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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.

The Field Where I Died 4×5: I could’ve lived without that just fine.


Well, at least the shots were gorgeous.

You have no idea how I had to brace myself for this one. I seriously considered breaking my own cardinal rule and jumping ahead to “Sanguinarium” (4×6). Then I briefly considered skipping this one altogether in the hope that no one would notice, and if they did notice, that they probably wouldn’t miss it. My obsessive compulsiveness has prevailed, however, so let’s get this over with…

When writers Morgan and Wong left in Season 2, Mulder and Scully were close partners. Nearly two seasons later when Morgan and Wong come back on board, Mulder and Scully’s relationship has taken on epic proportions, both within the show itself and even more so in the minds of the viewers. When they left, there had been no ultimate trade in “End Game” (2×17), no psychic connection in “The Blessing Way” (3×1), no sacrifice of the Holy Grail in “Paper Clip” (3×2), no “Pusher” (3×17), no “Wetwired” (3×23), etc. etc.

This may be blasphemous, but I think the justly praised writing team who helped shaped The X-Files into greatness had lost touch to an extent. Maybe they’d spent too much time away. All four episodes they would write for this season seemed to be forcing new ground on the audience rather than breaking it. A couple did it successfully, like the glorious “Home” (4×3), while others did not.

For this outing, I think it’s clear where Morgan and Wong stood on the topic of Mulder and Scully. Not that there’s anything wrong with their Noromo position. Heck, that was the 1013 party line at the time. But I think what they failed to take into account, maybe because they had been working on other things and didn’t understand it, was the current state of the fandom and the pseudo-sanctity of the Mulder and Scully relationship.

I’m going to set all Shipperhood aside for this one. I don’t even need it. Even under the premise that Mulder and Scully are and should remain perfectly platonic, I have to have reason to believe that Mulder has suddenly made a connection that has a gravitational pull more powerful than or at least equal to the one he has with Scully in order for this episode to work. That doesn’t happen.

Kristen Cloke, the actress who plays Melissa Reidal and who happened to be engaged to Glen Morgan at the time, called the episode “a love letter from Glen Morgan to me” and indeed that’s what it feels like; a personal exploration of themes more so than an X-File. Darin Morgan used to do this except that somehow his themes always added to rather than subtracted from the series as a whole. He gave new dimensions and flavors to something that was already familiar.

This episode is barely connected to the rest of the series either in tone or content. As such, it feels like a personal indulgence. It fails to consider the ramifications of what it’s proposing and it fails to consider the context of the series at large. Take, for instance, this issue of continuity: In one of Mulder’s past lives CSM was a Nazi Gestapo Officer. Yet CSM would already have been alive in WWII, a fact that you would think couldn’t have escaped Mulder once he was no longer hypnotized. How could he be in both lives at the same time? Hmmm?

It’s moments like this that prove the episode doesn’t really serve the characters either. It reduces Mulder to a fool and Scully to a sidekick. “The Field Where I Died” takes place in an episodic vacuum where the events don’t make sense and it doesn’t matter anyway because the emotional ramifications of these revelations will never be dealt with. Mulder’s supposed past life and the loss of his soulmate are issues never to be seen or spoken of again.

Issues of context and continuity aside, even without that problem and taken just by itself, this episode is almost as boring as “Space” (1×9), and it would be if it didn’t get my adrenaline fired up through irritation. I tried to imagine as I watched what I would be thinking if I were watching this and it were just another TV show, not The X-Files at all. Would I have responded more favorably? I think so, but only by about 20% more. Reincarnation is a hard sell to a Western audience and the advertisements here aren’t appealing. It’s a concept that really has to be done well to be engaging, a feat that’s rarely achieved outside of anime.

Melissa’s voices are too goofy to take seriously so the performance is comical instead of affecting. Sidney in particular is way over the top. And since he’s the first voice we’re introduced to, it’s hard to climb back up from there. Then in a chain reaction, since what draws Mulder to her character is something that I find ridiculous, I find Mulder ridiculous. And if I find both Mulder and his X-File ridiculous there’s little left to enjoy. Ah, those hypnosis scenes are like pulling teeth.

Worse than anything is Mulder who is more caught up in himself than we’ve ever seen him. In fact, he’s a selfish bastard in this one. According to Morgan, in the 20 minutes of footage that had to be cut from the episode were some scenes that supported Scully’s point of view, that Mulder’s past as dredged up under hypnosis was false, a result of mixed-up memories and wishful thinking. It’s too bad they weren’t able to fit more of that plot in to balance the story out. Mulder needed a little undermining here.

Once again, he’s out to save a lost young woman who the world would rather forget than help. I’d like to love him for this, I really would, but he’s drawn to women who have already given up on life, who’d prefer to sink than struggle for air. Watching him try to save women who don’t want to be helped, knowing that his mission is doomed, is not television for the faint of heart. I’d rather watch “Oubliette” (3×8) and you know that’s saying something.

What glimpses of magic this episode does have are largely due to consummate director Rob Bowman, who makes it beautiful to watch if nothing else. In fact, I highly recommend just turning the sound off and letting it play. Oh, but then you’d miss a luscious score from Mark Snow so that won’t do. I guess you either just grit and bear it or you don’t.

As I don my Shipper cap again for a moment, let me just say that this episode feels slightly mean-spirited (an unintended slight, I’m sure). Like pouring cold water over a fresh hot meal so that no one will be able to eat it.

Just as uniting Mulder and Scully in a cloud of romance would have drained tension from the show, so too would have building an unequivocal “No” into the narrative. It would have taken away the hope of many. Indeed, I remember feeling rising panic after I first saw this episode (it was already in reruns and nobody warned me), but the fact that Season 5 had already begun to air and there was no trace of the ghost of Melissa Reidal buoyed my spirits.

“The Field Where I Died” takes itself too seriously, bloated on its own weight and import. Overwrought is a word that comes to mind and it’s probably the one episode in The X-Files’ cannon that I would willingly erase, yet…

Entertainment Weekly once famously called this episode “Stultifyingly awful.” In retrospect, I wouldn’t go quite that far. The production value is too high. All in all, it certainly has the best of intentions and you can tell a lot of effort went into this one on everyone’s part. But when I ask myself if I’ll ever watch it again… I get queasy.

It’s Over at Last:

There is that one, brief moment of lightness and joy…

Mulder: Dana, if, um, early in the four years we’ve been working together… an event occurred that suggested or somebody told you that… we’d been friends together, in other lifetimes… always… wouldn’t it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?
Scully: Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn’t change a day. Well… maybe that Flukeman thing. I could’ve lived without that just fine.

But then…

“I wanted to sum up Mulder and Scully’s entire relationship with that question Mulder asks Scully afterwards, if we had known from the beginning that we had lived all these lives, would it change anything, how would you feel?’ ” Morgan said. “I just wanted to raise that question between the two of them. I’m not sure what the answer is. My feeling is that she is holding on to some skepticism. Her answer in the episode — “I wouldn’t change a day” – might be a little ‘tee-vee.’

Way to quench it, dude.

D+

Keeping it Brief:

John Mark wasn’t the writer of The Book of Revelations. It was another John.

Exactly which version of Mulder was a soulmate of Sidney’s??

The quote from Kristen Cloke is nabbed from here:
http://www.littlereview.com/getcritical/interviews/cloke.htm

The quote from Glen Morgan is shamelessly lifted from here:
http://etc1013.wordpress.com/1997/10/01/cinefantastique-4/

Teliko 4×4: Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate.


There's a Michael Jackson joke in here somewhere...

Airplane bathrooms are scary enough without a Monster of the Week attacking you.

Unfortunately, this is the scariest moment “Teliko” has to offer. Once the “monster” reveals himself, it’s downhill from there.

I’ve mentioned before in “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and in “Hell Money” (3×19), that so-called “ethnic” legends often don’t translate well to a mainstream American audience. (I can’t really speak for the response of other countries). The problem is that the viewer has to be convinced that they should be scared in the first place; there’s no built-in point of reference as there is for say, the bogeyman that hides under your bed. The advantage an overused conceit such as The Wolfman has over The Teliko is that the audience already knows what they’re scared of and why, all the writers have to do is take advantage of their anticipation and manipulate their adrenaline. The Teliko, in comparison, is such a vague notion that it takes getting used to before you can inch your way over to being afraid of it.

All that could be overcome, however, if the monster at hand were actually frightening. In this instance, the sad fact is that he has a few things standing in his way. A few… or maybe two.

Two main problems:

  1. Samuel Aboa isn’t scary.
  2. “White Face”

In short, the X-File itself sucks.

On the problem of our villain, Samuel Aboa, is awkwardness, something the other characters don’t seem to notice, forcibly reminds me of Eugene Victor Tooms. Only he’s traded a willfully idealistic psychologist for the naïveté of an immigration counselor. Again, the benefactor only exists to be the ultimate victim. Not to mention, both monsters can squeeze themselves into small, dark places.

Alas, The X-Files keeps trying to repeat the success of “Squeeze” (1×2). “2Shy” (3×6), while it had it’s faults and in some ways wasn’t as good of an episode of television, is oddly more successful. The “Tooms Quotient” usually means that the Monster of the Week is more or less a man, an evolutionary mutant that has to kill to survive; invariably there’s something he’s… missing. We’ll see it again later on; Season 4 is kind of a 2-for-1 package deal. The motif starts to slow down after Season 5.

But enough about that. Back to Samuel. He’s just not convincing. Tooms radiates evil. Virgil Incanto in “2Shy” is sadistic and cruel. But Samuel Aboa? He’s blank. His whole set up just isn’t effective. Not to mention, if he needs melanin to survive, he very well should have kept his butt in Africa. Surely he was aware of the fact that blacks are a minority in the U.S.; picking off a small population was bound to draw attention, for all Mulder cries conspiracy.

All that being said, I could have gotten over Samuel’s generic attitude if his crimes had been sinister enough. What could undermine something as evil as paralyzing someone and then picking through their brains as they look on helplessly? “White Face.” Sigh.

Black men covered in baby powder do not albinos make. Or is it chalk? Either way, Scully’s comment, “I’m sorry, I thought you said that Owen Sanders was black”, is an eye-roll inducer. The body in the photo, the body before and all the bodies thereafter, are so obviously black that to allow for the premise that these men were unrecognizable requires a suspension of disbelief that I apparently do not possess.

Verdict:

With the exception of the actual X-File itself, this would be a solid episode. “Home” (4×3) was a welcome departure but this has all the hallmarks of a happy return home to the normal routine. It should be comfort food, and at moments it is, but ultimately, it’s like finding out your mac and cheese is soggy. The idea behind it is tried and true, but it’s not so compelling this reheat.

It’s not quite the bomb that I remembered, however. It’s nice to see Scully called in for her expertise instead of Mulder. And something about that first scene as we watch her walk into Skinner’s office makes me smile. I’m home.

Oh, and this episode contains my favorite Agent Pendrell scene of all.

I want to love it, and my estimation of its charms has improved, but it still could have been better. I’m not so sure this one deserved the honor of a changed tagline. In fact, it didn’t.

C+

Questions:

Mulder just happens to stumble upon the right construction site because of the asbestos clue? How many construction sites are there in Philadelphia I wonder?

Why is Mulder the only victim that can move his eyes?

What is this alien among us crap? What does that have to do with this story? The CDC seemed to be genuinely trying to help. The Minister tries to hide what happened in hopes that it would disappear, not out of any sinister motive. It’s like writer Howard Gordon was trying to turn this into a message on race relations, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how race actually plays a role outside of the melanin issue.

Comments:

I’m not sure what Marita Covarrubias is doing here except to remind the audience that she exists and is supposed to be important.

Mulder is at least aware of Pendrell’s feelings. What about Scully?

Ah, a welcome return to the field journal.

It’s a good thing they were near an opening in that vent. Mulder is twice Scully’s size. Modern woman or no, there’s no way she could have carried him.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: There’s a Michael Jackson joke in here somewhere but I can’t quite find it.

———————

Mulder: Scully, has it occurred to you that this might just be a little PR exercise?
Scully: I’m sorry?
Mulder: To divert attention from the fact that young black men are dying and nobody seems to be able to bring in a suspect. The perception being that nobody cares.
Scully: Mulder, not everything is a labyrinth of dark conspiracy and not everybody is plotting to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate.

———————

Agent Pendrell: Shouldn’t we wait for Agent Scully? I just don’t want to have to repeat myself.
Mulder: She’s not coming.
Agent Pendrell: Why not?
Mulder: She had a date.
Agent Pendrell: [Looks dejected]
Mulder: Breathe, Pendrell! She’s with a dead man. She’s doing an autopsy.

———————

Scully: Where are you going, Mulder?
Mulder: Off to water the seeds of doubt. Bye bye.

———————

Scully: Mulder, even if you’re right, I mean especially if you’re right, why would he leave his own country to come here?
Mulder: Free cable.

Home 4×3: There’s something rotten in Mayberry.


A hero falls.

There may be something deeply flawed in me but I’ve never found this episode disturbing. Not because I’m any proponent of infanticide, I’m not even pro-choice, but it all takes place in a context that’s distinctly “horror” and I just can’t take any of its inflammatory subject matter more seriously than any other piece of popcorn entertainment.

If anything, the only thing that remotely bothers me is that these victims of generations of inbreeding are reduced to caveman like monsters, mere bogeymen. Are victims of genetic mutations little more than savage beasts? Have we forgotten The Elephant Man so quickly? But I can easily put the blinders on for this issue because it’s worth it.

This episode is gorgeous. I don’t know what suddenly happened to the show’s budget and I certainly know nothing about camera work, etc. but the picture quality has suddenly improved triple fold. The whole effect is downright glossy. Director Kim Manners, may he rest in peace, was generally the go-to man for horror episodes, and he was no stranger to landmark episodes having previously directed “Humbug” (2×20), an episode as freaky as it is funny. But he outdoes himself on this one. The way he films the famous murder of the Taylors with near wordless poeticism is memorable even if you’re not a fan. And visiting the bowels of the Peacock house is like dropping down to Dante’s 6th circle of hell… and the theme of that circle is The Civil War.

In a way, I feel sorry for these throwbacks and I believe we’re meant to. The Peacocks are just trying to hang on to the last vestiges of life as it has been. Like they did in “Humbug”, Mulder and Scully represent the encroachment as life as it eventually will be for all; perfect looking uber humans floating on a sea of unnecessary technology. As sick, twisted, and perverse as their family is, there’s something sad and poignant about the downfall of the Peacocks because it’s the simultaneous downfall of all that the town of Home represents.

How many enclaves are left where one can keep oneself unspotted from the world? Where young boys can ride their bikes to pick up games in the field instead of being driven from lesson to lesson in their mothers’ black SUVs? Where people know that murder, kidnapping, and rape exist but don’t trouble themselves by worrying about them because they only take place in theory?

This idea collapses after a certain point because the Peacocks, in trying to preserve what they have, end up destroying it (or nearly so) and the town of Home along with it through a series of acts that are monstrous for humans, if not unacceptable in nature. The trouble is, they see themselves as survivors, and morality and survival are often strange bedfellows.

There’s a fine line, I suppose, between incest and inbreeding. One is a forced, violent, or at the very least manipulative act. The other is institutionalized a la the Pharaoh’s of Egypt. For the Peacocks, what they practice is more the latter. This is a way of life to them. At some point they realized no one else was going to willingly marry into the family, so they had to make do with what they already had. Really, this whole thing is a crude form of practicality.

Verdict:

This was X-Files legends Morgan & Wong’s first episode back on The X-Files since leaving in Season 2 to produce their own Space: Above and Beyond. I’m sad to say that as much as I love their work, when they came back in Season 4 they almost seemed to be writing for a different show. Each of the four episodes they wrote on their return were “out of bounds” in one way or another. “Home” I think steps over the line the most successfully.

I love it when Mulder and Scully takeover a small town. There’s nothing shocking about evil in the city, but when it lurks in the cellars of corn-fed middle America there’s always something more sinister about it.

I love Tucker Smallwood as the likeable and wise Sheriff Andy Taylor. I love that Mulder and Scully are making more wise-cracks than usual. And, most of all, I love Johnny Mathis.

True, Johnny Mathis wouldn’t lend his voice to this episode because of its content so it’s actually a Johnny Mathis wannabe that we’re hearing, but it has the same effect.

This was the first X-Files episode to come with a viewer discretion warning for graphic content (the second, “Via Negativa” (8×7), would be more deserving if you ask me). Consequently, the Fox network refused to show it in reruns for the longest, giving the episode an extra layer of mystery to add to its charms.

I can understand why objectively, it’s just hard to understand in reverse since now we live in a world filled with Law & Order: SVU reruns and incest in all its forms is a topic that’s been beaten to death, infanticide too. And the brutal beating? It hardly seems graphic anymore.

It’s not a celebration of such things, it’s an exploration of them. That’s where I draw the line.

A+

Randomness:

So the seed of “Mommy Scully” has been planted. Bearing the future of Season 4 in mind, could that just be a coincidence? I highly doubt it. By now Chris Carter was in the midst of feverishly planning for the upcoming movie. In order to do that, they had to have the trajectory of the mythology for the next couple of years already planned out. Morgan & Wong referenced in interviews that they wrote their episodes at the beginning of the season with a mind to where the writing staff was aiming to have Mulder and Scully at the end of the season. I appreciate the subtle continuity.

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you with this episode number and neither am I. Once The X-Files took off, the production schedule was never the same again. This is the third episode of Season 4 but the second one aired.

Ah, the introduction of David Duchovny’s “Elvis” cut…

Best Quotes:

Scully: Meanwhile I’ve quit the Bureau and become a spokesperson for the Ab-Roller.

———————–

Scully: Mulder, if you had to do without a cell phone for two minutes you’d lapse into catatonic schizophrenia.
Mulder: Scully, you don’t know me as well as you think you do. You know, my work demands that I live in a big city, but if I had to settle down, build a home, it’d be in a place like this.
Scully: It’d be like living in Mayberry.
Sheriff Taylor: Agents Mulder and Scully… Hi, I’m Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Mulder: For real?

————————

Mulder: Is there a history of genetic abnormalities in your family?
Scully: No.
Mulder: Well, just find yourself a man with a spotless genetic make up and a really high tolerance for being second-guessed and start pumping out the little uber-Scullys.
Scully: What about your family?
Mulder: Aside from the need for corrective lenses or the tendency to be abducted by extraterrestrials involved in an international governmental conspiracy, the Mulder family passes genetic muster.

————————-

Scully: You still planning on making a home here?
Mulder: No. Not if I can’t get the Knicks game.
Scully: Well, just as long as a brutal infanticide doesn’t weigh into your decision.

————————-

Mulder: Scully, would you think me less of me as a man if I told you I was a kind of excited right now? There some secret farmer trick to get these things moving?
Scully: I don’t know. Baa-ram-ewe. Baa-ram-ewe.
Mulder: Yeah, that’ll work.
Scully: I babysat my nephew this weekend. He watches Babe fifteen times a day.
Mulder: And people call me Spooky.

————————

Scully: Way I think it goes here is that Edmund is the brother and the father of the other two.
Mulder: Which means that when Edmund was a kid he could ground the other two for playing with his things?