Tag Archives: Jeffrey Bell

Salvage 8×10: More powerful than a speeding locomotive.


 

salvage028

No jaywalking.

Up until the last episode, “Surekill” (8×9), Season 8 hadn’t really shown us anything bad, just episodes that were more or less successful. In “Salvage”, the boredom train keeps a-rollin’, though like several Season 8 episodes that don’t live up to their initial promise, the teaser starts off pretty well.

Methinks the brain team over at 1013 Productions were reminiscing over their Superman comics right about this time. We just had a villain with x-ray vision and now we have a man of steel. Okay, that’s fine. A man who can withstand a car plowing into him sounds cool enough. But after the initial startling image, where do you take the idea? “Salvage” feels as though someone had a brilliant concept, but couldn’t come up with a story likewise brilliant enough to sustain it.

Charged with penning what may likely have been a group idea was Jeffrey Bell, the writer who gave us “Rain King” (6×7), “Alpha” (6×14), “The Goldberg Variation” (7×2), and “Signs and Wonders” (7×9). As you can see, his level of success has varied widely. “Salvage” would be his last effort for The X-Files before moving on to Angel and eventually becoming the showrunner there. He’s currently working on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so whatever I’m about to say, I think he’s doing okay.

Once again, the story presumes that the audience is familiar with Scully and Doggett as a pair and that they’re familiar with each other as well. They seem to have slipped into a routine. Funny, I never got the memo. I guess I can’t be mad at it since seeing them constantly at odds would distract from the Monster of the Week episodes and those have always been my favorites so that would be a shame. And hearing Mulder regularly mentioned would also be distracting and frustrating since we’re no closer to finding him and no one seems to be making moves in that direction either.

Anyway, my point is that this episode is rather formulaic considering a successful formula for Scully and Doggett solving cases has yet to be developed. The result is staid and joyless. “Salvage” isn’t the worst story, but it has no sense of adventure, it’s not shocking, it’s not frightening, it’s not thoughtful and it’s not funny, despite a half-hearted attempt at a Terminator 2 in joke. It’s a cute reference to Robert Patrick’s movie past. But that’s all it is, a cute reference, as if the show’s been forced to acknowledge the similarities between “Salvage” and Terminator 2 or they figured they’d better say something before the audience does. Cute can’t save the episode.

I should feel bad for victim and villain Ray Pearce, or at least sympathetic toward his bereaved wife. There are echoes of “Kaddish” (4×12) here; a couple is separated by death before their time and the husband comes back as a monster instead of as the loving man his woman once knew. I would probably understand his dark mission better if Pearce’s vengeance wasn’t misplaced, if his friends had purposefully betrayed him or exposed him to something knowing it would kill him. Instead, he and his wife are both looking for people to blame and then spontaneously giving up on revenge, rather than deserving vengeance and magnanimously and consciously giving up their right to it. That could have held my emotional interest. This was just going through the motions.

Sigh.

Scully and Doggett better find themselves some compelling chemistry quickly if they hope to carry episodes this lackluster.

Verdict:

I know it sounds like I hate “Salvage” but I don’t hate it, I just don’t care about it which is almost worse. It’s a filler episode, another tale we’ll forget on our journey back to Mulder. Scully and Doggett don’t grow any closer, and the case doesn’t prove to be anything special. The cast of guest characters is quickly forgotten.

On the side of pleasantries, the production is as high quality as ever and the special effects are downright impressive. But even those aren’t enough to make me want to watch this again.

We’ve hit a lull in Season 8. There’s nothing to do but wait it out and there’s nowhere to go from the valley but up.

C+

Salvaged Parts:

One image that has stuck with me is Ray Pearce clipping the metal spikes sticking out of his cheek. That’s pretty gross.

Speaking of spikes and other random things sticking out of somebody, Ray Pearce looks more like a humanized form of the garbage monster in “Arcadia” (6×13) than he does like a metal man. Maybe this was an attempt at not alluding to Terminator 2 too closely? So he becomes salvaged metal parts rather than a single metal alloy?

Scully and Doggett show up at the scene early enough that the car hasn’t been moved yet. So who are these scientists who have already come up with these detailed physics calculations that Scully quotes?

I’m sorry. I’m still not used to Scully playing Mulder. I don’t think I’ll ever be.

When a murder is suspected, don’t police check nearby dumpsters as a matter of course?

A guy made of metal tries to get out of a metal barrel and can’t because the metal is too strong. But Doggett can just kick the barrel over and knock it open?

How did Mrs. Pearce get in the Chamber Technologies building and into one of the private offices? That looked like a major corporation, the kind where not everyone could get past the front desk. Not to mention, there was a police presence.

I saw palm trees outside of the corporate office. Do they have palm trees in Indiana?

Best Quotes:

Doggett: Car’s registered to a Curtis Delario, local address. So far, he’s been unreachable.

Scully: Well, it’s highly unlikely that wherever he is he feels like picking up the phone this morning.

——————–

Doggett: [On phone] What are you saying? Ray Pearce has become some kind of metal man? Because that only happens in the movies, Agent Scully.

Scully: [On phone] Does it, Agent Doggett?

 

Advertisements

Signs and Wonders 7×9: Thank you, Mulder. Thank you so much.


x-files-224

Handle that.

People think the Devil has horns and a tail. They’re not looking for some kindly man that tells you what you want to hear.

This all day.

Cheesy pun intended, but after a string of episodes I could take or leave, “Signs and Wonders” is a blessing. Though every time I watch it I start off thinking I won’t be able to handle it. No, not because of the snakes. I like snakes. But because I don’t think I can take another exaggerated Hollywood portrait of the faithful. Almost every church service Hollywood attempts, the congregation extras look like drunken zombies. The charismatic services? Drunken zombies having seizures.

Our first several introductions to antagonist (?) Rev. Enoch and his flock start off with a hefty dose of the latter. Not much of these performances are believable, though the actor who plays Rev. Enoch comes the closest.

Then again, what do I know? From what I’ve read, Director Kim Manners said that the actor who played Rev. Enoch, Michael Childers, is actually the son of a snake preacher man, so guess he would have first hand knowledge of what extreme looks like. I only grew up in an Assemblies of God church, where we weren’t snake handlers but we were small and southern and it wasn’t strange to see someone slain in the Spirit come Sunday morning or Sunday evening or Wednesday night. Because I think we were about the last generation that expected church and was expected at church three times a week, not counting youth group and/or Bible study. I loved it.

Continuing my informational aside, Robert Duvall’s The Apostle remains the most tonally accurate depiction of the southern Pentecostal tradition. And if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend that you do. Boy, the 90’s were great for movies.

But back to “Signs and Wonders”. It’s purposefully ham-handed in the beginning… the middle… and most of the end… because writer Jeffrey Bell is setting us up for a shock. There’s more misdirection here than there was in “The Amazing Maleeni” (7×8).

There’s a great scene that intercuts between two church meetings, one lead by the manic Rev. O’Connor at the Church of God with Signs and Wonders, the other by a calm, so non-judgmental that he refuses to have an opinion, Rev. Mackey at the progressive Blessing Community Church across town. The juxtaposition tells us everything we think we need to know.

Rev. O’Connor Rev. Mackey
  • Loud
  • Forceful
  • Exaggerated
  • Emotional
  • Simplistic
  • Humble
  • Intellectual
  • Gentle
  • Thoughtful
  • Analytical

Now which Bible study would you rather invite your friends to?

Personally, in real life, I’d consider both preachers dangerous and misguided, though I suppose at gunpoint I’d rather face real snakes than spiritual ones. But the Church of God with Signs and Wonders is so over the top it’s impossible to like. And I’d question the sanity of anyone who thought that church service looked appealing. Then, that’s the point. Not everything good is appealing, like broccoli or exercise. And not everything appealing is good. The Devil has a way of disguising himself as everything appealing.

Everything on the surface of Rev. Enoch O’Connor and his church is unappealing, and Scully is duly turned off. Mulder, on the other hand, while certainly not turned on, is a little more… open, shall we say, to O’Connor’s extremism. And for once, for once! We have an episode about organized religion where Mulder is non-judgmental and Scully is skeptical. Who’s punking me?

I really like Mulder in this episode. He almost reminds me of Season 3 Mulder, who I actually didn’t much care for. He recklessly follows his gut, come what may. He antagonizes guest stars and lectures Scully. Mulder, where have you been?? The X-Files, where have you been??? This entire horror-fest feels like a Season 3 standard. I’ve missed this kind of old-fashioned creep-out. But I digress yet again.

Open-minded as Mulder may try to be, he still nearly falls into Rev. Mackey’s trap. Like Rev. O’Connor says, “Unless you’re smart down here, the Devil’s gonna make a fool of you and you ain’t even gonna know it.” It was Mackey who seduced Gracie O’Connor away from her father and his church. Mackey who impregnated her. Mackey who sicced his snakes on Jared and Iris and set up Rev. O’Connor to look good for it. Mackey is tolerant, kind, smart, and he would have killed Mulder if Scully hadn’t… I mean if Mulder hadn’t passed th… I mean if he’d had time to fin…

I’m really not sure why Mulder’s still with us.

But message received. I’m glad I sat through the vacant, ecstatic expressions, the oddly timed arm raises, the spit. Now I know that old snake, the Devil, disguises himself as an angel of light, and as mild-mannered, uber-tolerant pastors.

Verdict:

Watching this episode reminds me of a story my mother sometimes tells.

There was a local preacher who she, frankly, couldn’t tolerate. Pick your favorite stereotype about flamboyant televangelists and he was it. He was loud, gaudy, and decked out with a ring on every finger, each big enough so that you could be sure to see it from the furthest pew. He used to pull stunts like taking off his jacket and whipping it across the stage just for show.

It would seem simple enough to just avoid him and his church, but mom had friends who were a part of his congregation and some social duties can’t be avoided. So one night she found herself back there at his church, perched in a pew and preparing herself to hear him from the pulpit. Problem was, they were still in the midst of worship, he hadn’t even gotten to the message yet, but she couldn’t take it anymore. He was too much for her.

Just as she was about to mentally, and possibly physically, check out, she heard a voice in her spirit. “Don’t look at the messenger, pay attention to the message.” Well, she took that literally. She spent the entire church service with her eyes closed and her head down. And, what do you know? He made a lot of sense when you couldn’t see him. He was even a blessing.

They’ve been friends ever since.

Sometimes sincere and sincerely correct people are belied by their antics. Sometimes people think they’re on the side of the angels when they’re really enabling evil to work unchecked. Okay, 1013. There you go making me think again.

Truthfully, ever so truthfully, this still isn’t a Noone-Talk-To-Me-I’m-Watching-Mulder-N-Scully episode. But it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of being boring.

B+

Signs:

The actress who plays Iris Finster, Beth Grant, looked frustratingly familiar so I checked IMDB and it turns out she’s been in pretty much everything.

I was also sure Tracy Middendorf (Gracie) and I had met before. Turns out we had met after, not before, when I was watching 24.

Now, you saw those Little House on the Prairie dresses Iris and Gracie wore to Jared’s funeral. I don’t care if this is Blessing, TN. It’s not 1880.

Don’t front, 1013. We all know that Scully asking, “Where’s the light switch?” after they walk into a church with every window inexplicably covered is merely an excuse to have Mulder and Scully break out their trademark flashlights despite the broad L.A. daylight.

Someone refresh my memory if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe The X-Files has ever scared us with snakes before. One wonders why it took so long. I don’t know but that I’m glad they’re back to frightening us with our own latent phobias.

Rev. Mackey guilt trips Gracie in the hospital by accusing her of not thinking for herself. But she’s not supposed to be thinking for herself. She’s supposed to be thinking for her father whose last wishes it’s her duty to carry out.

Wonders:

On the DVD (I’m ancient. I know.), the episode menu basically reveals the villain of this episode. I’m already a cesspool of spoilers, but what about the newbies??

We never do find out exactly who or what Rev. Mackey was. Like Donnie Pfaster before him, we’re not sure if he’s a man given completely over to evil or if he’s some kind of incarnation of the Devil. Unlike Donnie Pfaster, he has an unmistakable supernatural element. Does he take this act around the country? Does the unsuspecting little parishioner lady at the end get eaten by snakes? Things I still want to know.

I also want to know: If Gracie was sleeping with Rev. Mackey and knew he was the father of her baby, then she also knew he was a manipulative hypocrite. Why does she spend 90% of the episode listening to his advice?

Wait. Wait. Or maybe, just maybe, Rev. Mackey actually is a snake and as a snake is taking revenge on Rev. O’Connor for his many years of snake shenanigans.

Everything. Makes. Sense.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Snakes.

Mulder: Lots and lots of snakes.

——————–

Rev. O’Connor: Educated man. Too smart to know any better… You think because you’re educated you’re better than most? You ain’t. Unless you’re smart down here [indicates heart], the Devil’s gonna make a fool of you and you ain’t even gonna know it.

——————–

Mulder: Sometimes a little intolerance can be a welcome thing.

——————–

Rev. Mackey: Most people believe they’re on the side of angels, but are they?

The Goldberg Variation 7×2: Maybe your luck is changing.


The Goldberg Variation 2

The unluckiest by far.

I hate to come back after an extended hiatus and bring tidings of mediocrity, but alas, I paused where I paused in this rewatch and must return where I must. And this just isn’t a great episode.

Let’s start with the good. “The Goldberg Variation” does have some cute moments. “Moments” so far being the key word of Season 7, a season that sporadically throws us knowing winks of familiarity, humor and emotional significance, but that mostly sits stares at us with bored, half-lidded eyes.

Here it takes a vain stab at touching humor a la “Small Potatoes” (4×20). It’s trying to do everything right  – We have a quirky, socially awkward anti-hero who’s lovable despite himself, an X-File that’s fantastic rather than frightening and Mulder made a mess of. What’s not to love, right? But I can’t love it. I haven’t even been able to watch the entire episode in a single sitting since it first aired. I keep getting distracted by things like my dog snoring and my overgrown toenail cuticles and have to rewind.

The highlight of the episode for me happens very early on, within the first quarter. Scully’s stifled smile as Mulder tries and fails to go from G-Man to handyman makes me laugh every time. So there is that.

But for an episode based on the inescapable force that is Cause and Effect, the plot feels like a loosely connected series of coincidences rather than a logical chain of events. And even if in hindsight we’re supposed to see that there was a reason for all this madness, that a force was behind the plot and driving it to an inevitably good conclusion, it still feels haphazard and goofy rather than controlled.

That’s too bad since this episode’s two main guest stars, prolific actor Willie Garson and soon-to-be prolific actor Shia LaBeouf, could potentially have given us some real television memories. And writer Jeffrey Bell already has – Some good (“The Rain King”) and some not so good (“Alpha”).

The Mulder/Scully dynamic is enjoyable as always, but perhaps they’ve been feeding on too much L.A. sunshine in the absence of alien angst. Neither of them are dealing with drama at the moment and it shows. There’s no conspiracy and no cancer. There isn’t even an X-File that poses any actual danger. What are they to do but crack jokes and smirk at each other?

They deserve it after all this time, to be sure. So why do I suddenly miss the driving sense of urgency that characterized earlier seasons and the built-in mystery that the Vancouver fog used to lend to the production? I know I’m a hypocrite since I loved the famously lighthearted Season 6 which was also shot in L.A.. But cheeky and experimental as “Triangle” (6×3) is, it still has an intensity that episodes like this one lack.

Verdict:

So what separates the “Small Potatoes” from episodes like “The Goldberg Variation”? In a word: soul.

It’s not the acting talent. It’s not the writing talent. It’s not the production budget. It’s that “something” that’s impossible to define but that you can’t forget once you encounter it. That “something” that brought us all to The X-Files in the first place.

Somehow, all the moving parts were there but didn’t come together with any chemistry. The result is a cute but lackluster forty-three minutes and thirty-three seconds.

Gone, perhaps, are the days when I would call up my best friend during commercial breaks going, “OMW, did you see that??”

C

Unnecessary Comments:

Mobsters using words like “impervious.” *mildly amused smirk*

The props department outdid themselves with those Rube Goldberg machines. Or where they borrowed?

This won’t be the last time Lady Luck stars as an X-File…

Quotes:

Mulder: Hey, nice outfit! {Editor’s Note: Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Scully looks awfully well-tailored for a government worker.}

————————

Scully: So, basically, we’re looking for Wile E. Coyote.” {Editor’s Note: Would that you were, Scully. Would that you were.}

————————
Scully: I like baseball too. {Editor’s Note: I see what you did there, Jeffrey Bell.}

Alpha 6×16: Don’t mind him, he’ll go on forever.


Bad dog.

“Alpha” holds a special place in my heart.

I realize that probably sounds strange to you, so allow me to explain.

About a year and a half ago, after I had recently completed the rewatch that spawned this one, I was nostalgically flipping through my book of X-Files DVDs, bemoaning the fact that I had watched every episode I wanted to watch and there was nothing left. Lo and behold, my eyes dropped down and I saw something I had never noticed before.

“Alpha”… What’s an “Alpha”?

I searched my extensively detailed mental database of X-Files and I could not for the life of me remember the plot of this episode.

Did I miss this? Is that possible?? What in the heck is “Alpha”???

So of course, I popped the DVD back in the player thinking I must be having a mental block, possibly due to low levels of caffeine in the blood.

Sweet Mulder on a cracker… have I ever even seen this episode?

You see, that’s when I realized I have this habit of pulling the DVD from the player directly after “Arcadia” (6×13). Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.  Do not watch “Alpha”.

There are certainly episodes that I’ve been known to skip out of dislike, others I pass over due to impatience. But “Alpha” remains the only X-File whose actual existence I’ve wholly forgotten. It’s a dubious distinction indeed. In fact, I’m not even positive I saw this episode on its first run because my memories of it are so vague they may be retroactive counterfeits. Perhaps the VCR malfunctioned one Sunday night. I’ll have to dig out my old VHS tapes one day to be sure.

The benefit to this oversight, and there was a benefit, is that it essentially became a Lost X-File for me. Imagine waking up one day and finding out there’s another Mulder and Scully adventure out there for you to enjoy, one that you never knew about. Score!

Right?

Wrong.

I wanted to love “Alpha”. I wanted to have a new X-File to treasure. But yegads, I couldn’t. I suspected that if I couldn’t remember it there was probably a good reason and my instincts were correct.

Even on this rewatch, when I honestly tried more than ever to like it, it only got worse. Coming after the pitch perfection of “Monday” (6×16) and the fun of “Arcadia”, its failures are especially hard to accept. I found myself shaking my head involuntarily with irritated boredom before the episode was through. Frankly, it had me thinking nostalgic thoughts about “3” (2×7)…

This is our second episode in a row with an underwhelming monster. But whereas “Arcadia” had copious amounts of humor to fall back on, “Alpha” has no such crutch.

As I was watching this episode (for what may be only the second time ever), I started to smell the distinctively noxious odor that comes out of the kitchen when too many cooks are cooking in it. I wasn’t there and I can’t prove it, but I highly doubt that 70% of the script belonged to writer Jeffrey Bell, though the credits may tell me otherwise. The script feels disjointed, as if several different people worked on it, all with different points of focus. At least, that’s the excuse I’m giving because not much else can explain this fiasco.

But I’m complaining without giving any details. So… “Alpha”. This is an episode about territoriality, both human and non-human. There’s a noticeable amount of pissing and marking going on, but the hind legs being lifted up aren’t owned by any alpha male, but by a couple of frustrated women, one aggressive and the other passive-aggressive. One is Scully, the other is the newly introduced Karin Berquist, one of Mulder’s shadowy internet friends.

Karin is a socially maladapted loner who would rather be, and has been, living in the wild with wolves than walking on two legs amongst her fellow humans. Probably because he’s socially maladapted as well, and certainly as bright, she’s made a connection to Mulder and it’s because of information she feeds him that Mulder and Scully are on this case in the first place.

Karin, Karin, Karin. I’m all for geeks and losers, but Karin is a little too awkward to be sympathetic. Sadly, she’s just annoying. Which is a shame because I feel I should be rooting for this woman a little. After all, she’s dying, she has no life, and a man like Fox Mulder is giving her some attention. Can I blame her for trying to drag this situation out? However, her manner is off-putting. I realize it’s supposed to be, that she’s written that way, but I don’t believe it serves the story as well as if she had been either a clear object of empathy or a full on nemesis for Scully.

Too bad Mulder has man ears and not dog ears, or else he would have been able to hear the high pitched sounds coming from the mental catfight between Scully and Karin. Men are so oblivious to the ever-present subtext between females. Now, I know that it would be easy to interpret Scully’s actions here as the product of jealousy, but I don’t believe jealousy is what motivates her in any real sense. Mulder isn’t sexually, or even emotionally, interested in Karin and Scully knows that. Scully is being territorial, protective even, over poor, ignorant Mulder who is about to be caught in a web of womanly wiles. Scully essentially gives her the talk that big brothers give to their little sisters’ dates: I’m watching you. See, she perceives in a way that only a fellow woman can what Karin’s true motivations are and she resents them, not because they exist but because of Karin’s covert methods. Oh, and because Scully has been dragged all the way across country to California, probably on a red-eye flight since they arrived on the scene so soon, all so Karin can get the chance to moon over Mulder in person. I’d be a little resentful too.

The scene where Scully confronts her with this knowledge, where she gives her the old “I’m watching you” schtick, falls flat, however. Not because Scully isn’t a force to be messed with, but because Karin isn’t really worth having a woman-to-woman talk with. She’s no Diana Fowley. Scully’s righteous indignation is wasted on a woman who barely registers as human.

Alright. Enough griping about Karin because I’ve decided she’s not anywhere near my least favorite aspect of this episode. The next contender? Well, that would be the werewolf wannabe itself, the Wanshang Dhole. I’ve said before that The X-Files never handled exotic or foreign myths very well. It’s hard to introduce the audience to an unfamiliar legend and convince them to be afraid of it in the same 45 minute window. It can be done, of course, but it isn’t here. The playful pit bull my aunt used to own was scarier than this Wanshang Dhole, in human or in “canid” form. You can give a dog glowing eyes but you can’t make me fear it.

I was reading that one of the original ideas for this dog tale was to make the X-File about a kid who worked at a dog pound whose anger was expressed through the dogs there. Now, a pack of vicious dogs chasing Mulder and Scully down darkened streets? That could’ve worked. It could’ve been like “D.P.O.” (3×3), only with the SPCA involved.

But even the underwhelming monster in this Monster of the Week isn’t what dooms “Alpha” for me. It’s the painfully lackluster “climax” of the episode. Scully’s napping and Mulder’s reading a magazine while a mortally ill woman who tricked them into inaction with a see-thru lie uses an even more see-thru trap to easily defeat what’s supposed to be the smartest dog ever known to man.

I can’t even with this stuff.

I’ve read another draft of the script. I know there were better ideas out there both for the climax and for the episode in general. Maybe budget and time constraints forced them to resort to this nonsense, I don’t know. But it’s a doggone shame.

Verdict:

The best few minutes in “Alpha” come right after the opening credits when Mulder regales both Scully and us with a handful of bad dog jokes. Yes, even they fall flat, but this is the first time we’ve seen Mulder and Scully back in the basement office since they were reassigned to the X-Files. It looks a little bare, but Mulder’s hard at work making it feel homey again. It’s just missing one thing…

Mulder’s I Want to Believe poster.

Now, it’s about time we got it back. It’s just too bad that we get it back at the hands of a less than memorable character. If Karin Berquist is going to go down in history as the person who gave Mulder his poster back I want to have some kind of emotional connection to her. Instead, I spent the last few seconds of the episode resenting her spiritual intrusion into the basement office.

“Alpha” is still better than “Space” (1×8). I’ll give it that… and only that.

D

Claw Marks:

If the cage in the teaser hadn’t been opened and they didn’t know the animal was missing and that it had killed two of his crew, why does the captain or whoever he is say, “I don’t know how this happened. It makes no sense. We found the cage still locked. Two of our men are missing?” It makes no sense to me either.

Lupus is a disease I’ve been around a lot in my life. How Scully, a pathologist, not a rheumatologist, diagnosis this disease with so little information and such ease is beyond me.

This dog is supposed to be so smart, yet he falls into Karin’s trap so easily. And how could she have been sure they’d fall back hard enough to land on the fence post? That fence is some distance from the house.

“I think that I believed her very quickly.” Yes, Mulder, you have a tendency to do that.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Aren’t you going home?
Mulder: I am home. I’m just feathering the nest.

——————-

Scully: What happened to the dog?
Mulder: Dog gone… Dog gone… Doggone.
Scully: Yeah, I got it.