Tag Archives: Max

Zero Sum 4×21: You’ll find it’s not that easy to walk away.


Smoking Kills.

Remember the “Killer Bee” scares of the 1990s? Remember the news reports of swarms migrating through the Southwestern United States? Remember My Girl?

Bees are freaky, but The X-Files already knew that since we were first introduced to the guest stars of this episode back in the Season 4 opener “Herrenvolk” (4×1). “Zero Sum” gives them top billing this time around, however. It must be due to the rise of the union.

I’m still not sure I understand how Smallpox plays into all this, even though this aspect of the mythology storyline was introduced way back in “Paper Clip” (3×2). I now count myself thoroughly confused.

Based on what we learned in Season 3, the project, as managed by the Syndicate and a handful of unsavory Axis power scientists, uses Smallpox vaccination records to track human subjects for their alien-human hybridization experiments. This is confirmed and further explained at the start of Season 4 in “Herrenvolk” when we learn that this genetic tagging was made possible through the SEP, the Smallpox Eradication Program, and that Drones, those created by the project as something more than human but less than a hybrid, are being used to catalog and track these tags from strategic positions within the Federal government.

Check.

But why bees? And why reintroduce Smallpox into the world?

As to the bees, I think we’ve covered that. Bees are freaky and that’s enough. Using, oh, say, Chicken Pox vaccinations to conduct illegal tests on unsuspecting citizens would be duly horrifying, but not in a peak-through-your-fingers in delightful agony sort of way.

Still, why Smallpox and why now? I can only guess, and this really is a guess, that the Syndicate, having only truly come into contact with the Black Oil for the first time in Season 3, is now aware that the Black Oil will be the method of infection, the virus, the tool for turning human beings into a slave race of the Alien Colonists. Since their job is to facilitate colonization (meanwhile subverting the whole process behind alien backs), they’re trying to figure out the most efficient method for spreading the virus. The time has not yet come for colonization, the aliens I guess are taking their sweet time, so the Syndicate is giving this whole mass infection thing a dry run of sorts using an alternate virus: Smallpox.

You would think that creatures who can stop time and transcend space (see “Max”) would be fully capable of infecting a planet of backward humans without assistance, but I gather they’d prefer the process not to be messy and so have employed the Syndicate who, despite their best efforts, always seem to draw attention to themselves.

I still believe there must be a better, more efficient, less dramatic way of infecting people. But then, would there be any point in watching? No. And besides, I really enjoy this craziness.

Conclusion:

This is one of those (thankfully) rare episodes where Scully doesn’t appear and even Mulder’s role is greatly reduced. But if they have to step back, I’m glad Skinner could come forward. This is a much, much more satisfying outing for his character than “Avatar” (3×21), an episode that will probably be skipped on my next rewatch now that I’ve done my duty and reviewed it. Not that it was horrible, mind you, just dull. “Zero Sum”, despite its less personal subject matter, actually does Skinner more of a service by developing his character through his own actions rather than a quick, perfunctory speech toward the end of the episode. (Mulder and Scully did most of the legwork in “Avatar” rather than Skinner). This time, we get to learn more about who Skinner is through how he interacts with CSM and Mulder, and how thoroughly he can sanitize a crime scene. Skinner certainly isn’t one, like Mulder, to spend a lot of time analyzing the whys and wherefores of his predicament. He has a duty, he does it. If he makes a mistake, there are no excuses.

We finally see the effect of the deal with the Devil Skinner made with CSM back in “Memento Mori” (4×15); he essentially sold his soul for the cure to Scully’s cancer so that Mulder wouldn’t have to. I know why Skinner did it, but what’s in it for CSM? I suspect it’s just an exercise in power. Remember, Skinner used to be under his thumb before he rebelled and broke ties completely with that famous kiss off in “Paper Clip”. I don’t think CSM appreciated that much. Certainly, he could have used a minion that was far more experienced at covering up a crime than employing Skinner to do his dirty work. But this is something that he can hold over Skinner’s head, blackmail, to keep him in line. No more back talk from the Assistant Director.

Watching these two spar back in forth is part of the fun of this episode, which outside of the excitement the bees bring, doesn’t actually add much of anything to the mythology even though it focuses on it. In this respect, it reminds me of both “Memento Mori” and the soon to come “Demons” (4×23). In the same vein, the ending really resolves nothing, although it does ad a pleasurable twist to the proceedings. And at the very least, Mulder has even more confirmation that he can trust Skinner, a trust that will be crucial come the opening episodes of Season 5.

Believe it or not, not that one would have any reason not to, this was the first episode of The X-Files that I actually watched on Fox during it’s usual timeslot. At this point, FX was still airing Season 2 reruns and the show was on its very long summer hiatus between Seasons 4 and 5. I didn’t even know who Skinner was at that point. Still enjoyed it though.

B+

Bepuzzlements:

Is Marita really working for CSM? Her predecessor, Mr. X, ostensibly was as well. But clearly he was actually working against his boss from the inside. It remains to be seen where Marita Covarrubias’ loyalties actually lie.

Unnecessary Additives:

I really enjoy this teaser. The bathroom scene is a little reminiscent of “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) without the comical edge. And watching Skinner stroll suspiciously out of Mulder’s office in the dark, the light falling revealingly on Mulder’s nameplate, is the perfect ending.

That playground scene is a winner.

Best Quotes:

Marita Covarrubias: I’ll tell him what you want me to tell him.
CSM: Tell him what he wants to hear.

————————

CSM: Agent Scully stands to live a long and healthy life. I would hope the same for you, Mr. Skinner.

————————-

First Elder: Details are everything. Much more important than your vague assurances.
CSM: Well, you’ll have to trust my assurance that any other breaches have been handled.
First Elder: Handled by whom?
CSM: I’ve a man in place. A man with no other choice but to succeed.
First Elder: And what assurance can you give us that he can be trusted?
Second Elder: We can’t risk even the slightest exposure.
CSM: He has nothing to expose… except his own duplicity.

Max 4×18: Where I come from, that’s what we call a whopper.


<mourn>Pendrell</mourn>

Here’s the thing about this episode: It’s hard to believe our military is a match for beings who can literally stop time.

It’s partially because of this that I can’t help feeling there should be something more at stake here than suddenly wimpy aliens trying unsuccessfully to recover technology that the mean ol’ humans stole. And despite my best efforts to take myself back to a Season 1 mentality, where conspiracies were just conspiracies unto themselves and the Cigarette Smoking Man had nothing to do with them, conspiracies where some opaque and sinister organization called “The Military” was solely responsible for inscrutable reasons, it still feels as though the aliens must be holding back their wrath as a part of some grander purpose that ties into the plans of the now conspicuously AWOL Syndicate. Yet somehow, with the military handling the cover-up so poorly that even the TSA can see through it, it’s hard to believe the old wise men of the Syndicate are pulling the strings on this one.

I enjoyed myself, as I always do (or nearly always) watching The X-Files. But I found myself asking questions the entire time, questions that will never have an answer.

The aliens took the assassin in the end because he was literally “holding the bag,” right? So then, they took Max for the same reason and not because he was a repeat abductee? Are these then the same aliens that have been abducting Max or another race/community altogether? And if they returned Max, why didn’t they return Pendrell’s assassin?

But most of all, why couldn’t the aliens have broken into whatever facility the mysterious objects were kept at in the first place rather than mugging innocent commuters in midair? Surely creatures that can halt planes in the middle of the open sky can breach a government security system or two!

S’kay though. When it comes to certain types of X-Files episodes, it’s best not to think on the whys and wherefores but so long. We wouldn’t want to ruin it for ourselves. So leaving issues of incredulity behind, there are only a couple of minor things that struck me.

For the first time since “Memento Mori” (4×15), Scully’s cancer comes back as a plot point. Blink and you’ll miss it because her brief nosebleed is barely a point of reference; it’s only there to remind us that they haven’t forgotten. “Yes, she still has cancer. No, we’re not ready to do anything about it yet.”

I’m actually quite glad that they didn’t fall into the emotional trap of milking Scully’s cancer to death. Then again, moments like this feel a little awkward since Scully et. al. have been acting as though her cancer didn’t exist for the past two episodes and after this will again ignore it for another two. Possibly it would have been smoother if Scully’s cancer hadn’t stopped and started in fits and spurts. Perhaps a mention of a doctor or medication here or there? I’m happy she wasn’t  a chronic victim, but these out of the blue reminders make her cancer seem more like an incidental fact to keep in mind rather than a life-changing experience. Then again, having the cancer be a constant presence would have been irritating in the extreme. Oh, I don’t know what I want. I’m just looking for a happy medium.

On a final note, I only want to bring up this:

Mulder: …the object which ultimately brought down this plan, the cause which has eluded you.

“The cause which has eluded you?” No one talks like that. No one.

Mulder: Something happened. Something went terribly wrong, something unimaginable.

Mike Millar: Okay…

Okay…” indeed. Maybe once in a while, Mulder should just come out with it.

And the Verdict Is…

I’m not sure that The X-Files can ever go home again. The “Tempus Fugit”/”Max” two-parter is a nice change of pace and a welcome nod to things past, but it inadvertently highlights just how much the central core of The X-Files has evolved over the years. At it’s heart, it’s still all about conspiracy and mistrust, but with a web of lies that’s grown almost confusingly intricate it’s possible that an episode like “Max” either undoes the threads or falls itself into the trap. Does this prove that the mythology has already gone too far? That it’s taken on too much? Or does this one-off just pale in comparison? I’m still not sure myself. Possibly both.

“Max” is lacking the high stakes games that were ever present in Season 3, but then again, with the exception of “Tunguska” (4×9) and “Terma” (4×10), the rest of Season 4’s mythology has so far suffered the same fate. Mulder and the Search for the Holy Grail of Scully’s Ova in “Memento Mori” is great fun, but it never felt particularly urgent to me since it’s not like Scully was every really going to die that same night.

Overall, despite my lingering doubts, I’d say “Max” is a worthwhile experiment. Sure, I’ve never gotten over the fact that Agent Pendrell dies off screen without so much as a parting pout for Scully, but if they have to cut back on the mythology revelations to save some goodies for Season 5 and for the upcoming movie, so much the better. At least they spread the goodness out rather than watered it down… for the most part.

B+

Nagging Questions:

What in the heck was Mulder thinking by recreating the perfect storm? Didn’t Max already crash an entire plane by boarding it with that mysterious object in tow? What exactly did he suppose would happen if he bought himself a ticket on another one???

Unnecessary Comments:

Let me get this straight, the gunman, Pendrell’s killer, never bothered to change his bloody pants even a day or so later? Mulder should have smelled him walking down the gangplank.

One thing you can always count on Carter and Spotnitz for is some great Mulder and Scully dialogue.

Best Quotes:

Mike Millar: You’re saying, in effect, that Flight 549 was in the grip of a sort of UFO tractor beam?
Mulder: That’s a Hollywood term… but, yes.

———————–

Mulder: Do you know where she is?
Scully: In a mental institution.
Mulder: I, I’d go with you but I’m, I’m afraid they’d lock me up.
Scully: Me too.

———————–

Mulder: More people are trying to get their hands on this thing than a ‘Tickle-Me Elmo’ doll.

———————–

Mulder: I’m standing outside an airplane bathroom where I’ve got the man who shot Pendrell locked up.
Scully: What?
Mulder: Yeah and looks like I’m going to miss the in-flight movie. And it was something starring Steve Guttenberg.

———————–

Scully: Actually, I was thinking about this gift that you gave me for my birthday. You never got to tell why you gave it to me or what it means, but I think I know. I think that you appreciate that there are extraordinary men and women, and extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals, that what can be imagined can be achieved, that you must dare to dream, but that there is no substitute for perseverance and hard work… and teamwork. Because no one gets there alone. And that while we commemorate the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifice of those who make these achievements and leaps possible.
Mulder: I just thought it was a pretty cool key chain.

Tempus Fugit 4×17: Let me buy him a drink too.


"Welcome back, Kotter!"

I’m going to start with a bit of an unusual premise here and say that “Tempus Fugit” and it’s follow up episode “Max” (4×18) aren’t really mythology episodes at all, instead they’re more like the pre-mythology conspiracy episodes of Season 1; think “Deep Throat” (1×1), “Fallen Angel” (1×9), and “EBE” (1×16). Taken at its most basic, this is your standard The Aliens are Here and the Government Won’t Admit It fare. What elevates the story is that this time it’s personal. “Tempus Fugit” is an episode about the casualties of war, the lives that are being lost whose deaths and whose pain will be meaningless unless Mulder and Scully can ultimately find a way to unravel this whole alien thing. Otherwise, Mulder and Scully could just as easily go the way of Max and Pendrell, and all those who were collateral damage will have died in vain.

The actual and potential loss, largely represented by the incredibly realistic crash site, is sobering. Mulder and Scully have precious few family members left for Chris Carter to kill off so he had to find another way to remind the audience of what’s at stake in this quest that Mulder and Scully are on and he did so by killing two friends and a whole plane full of people. It’s not all fun, games and Black Oil.

Speaking of the Black Oil, where is it? Here, not only is a character from Season 1, Max Fenig, brought back, but the mythology plot is subject to a rewind as well. There’s no Syndicate, no CSM dropping ash all over the place, no Krycek simpering. It’s just a straight up alien abduction meets government cover up. Mulder back to unreservedly and unwisely blasting his opinions from the rooftops rather than playing his hunches close to the vest, another throwback to earlier Seasons when Mulder got on his superiors’ nerves not by his actions but with his words. He never knew when to reel it in.

In the sense that they hark back to a simpler time in The X-Files, these elements are welcome. But in some ways it’s a little too late because now I’ve been conditioned to expect otherwise. Consequently, I spent the entire episode trying to figure out how what’s happened to Max fits into the overall mythology at large. The problem is I’m not sure it does. It’s more like a side plot.

Are the aliens that abducted Max the same ones that are working with the Syndicate? I find that hard to believe since the Syndicate seems to be secretly scared to death of those aliens, but a lone fighter pilot easily defeats these aliens. Speaking of which, how is it that creatures who possess technology we can only dream of and who can manage to travel light years to earth without a problem are no match for our military? That takes the bloom off their rose, doesn’t it?

I have no proof, but I’d be greatly surprised if these are the same aliens behind the plans for colonization. They’d need a lot more power. And besides, if I were them, I’d start colonization early if those human peons started shooting down my ships.

And the Verdict is…

I confess that I’m still not completely sure how I feel about this one, and I’ve been stewing on it for a good while. On the one hand, it’s good to see Max again and I enjoy that element of continuity and the nod to long time fans by giving them the payoff of bringing back a much loved, if oft forgotten character. On the other hand, why do I still feel a little bored?

Sure, we get that great birthday scene between Mulder and Scully, opening the window a little more into their quite comfortable and predictable relationship. That’s worth the price of admission. And Mulder’s short but sweet vigil beside Max’s body is poignant and memorable. Likewise, Scully’s last tender moments with Pendrell are just shy of heartbreaking. But still, I can’t help feeling like all of this isn’t leading much of anywhere. This is only the first in a two-parter, however, so I guess we’ll see.

In regards to the more technical end of things, director Kim Manners has almost outdone himself with that airplane crash. It’s almost too realistic… I have to not watch it too closely lest I have flashbacks during my next airplane flight. And that crash scene looks exactly like what we saw a few times too many on the news during the 1990’s. It’s just stellar work from everyone involved.

But did they have to kill Pendrell??? I’m going to miss that little geek.

B+

Nagging Questions:

How could Max’s sister’s motel room fall from 29,000 feet as Mulder says? Wouldn’t the aliens have had to take the whole motel lest someone notice a few walls missing? Forget that, why not just take the person alone???

Would Mulder have remembered Scully’s birthday if Scully wasn’t dying?

Random Observations:

It’s only funny when Mulder says, “We’re not gonna make it” because we know very well that he is.

I sincerely doubt Mulder and Scully would have been allowed in that TSA meeting or even less likely at the crash site.

On a related note, I realize that in order to keep things fresh and interesting, Mulder and Scully constantly have to be forced into new situations. Even so, why does Mulder going diving without experience feel like too much of a stretch to me? Combine that with Mulder and Scully’s free access to an airplane crash investigation and I’m starting to wonder how much disbelief I can suspend. It’s somehow less jarring to my rational mind to watch a mutant grow a new head.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Mulder, you have never remembered my birthday in the four years I’ve known you.
Mulder: That’s the way I like to celebrate them, every four years. It’s like dog years that way.
Scully: Dog years? Thank you.
Mulder: You’re welcome. Oh, I got something for you.
Scully: Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Mulder: It’s just something that reminded me of you.
Scully: What? An alien implant?
Mulder: Two actually. I made them into earrings.

————————–

Scully: Oh, please tell me this isn’t leading to something really embarrassing.

————————–

Scully: You sure know how to make a girl feel special on her birthday.

————————–

Motel Manager: Look at this! I don’t know what kind of game she was playing in here. She blew the door right out of the jamb. I doubt insurance will cover it.
Mulder: Does your policy cover the acts of extraterrestrials?
Scully: We’ll take care of it.

————————–

Bruce Bearfield: Have you worked at this depth before?
Mulder: Not exactly.
Bruce Bearfield: What exactly is your experience?
Mulder: Once I got a quarter off of the deep end of the Y pool.