Tag Archives: John Shiban

William 9×17: You say it as if you have a choice.


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Stop, the love you save may be your own.

Reportedly, the idea for Scully to give William up for adoption was mandated by Carter and Spotnitz. Duchovny, Anderson, and executive producer John Shiban were not happy with this turn of events, due to them being parents and feeling that the action was not realistic, but “grudgingly consented”. – Wikipedia (William)

We have reached the high point of my Season 9 frustration, or the low point of my fandom, however you choose to look at it. I warn you now this will be long.

For all intents and purposes, baby William is gone, Carter said. After all, you can’t have Scully and Mulder chasing aliens in a future movie with a toddler tagging along.

“It was a problem we knew existed, and we couldn’t figure out how we were going to handle it,” he said. “This seemed like the best way.”

“A problem”? And whose fault was that?

There was some debate about what to do and what the best thing to do was. That idea (giving William up for adoption) was from Chris and Frank. It’s a safe place for the baby. I don’t think anybody wanted to continue playing jeopardy for the baby any longer. It started to become for all of us painful. – John Shiban

YES.

“We knew that the fans would be asking why we had Scully go through the pregnancy arc to begin with if she was just going to give the baby up for adoption,” said executive producer Frank Spotnitz.

YES.

“And it was a legitimate question.”

YES.

“I had a lot of reservations about that storyline and about her giving up the baby, and was not at all sure that it was the right thing to do. But in the end, I think it was the right thing to do, because it becomes unsavory. And I think everybody — David and Chris, especially — felt that the baby was going to be an obstacle to us in any future movies.”

Again, whose fault was that?

“The decision was very difficult,” added Spotnitz. “But realistically, in no small way, it made it easier to one day do another movie.

Here’s the thing everyone seems to be missing: It doesn’t matter how well you write the movie if no one wants to see it.

We have to follow you to the theater, remember?

And as painful, unsavory, frustrating and problematic as the storylines surrounding William have been, nothing is worse than after all that taking him suddenly away with a flimsy excuse. This is the kind of story choice that turns people off. All this buildup about William as the second coming and then, boom. He’s gone.

The job the latter half of Season 9 was burdened with was wrapping up emotional loose ends. That’s fine as far as it goes. But if a movie franchise was a goal, then the stories should actually be ramping up towards something epic.

Instead this has a note of finality and there’s no presented reason to wait and see what happens to the budding Mulder brood. Don’t put a period where there should be a comma. If you are going to get rid of William, make it temporary. Give your audience hope, somehow, of a reunion. Or, how about we just let William be a normal baby? He’d be older by the movies anyway! Let him go to grandma’s if he needs a place to hide out.

Like so many unpleasant surprises this season, I had no idea what was coming when “William” first aired. But just like with “Jump the Shark” (9×15), as soon as we hit the end of the teaser, I knew. Last time, I freaked out. This time, I freaked out… and threw my hands over my head in both contempt and surrender. Why shouldn’t one more thing go horribly wrong?

I think it’s safe to say I was too upset to look at the episode objectively, but this time I gave it the old college try. And you know what? Other than the end result being such a source of frustration, the episode is otherwise a pretty good one. It’s quiet with a lot of exposition, but it manages to be surprisingly emotional.

David Duchovny’s back directing and I think he makes some great choices here. Gillian Anderson and Jeffrey Owens also do an impressive job acting, especially Gillian as a thoroughly confused and conflicted Scully. And I’m happy to find out what became of Spender. That, at least, is a welcome surprise here right before the end.

The scene where Scully examines Spender/Miller/Mulder is easily the best in the episode. It’s shot very intimately, intimately enough to let us know that despite her protests, Scully wonders if this might be Mulder too. I try to remind Scully that the network wouldn’t waste David Duchovny’s face like that, but I’m not sure she hears me.

Eventually, grand scheme working according to plan, Spender worms his way to William and injects him some magical form of magnetite. Et voilà! No more Super Baby, no more messiah.

And why does he do it? To save the world? To condemn the world? No, to stick it to his dead(?) dad. And, of course, to get rid of the prophecy plot because even 1013 doesn’t know what to do with it anymore.

The deus ex machina nature of these machinations is frustrating enough, but I could deal and would even be relieved to see the cosmic child plot go no matter how it went. But then… the adoption. Scully lets Spender get into her head and makes a permanent, life-altering decision because of it. 

Scully’s baby has been under threat for a long time now. If anything, she’s recently found out that the Super Soldiers don’t actually want to harm her baby, though they do want him for their own purposes. Why would she suddenly decide to give William up based on the word of Spender who is a confirmed liar like his father before him?

And let’s say danger will rear its seven heads from time to time. We’re supposed to believe the Super Soldiers are everywhere and they are legion. They can’t find a baby on a farm? They found a pregnant Scully out in the middle of nowhere before in “Existence” (8×21). They will eventually find William in Wyoming too. You’re really telling me Mulder and Scully aren’t better equipped to protect him than Farmer John?

“God has His reasons and His ways.”

So does Chris Carter, but it’s much harder to submit to his.

Verdict:

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in the book of 2 Kings, lived a woman we only know as the Shunamite woman. She was a barren woman, but she had long ago made her peace with that. She was also a good woman, a god-fearing woman, a pleasant woman. And she was married to a man older than Sean Connery.

One day she asked Sean Connery saying, “Honey, you know the prophet has to travel through our area quite often. Wouldn’t it be nice to add a guest room he could stay in? We’ve been talking about fixing the house up anyway.”

So Sean Connery agreed because, like all wise wives, she allowed him to think it was his idea. The addition was built and the prophet Elisha stayed in it and found it quite a bit more comfortable than the Holiday Inn. Grateful for her unsolicited generosity, the prophet asked the Shunamite woman if there was anything he could do for her, any way he could help her. After all, she’d been such a blessing to him. But the Shunamite woman said no, she had everything she needed, thanks ever so.

Then the prophet’s servant spilled the beans: Not only was the Shunamite woman barren, her husband was older than Sean Connery. Surely a child, a child would bless her.

The prophet then goes back to the Shunamite woman and tells her that he will pray to God and God will give her a son. But the Shunamite woman protests. After all, she’d made her peace with being childless long ago. She couldn’t stand to get her hopes up for nothing. But sure enough, soon she had a baby boy.

Sean Jr. grew up healthy and strong, but one day when he was still a young boy, he got a headache, and he sat on his mother’s lap all day. And in the evening, he died. The Shunamite woman took him and laid him on his bed and locked the door behind her. Then, instead of the minivan, she asked her husband for the keys to the Mustang. She had a quick errand, she said, nothing to worry about. 

The Shunamite woman gunned that engine and drove straight to the prophet. After speeding through many a stop sign, she barged into his office unannounced. “You gave me this child. I didn’t ask for him,” she said. “You gave him to me and you give him back.”

The prophet, of course, complied.

My point is simple. William was not our idea. We didn’t ask for him. We were fine without him. But you, Dear 1013, brought him into this. You brought him into this and I’d like him back… please.

B

Snippets:

The above is the Salome Paraphrase Version of the Bible. Not available for purchase.

I was in denial for a while after this. I really thought Mulder and Scully would search for ways to get their baby back, or that his adopted parents would be killed by the Super Soldiers and there would be a rescue mission.

Chris Owens got the worst makeup jobs on this show.

Even after having watched and knowing what Spender is really up to, it’s hard to see someone do things they shouldn’t to a baby.

The Mulderisms that Spender makes are an especially nice touch.

It actually would have been more compelling if William were taken and Mulder and Scully had to get him back.

See what happens when you make a baby, Chris? All subsequent decisions have to be filtered through the lens of parenthood. That includes parent writers.

And then she sang “Joy to the World” just to torment us all.

What verification do we have that the injection worked? ‘Cause no, a still mobile doesn’t count.

The decision doesn’t make instinctive sense. A mother would sooner go into hiding with her baby than give him up.

I watched Independence Day, however much Mulder may have desecrated the poster. It is possible to have youngins running around and still have an epic alien battle.

We now have DNA evidence that Mulder isn’t Bill Mulder’s son, but Cigarette-Smoking Man’s.

I do like hearing “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” at the end. That’s a sweet, sentimental touch. Ergo, it must’ve been David Duchovny’s.

If Spender’s telling the truth, and William was the one thing the aliens needed to effect colonization, then we can all pack it up and go home.

Jump the Shark 9×15: Guys like that, they live forever.


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The Wrath of John

Spotnitz: Some months after the show had gone off the air, I was listening to The Wrath of Khan commentary and at the end of that movie, if you recall, Spock dies. And the producer, Harv Bennett, says that they tested it and people hated them, were so mad that they killed Spock. And then they went back and they added the scene which is the hopeful, optimistic scene, with Kirk on the bridge. And it changed the perception of the movie entirely. And I’ll say, looking back at this episode now, that’s one thing I might’ve done differently is found some way to give you that sense of uplift at the end, because it is just… grindingly sad at the end of this.

Too late. I AM BROKEN.

I almost don’t know where to begin with how sad this episode makes me. Some fourteen years after it aired and my face was all contorted like Jimmy Bond’s while I was watching this. There was jumping involved. And desperate whining. And, no. I’m not ashamed. It was the least I could do to mourn these guys.

Part of me gets it. I’m just geeky enough to have listened to the John Gillnitz (a portmanteau of writers John Shiban, Vince Gilligan, and Frank Spotnitz) commentary a few times over the years (don’t judge). I understand what they were thinking – The Lone Gunmen series had been canceled. The X-Files was ending. And while John Gillnitz may not have created the Lone Gunmen, that honor belongs to writing partners Glen Morgan and James Wong, they had taken the characters and run with them, given them a backstory, more prominence in the main series, and eventually their own show which John Gillnitz ran. They loved them like only fathers can and, with the fictional world the Gunmen lived in imploding around them, they wanted our geeksome trio to go out with a bang rather than fade into obscurity.

But they didn’t have to die.

I didn’t see it coming either. There I was, innocently enjoying the bountiful blessing of another Morris Fletcher voiceover, the only kind I like, when we get to the end of the teaser and I realize: They’re going to kill my boys!!! NOOOO!!!!

Honestly, at this point there was so little joy left in the show that losing the bright spot that the Lone Gunmen always provided felt like a finishing blow. (It felt like a finishing blow. The real finishing blow awaited us the next week.) Even so, and even though I’m still genuinely and unrepentantly bitter about the outcome of this episode, I can’t say it’s a bad episode. It’s actually the most engaging we’ve had in far too long.

Mainly, I want more of Michael McKean all the time. I want to dream about him in my sleep. I want to hear him when my alarm goes off in the morning. I want him to serve me my coffee at Starbucks (Sorry, Priscilla). For those who, like me, rank “Dreamland” (6×4) and “Dreamland II” (6×5) among their favorite episodes, and those who, like me, enjoy The Lone Gunmen spinoff series, no heroic demise would have been complete without this most lovable of villains.

It’s such a perfect reunion of The Lone Gunmen’s main characters, including the always memorable Kimmy the Geek, twin brother of Jimmy the Geek. Why did it have to be wasted on such a tragedy?

If you listen to the DVD commentary, desperately looking for answers, as I have, then you’ll get the distinct impression that not only was the Fox network not fully behind The Lone Gunmen spinoff, but they also couldn’t have cared less about allowing for a closure episode on The X-Files. It sounds like part of the way John Gillnitz finally sold the idea successfully was by promising the big bang of the trio’s deaths. They had to promise this episode would be special.

“This episode almost never was because there was zero support for doing it,” Frank brings to light. “The studio was hostile to the idea and it was a constant fight to get the money and negotiate with the actors because they did not want to do it. We were determined, since this was the last year of The X-Files, that we were going to have our farewell with these characters. When we finally decided that this would be their death, it became a much stronger argument with the studio.” LAX-Files, pg. 218

Spotnitz: We wanted this to be very special and, sad to say, the way to do that, we realized, would be to make this their final appearance. It wouldn’t just be another Lone Gunmen episode, it would be the Lone Gunmen episode.

There are times when I feel resolution is overrated.

Gilligan: We did. We had many discussions about the ending, period, whether they should die or not. And I gotta say I never, I never wanted it to happen. But I think it’s absolutely the right way to end it… None of us did it lightly, to be sure… Ending with these three guys dying… there was a lot of hours of discussion about it: should we even do it, should we not. And at the end I think Frank and John are right about doing it because, as much as I love these characters, you want to see them go out as heroes. And we knew damn well, pardon my French, we’re never gonna see them again and, you know, that the series was coming to an end. We’re never gonna get The Lone Gunmen series going again so why not have them go out with a blaze of glory?

I get the perverse logic, I do. And it might’ve been one thing if they were any other recurring characters or dramatic guest stars. But the Lone Gunmen were such a sweet presence. They were like the lovable Lost Boys to Mulder’s Peter Pan. This is a fictional slaughter of the innocents.

Then having it happen as almost the coup de grace to a season full of disappointments… But I have to admit that, in some ways, it made the end of the series go down easier. How can the X-Files world keep spinning without the Gunmen? Yes, it is that serious.

The Lone Gunmen were also indispensably useful. I couldn’t imagine Mulder and Scully successfully countering government conspiracies and alien colonization without their hacking skills, especially now that Mulder’s out of the F.B.I.. Everyone needs a techno geek they can trust.

That’s how central to the story they had become that it was hard to imagine the action going forward without them involved in some aspect of it. I mean, what’s next? Skinner goes down swingin’? God forbid!!

Oh, X-Files. Everyone’s in agreement – It’s time to pack it in and call it a day. What is it called when you’ve passed jumping the shark? Hopping the whale? Skipping the giant squid?

Verdict:

You know what really kills me? Mulder wasn’t there. Scully and Skinner were barely there. (Though I understand there were scheduling issues so I’m giving everyone an emotional pass.)

You know what else kills me? The Gunmen knew what they were about to do. Why didn’t they run?? Someone, dive for it! Something!!!

There must be something really special about these guys that all these years later and I’m still yelling at my television screen. Or…. there’s something really “special” about me. Either way, I’m okay with that.

If they were going to take them out, I am glad that they died heroes. In the end, the Gunmen didn’t mess up at all. They kept Yves from killing the wrong man, for one. And if she had killed the wrong man, John Gillnitz would’ve been able to kill thousands of people without suspicion, for two.

Ah, John Gillnitz, our villain who symbolically dies along with the Gunman… just like our real life villains, the John Gillnitz trio who killed them. Those are the real Lone Gunmen, who despite my ravings I appreciate dearly. (The bitterness is real, it’s just compartmentalized.) And, hey, word on the street is that the Lone Gunmen are back from the dead in some capacity or other. Maybe one of these days John Gillnitz will resurrect too.

Vaya con Dios, amigos… And welcome back.

A-

Kung Fu:

So I take it Morris Fletcher and his wife broke up for good.

Oh, that’s right. Despite having read every X-File, Doggett wouldn’t have known about the “Dreamland” events since time reversed like it never happened.

I love the name Lois.

Teletubbies = Mind control

Please note that Vince Gilligan was the lone hold out against killing the Gunmen.

The actor who plays Dr. Houghton was also “Cobra” in “En Ami” (7×15).

That death scene – Is the space really airtight if they can hear each other?

All I want, all I want in life right now is a t-shirt that says:  “Langly Lives!”

Best Quotes:

Morris: Let me give you a hint. I used to work at Groom Lake, Nevada. Area 51? I was a man in black. “The” Men in Black. What you’ve never heard of us?

Doggett: I saw the movie.

Morris: Yeah, well… there were a lot of technical inaccuracies in that thing. Anyway, I’m ready to make a deal.

Doggett: What deal would that be?

Morris: The one that saves my furry pink ass.

———————–

Morris: This is pointless. These three monkeys couldn’t find stink in an outhouse.

———————–

Morris: Agents, I’m tellin’ ya, you don’t want these three involved. I mean, they don’t even have their ridiculous tinker toy gizmos. This place is like “How The Grinch Stole Radio Shack.”

 

Badlaa 8×12: Well, that’s just wrong.


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Criminey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

B-

Spare Change:

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

Mr. Potocki: Buy yourself some WD-40.

————

Doggett: Dead men don’t tip.

————

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

Theef 7×14: Stinky’s good.


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‘Ello, poppet.

Think of me what you will, but when this episode started playing I dry sobbed.

Finally. An X-File.

All pretentious analysis aside, I watch this show for the high it gives me. Endorphins, dopamine… I don’t know how it works. Whatever. I don’t run. I don’t do drugs. I watch The X-Files.

Even the worst episodes, with a few noticeable exceptions, give something, something I crave. Lately, though, I haven’t been getting it. I’ve been getting things that resemble it, I’ve been getting watered down versions of it, I’ve been getting glimpses of it, but not it. My withdrawal symptoms have included restlessness and indiscriminate irritation.

I needed a fix and I got one in “Theef”. Don’t judge me.

“Theef” is about as quintessential an X-File as it gets and it’s directed by the show’s go-to man for horror, the late Kim Manners. John Gillnitz* wrote it. Even the atmospheric dreary rain we miss from the show’s Vancouver days is back! In fact, the feel of it all is so familiar that even Mulder and Scully rib each other over it.

Scully: Well, that’s certainly one question. I’ve got many.

Mulder: [Mimics a purse-lipped Scully] “Mulder, why are we here?”

Scully: [Slyly] To be fair, I might have used the words “Mulder, how is this an X-File?”

Mulder: You see that, Scully, you always keep me guessing.

I’ve been mostly immune to the Mulder and Scully flirtation going on all season (that irritability I mentioned), but they kill me here. The looks. The looks! Knowing what we know now about “all things” (7×17) being a confirmation rather than an introduction of their relationship, if I had to guess, I’d say Mulder and Scully’s romantic relationship started right around here. But I know that’s up for debate as Mulder and Scully have been flirting all season… and all last season… and much of the season before… I really don’t care when it started, I only care that wherever they are in their timeline they’re making me all kinds of happy.

The rest of the episode isn’t too shabby either. We’ve got a really creepy villain in Oral Peattie, an Appalachian mountain man, doubtless inbred, who uses hexes and something akin to voodoo to take out his more well-educated enemies. Frankly, he seems like he must’ve lived a life so isolated that it’s hard to believe he knew any people whatsoever that he could have practiced his occult moves on previously. In fact, if the plot suffers anywhere it’s in the fact that Orel occasionally comes off too ignorant to be believable. How far back in the backwoods is he that he’s never seen a vending machine or a microwave by the year 2000? And if he’s really so primitive that he lives without electricity and doesn’t understand basic kitchen appliances, how did he successfully make the trip across country from West Virginia to San Francisco? One has to wonder.

Nevertheless, Peattie is creepy. He’s also a good foil for Dr. Robert Wieder, Peattie’s ignorantly sworn enemy. It’s Medicine Man vs. “medicine man,” though the only thing Dr. Wieder is guilty of is making a hard call in the treatment of Peattie’s daughter, one that’s surprisingly meaty as food for thought. What do you do when someone’s suffering and science can’t save them? Do you ease their suffering? Do you still ease their suffering at the risk of hastening death? And are there powers more powerful than medicine that can save the dying when science can’t?

The questions make for good discussion as do the murders, which are the freakiest we’ve seen in a good long while. The MRI scene in particular is memorable, if suspiciously well-timed. There are also a couple of great side characters like the proprietress of Peattie’s boarding house and the magical shop owner in San Francisco.

It’s only regrettable that the ending peters out instead of explodes. You would think Scully going blind would be scarier than it is. But something about her conveniently leaving everything Peattie needed to hex her in the rental car, then Mulder showing up and taking his sweet time to look over the scene, casually taking the needles out of the eyes of her representative poppet doll… If Peattie had outwitted them or surprised somehow and put them in a precarious situation, that would have been better. I do realize, of course, that Peattie isn’t working with much.

Verdict:

It’s not perfect, but I consider it tragically underrated. The atmosphere is note perfect, the deaths horrifying, the characters like something out of Season 2. And I don’t know but that however flirtatious Mulder and Scully tend to be on the regular, they have suddenly, distinctly upped their game.

I confess myself sad that this episode loses some steam right at the critical moment. If there had been more tension when Peattie goes up against Scully, I don’t hesitate to say this would have been a classic. As it is, it’s my favorite episode of the season so far. It may even remain so.

Or perhaps I’m feeling generous because I’m a little too happy right now.

A-

Questions:

Where is this hillbilly getting these diseases from? Did his family pass down some old medical almanac that he has hidden away in his cabin? If so, can he read it?

How did Peattie find out what became of his daughter and track down the doctor who treated her? Magic? And how did he find out what the doctor did? Even if he had her medical records, I doubt his understanding was advanced enough to realize what all that morphine meant.

How does Peattie track Scully and crew to the cabin in the woods when he didn’t have a car to follow them in? And even before that, it didn’t occur to anyone that Peattie might be watching the house and it use evasive maneuvers?

Poppets:

I should not love these characters this much. I should not. It can’t be healthy.

Mulder and Scully have been in California for the last five episodes now. I realize that the production has moved and all, but let’s up our creative game, shall we?

Episodes like this make it really, really hard, nay, impossible for me to understand a particular plot line come Season 8.

I love James Morrison as the slightly overconfident Dr. Wieder. My mom had such a melodramatic response to his character’s death on 24, it’s legend in our house.

In the end, it’s modern science that treats Peattie. Cosmic irony alert.

*John Shiban – Vince Gilligan – Frank Spotnitz

Best Quotes:

Scully: Hexcraft, as in, uh, putting a curse on someone? Murdering them magically?

Mulder: Yeah, that’s what it looks like to me. Now, I know what you’re going to say, Scully.

Scully: No, hexcraft. I mean, I’ll… I’ll buy that as the intent here. It certainly jives with the evidence. I say we talk to the family.

Mulder: [Shocked Silence]

Scully: I’ll always keep you guessing.

————————–
Mulder: Go ahead, Scully. Keep me guessing. {Editor’s Note: I die.}

The Amazing Maleeni 7×8: Come on. Show me something!


The Great Maleeni

Keep the hat, Scully. Just keep it.

You know, I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, but rewatching the series this closely you start to pick up patterns and lietmotifs that you didn’t see before. Five minutes into this episode and I was thinking to myself, “This feels more like a Lone Gunmen episode than an X-File.” Sure enough, it’s written by John Gillnitz.

John Gillnitz, of course, being a portmanteau of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban, the talented trio of writers that brought us the ever-entertaining “Dreamland” (6×4) and “Dreamland II” (6×5) and that was the driving creative force behind The Lone Gunmen spinoff series. Their hilarious tone is unmistakable. Though from what I’ve read, Frank Spotnitz had long campaigned for the concept while Vince Gilligan did most of the heavy lifting as far as the writing went. Frank was apparently one of those kids who was fascinated by magic shows and that fascination continued into adulthood, resulting in the series bringing in his favorite magician, Ricky Jay, to play the lead as Maleeni himself.

Now, I have to add a disclaimer before I give this episode an official grade. I was not one of those kids who was fascinated by magic shows. I was one of those kids who sat through them with head flopped back in undisguised disdain. It’s a trick and I know it’s a trick. How you managed it is irrelevant to me since it’s not real. Heal a leper and you’ll have my attention.

So I confess my bias towards boredom here at the outset. But I appreciate the risk that novelty takes, especially in a show where seven seasons in the formulas are solidified, if not fossilized.

And I do enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere of this episode, especially in the beginning during the scenes around the Santa Monica Pier. One of the advantages to the production moving to L.A. was that it allowed them to take Mulder and Scully across the country visually. The audience doesn’t have to take a typed note at the bottom of their TV screens at its word. We can see that Mulder and Scully aren’t in D.C. anymore. Since the episode is mainly about misdirection, that’s about the only thing that is clear.

That and that Mulder and Scully are incredibly relaxed this season. I guess freedom from cancer and conspiracies and new love life will do that to an agent.

If I’m going to be honest, and by now you can guess that I am, it never really feels like an X-File and more like a quirky who-dun-it. Mulder and Scully aren’t even pretending to investigate something supernatural or extraterrestrial. There’s never a question that Maleeni’s death involved a trick, the only questions were who did it, how and why. Not only that, but Scully reveals pretty early on that Maleeni, or someone posing as Maleeni, or a body that someone posing as Maleeni has planted, died from natural causes and there isn’t even so much as a murder to investigate. So why are Mulder and Scully still giggling their way around the pier? Why, to enjoy the show, of course. And to figure out what’s up and who’s up to it.

Verdict:

No, it’s not about a freak show and it’s on the opposite coast of Florida, but it’s hard to see the tricks and colors in “The Amazing Maleeni”, to remember a time when people were amusedd by simpler things, when we asked to be lied to, and not think of the obscenely entertaining funhouse that was “Humbug” (2×20). Sadly, “The Amazing Maleeni” comes up wanting in comparison.

Now, you know I like a good Mulder/Scully flirt as much as the next fangirl. Probably more. And I’m not averse to fluff. But, I’m not sold.

I’m getting antsy at this point in the season because I need… something. Something that’s more than the sum of its cute moments, funny one-liners and gorgeous screenshots. Something that moves me or makes me angry or makes my heart race or cracks me up to the point where my family thinks they’re finally going to have to have me committed. Something that separates the legends from the interesting outings, the Humbugs from the Maleenis. Something.

Mozart and Salieri. They sound pretty much the same to a layman. But they ain’t. You know what I’m saying? It’s about… originality. Style. And more than anything else… soul. Because that’s what separates the great ones… from the hacks. We can’t do this halfway. We’re dealing with powerful forces at work here. Energies far beyond our mere… mortal… understanding.

B

Misdirection:

Did I mention this episode is gorgeous? It’s funny, I have a tendency to forget the plot. But certain visual moments from it are iconic in my mind, like that shot with Scully in a magician’s hat. She should keep one of those around.

The only other thing I ever remember is The Great Muldini.

So this is basically a bank caper with style, yes?

He felt like an actual magician to me so I checked and, yes, Jonathan Levit (Billy LaBonge) is actually a magician. I have to say, he played the cocky apprentice just right. I especially liked that bit in the teaser where he heckles with just the right amount of attitude.

Best Quotes:

LaBonge: Yo. Can’t you do anything that ain’t a hundred years old? That ain’t old school, that’s decrepit.

Maleeni: Young man, shall I come heckle you on your job? Make sure you count out the requisite number of McNuggets?

————————-

Scully: Why are you talking like Tony Randall?

————————-

Mulder: So, basically, he died of a heart attack, somebody crept up behind him and sawed his head off and then glued it back on all in the space of thirty seconds. Does that make sense to you?

Scully: No. Which makes it even stranger still because, as far as I can tell, this body has been dead for over a month. I see signs of refrigeration.

Mulder: And yet he performed yesterday. What a trooper.

————————-

Scully: Well, why did you lose? You could have manipulated the cards, right?

Maleeni: Cheat? You’re asking why I don’t cheat at cards?

Scully: Well, you could, right?

Scully: Of course I could, but how would I live with myself? Who raised you?

Three of a Kind 6×19: It’s the Three Stooges I’m not so sure about.


Michael Bolton and the Band.

Last time writers Gilligan and Shiban came together they gave us “Monday” (6×15), which I don’t hesitate to call a bit of television brilliance; one of the best X-Files episodes that no one ever talks about. I said in that review that we’d have to wait a while for the inspired team of Gilligan and Shiban to disappoint and, well, we’ve waited long enough. Okay, that sounds far more dramatic than I mean it to because “Three of a Kind” isn’t some kind of dismal failure. But while it pains me to say it, it’s not a rousing success either.

This episode picks up emotionally where “Unusual Suspects” (5×1) left off though it takes place many years hence. Femme Fatale Susanne Modeski is as much on Byers’ mind as the day she disappeared and ever since that day he’s been trolling “conventions” (of all kinds, apparently) looking for her. Like Cinderella she left and like Cinderella she shall return. And she does return. Only Cinderella already has a handsome prince and it’s not Byers.

After Byers tries to drown his sorrows… and himself… in a bucket of hotel ice, the Lone Gunmen get about the business of conspiracy hunting and they trick Scully into joining them. Yes, Scully and not Mulder because David Duchovny was off prepping for his directorial debut in “The Unnatural” (6×20), which aired before “Three of a Kind” but was filmed after.

Sadly, I think it’s the conspiracy plot itself that flounders. It doesn’t help that it revolves around Susanne Modeski, a character who was sufficient if not thrilling in “Unusual Suspects” but who’s even less fascinating reheated. She’s only interesting inasmuch as she inspires Byers to play the hero. And this is when the idea starts to shape up of the Lone Gunmen, and Byers in particular, as patriots and not just conspiracy geeks. If you aren’t sure, please re-consult the opening monologue.

But it’s geekiness that makes up the most enjoyable parts of this episode. Jimmy the Geek in particular almost steals the show. His character must have made an impression on Gilligan and Shiban too because they bring him back as his twin brother, “Kimmy the Geek” in the soon to come spin-off The Lone Gunmen. I’m glad they found a way to resurrect him. Now if only they could find a way to resurrect… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to the Gunmen themselves, this is a welcome chance for their characters to be fleshed out even further, though I’m not sure I can say with complete honesty that Langly or Byers move forward much. They’re pretty much the same people we see in “Unusual Suspects” even if Byers’ patriotism shines a little brighter. However, Frohike is established as the sensitive one here, which doesn’t come as a complete surprise. We first learned of Frohike’s less perverted, gentler side in “One Breath” (2×8) when he memorably shows up to pay respects at a comatose Scully’s bedside. Here, not only does he chivalrously come to a drugged Scully’s rescue, removing her from the Pervert Pool before they started groping her outright, but he also proves insightful and sympathetic when it comes to Byers’ broken heart, picking up on his odd behavior and giving him some rather sage advice. But let me not skip over that more interesting topic, Frohike rescuing Scully from the Pervert Pool.

All these years and I’m still not a fan of Bimbo Scully. I much prefer her Slap-A-Pimp persona (see “Tithonus”). However, while this version of Scully may not be my favorite, it’s ultimately a pseudo-check mark in the plus column because it’s another example of how diversified Season 6 allows Scully to be. She confronts, she slaps, she flirts, she tickles… And I will say that watching Scully return Morris Fletcher’s famous butt slap from “Dreamland” (6×4) satisfies the juvenile in me.

Yes, I smile with immediate delight to see Michael McKean back again in a cameo role as Morris Fletcher. Why is it that episodes that Vince Gilligan bears responsibility for always seem to have the strongest sense of continuity? Hmm… food for Fangirl thought.

Anywho, “Three of a Kind” like “Dreamland” before it is a bit of a Saturday Night Live reunion what with Michael McKean and now Charles Rocket guest starring. He’s actually the fourth Saturday Night Live alumnus to guest star this season, which says an awful lot about the overall tone of Season 6.

Not that you’ll hear this Fangirl complaining about “X-Files Light” (not this season, anyway), but “Three of a Kind” isn’t my favorite example of the genre. There are some cute, funny moments, but nothing particularly memorable. Between the two Lone Gunmen-centric episodes (two because I refuse in this moment to acknowledge the third), “Unusual Suspects” is definitely my favorite. Entertainment-wise they’re pretty comparable, but “Unusual Suspects” has the advantage of giving us new information on the history of the characters. “Three of a Kind” is just a diversionary romp, a weekend trip to Vegas, if you will.

And the Verdict is…

I want to like this episode more than I do. And, indeed, it is enjoyable; I looked forward to popping it in the player for the rewatch. But when I ask myself how rewatchable it is, the dirty truth is that outside of a sequential rewatch or a serious Lone Gunmen craving, I probably wouldn’t watch it just to watch it. In fact, I know I don’t.

I think the truth is that as much as I adore the Lone Gunmen, and Gilligan and Shiban, I’m just not invested in this storyline.

B

Chips:

After all these years, why does Susanne Modeski have the same haircut?

And we never hear from Susanne again. Funny, after that “Someday” line and the Lone Gunmen getting their own spin-off I expected her to return. Maybe Spotnitz, Shiban and Gilligan planned it but the series didn’t make it that far?

I really don’t get what “the government” is up to here. I know, I know… mind control. But why was “Timmy” planning to frame Jimmy? For what? And if they already had Susanne’s technology, why continue the expensive ruse? Kill her and get it over with. Maybe they were planning on tricking her into making more for them? I don’t know. But the vagueness of what they were really up to adds to the lack of urgency.

Scully’s a little dismissive of the Lone Gunmen considering last we saw them they were digging up dirt on Diana Fowley for her.

I’m still not sure why a little ole’ injection turned Scully into a ginger Marilyn Monroe.

Best Quotes:

Langly: What if she calls him back?
Byers: I trapped her cell number. If she calls him, it rings here.
Frohike: [Laughs] She’s gonna kick our a**. What do you need Scully for, anyway?
Byers: We’re up against agents of the government. We need our own government agent.
Langly: And that would be Mulder. Why do you want just Scully?
Frohike: [Chuckles] She’s gonna kick our a**.

———————-

Scully: [On Cell] Hello, Mulder? Can you hear me? I’m at the hotel. Where are you? What do you mean, “What hotel?” Las Vegas. I’m in Las Vegas, aren’t you? You called me. What do you mean you didn’t call me? [To self] Aw man! I am gonna kick their a**es.

———————–

Jimmy the Geek: [To Langly] Oh, go brush your hair, Michael Bolton!

———————-

Byers: It’s not her. They’re making her do this somehow.
Frohike: Buddy, now, I know something about the fairer sex. Trust me, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.

Monday 6×15: Any moment I’m about to burst into song.


Can’t trust that day.

Oh, Mulder, Mulder, Mulder… I feel your pain.

I mean, I’m laughing at your pain. But still.

Really, you never should have trusted a mysteriously appearing waterbed. That’s like something out of a Fractured Fairy Tale. What if an evil MIB put a curse on it??

I’d say that writers Vince Gilligan and John Shiban have outdone themselves this time. But they flash their brilliance at us so often it’s beginning to become run-of-the-mill. I guess we’ll have to wait for them to take us by surprise with a tedious hour of television because “Monday” isn’t it.

One of the more striking features about this episode is that so much of it happens from the point of view of a character that we never do know much about. Actually, we never get much by way of concrete fact about either Pam or her bomb-happy boyfriend Bernard. And that’s okay because all that we really need to know about them is cleverly revealed in the way they’re presented.

Scruffy boyfriend who won’t go to work? Check.
Jittery girlfriend with a do-it-yourself dye job? Check.
Ratty apartment that they’ll lose their security deposit over? Check.

I think it’s safe to say that neither character has much by way of either education or prospects and that either may quite possibly be nursing a drug habit. And my spidey sense is telling me that Bernard may have hit Pam a time or two in the past. There’s no overt indication of it, but Pam is definitely intimidated by him and I don’t think it’s just because he happens to have a bomb strapped to his chest on this particular day. She’s clearly under his thumb. Whether or not there’s any physical abuse going on, we’re given the distinct impression that their relationship is already dysfunctional. Not absolutely devoid of affection, mind you, but not at all healthy.

Vague though it is, their relationship is all-important because the events of the episode hinge on Pam’s ability to overcome her practiced passivity and stand up to Bernard. Oh sure, she claims she tried to stop him innumerable times. But her efforts were all passive aggressive: stealing his keys, drugging him, etc. Does she boldly confront him with what he’s about to do? Run into the bank ahead of him to warn all the innocent patrons of what’s coming? Shoot him? Surely going to jail for murder would be better than being trapped in the hellish loop she’s in. For that matter, Pam could have run over Mulder to prevent him from entering the bank if she were really desperate. She didn’t have to kill him. Just break a leg.

No, instead Pam opts to focus her efforts on convincing everyone else to change. She whines, she begs, she gives frustratingly obscure warnings. She goes from Skinner to Mulder to Scully in hopes that one of them can fix the situation by altering their actions. Not once does it occur to her that maybe she should be the one changing. That by altering her own actions she could “be the change she wishes to see in the world.” In the end, only she can stop Bernard from killing everyone and end this vicious cycle. No one else can.

The irony is that this endless series of repeats only begins because Bernard is desperate for change. This is a little guy who’s sick of being a little guy. He’d rather go down in history as a mass murderer than eke out a monotonous life as a janitor. I guess going back to school or making a career change would be too time consuming. He could’ve started with a shave. That would’ve worked.

But I’ve gone off topic. Anyway. Bernard is so eager to change both his and Pam’s fates that he takes a decidedly proactive… and immoral… step. How different a personality he is from paralyzed Pam who only becomes progressively less proactive as the Mondays go on. It’s a good thing that Mulder, spurred by his miraculous intuition, pushes her to action. From there, she instinctively takes it the rest of the way, at long last standing up to Bernard in one final, empowered act. If there’s a message here, it’s to take control of your own life and your own choices. As much as lies within you… try.

However, I prefer to think that there is no message. Why weigh down perfectly good entertainment with depth and profundity?

Verdict:

I love “Monday” and the more I think about it the more I wonder why it’s not a fan favorite. I love the use of the waterbed from “Dreamland II” (6×5). I love watching Scully fight back her emotions as Mulder dies in her arms. And I love, love, love the unique format of the storytelling.

And before you say it, no. This isn’t an homage to Groundhog Day… which is an interesting surprise. Gilligan got the idea for “Monday” from an episode of The Twilight Zone, which when you think about it, is the perfect place to glean inspiration for The X-Files. But fun though it is, watching Mulder repeat the same day over and over again could have easily turned tedious. Kudos has to go to director Kim Manners for filming it in such a way that the loop doesn’t make us loopy like a slowly dripping faucet. Mulder’s routine picks up speed as the story progresses, finally culminating an a silent montage of shots.

This episode may be proof more than any other that The X-Files could be both hilarious and gripping in the same breath. Unlike “Agua Mala” (6×14) where the creepiness of the case was undermined by an overabundance of comedy or “Terms of Endearment” (6×6) which can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be funny or serious, “Monday” is the perfect blend. You can laugh out loud at an X-File and still take it seriously. It doesn’t have to be either or. If this is “X-Files Light”, sign me up for another helping.

A+

Leftover Nags:

During one scenario, Mulder definitely has the opportunity to shoot Bernard in the head before he flips the switch. So why doesn’t he? Sure, the bomb may go off inadvertendly, but it’ll absolutely go off otherwise.

Dangit, Pam, stop dropping vague hints and allusions and spell it out for Mulder. Write him a letter if you have to.

Wasted Opportunity #1,785: How about just telling Skinner that Bernard has a bomb, huh Pam?

Leftover Comments:

How much do I love Fox Mulder right now? Comforting hysterical women on the fly. Go on with your sensitive self.

So Darren Burrows, the actor who plays Bernard, is the son of Billy Drago who guest stars in “Theef” (7×14).

And the family connections continue. Carrie Hamilton, who plays Pam, is the daughter of Carol Burnett. You can see the resemblance, right? Sadly, Miss Hamilton died in 2002 at the age of 38.

Best Quotes:

Scully: What are you doing down here, Mulder?
Mulder: Having the best damn day of my life. Any moment I’m about to burst into song. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.

———————

Scully: Look, I got to call you something, right? How about Steve? It’s a nice… honest name. Steve.
Bernard Oates: Bernard.

———————

Scully: Since when did you get a waterbed?
Mulder: I might just as easily not have a waterbed and then I’d be on time for this meeting. You might just as easily have stayed in medicine and not gone into the F.B.I., and then we would never have met. Blah, blah, blah…

———————

Mulder: I mean, I woke up, I opened my eyes, I was soaking wet… It’s a long story, but I had the distinct sensation that I had lived that moment before.
Scully: Well, you may have. Did you do a lot of drinking in college?

S.R. 819 6×10: At least you didn’t get your ear bit off.


Call Dr. Scully.

I’m in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

And I know I’m not the only one. For all those who have gone into withdrawal after the admittedly extended period of light-hearted antics that make up the first third of Season 6, we’re about to have four heavy-duty episodes in a row. Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more.

Krycek was a deceiver ever. And the official battle between him and Skinner has begun, though it’s been brewing since “The Blessing Way” (3×1) when Krycek and Luis Cardinal put a hurtin’ on Skinner in the stairwell of a hospital. It escalated after Skinner handcuffed Krycek to his balcony in “Tunguska” (4×9) and left him to suffer from exposure. See why revenge is never the answer?

Not that the stoically upright Skinner is a vengeful kinda guy, though it’s clear from his introspective soliloquies in this episode that he doesn’t consider himself any sort of hero.

Well, I do. And Scully’s right, Skinner judges himself too harshly.

Yes, he had to compromise himself early on in his relationship with Mulder and Scully, but it’s obvious Cigarette-Smoking Man had an unpleasant hold on his career, perhaps even wielding blackmail as a weapon. But no sooner does he get the chance than Skinner bucks CSM’s authority and aids Mulder in his quest as early as “Ascension” (2×6). Even before that he showed signs of sympathy. Remember his, “This should have been an X-File” comment in “The Host” (2×2)?

He proved to be Mulder and Scully’s protector in episodes like “End Game” (2×17) where he pummels Mulder’s location out of Mr. X in an effort to save his life and in “Paper Clip” (3×2) when he extorts the safe return of Mulder and Scully out of CSM by threatening to release classified information on the conspiracy. In fact, it’s that episode where Skinner officially crawls out from under CSM’s nefarious shadow. Too bad his hard-won independence doesn’t last long. By the time we reach “Avatar” (3×21), CSM has cooked up a cold dish of revenge framing Skinner for murder. And while Mulder and Scully… and his soon to be ex-wife… deliver Skinner out of that trap, he willingly walks back into CSM’s clutches in “Memento Mori” (4×15) in order to, what else? Save Scully. By “Zero Sum” (4×21) he’s a patsy again, but though his position may be compromised his loyalty never is.

Despite not being much older than they are, Skinner plays the harsh but protective father to Mulder and Scully. He’s willing to get his hands dirty so that they don’t have to, not because his conscience is seared but because the soldier in him is willing to sacrifice to win the war. If Skinner were to die now he would not die in vain. Mulder and Scully would have been dead long ago if not for him.

But not once did it occur to me that Skinner might actually die, no more than I though Mulder might really be dead at the end of “Gethsemene” (4×24), which is the best evidence I can give of Skinner’s unofficial status as the third lead on The X-Files; so indispensable has this character become, this character that was never intended by Chris Carter to be a major role, that it’s hard to take the threat of his death seriously.

I never believed they’d do it, but Chris Carter & Co. did consider it. Mulder and Scully no longer worked under Skinner so he was no longer absolutely vital to the plot and because he had changed over the years from a mysterious and potentially dangerous figure to a stalwart ally, he had become too predictable, too reliable. Fortunately for Skinner lovers, the plot potential in this new hold Krycek gains over Skinner convinced The Powers That Be that interesting things could still be done with the character. Thank heavens because can you imagine Season 8 with no Skinner? ::shudders::

The question is, how does a man as self-sufficient as Skinner, who has already escaped the clutches of CSM himself, wind up with his life in the hands of Ratboy? I confess, I never really understood the plot till now so for those fans as slow on the uptake as I am, here’s a rundown:

It all starts with Tunisia. And if that sets off bells of recognition in your head, it should. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there were some oblique implications here that Syndicate leader Strughold who, as we see in Fight the Future, has his base of operations is in Tunisia, is behind the S.R. 819 conspiracy. That would also explain how Krycek originally got involved since last we saw him in “The End” (5×20) he was working for the Syndicate under the authority of Well-Manicured Man. Since Well-Manicured Man is now deceased (sniffle), it’s safe to say Krycek’s loyalties within the organization have moved on. Or safer to say that his only real loyalty is to himself.

Krycek is working on his own in keeping Skinner alive. We can assume he wants him alive and at his mercy so that he can use him for his own agenda later. The Syndicate has a man at the F.B.I. in Jeffrey Spender, now Krycek has his own man on the inside, reluctant though he may be.

The original plan was to export this potentially dangerous nanotechnology to Tunisia, and possibly into the hands of Strughold and the Syndicate, under the guise of the World Health Organization. Before that happened, S.R. 819 had to pass inspection by scientist Kenneth Orgel and the F.B.I.’s own Skinner, a safeguard that was usually a mere formality. However, Orgel understands the potential consequences of the nanotechnology falling into the wrong hands and goes to warn Skinner, but is infected to keep him from talking. Skinner too is infected and is supposed to be killed but Krycek intervenes.

From what Mulder says to Skinner at the end of the episode and the surprised look on Scully’s face when Skinner claims not to be able to recognize the bearded man who tried to kill him, it looks like Mulder and Scully are aware that Krycek is behind all this. But they still don’t know what he’s up to and they certainly don’t know why Skinner refuses to give him up. As in the first Skinner-centric episode, “Avatar”, Mulder and Scully’s concern for their former boss is touching. As before, they drive the investigation to save Skinner only this time to better effect because Skinner doesn’t sit passively, fatalistically by while they work. The determination he starts this episode with must make it especially grating on him to have to slip right back into his old compromising ways.

Verdict:

I can’t say I love “S.R. 819” the way I love Skinner himself because though there’s a tangible sense of urgency, the plot is a little obscure and aside from Skinner’s pulsing veins, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But I do appreciate the potential mythology implications and I welcome the return of Krycek with open arms. I was one of those taken by surprise when he reappeared. Maybe even “Stevie Wonder would see that one comin’”, but I didn’t.

If my memory serves me correctly, and that’s by no means a guarantee, this was the series’ final Skinner-centric episode. That’s rather surprising considering there are three more seasons to go but it makes it all the more irritating that there’s no resolution to what happened to Skinner’s wife Karen, a character both introduced and discarded back in “Avatar”.

I wasn’t looking for anything detailed. A brief mention from a hospital orderly would have sufficed. “The patient is Walter Skinner. Widowed. Works for the F.B.I.” or “Walter Skinner – Divorced. No known relatives. In case of emergency contact Special Agent Dana Scully.” See how easy that would have been?

My only consolation is that I think there could be a cleverly veiled reference to “Avatar” here:

Mulder: This morning, you woke up…
Skinner: I woke up.
Mulder: Alone?
Skinner: Yes. Alone.

Then again, that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

B+

The Peanut Gallery:

While I don’t think anyone fell for it, those opening moments of the episode where they would have us believe that Mulder is the F.B.I. agent about to die are well done. I quite like the idea of scaring the audience. If only that silly episode preview hadn’t ruined the surprise…

We haven’t seen Senator Matheson since “Nisei” (3×9) and the truth is, I don’t even remember him in it. The connections in congress Mulder so famously depends upon in the “Pilot” (1×79) have all but become obsolete in the current stage of the mythology. However, I’m glad they brought Matheson back one last time, if only to drive home the point that Mulder has fewer people he can trust than even he once believed. That makes the fact that one of his allies is now seriously compromised… and that he doesn’t know it… even more poignant.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if Senator Matheson were secretly a member of the Syndicate?

It makes me a little sad to think the ear-biting references might be lost on this new generation.

Mulder and Scully are forbidden any contact with Skinner. Don’t they know there are cameras at the F.B.I.?

Parts of the movie score are recycled several times in this episode. And there’s an overhead shot of the highway that looks recycled as well – there’s no way that shot was in a television budget.

I’ve never read the fanfic, but I’m sure the Skinner/Scully Shippers had a field day with this episode.

That abandoned warehouse set is striking. I especially enjoy the lighting when Mulder walks in on the Senator.

I recently found out that Nicholas Lea (Krycek) is about to guest star on Supernatural. That’s an interesting coincidence since both Steven Williams (Mr. X) and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) have guest starred on that show for a series of episodes. Ah, when fate binds souls together…

This reminds me of the good old days when Scully often stared in wonder and computer screens looking at scientific data that shouldn’t exist.

I dig the “Chinga” (5×10) reference, John Shiban. I dig it.

Best Quotes:

Skinner: I was boxing. I must’ve gotten tagged.
Nurse: Yes, you did. At least you didn’t get your ear bit off. That’s something, right?

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, the good news is… your dilation’s back to normal. Plus you still have both your ears.
Skinner: I heard that one.

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, you’re lucky. He’s on a government HMO – no one’s even bothered to handle the samples yet.

Dreamland II 6×5: I’d kiss you if you weren’t so damn ugly.


The Adventures of Special Tramp Dana Scully

Okay, I’m sure you know by now that I’m highly allergic to The X-Files’ opening monologues. They have a tendency to be, how shall I say it? Purple.

While some I tolerate better than others, there are only three in the history of the show that I can honestly say I don’t merely tolerate. No, I rather enjoy them. “Dreamland II” marks the first of the three and it’s also the first monologue not delivered by Mulder or Scully. Interestingly, the character of Morris Fletcher delivers two of the three monologues I actually rewind for fun. Yes, in one of the best breaks The X-Files ever got, actor Michael McKean was available to play Morris Fletcher in two more guest spots after “Dreamland” (6×4) and “Dreamland II”, that’s not including when he shows up in the short-lived spin off The Lone Gunmen. But I’ve digressed.

The jaunty music Mark Snow chooses to characterize the piece, The Wonder Years style family videos as background… it’s just genius and I have no choice but to give it its due:

Morris as Mulder: [voiceover] Once upon a time, there was a guy with the improbable name of Fox Mulder. He started out life happily enough, as these things go. He had parents who loved him, a cute kid sister. He had a roof over his head, got all his flu shots, had all his fingers and toes and aside from being stuck with the name “’Fox” which probably taught him how to fight… or not… he pretty much led a normal life. But the worst thing by far, the biggest kick in the slats this kid Fox ever got, was what happened to his sister. One day, she just disappeared. Now, Fox buckled down and worked his butt off, graduated top of his class at Oxford, then top of his class at the FBI academy. None of that hard work made up for his sister, though. It was just a way of putting her out of his mind. Finally, the way I figure it, he went out of his mind and he’s been that way ever since. Fox Mulder pissed away a brilliant career, lost the respect of supervisors and friends and now lives his life shaking his fist at the sky and muttering about conspiracies to anyone who will listen. If you ask me, he’s one step away from pushing a baby carriage filled with tin cans down the street. But now, all that’s gonna change.

Moving on to the actual plot, Scully finally listens to that voice in the back of her head telling her that either Mulder has inexplicably and without cause lost his mind or Mulder is not Mulder. The subsequent scenes between Scully and the man she now knows is not Fox Mulder are the stuff of legend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it so many times again I’ll annoy myself: I love Scully this season. She’s kicking butt and taking names and first on her hit list is one Morris Fletcher. Does she confront him in Nevada? At the F.B.I.? Does she surprise him while he’s indisposed? Oh no. She waits until he thinks he has her where he wants her and then springs a checkmate on him. (Aside: Why does Scully keep getting hit on by Mulders who aren’t Mulder?)

Speaking of my favorite scene of the episode, that writers Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban choose to give Mulder a bed, but not just any bed, a waterbed, and not just a waterbed, a mirrored waterbed, I could grovel at the feet of all three of them. And to keep giving credit where credit is due, that scene is shot oh so cleverly by first time director for the show Michael Watkins. I don’t know whose idea it was to give us glimpses of the real Mulder lounging on that ridiculous bed with Scully, but whoever it was deserves an Emmy just for that. Hi-larious.

Come to think of it, why didn’t this episode win an Emmy? It certainly deserves one. You don’t even need to be a fan of The X-Files to enjoy it. Heck, there’s an explanatory monologue built in! I know I’ve used it myself early on in the process of X-Phile brainwashing and it’s quite effective. Kids, try this at home.

I would try to list all of my favorite moments in “Dreamland II”, but that would involve essentially quoting the entire episode and I’m too lazy for that. But I can’t close and fail to mention the memorable screen time that Morris Fletcher shares with the Lone Gunmen. Their brief moments together are so good that they eventually set the tone for the entire series of The Lone Gunmen and create an opportunity for the writers to keep using Morris Fletcher as a recurring character in both series… thank God.

Verdict:

I confess I don’t have much to say about “Dreamland II” because like all the great comedies of The X-Files it defies talk. It’s meant to be experienced and enjoyed. Frankly, I’m too busy laughing over it to do much thinking about it.

But is there anything deeper holding up this episode than bellyfuls of laughter? I think so. I think the ultimate take home message is that Mulder isn’t suited to the normal life that Scully whines after at the beginning of “Dreamland”. A desk job, a wife and two kids? Had it continued Mulder really would have lost his mind. And for her part, for all she longs to be normal, Scully doesn’t seem too put out in the end for having wasted time on another fruitless road trip with Mulder. She’s rather pleased with herself in fact.

You’ll notice that before the space-time continuum corrects itself and Scully is fired from the F.B.I. she isn’t at all interested in getting her job back. And why would she be? What’s the point without Mulder? Scully will admit as much further into the season, but she’s only in the F.B.I. and this whole X-Files gig for Mulder. We saw it back in the movie as well; without her relationship with Mulder, she has nothing invested in this job. That’s why the complaints the writers sometimes put in her mouth ring hollow. She could leave any time she really wanted to, she just doesn’t want to. Not really. She wants to be out there with Mulder. But, ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s next episode…

A+

I am Tiger Woods:

There’s still a little niggle in the back of my mind saying that the events of this episode are a bit too serious for a comedy. Mulder’s life as he knew it is gone; you’d think there’d be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But, hey, at least he makes his panic face.

Again, as in “Small Potatoes” (4×20), someone who looks like Mulder but isn’t Mulder puts the moves on Scully. Why everyone but the man himself? At least she’s onto the game this time.

There’s a slight pothole in the plot. The stoner witnesses his friends’… predicament, but because he wasn’t in the path of the wave when it snaps back he remembers perfectly what happened to them. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Kersh isn’t in the path of the wave either but doesn’t remember any of the events of the past three days. I would say that because the causal event never happened that explains why Kersh remembers nothing, there’s nothing to remember. However, then shouldn’t the stoner forget to since his friends where never glued together? This is why one should never think too hard about any story involving a “space-time continuum.”

When Mulder and Morris were scheming together in the bathroom, why did they unlock the door after their conversation so that anyone could get in? At least the intruder turned out to be on their side.

How fitting is it that Mulder’s parting gift to Scully is sunflower seeds?

Not to ruin lives with spoilers or anything, but in a sad turn of events caused by a reversal of the space-time continuum, Morris Fletcher forgets that he remembered that he loves his wife.

Best Quotes:

Special Tramp Dana Scully: Do you know what would really be fun?
Morris as Mulder: What?
Special Tramp Dana Scully: [Pulls out handcuffs]
Morris as Mulder: Oh, yeah. Me first?
Special Tramp Dana Scully: You first.
Morris as Mulder: First time. [Handcuffs himself to the bed] Now what?
Special Tramp Dana Scully: [With gun trained on him] You’re not Mulder.
Morris as Mulder: What?! [champagne cork pops] Baby!
Special Tramp Dana Scully: “Babyme and you’ll be peeing through a catheter. Your name is Morris Fletcher. It was Mulder who was arrested in the desert. He was telling the truth about you. Now, how do we get things back to normal?
Morris as Mulder: How should I know? I wouldn’t do it even if I could. You saw my wife. You think I want to go back to that? Two kids who’d probably kill me in my sleep for the insurance money. A $400,000 mortgage on a house that just appraised at $226,000. And my job… Ye gods! You think being a Man In Black is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork.
Special Tramp Dana Scully: Are you through?
Morris as Mulder: As far as I’m concerned this thing is a gift from heaven. Besides, no one is ever going to believe you so you might as well just get used to me being here.
Special Tramp Dana Scully: Or I just shoot you… Baby.

———————-

Mulder as Morris: So you’re the guy that wants my life. I assume that includes all the ass kickings. [Locks the bathroom door]

———————-

Morris as Mulder: Well, see that’s what’s so great about you monkeys. Not only do you believe this horse pucky that we create, you broadcast it as well. I mean, look at this. [Headline: “Saddam testing Mandroid Army in Army Iraqi Desert”] There is no Saddam Hussein! This guy’s name is John Gillnitz. We found him doing dinner theatre in Tulsa. Did a mean King and I. Plays good ethnics.
Langly: You’re trying to say that Saddam Hussein’s a government plant?
Morris as Mulder: I’m saying I invented the guy. We set him up in 79. He rattles his sabre whenever we need a good distraction. Ah… If you boys only knew how many of your stories I dreamed up while sitting on the pot.

The Pine Bluff Variant 5×18: Oh, is this the Pepsi Challenge?


Musta been something I ate.

We were overdue for this.

The last three episodes haven’t been… bad… they’ve just been rather quiet and unassuming, a characteristic I know how to appreciate but, dang it, this is The X-Files. I should be nearly falling off my chair with excitement more often than not. Usually, that kind of adrenaline rush is brought on by vile beasties and such, but “The Pine Bluff Variant” ignores the usual scares for an old-fashioned, Hollywood style action mystery – it’s a welcome departure.

This episode is a pure thriller from top to bottom. I don’t think the series ever had another episode that was quite like it in tone and if not for a few key elements like the familiar characters, the distinctive cinematography and particularly horrific effects of the biotoxin, it wouldn’t even feel like an X-File. The closest episode to it in style would have to be “F. Emasculata” (2×22), which has a rare sense of urgency to it for a non-mythology episode, with “Sleepless” (2×4) running second just because both episodes are echoes of The Manchurian Candidate in their own way.

All three episodes are what I like to refer to as Half-Caff: They involve a more generalized and vague government conspiracy than the mythology proper that’s centered around a highly coveted piece of science or technology. It’s one of my favorite sub-types of Monster of the Week episodes because the “monster” is so much more dangerous than an individual mutant, it’s all encompassing and nearly invisible – it’s a government. And isn’t The X-Files, a product of men who grew up in the Nixon era, a show grounded in government distrust? It’s a foundation of cement, really. The monsters, the aliens, they’re all just stand-ins and allegories for groups of nameless, faceless men with all the power and none of the integrity, men who control the future of the masses while exercising no self-control over their own whims. At least, that’s how you’ll feel if you watch too much of this show.

Mulder made a mistake and opened his mouth a little too wide back in “Patient X” (5×13) voicing not only his then doubts as to the existence of extra-terrestrials, but also some particularly jaded views on the Federal government. I always appreciate continuity on The X-Files when I see it, and goodness knows it becomes a hot commodity in later seasons, so I think it was clever of writer John Shiban to throw in a nod to a significant moment earlier in the season.

But back to Mulder… thank heaven for this episode! Mulder has either been irritating or relatively useless for the last five episodes, that is when he’s even present. Finally, he’s redeemed as our anti-hero hero and I’m forcefully and gleefully reminded why I love this man… er… character. Yes.

Mulder has one of his greatest moments ever here with his,  “If you touch me again you better kill me!” line. Actually, that entire interrogation scene is golden both for Mulder’s sarcasm and his action hero antics. If you haven’t watched it in a while, please do. Pop it in the player a moment for your own sake. Go on. It’s okay. I’ll wait.

………….

And we’re back.

Not to be outdone, Mulder isn’t the only one with a chance to shine, Scully wakes up this episode and I just love her when she has attitude. I know her little feet can’t reach the peddles but I swear, she’s more dangerous than Mulder. U.S. Attorney Leamus has no idea how narrowly he escaped a hurtin’.

The villain isn’t the only object of her wrath, either, as wonderfully evidenced in that scene where Scully tracks Mulder to an out of the way motel. Scully’s furious at Mulder, more so because he’s lying to her than because he’s colluding with a dangerous criminal. Even so, she doesn’t betray him when she has the chance. It’s like I said back in “Demons” (4×23), Scully will defend Mulder whether he’s innocent or guilty, as long as he needs her she will compulsively be there. She might not be happy about it, though.

Things were supposed to be a little tense between Mulder and Scully this season what with Mulder’s doubts about the existence of aliens and Scully dealing with the after-effects of her cancer, but whatever the writers intended, for the most part, they didn’t pull it off. I can’t think of when the characters have ever felt closer.

Verdict:

This is absolutely the best episode John Shiban ever gave the show solo and it’s one of the best examples of how The X-Files could transform itself from week to week and from genre to genre. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I don’t see it pop up more often on “Best Of” lists.

I’m still not sure what the government gets out of this in the end. Were they using these terrorists to test the biotoxin or were they trying to retrieve the stolen technology from them? If the former, were the terrorists aware they were being used? Is August Bremmer a government plant put there to organize and control them into using the weapon the way the government sees fit?

In the end, I just don’t care. I enjoy the ride far too much to be disappointed by my own inability to follow a plot.

I’ve always loved this episode, but watching Scully and Skinner walk into that movie theater again with flashlights flashing… it just may have rolled up into my top ten favorites.

A+

Random Comments:

Kate Braidwood, the daughter of Tom Braidwood, the First Director on the show and the actor who plays Frohike, shows up in this episode as the Usherette.

Putting the biotoxin on the bank’s money sounds scary in theory, but it would never make it out into the general population anyhow. The moment someone who worked at the bank touched it they’d die, which would lead to an investigation, which would lead to the money being confiscated. After all, how can anyone pass on the cash without flesh?

So the motel featured so heavily in this episode… I feel as though I’ve seen it several times, a fact which I can neither confirm nor deny. But if I’m not much mistaken, it’s not only the motel from “Conduit” (1×3) and “Wetwired” (3×23), but possibly from “Colony” (2×16) and “Tempus Fugit” (4×17) as well. But I’m not going to bother to go back and check so…

The set design and lighting in that F.B.I. conference room is immaculate. Come to think of it, the set designs throughout this entire episode are amazing.

Oh, my Shippers, you caught that moment, right? Right? Right.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Maybe you can tell me what’s going on.
Motel Manager: What?
Scully: There seems to be a problem. A man just told me you gave him keys to my room. Room 130.
Motel Manager: Who are you?
Scully: Who am I? Who is he?
Motel Manager: Mister, uh, Kaplan.
Scully: Mr. Kaplan?
Motel Manager: Yes.
Scully: Thank you.
Motel Manager: Are you the wife?
Scully: Not even close.

———————-

Scully: Exactly what agency are you guys from?
Agents: [Stony silence]
Scully: Obviously not the Office of Information.

———————-

Scully: Oh, Mulder, what did they do to you?
Mulder: [Winces]
Scully: This needs to be set. You’re in pain.
Mulder: Yeah, if you keep pullin’ it around like that…

———————-

Mulder: If you don’t hear from me by midnight, feed my fish.