to me!” – My review of “William” (9×17) in a nutshell.

I don’t know what those shots are called when they strap a camera around the actor’s waist, wind them up and let them go. But I rarely find them effective.

Let’s take a moment to honor Scully’s palpable relief at Mulder showing up when she needed him.

We’re due for another reckoning: Does Scully resent the time she spent away from her mother and her family for nothing?

Who would put their brother’s full name in their phone like that?

For a second I thought this might be a new take on “Salvage” (8×10). If you’ve seen one garbage man you’ve seen them all, right?

Note the cleverly subtle correction of The X-Files previous treatment of the Tulpa myth. Though I think Mulder may have been closer to right back in “Arcadia” (6×13).

There are also deep echoes of “Milagro” (6×18) here…

Mulder: Did you direct him to do it?

Padgett: Jungians would say it’s the characters who choose the writer, not the other way around. So I guess you could argue he directed me.

Empedolces 8×17: The pizza man is not above suspicion.


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My regular pizza man.

“Empedolces” is one of my favorite episodes of Season 8. The X-File itself isn’t all that engaging, but Agent Reyes is established as a trustworthy character, Doggett’s backstory is at long last revealed, and we get more pure Mulder and Scully interaction in this one episode than in any other episode from the time of Mulder’s return to the season finale.

This X-File isn’t a fright fest, it’s a springboard for character and therefore audience discussion. There is an evil that leaps on a person when they’re emotionally vulnerable and can cause them to commit acts they never thought themselves capable of. I’m feeling echoes of “Irresistible” (2×13) in Mulder’s musings on the nature of evil, that once again, evil isn’t something so easily explained by psychology. Perhaps sometimes there’s an actual force behind it and people are open to that force at certain moments. Some things mommy issues can’t account for.

This X-File also finally lets us into Agent Doggett’s world. We now know how he and Agent Reyes met. They met on the case of Doggett’s missing son who was later found dead. It turns out, Doggett does have some previous experience with the paranormal, he just talked himself out of believing it. He and Reyes both saw a vision of his dead son burned to ashes that matches visions Reyes is having again on this new case.

It’s about time now for Doggett to start believing at least a little bit. He’s seen things he can’t explain all season. He’s even experienced things personally in “Via Negativa” (8×7) and physically in “The Gift” (8×11). No, what’s holding him back from belief isn’t lack of knowledge or experience, it’s the nagging guilt that if the paranormal is real then there’s another avenue of help that he failed to use to try and save his son.

Fortunately for him, Reyes is an unlicensed therapist and a pushy one at that. She’s not going to let him get away with lying to himself any longer. And she’s not going to let Mulder get away with ignoring Doggett’s plight.

You would think that since Reyes is a believer she and Mulder would get along. And they kinda do in the end. But the new-agey, spiritual type has always annoyed Mulder as evidenced by his relationship with the late Melissa Scully. Then again, Mulder’s also annoyed by the Doggetts of the world and this particular Doggett is not only stubborn in the face of loose coincidences but this non-believing heretic is in charge of his precious X-Files. Mulder only hears Reyes out in the first place because he thinks she’s going to give him some dirt on Doggett. It takes a lot for Mulder to swallow his pride and learn to tolerate Doggett, but he does this episode. He’s still not sold on him, but he does make overtures of peace.

When you think about it, these two men have experienced similar losses. They both know what it’s like to have a missing loved one and for that loved one to turn out to be dead. If anything, Doggett’s loss as a father is even greater than Mulder’s. Mulder and Doggett have already been established as very, very different men so I think giving them this single point of contact was a good choice. It forces Mulder to recognize Doggett as a man and not just as an interloper. Mulder shows stirrings of empathy after hearing what Doggett’s been through, but the only thing that manages to fully convince him to make an effort to help Doggett is Scully.

Scully is off the playing field this episode by virtue of the football in her tummy. Like in “Via Negativa”, Scully is sidelined by threatening the pregnancy. But whereas in “Via Negativa” that felt like a poor plot device to get her out of the way and one that distracted the audience from the plot at hand, I’m not as mad at it here because it serves a purpose other than just getting Scully out of the way.

Drugged out, bedridden Scully becomes the fount of all wisdom, leading Doggett and Mulder toward each other on the path to peace. Seeing how far Scully’s come in her own beliefs causes Doggett to reevaluate his own fear of believing and Mulder to reevaluate Doggett’s potential. Scully being in the hospital also forces Mulder to shift his focus off of being separated from his precious X-Files.

This is the first time we’ve seen Mulder engaged with Scully’s pregnancy. Between bringing a very personal gift for the baby and holding a vigil at her hospital bedside, he’s no longer the disinterested and distracted Mulder of “Three Words” (8×18). If anything, he resents Reyes bringing him this X-File that takes his attention away from caring for Scully and the baby.

Scully: I feel like I’m stuck in an episode of Mad About You.
Mulder: Well, uh, yeah. But, small technicality: Mad About You was about a married couple and we just work together.

ER Nurse: Who are you? The husband?
Mulder: No.
ER Nurse: Then you wait outside.

Mulder’s being set up to make a choice. He can choose to prioritize the X-Files and keep running and running and running, or he can choose to define his relationship with Scully and focus on protecting her and the baby, on making sure that she doesn’t lose anything else because of this quest of his. That was the choice he was in the middle of making back in “Requiem” (7×22) right before he was abducted, to stop fighting for the X-Files and let Scully have her life back because “there has to be an end.”

It may seem odd to think of Mulder being seriously tempted by the possibility of domestic bliss, but this is the same Mulder who dreamt of dropping out of this conspiracy rat race, settling down and having kids in “The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati” (7×2). Even as far back as “Home” (4×3) he showed signs of longing for the simple life. Perhaps these latent desires are merely bubbling back to the surface.

What will Mulder do? He has until the end of the season and David Duchovny’s contract to tell us. But I’m pretty sure that look of joy and wonder on his face as he feels the baby in Scully’s tummy is what they call “a clue.”

Verdict:

In some ways this is the reunion of Mulder and Scully that “Three Words” couldn’t be because Mulder had to deal with the immediate aftermath of his abduction. Their banter is as golden as ever, maybe better after Mulder’s long absence. Mulder seems to be more at peace with his situation now and even more so by the end of the episode, which is part of the point. All of the episodes from Mulder’s return to the season finale are about fleshing out interpersonal relationships. There’s very little by way of spooks and scares. There isn’t even much conspiracy.

There are rumors about the pizza delivery man and those are worth every second of this episode. However much 1013 may be trying to tease us and milk the “Who’s the Baby Daddy?” plot up to the very last second, “Empedolces” makes it obvious that Mulder and Scully at least believe this baby is theirs, Mulder’s insinuations about the pizza man notwithstanding.

I only have two nitpicks with this episode besides the lackluster X-File and the cheesy 80’s horror movie special effects.

The resolution is more than a bit of a copout. We go straight from “We have to find the connection, Doggett!” to “Don’t worry about finding the connection, Doggett!”. I mean, really. But as I said, this doesn’t exist as a story unto itself so much as it’s a vehicle to set up the characters. There’s a time crunch to phase out Mulder and Scully and establish Doggett and Reyes before the season ends, so these developments don’t happen as gradually and naturally as one might have wished.

The other nitpick is Doggett and Reyes. I like them and I can see that they’re going to be a good team. But in this episode they’re paralleled against the best, skeptic and believer to somewhat reformed skeptic and believer. Doggett and Reyes can’t possibly shine in comparison. Sorry, guys. My screen actually lights up when Mulder and Scully are on it.

A-

Stray Observations:

Scully’s reduced role also allows Reyes to get some needed airtime.

Mulder’s final Elvis joke… I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

The scene where Mulder puts his hand on Scully’s belly reminds me of Scully putting her hand on Mulder’s chest to feel him breathe in “Deadalive” (8×15).

It’s that kid, Jay Underwood, from that Disney movie Not Quite Human and its sequel. He also showed up in Chris Carter’s Millennium.

I also recognize Denise Crosby from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her second claim to fame is that she’s Bing Crosby’s granddaughter.

That last line of Scully’s, though. That was a little on the nose, dontcha think?

Best Quotes:

Reyes: What if this is a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity, connecting back to you. In India, in Africa, in Iran, in the Middle East, in the Far East, most of the world… they take it as a given. They see evil in death the way other people see God in a rose.
Mulder: I saw Elvis in a potato chip once.

———————–

Scully: Mulder?
Mulder: What?
Scully: I was just about to jump in the shower but I was waiting for the pizza man.
Mulder: You got something going on with the pizza man I should know about?
Scully: The pizza man?
Mulder: Well, correct me if I’m wrong but you just said you were waiting for the pizza man to jump in the shower.
Scully: No, what I mean was the pizza man’s usually late, and so… You want to come in?
Mulder: Thank you.

———————–

Mulder: You miss your regular pizza man, don’t you?
Scully: [Meekly] Yes.
Mulder: [Feigns devastation]
Scully: [Cheerful now] That’s okay. He’s coming by later.

Badlaa 8×12: Well, that’s just wrong.


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Criminey.

“Badlaa” is writer John Shiban’s first solo outing since “The Pine Bluff Variant” (5×18) which is one of my all-time favorite episodes of The X-Files, so allow me to admit freely that I’m biased towards him. Sadly, though, that bias only takes me so far. It doesn’t take me all the way to “Badlaa”.

Parts of this episode are so disgusting as to be downright repugnant. It pushes the boundaries of bad taste in such a way as to make the controversial “Home” (4×3) look almost wholesome. If X-Files were graded purely on how well they grossed out the audience, this would be a top rated episode. But this isn’t the fun kind of gross that we got in “Roadrunners” (8×5), where it makes you squirm but you want to keep peeking at it. No, this is the kind of gross that makes you wonder why the creators of it felt the need to go there, the kind of gross that makes you frown, not squeal.

It doesn’t help my good opinion that “Badlaa” is also the episode where Scully’s Adventures as Fox Mulder storyline reaches its zenith of frustration, and where The X-Files itself acknowledges that this plot isn’t working.

Scully: Chuck. Thank you for, uh, coming down here again.

Chuck Burks: Not at all. Uh… I’m just a little curious. I mean, it’s always Mulder who’d been doing all the calling and…

Scully: This, uh… this case, I, I, I… I’m just… I’m trying to see it the way that Mulder would and… please have a seat.

I’ve tried, but I can’t get used to Scully the Believer. She’s making leaps in logic that only Mulder could make and they didn’t make sense when he made them. Yet it was still more believable when Mulder did it because he had an almost spiritual connection to these cases, because he had eyes to see and ears to hear, because his faith in and of itself gave him access to hidden truths.

Scully is not a believer. She’s certainly more open than she was, as she should be. But until Mulder left, her first reaction was never to assume the paranormal worst. She needed objective evidence, she needed to put her hands in the scars of the nails, so to speak. And even then, she could still be obstinate in the face of convincing evidence. This new act of hers doesn’t wear well on her and it’s getting old.

I am now much more sure that Scully and Doggett would’ve fared better as a partnership if they had been given a whole new dynamic all their own. I know I said it in my review for “Invocation” (8×6) and I hate to harp, but the Believer-Skeptic dynamic was not the winning formula. The Mulder-Scully dynamic was. Trying to approximate their chemistry with a dynamic that merely mimics theirs is a failing strategy.

But perhaps that was purposeful? Perhaps 1013 is trying to explore Scully’s character and the emotional impact of the loss of Mulder by showing us how her character is trying to compensate? If so, it’s happening at the expense of any progress happening in Scully and Doggett’s partnership. They’re stuck at “pleasant but distant.” They’re working together but they don’t feel like a team. At their most harmonious they’re congenial co-workers. At their worst they don’t understand each other at all.

My only satisfaction is that Scully gets sick of herself this episode. I only hope that we’re done with this and future episodes won’t continue to be made awkward by the discomfort of watching Scully channel Mulder.

Verdict:

The subject matter here is… Well, it’s. I remember finding “Badlaa” almost frightening back in the day, now I just find it distasteful and unnecessary. I could maybe see it working if this disturbing concept of one man crawling inside of another were used to further a fancy plot. But there is no plot. There are only icky images.

Because, really, why is the nameless Indian mystic killing people? We got some vague reference to a horribly fatal accident in India that an American company was responsible for, but none of the mystic’s murder victims have any connection with that company. Or if they do, we’re never told about it. It seems Mr. Squeaky Wheels is killing Americans at random and he’s sadistically fixated on little boys.

And it’s hard to believe that this guy got himself hired anywhere without speaking so much as a single word. That kind of creepy anyone could see through. And it’s also hard to believe that Scully would cut the corpse of one of the victims open in a room by herself when she already believes someone is hiding inside it. Why wouldn’t you call in witnesses… and protection? Of course he jumped out and left a gruesome trail of blood behind him.

Like I said, the plot is merely a vehicle for a series of gross images, not vice versa.

B-

Spare Change:

Why is there no blood when the wee man goes in, but only when he comes out?

Conversely, the blood vessels in the victims’ eyes all burst when he goes in, but then they magically heal post-mortem.

Not only is the most we’ve ever seen of Chuck Burks, this is the last we’ll ever see of him. Mulder doesn’t even get to say goodbye.

The poor, long suffering bellman. No, there will be no tip for you, sir.

Best Quotes:

Mr. Potocki: Buy yourself some WD-40.

————

Doggett: Dead men don’t tip.

————

Mrs. Hold: The better the economy gets the harder it is to fill these kinds of jobs. And the problem is that people look at it as just a paycheck. They don’t realize that as maintenance engineer you are playing an important part in these kids’ lives.

Christmas Carol 5×5: She must’ve dialed 1-800-The-Great-Beyond.


Visions of Sugar Plums??

A rare glimpse into Scully’s life outside of the X-Files confirms that she’s just as reserved off the job as she is professionally. Can we blame her? The Scully family table, seen again for the second time since “Gethsemene” (4×24), isn’t exactly the warmest place in the world. You could cut the underlying tensions with the proverbial butcher’s knife.

It’s Christmas time in X-Files land. You know what that means: Ghosts.

Well, maybe not a physical one exactly.

I’ve never given much credence to the “Scully as Latent Psychic” interpretation of The X-Files, but I must say, the woman does see/hear an awful lot of dead people. First she has a vision of her father right after his death in “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), then she dreams of Mulder barely back from the dead in “The Blessing Way” (3×1), next she sees dead strangers in “Elegy” (4×22), and now in “Christmas Carol”, she’s receiving phone calls from beyond the grave care of a deceased sister who was creepier alive than she is dead.

At this rate, I’d say Scully averages about one dead vision per season. We could also count her hospital visions in “One Breath” (2×8), but then she was already half dead herself. Even so, I can’t help but think of “One Breath” when I watch this two-episode arc, not only because Melissa Scully makes a return appearance, but because they’re both lessons in death, or more specifically, conversations on whether or not it’s more humane to preserve life or allow it to end. Oh, and then there are all the “Baby Dana” flashbacks…

Speaking of “Baby Dana”, it would seem that even as a child Scully was the type to keep her thoughts to herself, at least that’s the picture that’s painted for us here. There’s a trend that started in Season 4 with Scully’s cancer where Scully is progressively characterized as isolated and even somewhat anti-social. Oh, she’s not lacking in social graces the was Mulder is, but we get the feeling as time passes that she’s a little trapped in her own head.

I’m not sure what brought this characterization on, exactly, except that it created more drama during her cancer arc for Scully to keep her emotions to herself and then it continued from there. If you look at Season 1, particularly in episodes like “Squeeze” (1×2), “The Jersey Devil” (1×4) and “Lazarus” (1×14), we get the impression that Scully likes and is liked by people. Over the course of this current two-parter, the Scully we meet acts like she’s never had a friend in the world.

So then what about Mulder? It looks like there are aspects of herself that Scully is still unwilling to share. I’m not so sure that makes her isolated and alone so much as it makes her a normal human being. How could you possibly fully explain the workings of your own heart to another living soul? We’re too complicated for that, but I digress.

Scully reverts back a little to her old ways with Mulder, wanting to reach out to him but hanging up the phone instead. Is she too proud to admit she needs help and support? Does she not want to sound crazier than he does? Probably both, but we’ll never know exactly. Scully’s relationship with Mulder is hardly the focus of this episode.

And so to the crux of the matter: I can honestly say that in my teenage naïveté I didn’t originally see the twist coming at the end, and I should have. But I must say that I believe I stifled a groan at Scully’s microwave pack of Instant Motherhood intruding into my X-Files world.

Not that the topic of Scully and motherhood is completely sudden. Ever since a carefully crafted conversation on a public bench in “Home” (4×3) the topic has been up for discussion, even more so since Mulder literally stumbled upon the secret of Scully’s infertility in “Memento Mori” (4×15).  Now that Scully’s cancer plot is behind us, it’s only right that we watch her deal with the emotional aftermath and her fertility is as good a place as any to start.

And yet… even after all these years I’m still not sold on the idea of Scully becoming a mother out of the clear blue sky. We’re not even talking about an ooey, gooey little baby that she has to accept, but a fully formed child well into her developmental years. And Emily is so lacking in interest and personality… Can Scully really feel such an instant, strong connection to a stranger? Can we as the audience feel connected enough to the child to believe that she is Scully’s? Can we even enjoy them together? I can only speak for myself when I say that later on, watching Scully’s motherhood being just as suddenly stripped away only adds to my sense that it didn’t belong to begin with.

Verdict:

This one is a bit of a Christmas fantasy of sorts. Who hasn’t wished that they could hear a lost loved one’s voice on the line one last time? Who hasn’t been afraid they’d forget the nuances, the timber of that voice before too much time had passed? For exploring that idea alone I’ll give this episode the most credit.

Okay, so “Christmas Carol” is not one of my favorite episodes of Season 5. It’s a little… subdued for my taste since, if you’ve read my reviews at all, I’m a sucker for an exciting, adventuresome X-File. Give me a romp in the deep, dark woods anytime. In comparison, this sleepy little story doesn’t make my finger twitch over the rewind button.

But another part of me is quite proud that this show can vary itself so drastically from week to week. We just went from a black and white fantasy horror fest to a quiet, contemplative and incredibly contained mystery in a mere 7 days. If that’s not good television I don’t know what is.

There’s one thing that still nags at me: Where are all the other little Emilys? Surely the Syndicate, responsible for clones upon drones, didn’t stop at one little Uber Scully.

B

Flotsam and Jetsam:

Wait, when did Scully learn she can’t have kids and more than that, when did she find out that her abduction was the cause? Mulder knew as of “Memento Mori” , but he doesn’t tell Scully about that little discovery of his until “Emily” (5×7) and even then he doesn’t explain in detail until Season 7. Sure, her doctors could have told her there was something wrong, but how did she know it was a result of her abduction and that her sterility wasn’t brought about by her cancer treatments?

I know I’m cold-hearted, but Scully giving Emily her cross so easily always irked me.

This has to be one of Gillian Anderson’s best looking episodes ever. Well, except for that jacked up weave they put on her head.

It’s comforting to know Bill Scully, Jr. was always a punk, even in childhood.

It’s amazing how streamlined the adoption process was made for Scully. Then there’s the fact that the things Scully confesses to the caseworker would have gotten her name scratched off of any respectable list. Ah, the miracle of creative license.

“Danny” still makes an appearance at this late date.

Best Quotes:

Mini Scully: This has got to be it! It’s got to be “Hotel California!”

———————–

Bill Scully, Jr.: You really think Melissa had a baby?
Scully: Yes. I do.
Bill Scully, Jr.: She called you from beyond the grave to tell you that? Sounds like something that partner of yours would say.

———————–

Tara Scully: Oh! Oh, that was a good one!
Bill Scully, Jr.: What? Is he kicking?
Tara Scully: Oh, he’s kicking! He’s kick-boxing! Well you had boys and girls, so which one kicked more?
Margaret Scully: Oh, I had some pretty tough little girls.

———————–

Scully: I don’t believe in fate. I think we have to choose our own path.
Melissa Scully: Well, just don’t mistake the path with what’s really important in life.
Scully: Which is what?
Melissa Scully: The people you’re gonna meet along the way. You don’t know who you’re gonna meet when you join the F.B.I. You don’t know how your life is gonna change… or how you are gonna change the life of others.

Leonard Betts 4×14: I think I got the toy surprise.


"Did I mention that Mr. Betts had no head?"

This is what I’ve been longing for the past seven episodes or so now, a formidable MOTW horror tale.

Not that the main plot here is something we haven’t heard before: A genetic mutant comes along whose strange evolution requires that he kill/feed off of other human beings. Leonard Betts is the most recent in a long line of Mutant Monsters going all the way back to Eugene Victor Tooms in “Squeeze” (1×2). “Leonard Betts” has two main differences from your garden variety Mutant tale, however.

First, we have a mutant that kills only reluctantly. He certainly doesn’t enjoy his position in the food chain the way that Tooms or even Virgil Incanto does in “2Shy” (3×6). This adds a certain pathos to the proceedings. Second, and most importantly, this episode reopens a mythology plot line that had been all but forgotten and reintroduces it in the most memorable way possible.

To Leonard Betts’ credit, he’s a gentle man, who apart from a Darwinian mandate would rather save people than hurt them, choosing to survive on discarded cancers until circumstances force him into a corner. But I wonder, would his behavior be excused if, say, he was a starving man who killed someone for their food? Does needing something give you the moral clearance to take it? To be sure, Betts apologizes before a kill. But the fact is he’s hardly a self-sacrificing man even if he is the most compassionate of the “Genetic Mutant” Monsters of the Week. He could, of course, choose to die rather than become a serial killer. But I guess death is less frightening when it’s someone else’s.

As interesting of a character as Betts is, he’s more of a means to an end in this episode. The writers needed a circumstance they could use to bring our minds back to this:

Scully: I went to go see those MUFON members to find out about that woman, Betsy Hagopian.
Mulder: And what did you find?
Scully: I found out that she’s dying, along with a lot of other women who claim to be dying too. All of them who say that they’ve had these implanted in them. It’s the same thing that I had removed from my own neck.
Mulder: But you’re fine aren’t you, Scully?
Scully: Am I? I don’t know, Mulder. They said that they know me, that they’ve seen me before. It was freaky! They know things about me, about my disappearance.
Mulder: That is disturbing. But I don’t think you should freak out until we find out what this thing is.

This moment in “Nisei” (3×9) was the last word we had on the potential connection between Scully’s abduction and cancer. As far as we know, she never delved any deeper into the mystery of what happened to those MUFON women. Now, suddenly, and with one of the most memorable lines ever delivered on The X-Files, Scully is forced to remember.

“I’m sorry, but you’ve got something I need.”

The look of realization on Scully’s face is beyond memorable. Not only does she know exactly what he’s talking about, but it’s clear that despite all her protestations to Mulder, she believes in what Leonard Betts is whether science can explain him or not.

And as if that shocking moment weren’t enough, we launch immediately into Scully’s first ever real fight scene. Scully kicks butt and she does it in heels. It’s almost enough to bring a fangirl tear to my eye.

I could keep going but I won’t because I’ll just end up gushing over every funny and memorable moment in this episode, of which there are legion. This is one of those episodes, like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) that are hard to watch without a blissfully empty head and a smile on my face. It’s just great television.

Conclusion:

This episode is definitely one of the highlights of Season 4, if not one of the series’ all time best. It’s the first in a long line of memorable episodes penned by the trio of Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz. The “John Gilnitz” crew will continue to create some formidable X-Files together.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Spotnitz was probably responsible for this episode’s mythology elements, Shiban for the science and Gilligan for the characterization and physical writing. But, hey, with magic like this I don’t care who did what, I’m just glad they kept going.

“Leonard Betts” was famously aired out of production schedule in order to be shown after the Super Bowl. Whatever the consequences this had on the story that would come next, can you blame them? I can hardly think of an episode that’s more quintessentially The X-Files. This is what the show does best; an inkling of scientific truth, gross imagery, gorgeous shots and dark humor. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

I wonder if Scully ever told Mulder what really happened. Doubtful. As then she’d have to admit that she believed in what Leonard Betts was. Maybe she’s not such a die-hard skeptic deep down. After all, she couldn’t cut into that head now could she?

A+

Random Thoughts:

Something about Elaine Tanner’s slavish devotion to her son has echoes of Mrs. Peacock in “Home” (4×3).

Are we sure Betts is dead? Are we supposed to assume that Scully killed him while he was too weak to regenerate?

Did Betts really have to start killing? Couldn’t he have gone a ways down the road to where no one knew him and snuck a few more brown bag lunches of cancer out of a hospital’s disposal system?

For that matter, if you were going to regenerate and live under an assumed name, wouldn’t common sense tell you to move far away from the people you knew before? So your mother’s sick. Move her too.

I know I said I wouldn’t gush over every single lovely moment, but that scene where Mulder and Scully go digging through bio-waste never quite gets old.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Let’s get a slice to go.

———————–

Mulder: Chuck, would you believe that this man’s head had been decapitated?
Dr Burks: [Laughs] Oh, come on. No way.
Mulder: Way.

———————–

Mulder: [Holds up Betts’ detached thumb] Siskel or Ebert?

———————–

Scully: But what you’re describing is someone so radically evolved that you wouldn’t even call him human.
Mulder: On the other hand, how evolved can a man be who drives a Dodge Dart?

———————–

Mulder: What did your examination uncover?
Scully: I haven’t actually performed an examination yet.
Mulder: Why not?
Scully: Well, because I… experienced an unusual degree of post-mortem galvanic response.
Mulder: The head moved
Scully: It blinked at me… I mean, I know exactly what it is. It’s residual electrical activity stored chemically in the dead cells.
Mulder: Blinked or winked? You’re afraid to cut into it. Scully, you’re not saying that it’s alive are you?
Scully: I am certainly not saying that at all.
Mulder: But has it crossed your mind that it is not quite dead, either?

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man 4×7 – This isn’t the ending that I wrote.


You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

“No one would kill you, Frohike. You’re just a little puppy dog.”

Oh, if he only knew.

Mssrs. Morgan and Wong are back in a slightly different format this time. Rather than co-writing, Morgan authors the script while Wong sits in the director’s chair. In fact, for his directing debut Wong would go on to win the Emmy for Best Direction. That’s no mean feat.

As they would in all four of their offerings this season, Morgan and Wong try their best to think outside of the frame of a typical X-Files episode, in this case changing up both form and content. Besides giving us an almost Shakespearean play quite clearly delineated into four acts, there’s a fluctuating tone to the tale so that we’re never quite sure from one act to the next whether we’re watching a history or a parody, if this is CSM’s view of himself, Frohike’s view, or the view put forth by the seedy magazine Frohike nabbed the story from.

Even more significantly, this is the first episode where David Duchovny doesn’t make an onscreen appearance. He’s essentially limited to a book-ending set of voiceovers. Gillian Anderson narrowly misses this technicality by appearing in a single scene in flashback. At first watch, I remember missing Mulder and Scully. Over a decade later, I appreciate getting a more in depth look at such a fabulous character.

Certainly CSM deserves it by now.

Part I – An Extraordinary Man

Here’s where everything starts going Forest Gump on us. We always knew CSM was a significant man behind the scenes, but just how significant is he? Well, it turns out that he was the lone gunman that day on Dealey Plaza. Oh, and he didn’t always smoke cigarettes.

Actor Chris Owens makes his X-Files debut here. He would go on to play CSM again in flashback, as well as two other memorable characters, The Great Mutato and Jeffrey Spender. He plays the role with such seriousness that you can believe in this young CSM, that he wasn’t always evil, just pragmatic and ambitious, and that it was a downhill spiral from there.

Part II – A Jack Colquitt Adventure

And now we jump forward in time to CSM the would-be Civil Rights activist, AKA author Raul Bloodworth.

This CSM has successfully and speedily climbed his way up the middle management ladder of the netherworld. Young though he is, he’s powerful enough to chastise J. Edgar Hoover to his face. It seems that the F.B.I. has been under his control since long before Mulder and Scully came into play.

But what’s striking is how typically unfulfilling his day job is. He spends his nights typing pathetic manuscripts living off of beer, cigarettes, and unfulfilled dreams. And while his job description requires that he root out Communism in all its forms, he secretly sympathizes with liberal dreamers, thinking so highly of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that he honors him with a more… personal assassination.

At this point, I’m starting to believe we’re hearing less of Frohike’s news article while more of CSM’s sense of self-importance is creeping in.

Part III – Buffalo Wants it Bad

If we thought CSM was stuck in a crappy boardroom job before, now his position has rusted into the downright mundane. CSM has successfully defeated the Communists. But like every man who reaches the pinnacle of his profession and finds there’s nowhere else to go, he’s left weary and unfulfilled. He goes from killing presidents to rigging football games because, well, what else is there to do? Now it’s hard to see this as anything but a parody.

Getting to see Deep Throat again is a real treat. And their brief, opaque and slightly comical conversation is the highlight of the whole episode. It’s hard to put much stock in their talk, however, as some points don’t agree with the larger mythology arc. But since this is fantasy anyway, you can take and leave what you will.

Part IV – Pack of Morleys

And now, like any great hero, it’s time for CSM to have his heart broken.

I love that they work in that flashback to the “Pilot” (1×79), where CSM was more an enigmatic if ominous presence rather than the Darth Vader that he’s become. This way we can consider who he was and who he’s come to be.

He’s no longer an idealist. He’s not even a realist. He’s just a middle-aged man stuck in a shallow life whose memories of youthful dreams grow duller with every year.

I remember at the age of 14 how my best friend and I found that monologue hilarious. In fact, I had it memorized… and tacked up on my wall. That’s 14 for you. Always drawn to the innocent and uplifting.

Now it’s a bit tedious, and, dare I say it? It tries too hard. It’s amazing how our tastes change.

Conclusion:

Originally, the title was supposed to be “Memoirs of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, reflecting Morgan’s intention that this be a true account of CSM’s past. Chris Carter came in and added both ambiguity in the title and in the narration. Not only can we not be sure of the accuracy of CSM’s memories, we can’t even be sure the plot is being driven by CSM’s mind or by Frohike’s.

The seriousness of the story was supposed to be driven home by the killing of Frohike at the end of the episode, a plot point that 1013 Productions justifiably balked at. While I enjoy that Morgan and Wong weren’t afraid of thwarting the party line, the desire to kill off Frohike represents a serious misjudgment of the tone of the series. Sure, Chris Carter liked to claim that no one’s really safe on The X-Files. But then, he also likes to say that no one ever really dies on The X-Files either. Just like Deep Throat in this episode, ghosts return without warning.

Why? Because Deep Throat’s presence adds value to the series’ development at this point? No. Because the fans love him and nostalgia is a powerful force.

Even aside from emotional reasons, killing Frohike would have ill fit the tone of the episode, which lent itself to something just short of a parody. Taken as a whole, it makes CSM, as Chris Carter so appropriately put it, “sort of a silly person.” I’m not so sure he can be silly and frightening at the same time, despite the fact that Morgan’s goal was to make CSM a real threat again:

“I told Chris, ‘Look, the Cancer Man is becoming a bore. When you get to episode one hundred and he and Mulder have the guns to each other’s heads, I’m not going to worry, because the Cancer Man has never done anything. I’m telling you right now, you’ve got the Cancer Man as a wuss ball. He’s nothing. He’s got to do something dangerous.’”

Maybe they missed that CSM had both men exposed to the Black Oil’s radiation killed and his henchman, Luis Cardinal killed in “Apocrypha” (3×16). Or that he keeps trying with all sincerity to kill Krycek. Or that he just had X killed in “Herrenvolk” (4×1).

The truth is, whatever the pile of murders on his conscience, the audience will never seriously believe that he’ll kill either Mulder or Scully. We’d have no show if he did. It’s enough to show that he’s willing. Suddenly turning things deadly serious by killing Frohike would have lent credence to the whole tale, which would have made some obvious issues of cannon more of an issue.

Besides, Morgan and Wong created the Lone Gunmen. Why so eager to kill one of them off? (As an aside, it’s interesting how in television you can create something only to find that it’s no longer yours. Not only do they characters take off on their own based on an audience’s response and interpretation of them, but production companies and film studios end up having more of a say in their future than you do.)

The best thing about this episode is that it’s clever, in both form and content. Is it great? I can’t quite call it that because I still get bored at moments, but I appreciate what Morgan and Wong were trying to do here. Once again, they’re pushing the boundaries of the show. In that regard, it’s not as successful as “Home” (4×3) but it’s surely not as polarizing as “The Field Where I Died” (4×5)… thank goodness.

At times the story is a little bogged down by the nitty gritty of History. Because of this, it moves slowly. And there’s nothing paranormal to speak of save for a fleeting view of a dying alien. But looking back on the history of the show, it’s nice to have this change of pace, if only to prove that The X-Files could do it.

B+

Comments:

Whatever details Morgan and Wong may have missed, there’s a nice thread of continuity with Deep Throat. He mentions having served in Vietnam and in “Little Green Men” (2×1), Mulder claims to have seen his funeral at Arlington Cemetery. That explains that.

Even the acts are filmed in different colors. Saturated 1960’s hues for the Kennedy assassination, black and white for the second act, reflecting the majority of photos of the Civil Rights era.

Questions:

Who is CSM writing a letter of resignation to? How do you resign from The Syndicate? Do they have a payroll? And why is he purposefully leaving a paper trail??

Best Quotes:

William Mulder: My one year old just said his first word.
Smoking Man: What was the word?
William Mulder: JFK.
Smoking Man: Catch you later, Mulder.

———————–

Smoking Man: What I don’t want to see is the Bills winning the Super Bowl. As long as I’m alive that doesn’t happen.
Third Man In Black: Could be tough, sir. Buffalo wants it bad.

————————

Smoking Man: So did the Soviets in ‘80.
Third Man In Black: What? You saying you rigged the Olympic hockey game?
Smoking Man: What’s the matter? Don’t you believe in miracles?

————————

Deep Throat: I’m the liar, you’re the killer.
Smoking Man: Your lies have killed more men in a day than I have in a lifetime. I’ve never killed anybody.
Deep Throat: Maybe I’m not the liar.

————————

Smoking Man: Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there’s a peanut butter cup or an english toffee but they’re gone too fast and taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits of hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.

————————

Smoking Man: I can kill you whenever I please… but not today.

Sanguinarium 4×6: I hope those instruments were properly sterilized.


Vanity, Vanity...

I remember how my heart sank when the Orthopedist told me I was going to have to have surgery on my knee. You’d think if one was going to tear their ACL in a skiing accident, one would have been sailing down the Blue slopes at least, instead of ending up in a pile at the bottom of the lift before one technically set foot on Blue ground. There should at least be a glamorous War Story to go with a Battle Scar. But I digress.

Even though I was raised by a Physician and have never been queasy about the practice of medicine or medicines themselves, surgery is one of those events I’ve hoped since childhood never to participate in. Maybe it’s the loss of control, maybe it’s the horror stories I’ve heard about reactions to anesthesia, maybe it’s the fact that even the best Surgeon can fumble and that unexpected curveballs can be thrown once the human body is opened up, but I’ve mentally shied away. Which is why it’s been difficult for me to wrap my head around our skyrocketing plastic surgery rates here in the U.S.

After all, surgery is surgery. And this episode touches on the (usually) unspoken fears of patients and the platitudes that they comfort themselves with; “It’s a routine procedure”,  “routine” meaning that nothing bad can happen. “Sanguinarium” highlights the ultimate vulnerability of patient’s situation, plays on that anxiety, and then takes us on a tangent of horror that serves the story better at moments than at others.

Despite the public’s many concerns over “Home” (4×3), this is the first time I’ve personally found an episode a little too gross. While I’m not squeamish, something about a bath full of blood screams, “overkill” to me. Then there’s that whole “watch a man peel off his own skin” thing.

Aside from questionable content, it’s actually well done, thanks, no doubt, to The X-Files’ go-to man for horror, director Kim Manners. The scene when Nurse Waite coughs up those straight pins is particularly nicely shot. The police lights add to the chaos and adrenaline of the moment while disguising what amounts to a cheap theatrical trick under a cover of half-darkness. For me it’s the most memorable moment of the episode.

Sans blood and gore, much of the episode is spent in exposition about the current state of healthcare, the rise of plastic surgery that’s gone hand in hand with the fall of medicine in general.

Dr. Shannon: Our practice has been affiliated with Greenwood for 13 years. Now the ASU accounts for over 50% of this hospital’s revenue. Do you know what that means?

Scully: It means that while Doctors in other fields have seen their earnings fall because of managed healthcare you’ve all managed to become wealthy.

Whatever the situation was in 1997, it’s far more pronounced now. Where I was raised is both one of the Cosmetic Surgery capitals and Geriatric capitals of the U.S., which makes for an odd combination. People regularly take out massive loans to pay for superfluous procedures in cash or put it on credit and add years’ worth of debt to their lives, but it’s not uncommon to visit a General Practitioner’s office and overhear someone refusing to pay their $20 Co-pay… someone who’s clearly been pulled and stuffed once too often.

Why put ourselves in such a precarious position for nothing more than vanity? Surgery is still surgery after all. But it’s easy to get caught up in the culture, as Mulder is evidence of in this episode. His prodding in the mirror is a cute diversion. Though I find myself raising a skeptical eyebrow at the fact that they expect us to believe that someone who looked like Fox Mulder/David Duchovny would actually consider changing his face.

This is one of those episodes where Mulder and Scully don’t put a stop to the evil. Sure, they figure out what Dr. Franklyn, now Dr. Hartman, was up to. But he’s clearly going keep up his Blood Rejuvenation scheme for a very, very long time.

And the Verdict is…

In the end, things turned out better for me than they did for Mulder and Scully. By the Grace of God, my knee was healed, much to the shock of my Orthopedist. Surgery was rendered unnecessary and I was spared the experience of, well, surgery.

“Sanguinarium” is a solid sort of episode, I suppose. But it’s gross without being satisfying the way an episode of The X-Files usually is. Which is not to say that I don’t like it because I do, it’s just not quite enough to get the taste of “The Field Where I Died” (4×5) out of my mouth.

B

Leftovers:

Why doesn’t Dr. Shannon want to be operated on and why do Mulder and Scully try to stop it? If they didn’t take that stuff out, wouldn’t she just have thrown it up and died anyway?

Maybe to make up for the Wiccan outcry over “Die Hand Die Verletz” (2×14) we have a “good” witch in this story. Although, it turns out there was an even larger outcry over this one…

I saw you checking out that nurse, Fox Mulder.

Best Quotes:

Dr. Franklyn/Dr. Hartman: I like to say that whoever God didn’t get around to creating in His own image, it’s our job to recreate in ours.

———————

Scully: There’s magic going on here, Mulder. Only it’s being done with silicone, collagen, and a well-placed scalpel.

———————

Dr. Lloyd: I think this patient… is finished.

———————

Mulder: Are you aware that Dr. Lloyd is claiming that he was possessed during the incident?
Nurse Waite: I guess it’s cheaper than malpractice insurance.