Tag Archives: Howard Gordon

Synchrony 4×19: Puts a whole new spin on being your own worst enemy.


I got chills. They're multiplyin'.

I don’t think we’ve had an episode of The X-Files so purely scientific since “F. Emasculata” (2×22) or at least “Wetwired” (3×23), and both of those episodes involve a certain amount of conspiracy and machination. “Synchrony” is unique in that not only does it focus solely on theoretical science, it takes a decidedly personal approach in doing so. Don’t expect a shadowy informant to make a superfluous appearance in this one.

This is episode is brought to you by the letter “G.” “G” for writers Howard Gordon and David Greenwalt, an interesting pair indeed. Greenwalt was a co-executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a co-creator of the spin off Angel, so his pedigree is nothing to sneeze at. But this episode was destined to be Greenwalt’s only episode of The X-Files which makes it hard to gauge how much of “Synchrony” is his and how much can be attributed to series regular Howard Gordon. That said, Gordon had a knack for writing about hubris, or more specifically, about the havoc that can be wrecked by overly brilliant men or men who overly think they’re brilliant, so I’m betting he’s responsible for most of this. It’s the prevailing theme in many of his episodes such as “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), “Firewalker” (2×9) and even “Fresh Bones” (2×15) among others.

This isn’t the most successful of the lot, mostly due I think to issues of science and somewhat bland characters, but it’s still a solid and enjoyable offering. The main problem is that a time travel story can easily get lost in its own set of paradoxes no matter how skillful the writers. For instance, If Old Man Nichols kills his younger self, who in the heck is going to travel back from the future to assassinate everyone involved in the project in the first place? And for that matter, why didn’t he just aim for his younger self from the get go? That would’ve stopped the whole project in its tracks since it’s his Cryobiology that makes time travel possible.

You would think that meeting your younger self, the version of yourself that most people wish heartily they could knock some sense into, would provide a springboard for more existential angst. But I don’t think this episode really has time to explore the emotional issues of Old Man Nichols or of the younger Jason Nichols once he discovers that he’s both a murderer and a genius (well, the latter he already strongly believed). Instead, most of its time is spent slowly revealing the science behind the plot and what little time for emotional development that’s available takes place between Old Man Nichols and, well, everyone else but himself.

Then there’s the fact that Old Man Nichols’ motivations for taking on such a gruesome responsibility are given only brief lip service at the end of the episode. Exactly how unlivable had these ambitious scientists unwittingly made the future? Why is time travel more of a curse than a gift? And if their joint success turned out to be such a tragedy, why did neither Lisa or Yonechi come back with him to undo what they accomplished? Could it be that Nichols is the only one with regrets?

I have more questions than comments, but that’s pretty much to be expected whenever time travel comes up as a subject. As I said earlier, paradoxes are inevitable and I’m no physicist, I’m a fuzzy; I don’t have the feet for wading in these waters. But when I compare this episode to more successful interpretations of time travel, like Back to the Future and a handful of Star Trek: TNG episodes, it comes up wanting. There were a lot of issues to potentially explore and so without narrowing in on one or two of them, all of them ending up getting the short shrift.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy this one, mind you. And considering it originally aired over 14 years ago I think it actually holds up rather well. Probably the most effective part of this episode is the Fire and Ice theme. The X-Files is nothing if it’s not inventive when it comes to death and watching a frozen body melt and then burst into flames is not without its charms.

And the Verdict is…

This is yet another episode where Mulder is 10 steps ahead of everyone else without much evidence to go on, but it would have been nice if Scully had taken more of a lead in what is essentially one of the few purely sci-fi episodes of The X-Files. After all, Scully’s the scientist here and indeed, she’s a scientist with a working knowledge of time travel theory! Sure, Mulder brings up her graduate school theory on time travel, but only to use it against her. This never really struck me before but looking back, I suspect it would have been more interesting to have Scully face up to her own former self and her former beliefs as she did in “Revelations” (3×11) and as Old Man Nichols has to do, literally, over the course of this episode. Psychological time travel paralleled with physical time travel? It sounds like a good match to me.

B

Nagging Questions:

Why is Old Man Nichols so determined to save Lucas Menand in the beginning of the episode when he’s otherwise only determined to kill? Why waste time trying to save the life of one enemy when he’s willing to kill his friends? And what’s more, why risk exposure when it’s best to complete his mission as quickly as possible?

Couldn’t Old Man Nichols think of a better way to kill people than not really killing them? Poison maybe? Something so that he could actually succeed in preventing the future.

For that matter, why kill them all? Just removing one part of the equation would have prevented eventual success. Technically speaking, Old Man Nichols could have stopped after killing Yonechi.

Nagging Comments:

What his with the guy who plays Yonechi, Hiro Kanagawa, dying particularly gruesome deaths? Who could forget fungus exploding from his throat in “Firewalker”?

Best Quotes:

Coroner: I haven’t been able to make a definitive determination as to cause or time of death. There’s been some internal disagreement over how to proceed.
Scully: You mean with the autopsy?
Coroner: Yes… but mostly whether to cut or to saw.

———————–

Mulder: You ever seen a body in such an advanced hypothermic state?
Scully: Hypothermic? Mulder, this man’s an icicle.

———————–

Scully: Well, my best guess would be that he’s been exposed to some kind of chemical refrigerant like liquid nitrogen. Possibly even ingested it.
Mulder: Well, you see what happens when you drink and drive?

———————–

Mulder: “Although common sense may rule out the possibility of time travel, the laws of quantum physics certainly do not.” In case you forgot, that’s from your graduate thesis. You were a lot more open minded when you were a youngster.

Unrequited 4×16: There goes the neighborhood.


I fold.

If Season 4 was good for anything it was experimentation. Most of it came from the minds of Morgan and Wong who gave us the non-formulaic “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (4×7) but also the highly unusual teaser in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). In that episode, we open with the end of the story, Mulder standing alone in a field crying, feeling sorry for himself, and reading a poem. It’s not my favorite episode by any stretch, but I always appreciated how striking and memorable that teaser is. It sets up the tone and content of the entire episode very, very quickly.

“Unrequited” tries to experiment with its teaser too, it’s just less successful at it. We open at the climax of the story, but unfortunately the climax isn’t very climactic. And it doesn’t get any better when the episode begins in earnest and we work our way back to that scene chronologically. The sequence drags on to the point where all tension is lost and what’s worse, by then the audience is only watching out of obligation anyway rather than interest, the rest of the episode not living up to the implied “Hey, isn’t this exciting!” message behind the teaser.

Like “Teliko” (4×4), except much more so, this is a political X-File. Oh, there’s an undercurrent of political subtext to the mythology itself, it becoming clear early on that the men behind this show are probably products of the 1970s when Americans progressed from being suspicious of the government to being distinctly jaded. But usually those themes are in the background as implied food for thought. When The X-Files tries to turn undertones into overtones it usually either succeeds marvelously or fails miserably. “Unrequited” is one of the latter.

One of the dangers of this type of episode is finding a really good rationale for why Mulder and Scully are in on a mission like this in the first place. Hunting down militia is not exactly their area of expertise. Which leads me to the next danger: this type of episode has little to do with the paranormal or the frightening. Teager’s ability, which is poorly explored, is almost incidental to the plot. The point isn’t how scary an invisible man would be, it’s how “invisible” our soldiers have become socially and politically. A noble sentiment, but I generally tune in to The X-Files for an adrenaline rush.

Speaking of a lack of adrenaline, or a pulse, it’s official: Marita Covarrubias is useless. They needed to give her a niche, a specialty, some area of government secrets that she had particular access to. Instead Mulder comes to her for a hodgepodge of information of the most superficial sort. Something makes me think that The Powers That Be decided to make Marita Covarrubias the assistant to the Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations because they weren’t exactly sure what role she would play and they thought that having her work for an institution as broad as the United Nations would mean that she could provide Mulder with all kinds of answers. She gives him all kinds of answers all right, but it feels forced and her information is nearly useless. Every time she shows up I get the feeling the writers are trying to remind me she exists, whereas her predecessors, Deep Throat and X, were anticipated and looked for and when they showed up out of the blue it was a gratifying surprise.

Verdict:

For an episode whose scare factor had such an inherently frightening and historically successful motif to fall back on as “The Invisible Man,” this story should have worked much better. Instead, ham-fisted political overtones drag down the pace and the impact that it should have had is lost. Both the message and the story lose their power and nobody wins. The X-Files just isn’t the proper vehicle for this sort of thing. Thankfully, Howard Gordon would go on to write for 24 where politics and action make much better bedfellows. He finally got to put all those ideas to good use.

By way of finding something to put in the plus column, I’d say that at least they took Skinner out of his box so he could play, but while he’s put to practical use his history as a Vietnam veteran only earns a veiled reference at the beginning and a brief mention at the very end of the episode. Yawn and you’ll miss it… and most likely you’re yawning by that point.

If “Kaddish” (4×12) was good but quiet, with this episode the series’ gears are grinding to a halt. The X-Files needs something or someone to shake things up, someone like Max Fenig perhaps?

D

Questions:

How come Mulder and Scully’s eyes never bleed? Teager worked their blind spots often enough.

Mulder calls the circumstances of Teager’s pronounced death “inconclusive.” But dare I say that’s ridiculous? Deaths are regularly declared on nothing more than teeth when bombings and explosions are involved. The marks on Teager’s tooth could have been made in any number of ways.

On that note, the implication is that the Viet Cong staged the scene so that the American government would believe Teager, and the other soldiers, were dead. Which would mean that they planned to take them prisoner and keep it a secret, an odd thing to do in the middle of a war for a soldier of no particular political importance.

Why would Teager agree to work for the men who, while not directly involved, were responsible for leaving him behind in Vietnam? Why would he agree to kill certain Generals, knowing that by doing so he’d be covering up forever what happened to him and men like him? That connection needed much more than a passing mention because to call the situation unlikely would be generous.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Was that for the benefit of the General or have you been able to develop a real strategy?
Skinner: Right now I’m flying by the seat of my pants.
Mulder: You mean there’s no procedure outline for an invisible assassin?

———————–

Skinner: You heard his story, Mulder?
Mulder: Yeah, I found his story compelling personally, but then again, I believe the Warren Commission.

———————–

Mulder: Don’t let them do this.
Skinner: Let it go, Agent Mulder. You did your job.
Mulder: So did Nathaniel Teager.
Skinner: You found the man that you were looking for, but now he’s dead. It’s over.
Mulder: Is that what you believe? Is that what you really believe? They’re not just denying this man’s life, they’re denying his death. And with all due respect, Sir, he could be you.

Kaddish 4×12: You look like you might be one yourself.


"I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me."

Racism makes its second appearance on The X-Files this season. Maybe really its first since it was talked about but never actually seen in “Teliko” (4×4) despite Mulder’s insinuations to the contrary. Thankfully, this is a much more successful attempt at weaving societal issues into a paranormal tale, even if the end product is only moderately memorable.

Despite different trappings, this is really just another “revenge from beyond the grave” episode in the vein of “Born Again” (1×21) and “The List” (3×5). Only this time our avenger is a Hasidic Jew with one of my favorite names ever, Isaac (It means laughter. How can you not love that?). The other significant difference being that Issac didn’t come back on his own, he was brought back, not to feed hate, but out of love.

This episode reminds me of “Born Again” not just in content but in tone, which can be no coincidence since both episodes are written by Howard Gordon. Gordon’s work tends to have a quiet, somber feel to it, think “Dod Kalm” (2×19), so this episode has little by way of action but lots of contemplation. Maybe it’s because part of me instinctively compares this episode to The Golem, but I do wish the monster had been a little more menacing. That could have helped make up for the fact that it’s a legend unfamiliar to many, and having to familiarize an audience with a legend and then try to scare them with it is a tall order.

Adam was created from the dust of the earth, but then God breathed into him the breath of life. The problem with the Golem isn’t the mud he came out of, it’s that he missed out on that last part, the breath of life, and is doomed to walk around sans soul and wrecking havoc. That’s what happens when man takes things into his own hands, which is the moral lesson behind the tale: Man can only imitate God in shadows and not substance, and hubris is a dangerous form of pride.

But as I said, Ariel created Isaac’s Golem out of love which adds a poignancy to the proceedings. In fact, dare I say this episode isn’t even really meant to be frightening? It’s a story about lost love and that’s the emotional cue we’re being invited to identify with. Even the social commentary is a little distracting since the racists we’re exposed to are a little toothless and so don’t really serve the story in any meaningful way. It’d be nice if I could hate them rather than dismiss them but since they’re so pathetic…

Possibly this episode’s main source of salvation is how beautiful it is. Kim Manner’s usually directs the more gruesome episodes but he does a great job here not with horror but in expressing sadness through his camera choices. Those scenes at the graveyard in particular are stunning. I might go so far as to say that most of the pathos here comes from the way the episode was shot and less from the story or even the characters. The X-Files may have reached that incredible plateau where you can watch it with the sound off and still fully enjoy it.

Verdict:

There is a bit of an elephant hanging in the air over this episode. We just came off of “Memento Mori” (4×15) and there’s absolutely no indication that Scully’s tragic diagnosis is at all on her mind or even Mulder’s. But there’s a very good reason for that… this episode was shot three episodes before “Memento Mori”, but partially because of the Super Bowl broadcasting shuffle, was aired afterward. If they’re acting like Scully doesn’t have cancer, it’s because she doesn’t.

I think that actually works out well and I’m glad because that delicate plot line could have easily been worried to death through overkill. A mention or a reminder every other episode or so until the storyline reaches its boiling point is more than sufficient. Besides, at the end of “Memento Mori” Scully makes it clear that she wants to get back to work, and isn’t she doing just that?

Certainly though, back when I didn’t realize all that and even though I still appreciated their not working Scully’s cancer into the ground, a part of me wondered why this tale of death and separation didn’t hit home with Mulder and Scully at all. And just taking things as they aired, part of me still thinks they should have been able to relate just a tad more. Not in a lovey dovey sort of way, but in that here are two people who just had the promise of their lives together cut short. It’s not like Mulder and Scully’s work is done and they’ve found the answers they’re looking for. And now they’re running out of time.

B

Commentary:

So is Mulder Jewish? I guess we’ll have to wait till Season 7 for that answer too. Let’s put that on the back burner along with Scully’s ovaries, shall we?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Yeah, spectral figures are not often known to leave fingerprints. Casper never did.

———————

Scully: You haven’t heard the rumors?
Curt Brunjes: What rumors?
Mulder: That Luria is back from the dead. That he’s risen from his grave.
Curt Brunjes: What kind of Jew trick is this?
Mulder: A Jew pulled it off two thousand years ago.

———————

Mulder: What’s this? A little bedtime reading? [The book bursts into flames]

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.

Avatar 3×21: I’m not signing those papers.


Little Red Riding Hood.

“Avatar” is one of those few episodes where we open with one of our stars instead of just an X-File itself. A rare honor indeed and here it is bestowed upon Skinner so relatively early in the series. He also bears the dubitable honor of participating in the first real sex scene on The X-Files in said intro. Needless to say, things quickly go awry and he wakes up next to a beautiful blonde who looks like she just crawled out of The Exorcist.

Ah, Skinner. Finally a follow up look at his inner workings heretofore only briefly hinted at in “One Breath” (2×8). Here’s a silent yet sensitive man who is reluctant to give up on his marriage, so instead of signing his divorce papers he goes for a drink… and sleeps with a strange woman… because he’s reluctant to give up on his marriage.

Wait. Skinner’s married?

That’s right. Walter Skinner has been married for 17 years. It looks like the reason he has Scully down as his emergency contact in “Apocrypha” (3×16) is because he and his wife have been separated for some months. Skinner/Scully shippers may suffer vain imaginations at their own peril. From the sound of things the only reason for the separation is the typical “he doesn’t talk to me anymore” issue. The prostitute doesn’t come in until later…

…the prostitute that CSM hired through one of his minions. It’s nice to see that the bad blood between CSM and Skinner is still festering; it adds a sense of continuity to the episode. That and the fact that Skinner further elaborates on the story of his near-death death experience that he first told Mulder about in “One Breath”. It turns out that along with nearly walking into the white light, he had a bit of a visitation. Which leads me to the crux of this little review.

I used to wonder why this episode is called “Avatar” which in Hindu mythology is a human incarnation of a deity when the paranormal star of the episode is a “Succubus.” Thanks to a single sentence of insight in an IMDB review I think I finally figured out the connection.

The old woman that Skinner keeps seeing is not a sexually possessive and dangerous succubus as Mulder initially suggests, she’s his wife, Sharon… who is actually an avatar. She’s his protector. She protected him from death in Vietnam, now she’s protecting him from the machinations of CSM. It’s the same creature, but for years she either was or took the form of his wife. Once his wife was separated from him, she came to him in dreams. It isn’t until they separate that she begins coming to him in dreams again. When he sees the old woman at the police station, it’s because Sharon has shown up. When he wakes up on the couch to see the old woman screaming, the police come to the door to tell him that Sharon’s been in an accident. This is why Sharon somehow knows what CSM has been up to and what Skinner needs to do to stop the man who framed him.

See how simple that sounds when it’s all laid out? Yeah, it’s too bad the episode doesn’t do that.

Now, we all know that The X-Files likes to err on the side of vagueness and that’s what we love about it. But take it from “Gender Bender” (1×13), leaving the audience completely nonplussed is never the way to go. The plot goes well right up through where Mulder’s succubus theory enters the picture, but there’s no follow-through after that. Which is why most are generally left with the incorrect impression that Mulder was right in his assumption even though he briefly mentions in passing that he must have guessed wrong.

And finally…

The lingering question is what happened to Sharon Skinner? I would say that she died. Whether or not they intended to imply that at the time, I don’t know. But nothing else could explain why she never shows up again even though Skinner puts his ring back on at the end of the episode. Besides, would you divorce your guardian angel? Not only that, but even within the context of the episode her sudden, miraculous awakening goes unnoticed by the hospital staff who would have been monitoring her from the nursing station. More than likely this is a moment only visible to Skinner because she’s his personal avatar. There’s a deleted scene that takes place just before Skinner spills his guts to an unconscious Sharon that would lend credence to the theory that she was all set to recover. But if so, where did she go? Her disappearance equals a de facto death regardless.

Overall, this episode is much, much better than I remembered. However, it’s still too convoluted to be called “great” and there isn’t much by way of scares or revelations. Also, as we’ve already gone over, little to nothing of the plot is clear by the end.

Mitch Pileggi does an admirable job here, though, and he deserved a Skinner-centered episode. Apparently, this was David Duchovny’s idea as a way of giving himself a break for a week, though it turns out his character is still in almost every scene. He and Howard Gordon teamed up for the story and while I don’t hate the finished product, I do wish that Skinner felt like more of a headliner and less of a bystander in his own story. Most of the episode is spent watching Mulder and Scully solve the case while he sits idly by and watches his world unravel. But hey, at least he’s the hero in the end.

B-

Comments:

This is yet another episode where Mulder’s theory is completely off. She’s not a succubus, she’s an avatar. So there. There are so few of these moments that I have to keep track.

Once again, despite all evidence to the contrary, once Mulder has faith in someone he refuses to let go. The man is inherently trusting. I’m telling you.

Like “Oubliette” (3×8), this is another episode where the supernatural element isn’t evil. In fact, this time it’s a force for good, albeit a slightly frightening one.

Best Quotes:

Lorraine Kelleher: I don’t know what to say.
Scully: Well you can start by telling us if she was working last night and if she was, who paid for her company.
Lorraine Kelleher: I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Mulder: I guess that would hurt future book sales, huh?
Lorraine Kelleher: You’d be surprised who some of my clients are.
Mulder: No, I don’t think I would be.
Scully: I also doubt that they’d want to get entangled in a homicide investigation
Mulder: Look, we just need one name from you. Who hired Carina Sayles?
Lorraine Kelleher: Let’s just say you both work for the government… and so do I.

———————

Skinner: I got through that experience like most eighteen-year-olds. By numbing myself with whatever was around. I was no choir boy. I inhaled.

———————

Mulder: They used us to do it, didn’t they? They used the X-Files.
Scully: How’s you know?
Mulder: Cause I think Skinner’s been outmaneuvered, Scully. They found a weakness and they’re exploiting it.
Scully: But why?
Mulder: To keep us it check. You remove Skinner and you weaken us.

———————-

Skinner: I had to tell you, Sharon, before anything else happens. I’m not signing those papers. For a lot of reasons. Most of them I’m just realizing myself for the first time. Some of the things I’ve seen, the violence and the lies that I’ve witnessed men inflict on one another… I could never tell you that. Not that I ever stopped believing in the work, but there were contradictions that I, that I couldn’t reconcile, which meant shutting down part of myself just to do my job. I never told you what I should have told you… that what really got me through each day was knowing that I’d be sleeping next to you that night. Knowing that I had a reason to wake up in the morning. I’m not sure if you can even hear me now or if it even makes a difference to you anymore, but I at least wanted you to know that.

Grotesque 3×14: You never fit your own profile.


Art Therapy

“Grotesque” is a unique episode and admirably ambitious, yet I can’t help feeling that it takes itself a little too seriously at moments. And that, of course, just makes me want to roll my eyes at the most inappropriate times. I appreciate the plot and the concept and while it’s mostly successful, I feel slightly disengaged when I watch it. It’s sort of Mulder’s answer to the Scully-centered episode “Irresistible” (2×13) where the line between the paranormal and natural human evil is blurred, but this one is psychological rather than emotional. Good, and admirably ambitious, but not great.

Last time we actually saw Mulder care about someone’s negative opinion of him we were still somewhere in Season 1, when the memory of his former glory days at the F.B.I. weren’t far behind him and you could tell that the occasional dig still hit a nerve. Skepticism directed at Mulder’s abilities/sanity is nothing new. “Squeeze” (1×2) and even “Lazarus” (1×14) give us a glimpse at how often there’s sniggering behind his back. But every time we meet one of Mulder’s former colleagues, Jerry in “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) and Reggie in “Young at Heart” (1×14), they have a healthy respect for Mulder’s capabilities. Heck, later on there will be Diana Fowley, another former partner who, er, recognizes Mulder’s strength. Between what we know of these characters’ relationships with him and his current partnership with Scully, to know Mulder is to love Mulder, or at least to learn to appreciate him despite himself. This is the first time we’ve seen someone who worked alongside Mulder actually dislike him. And it’s the first time in a long time that Mulder has reacted to anyone’s dislike. So what is eating Agent Patterson?

We never really find out why Mulder irritates Patterson so. But I remember having this genius friend in High School who aced Latin even though she spent 99% of every class passing notes with me, when she even came to class that is. Our teacher couldn’t stand her. I suspect something similar is going on with Patterson and Mulder. Either that or he’s the stereotypical 1950’s father who can’t tell his son how proud he is of him but put a few drinks in him and he’ll have no problems telling the rest of the world. I’m leaning towards the former as his venom toward Mulder denotes both admiration and jealousy.

His relationship with Scully in this episode isn’t much better. The further down the rabbit hole he goes the more he consciously shuts her out. Season 3 has seen the writers as a whole putting distance between Mulder and Scully in quite a few episodes. Things were too perfect between them in Season 2 to continue that way; they’d lack depth in the long run. But maybe there’s too much distancing going on now. Too often only one of them has enough of a personal connection to solve a specific case. Whatever happened to them figuring it out together? That hasn’t really occurred since “2Shy” (3×6) or possibly “The Walk” (3×7). Even “Nisei” (3×9) and “731” (3×10) saw them going down different investigative paths and drawing different conclusions. I submit that such a device makes logical sense in mythology episodes where the writers need to disseminate lots of material to the audience, and it allows both Mulder and Scully to grow as characters. But at some moments this season I’m left wondering why they’re even partners when they’re not working together.

I think soon the collective writing club at 1013 Productions comes to realize the Mulder and Scully seesaw is tilting too far in one direction and they start adding weight to the other side for the last half of the season, a development which I’m forever grateful for. It’s not that I don’t agree that Mulder and Scully should have independence, autonomy and interests apart from each other and even apart from the X-Files. That was part of what I enjoyed about “Revelations” (3×11) was that Scully had a supernatural niche all her own. I just miss seeing them work as a team rather than acting as an antagonist of sorts in each other’s individual drama.

The Verdict:

Besides the less than inspirational interpersonal dynamics, my other bone to pick with this episode is that the solution is too clear from the beginning. Only someone from the crime team knew the ins and outs of the murders? Then someone from the crime team committed the murders. And it’s certainly no shock when Patterson, obsessed with finding the killer, turns out to have found his killer’s obsession instead. In fact, we’re expecting it. With the 1980’s/1990’s rise to prominence of Criminal Profiling, the tale of an investigator becoming what he hunts isn’t exactly fresh and new. I couldn’t say for sure, but I don’t believe it was fresh in 1995 either.

I don’t think “freshness” is a concern here regardless. It’s a vehicle to let David Duchovny strut his emotional stuff, which he certainly does a solid job of. This episode is about exploring more of the tragic side of Mulder’s nature and his ability to intuitively understand people, the gift that’s actually a curse. Writer Howard Gordon, even more so when working with partner Alex Gansa, has a propensity toward the solemn and the serious when it comes to giving us X-Files. His previous offerings include “Conduit” (1×3), “Born Again” (1×21) and “Sleepless” (2×4), all episodes with a rather grim sense of loneliness, a theme echoed again here. He also successfully adds poeticism into the mix in “Dod Kalm” (2×19). “Grotesque” reminds me a lot of “Dod Kalm” in tone and theme; both show us a man slowly turning into what he hated and both are continually swathed in blue light.

After all that tepid to cold praise, I do like this episode. It’s a brave departure from the norm. I just wouldn’t turn it on to have a good time.

B

Peanut Gallery:

It’s a little difficult to believe Mulder went that crazy that fast, but then, they only have 43 minutes.

I kinda dig the exploration of insanity vs. demon possession. Which is which and how do we know? Like “Irresistible” before it, we don’t get a straight answer in the end.

Didn’t Mulder already have his tortured soul moment in “Oubliette” (3×8)? Maybe that doesn’t count since this one brought up Samantha and this one has absolutely nothing to do with his sister issues?

Scully’s one moment of glory in this episode, as she cocks her chin in Skinner’s office, is my favorite part.

Best Quotes:

Scully: So you’re not going to tell me when your love affair with Patterson ended?
Mulder: Patterson never liked me.
Scully: I thought you were considered the fair-haired boy when you joined the bureau.
Mulder: Not by Patterson.
Scully: Why not?
Mulder: Didn’t want to get my knees dirty. Couldn’t quite cast myself in the role of the dutiful student.
Scully: You mean you couldn’t worship him.
Mulder: Something like that, yeah.

——————–

Mulder: Patterson had this saying about tracking a killer. If you wanted, uh, to know an artist, you have to look at his art. What he really meant was if you wanted to catch a monster you had to become one yourself.

——————–

Agent Patterson: I have to tell you, I am really disappointed in you.
Mulder: Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you by not disappointing you.

——————–

Agent Patterson: My advice to you, Scully: Let Mulder do what he has to do. Don’t get in his way and don’t try to hold him back… because you won’t be able to.

——————–

Skinner: Are you worried about him, Agent Scully?
Scully: No, sir.
Skinner: Off the record.
Scully: [Cocks her head]
Skinner: So am I.

Nisei 3×9: Monsters begetting monsters.


$29.95's worth.

“Nisei” is about foreign scientists, war criminals, allied with the Federal Government and more specifically, The Syndicate, who experiment on unwitting citizens in an attempt to create an alien-human hybrid. If that sounds familiar, it should. It was the plot of “Paper Clip” (3×2). The main difference is that we’ve moved from talk of the Nazis to another World War II Axis power, Japan.

There are other repeats such as Mulder seeing what he thinks is a spaceship hidden from perfect view. That happened in both “Deep Throat” (1×1) and “Fallen Angel” (1×9). Scully has also confronted X over Mulder’s whereabouts before in “End Game” (2×17), but of course that time it was the other way around and she wanted to find him not keep his location a secret. And as I’ve already mentioned, as in the season opener the writers are using the horrors of history to scare us. What’s more frightening than the truth?

Since we’ve already heard this tale told in a different way, Chris Carter had to find a way to set this one a part and I think he successfully did that by tying in this set of experiments to Scully’s abduction in a more specific way: These Japanese scientists were the ones who performed tests on her when she was taken.

Now we know for sure that the chip found in the back of her neck during “The Blessing Way” (3×1) is connected to her abduction. If that weren’t enough, we find out that Scully wasn’t alone and we meet the other women who were there with her for at least part of her ordeal. Imagine walking into a room full of people who know all about you but you don’t know them. Talk about creepy.

Scully’s character certainly gets an uplift from the previous couple of episodes where she is relegated to the role of Debbie Downer. Here she’s still the skeptic but she’s a thoughtful one and gives this investigation the attention it deserves. It’s about time the question of why she still doesn’t believe is brought up as we’ve reached a point in the series where it makes less sense for Scully to even be a skeptic in the face of all she’s been exposed to. That’s why some of the previous episodes didn’t work as well as they might have because her knee-jerk skepticism seems out of place, as though she were just going out of her way to be difficult. The tantalizing teasing that goes on about the mystery of Scully’s abduction is a set up to explore her character further in future episodes. It pays off well.

The mythology keeps expanding to include more conspiracies within the conspiracy. It’s exciting and yet… this is both good and bad news. While the scope of the conspiracy is why it attracts an audience, it’s also part of its eventual, inevitable decline. You can only push the circle outward for so long before people forget the juicy center.

Conclusion:

You’ll think me shallow, but what I love most about this episode is that it’s a party. So many honored guests are in attendance: Skinner, Mr. X, The Lone Gunmen, even Senator Matheson who is no doubt summoned because Skinner washes his hands clean of this situation. We also have a first-time participant in Agent Pendrell. We’re only missing Krycek who Chris Carter is saving for later in the season.

Mulder again proves there’s no length of crazy he won’t go to. He’s such a wonderfully frustrating hero. You want to punch him then hug him all in the span of two seconds. Scully’s parallel journey for the truth is just as compelling, but in a less action packed, more emotional sort of way. It’s fun to see them investigate on their own and then come back together and share notes, so to speak. Whether they’re communicating over the phone or in person they make such a great team. And the banter and humor sprinkled through this two-episode arc still makes me smile.

If “Paper Clip” was about the Germans, “Nisei” is all about the Japanese. It’s a natural progression to move on to the next Axis power. But whatever happened to the Italians? Not scary enough?

A-

Lingering Questions:

Why wasn’t Scully subjected to the hybridization tests that created mutants out of the others? Maybe that was reserved for the sick and they used healthy young women for another, equally sinister purpose…

We know Scully is going to get cancer, it’s only a matter of when. The question is, why does she end up with cancer relatively quickly when the other abductees took years and many abductions before they died? I would guess that the abductions themselves somehow saved them.

I still don’t understand why this episode is called “Nisei”. The scientists involved are first generation Japanese immigrants, not second generation Japanese-Americans. Surely there’s a clue that slipped by me.

Random Musings:

The Japanese “diplomat”, Kazuo Sakurai, doesn’t sound like a Japanese diplomat at all, judging by his speech patterns. He sounds more like a Yakuza gangster. I’m wondering if it’s an element of the plot that they didn’t have time to delve into, that he’s an agent of the conspiracy posing as a diplomat for nefarious purposes.

Sakurai: [Japanese] M***** F******, I’m absolutely gonna kill you.
Mulder: You speak English?
Sakurai: [Japanese] What are you babbling about? *Editor’s Note: This is much more offensive than I can translate.
Mulder: Great.

And then he knows Karate, because all Asians know some form of the Martial Arts. *Eyeroll*

Best Quotes:

Scully: That’s not your usual brand of entertainment. What is it?
Mulder: According to the magazine ad I answered, it’s an alien autopsy. Guaranteed authentic.
Scully: You spent money for this?
Mulder: $29.95… plus shipping.
Scully: Mulder, this is even hokier than the one they aired on the Fox network. You can’t even see what they’re operating on!
Mulder: But it does look authentic, I mean the settings, the procedures. I mean it does look as if an actual autopsy is being prepared, doesn’t it?
Scully: Well technically, I don’t know why they would be wearing gas masks.
Mulder: Well maybe it’s because of this green substance they seem to be extracting from the subject. Can you identify that?
Scully: Olive oil? Snake oil? I suppose you think it’s alien blood?
Mulder: It’s widely held that aliens don’t have blood, Scully.
Scully: I guess this begs the question, if this is an alien autopsy…
Mulder: …where’s the alien? But what so intriguing to me is the striking lack of detail here.
Scully: Well, what do you expect for $29.95?

——————

Scully: I don’t know, Mulder, it just doesn’t track. What would a Japanese diplomat be doing in that house with a dead man with his head stuffed in a pillowcase?
Mulder: Obviously not strengthening international relations.
Scully: Well, what do you want to do now? Drop it?
Mulder: I’ve paid my $29.95, Scully. I think I’m entitled to a few more answers. Don’t you think so?

——————

Mulder: Scully, after all you’ve seen. After all you’ve told me you’ve seen. A tunnel filled with medical files, the beings moving past you, the implant in your neck. Why do you refuse to believe?
Scully: Believing’s the easy part, Mulder. I just need more than you. I need proof.
Mulder: You think that believing is easy?