Tag Archives: Morgan and Wong

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


9.15.png

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.”

 

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Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man 4×7 – This isn’t the ending that I wrote.


You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

“No one would kill you, Frohike. You’re just a little puppy dog.”

Oh, if he only knew.

Mssrs. Morgan and Wong are back in a slightly different format this time. Rather than co-writing, Morgan authors the script while Wong sits in the director’s chair. In fact, for his directing debut Wong would go on to win the Emmy for Best Direction. That’s no mean feat.

As they would in all four of their offerings this season, Morgan and Wong try their best to think outside of the frame of a typical X-Files episode, in this case changing up both form and content. Besides giving us an almost Shakespearean play quite clearly delineated into four acts, there’s a fluctuating tone to the tale so that we’re never quite sure from one act to the next whether we’re watching a history or a parody, if this is CSM’s view of himself, Frohike’s view, or the view put forth by the seedy magazine Frohike nabbed the story from.

Even more significantly, this is the first episode where David Duchovny doesn’t make an onscreen appearance. He’s essentially limited to a book-ending set of voiceovers. Gillian Anderson narrowly misses this technicality by appearing in a single scene in flashback. At first watch, I remember missing Mulder and Scully. Over a decade later, I appreciate getting a more in depth look at such a fabulous character.

Certainly CSM deserves it by now.

Part I – An Extraordinary Man

Here’s where everything starts going Forest Gump on us. We always knew CSM was a significant man behind the scenes, but just how significant is he? Well, it turns out that he was the lone gunman that day on Dealey Plaza. Oh, and he didn’t always smoke cigarettes.

Actor Chris Owens makes his X-Files debut here. He would go on to play CSM again in flashback, as well as two other memorable characters, The Great Mutato and Jeffrey Spender. He plays the role with such seriousness that you can believe in this young CSM, that he wasn’t always evil, just pragmatic and ambitious, and that it was a downhill spiral from there.

Part II – A Jack Colquitt Adventure

And now we jump forward in time to CSM the would-be Civil Rights activist, AKA author Raul Bloodworth.

This CSM has successfully and speedily climbed his way up the middle management ladder of the netherworld. Young though he is, he’s powerful enough to chastise J. Edgar Hoover to his face. It seems that the F.B.I. has been under his control since long before Mulder and Scully came into play.

But what’s striking is how typically unfulfilling his day job is. He spends his nights typing pathetic manuscripts living off of beer, cigarettes, and unfulfilled dreams. And while his job description requires that he root out Communism in all its forms, he secretly sympathizes with liberal dreamers, thinking so highly of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that he honors him with a more… personal assassination.

At this point, I’m starting to believe we’re hearing less of Frohike’s news article while more of CSM’s sense of self-importance is creeping in.

Part III – Buffalo Wants it Bad

If we thought CSM was stuck in a crappy boardroom job before, now his position has rusted into the downright mundane. CSM has successfully defeated the Communists. But like every man who reaches the pinnacle of his profession and finds there’s nowhere else to go, he’s left weary and unfulfilled. He goes from killing presidents to rigging football games because, well, what else is there to do? Now it’s hard to see this as anything but a parody.

Getting to see Deep Throat again is a real treat. And their brief, opaque and slightly comical conversation is the highlight of the whole episode. It’s hard to put much stock in their talk, however, as some points don’t agree with the larger mythology arc. But since this is fantasy anyway, you can take and leave what you will.

Part IV – Pack of Morleys

And now, like any great hero, it’s time for CSM to have his heart broken.

I love that they work in that flashback to the “Pilot” (1×79), where CSM was more an enigmatic if ominous presence rather than the Darth Vader that he’s become. This way we can consider who he was and who he’s come to be.

He’s no longer an idealist. He’s not even a realist. He’s just a middle-aged man stuck in a shallow life whose memories of youthful dreams grow duller with every year.

I remember at the age of 14 how my best friend and I found that monologue hilarious. In fact, I had it memorized… and tacked up on my wall. That’s 14 for you. Always drawn to the innocent and uplifting.

Now it’s a bit tedious, and, dare I say it? It tries too hard. It’s amazing how our tastes change.

Conclusion:

Originally, the title was supposed to be “Memoirs of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, reflecting Morgan’s intention that this be a true account of CSM’s past. Chris Carter came in and added both ambiguity in the title and in the narration. Not only can we not be sure of the accuracy of CSM’s memories, we can’t even be sure the plot is being driven by CSM’s mind or by Frohike’s.

The seriousness of the story was supposed to be driven home by the killing of Frohike at the end of the episode, a plot point that 1013 Productions justifiably balked at. While I enjoy that Morgan and Wong weren’t afraid of thwarting the party line, the desire to kill off Frohike represents a serious misjudgment of the tone of the series. Sure, Chris Carter liked to claim that no one’s really safe on The X-Files. But then, he also likes to say that no one ever really dies on The X-Files either. Just like Deep Throat in this episode, ghosts return without warning.

Why? Because Deep Throat’s presence adds value to the series’ development at this point? No. Because the fans love him and nostalgia is a powerful force.

Even aside from emotional reasons, killing Frohike would have ill fit the tone of the episode, which lent itself to something just short of a parody. Taken as a whole, it makes CSM, as Chris Carter so appropriately put it, “sort of a silly person.” I’m not so sure he can be silly and frightening at the same time, despite the fact that Morgan’s goal was to make CSM a real threat again:

“I told Chris, ‘Look, the Cancer Man is becoming a bore. When you get to episode one hundred and he and Mulder have the guns to each other’s heads, I’m not going to worry, because the Cancer Man has never done anything. I’m telling you right now, you’ve got the Cancer Man as a wuss ball. He’s nothing. He’s got to do something dangerous.’”

Maybe they missed that CSM had both men exposed to the Black Oil’s radiation killed and his henchman, Luis Cardinal killed in “Apocrypha” (3×16). Or that he keeps trying with all sincerity to kill Krycek. Or that he just had X killed in “Herrenvolk” (4×1).

The truth is, whatever the pile of murders on his conscience, the audience will never seriously believe that he’ll kill either Mulder or Scully. We’d have no show if he did. It’s enough to show that he’s willing. Suddenly turning things deadly serious by killing Frohike would have lent credence to the whole tale, which would have made some obvious issues of cannon more of an issue.

Besides, Morgan and Wong created the Lone Gunmen. Why so eager to kill one of them off? (As an aside, it’s interesting how in television you can create something only to find that it’s no longer yours. Not only do they characters take off on their own based on an audience’s response and interpretation of them, but production companies and film studios end up having more of a say in their future than you do.)

The best thing about this episode is that it’s clever, in both form and content. Is it great? I can’t quite call it that because I still get bored at moments, but I appreciate what Morgan and Wong were trying to do here. Once again, they’re pushing the boundaries of the show. In that regard, it’s not as successful as “Home” (4×3) but it’s surely not as polarizing as “The Field Where I Died” (4×5)… thank goodness.

At times the story is a little bogged down by the nitty gritty of History. Because of this, it moves slowly. And there’s nothing paranormal to speak of save for a fleeting view of a dying alien. But looking back on the history of the show, it’s nice to have this change of pace, if only to prove that The X-Files could do it.

B+

Comments:

Whatever details Morgan and Wong may have missed, there’s a nice thread of continuity with Deep Throat. He mentions having served in Vietnam and in “Little Green Men” (2×1), Mulder claims to have seen his funeral at Arlington Cemetery. That explains that.

Even the acts are filmed in different colors. Saturated 1960’s hues for the Kennedy assassination, black and white for the second act, reflecting the majority of photos of the Civil Rights era.

Questions:

Who is CSM writing a letter of resignation to? How do you resign from The Syndicate? Do they have a payroll? And why is he purposefully leaving a paper trail??

Best Quotes:

William Mulder: My one year old just said his first word.
Smoking Man: What was the word?
William Mulder: JFK.
Smoking Man: Catch you later, Mulder.

———————–

Smoking Man: What I don’t want to see is the Bills winning the Super Bowl. As long as I’m alive that doesn’t happen.
Third Man In Black: Could be tough, sir. Buffalo wants it bad.

————————

Smoking Man: So did the Soviets in ‘80.
Third Man In Black: What? You saying you rigged the Olympic hockey game?
Smoking Man: What’s the matter? Don’t you believe in miracles?

————————

Deep Throat: I’m the liar, you’re the killer.
Smoking Man: Your lies have killed more men in a day than I have in a lifetime. I’ve never killed anybody.
Deep Throat: Maybe I’m not the liar.

————————

Smoking Man: Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there’s a peanut butter cup or an english toffee but they’re gone too fast and taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits of hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.

————————

Smoking Man: I can kill you whenever I please… but not today.

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


Well, at least the shots were gorgeous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Over at Last:

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

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

But then…

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

Way to quench it, dude.

D+

Keeping it Brief:

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

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

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

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

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


A hero falls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A+

Randomness:

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

———————–

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

————————

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

————————-

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

————————-

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

————————

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

Syzygy 3×13: Sure. Fine. Whatever.


The X-Files meets Carrie

I confess, this is a tough one to analyze for me. Mainly because I’m not sure what to make of it myself. It’s like a cross between the broad clichés of “Die Hand Die Verletz” (2×14) and the humor of “War of the Coprophages” (3×12). But since it’s neither as frightening as the Morgan & Wong penned “DHDV” or as funny as the Darin Morgan outing “WOTC” it’s difficult to digest in parts. Not to say that it’s horrible. It certainly has some memorably funny moments. And one thing Chris Carter could always do better than any other writer on the show was Mulder/Scully banter. Their digs at each other are the highlight of the episode.

But they’re also the lowlight. By that I mean that the comedy in “Syzygy” relies almost solely on exaggeration. Scully isn’t just a skeptic she’s purposefully obtuse. Mulder doesn’t just wonder at Scully skepticism he berates her for it. It’s as if he found a new friend on the playground in the blonde detective and together they started making fun of his old pal. It’s funny because it’s absurd that these two people who are so close end up nearly hating each other for an episode. But at times it’s hard to watch them be so disrespectful of each other, even through the laughs.

Because of that I’m not sure if coming off of “WOTC” helps or hinders the plot. In defense of it helping, the tension between Mulder and Scully picks up where it left off. However, that only lends this fight more credibility, as if the damn has snapped and Mulder and Scully are letting loose on each other some long held resentments. If so, some of those resentments are pretty serious and that’s part of why “Syzygy” is hard to watch at moments.

That said, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me laugh. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny have incredible comedic timing that The X-Files has only had a few chances to exploit so far in the series. Part of me enjoys hating Mulder so much. Truly, Mulder deserves to be shot in this episode, not because he unwittingly (for the most part) seduces Detective White but because of the snide remarks he makes at Scully’s expense.

Moving away from Mulder and Scully, Margi and Terri aren’t exactly the most compelling Monsters of the Week. And, frankly, their absurd characterization is what throws the episode off at points. Whose idea was it to name these girls “Margi” and “Terri”? From their names to their clothes to the words that come out of their mouths, it’s as if someone who didn’t know any teenage girls in real life took an 80’s stereotype, electrocuted it and threw it in front of the camera.

…And the Verdict is:

I don’t take this episode as seriously as I used to. It’s an aberration. A fluke. If it weren’t, Mulder and Scully could have potentially caused an irreparable rift in their relationship. While I enjoy the contention in the spirit of comedy, past a point the hurt feelings exposed and generated would have to be addressed and dealt with. Instead, when the clock strikes 12 and the syzygy is over, Mulder and Scully turn back into regular old mice; they’re in sync again and all is right with the world. Well, mostly. There’s still that little argument in the car on the way back.

If, however, we keep “Syzygy” within the context of the series, then the tension that began at the end of “WOTC” continues through this episode even to “Grotesque” (3×14); Mulder and Scully are in a state of chronic miscommunication. This is not Season 2’s Mulder and Scully. There are times when that tension is particularly unpleasant to watch, but the end result is Season 4’s Mulder and Scully so all is forgiven.

This episode attempts something similar to “WOTC” but less successfully; its tone isn’t always consistent. I think it’s clear by the end, though, that the content of this episode is meant to be enjoyed and then forgotten. Nothing Mulder or Scully say or do in this episode should be held against them in the long run. It’s an astrological anomaly.

By the by, I do believe that moment in the hallway after Mulder sniffed Scully was the closest he ever came to death.

B

P.S. Is Scully jealous? That’s easy. Yes. But in her defense, any woman whose partner ditched her for a leggy blonde and made jokes at her expense to impress said leggy blonde would have a similar reaction.

Superfluous Questions:

Are the stars to blame for why none of the investigating officers picked up on Margi and Terri’s fake tears and inconsistent affects? They weren’t even convincing sociopaths.

Wasn’t Mulder drunk not a few minutes before he drove away from the motel? I take it the look of barely restrained fury on Scully’s face sobered him up?

Superfluous Comments:

The absurd opening funeral scene is reminiscent of “Humbug” (2×20), no?

This is where I learned what a “screwdriver” was. I remember walking out into the family room to ask dear old Dad what Mulder was doing with that orange juice.

Detective White is Mulder’s second potential love interest in a row. Is Season 3 his season or what?

I can’t decide whether the funniest moment in the episode is Mulder desperately pressing “0” for the operator in a drunken attempt to evade Detective White’s advances or the expression on Scully’s face when Mulder says, “It must be Detective White.”

Zirinka the Astrologist almost steals the show.

Best Quotes:

Scully: And you have physical evidence of these rituals being conducted?
Detective White: No. No, just the murder victims.
Scully: So you have nothing concrete to connect these things to Satanists?
Detective White: [Shakes head]
Mulder: If, uh, you detect a hint of skepticism or incredulity in Agent Scully’s voice it’s because of the overwhelming evidence gathered by the FBI debunking virtually all claims of physical abuse by satanic cults.
Detective White: [to Scully] Is that true?
Scully: [Starts to speak]
Mulder: Don’t ask me.

———————
Scully: Let me guess. They told you about a wild beast entering in on a black mass, the drinking of blood, the sacrifice of an infant… or a blonde virgin.
Detective White: Yeah. That’s right. Excuse me.
Scully: Where’s she going?
Mulder: You don’t suppose she’s a virgin, do you?
Scully: I doubt she’s even a blonde.

———————

Mulder: Let me drive.
Scully: I’m driving.
Mulder: Scully, it’s not what you think.
Scully: I didn’t see anything anyway.
Mulder: Will you let me drive?
Scully: I’m driving. Why do you always have to drive anyway? Because you’re the guy? Because you’re the big, macho man?
Mulder: No, I was just never sure your little feet could reach the pedals.

———————

Mulder: When we were here before…
Zirinka: I’m just waiting for authorization.
Mulder: I’m a Federal Agent!
Zirinka: Last I heard, the federal government couldn’t pay its bills. Okay, you’re good for up to 300 bucks.
Mulder: All right.
Zirinka: How can I help you?

Die Hand Die Verletz 2×14: Better hide your Megadeth albums.


Is it raining men?

This episode flips the typical on its ear. For starters, the teaser doesn’t present a crime or even a mystery. Instead, it just leaves us with an unsettling image: Leaders of the community gathered together in solemn prayer… but not to God, to the Devil. The Devil worshippers are the religious, hyper-sensitive and hypocritical ones. God punishes the evil-doer? No, the Devil punishes the evil-doer for not being evil enough. Even water goes down the drain the wrong way.

Instead of a typical nitpick of conservative Christians, which is where we think this episode is going for the first 60 seconds or so, this story is about a group of Satanists whose faith has gone stale. You don’t hear many rumors about occultist practices anymore, but these issues were a much bigger deal in the early 90’s. Young though I was, I remember hearing news stories/exaggerated rumors about children falling victim to Devil worshippers. Then there was the hot button issue of the occult in movies, TV and music. I gather that most people didn’t put much stock in the rumors and even if they had, they didn’t imagine the likes of what we see in “Die Hand Die Verletz.”

We all know there’s nobody out there conjuring up the devil… right? I mean, not really. A snake can’t eat a man that fast, you’re letting your imagination run away with you. The thunderclap wasn’t a portent, it just happened to sound at the right dramatic moment. Flesh-eating disease? A freaky coincidence. But for once, what if they’re not paranoid? What if you’re not paranoid enough? The X-Files is inviting us to let ourselves get caught up in the hysteria, if only for a moment. What safer way to do that than through a TV show?

If there’s any point of irritation it’s that this episode has a distractingly neon disclaimer tacked to its forehead. The writers want to make sure that an audience potentially made up of people interested in the occult won’t be driven away by the over-the-top treatment of this subject matter. In other words, we know we’re using an arguably offensive cliché so we’ll be sure to tell the audience how lovable real witches are these days and hopefully that will appease the masses. “Even the church of Satan has renounced murder and torture.” (Then what, praytell, is the point of being the church of Satan??) At least the occultists in the story admit what they are.

On the Mulder and Scully partnership front, there’s a lot going on but it all happens in the span of about 2 seconds. It’s that scene in the shower room when Mulder and Scully are about to be killed. Notice that when the bullets start flying Mulder covers Scully with his own body. Blink and you’ll miss it. Would it have done any good in the face of a shotgun blast? Hardly. But it’s always struck me because Mulder did it almost instinctively. There was no deep moment of contemplation, no close-up of our hero’s face as he makes a dramatic decision. It was almost like a reflex, the way a mother would grab her child if she heard a loud noise.

It’s probably not significant to most people, but I think there’s a difference between being willing to risk your life for someone and being willing to actually stand between them and the bullet. The latter takes it to a whole other level, a level that, somewhere along the line, Mulder and Scully have quietly reached. There’s no fanfare or fireworks. In true Mulder and Scully form, I doubt they ever mention the incident between themselves.

Conclusion:

Try not to take this one too seriously. It’s exaggerated on purpose. Not that this is a distinctly humorous episode. We won’t see that until “Humbug” (2×20) later this season. But it is a self-conscious tale and I think that’s its strength.

This is an episode I enjoy watching as much for the outlandishness of the subject as anything else. Writers Morgan and Wong were leaving the show to produce Space: Above and Beyond and I suspect they wanted their last outing to be as extreme an X-File as ever there was. They can rest assured that they went out with a bang.

Fortunately, we don’t have to live without them for too long. They’ll be back.

B+

Random Musings:

For a woman who just came off of “Irresistible” (1×13), where seeing bodies whose hair and nails had been cut off was a trauma to her, Scully’s doing awfully well with a corpse that’s had its eyes and heart cut out.

Be on the lookout for a great moment when Ausbury (AKA: Frasier’s Bulldog) gives a monologue that I think has some great truth hidden in it.

I’m ashamed to admit that as many times as I’ve seen this episode I never appreciated that Mrs. Paddock wasn’t just controlling the snake, she became the snake and ate Ausbury whole. There may be something wrong with me, but I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Iconic moment alert: It’s raining frogs. Funny how even the worst episodes have memorable visuals.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: So… lunch?
Scully: Mulder! Toads just fell from the sky!
Mulder: I guess their parachutes didn’t open.

——————–

Scully: The FBI recently concluded a seven year study and found little or no evidence of the existence of occult conspiracies.
Pete Calcagni: And J Edgar Hoover never admitted to the existence of the Mafia.
Scully: Look, if the number of murders attributed to occult conspiracies were true, it would mean thousands of people killing tens of thousands of people a year, without evidence, without being exposed. It would be the greatest criminal conspiracy is the history of civilisation.
Jim Ausbury: Finally. You people understand what we’re up against.

——————–

Mulder: But you are responsible. You knew the possibilities contained in your beliefs no matter how watered down. Did you really expect to conjure up the devil and ask him to behave?

———————

Mulder: “There are tracks in the dirt. They’re from a snake.
Scully: “That’s impossible. It would take a large python hours to consume and weeks to digest a human being.
Mulder: You really do watch The Learning Channel.

Blood 2×3: That’s not supposed to happen anywhere.


Postal meets Paranoia.

It’s one thing to have an itsy bitsy fear of spiders, but what if that fear lead you to break out more than a can of Raid? What if it led you to kill two-legged creatures as well?

OK, so maybe spiders didn’t make an appearance in this episode (though they would have if I were in it). Instead, it’s your toaster oven that’s out to get you. That’s right, don’t trust anything your alarm clock tells you. Your machines, and your mind, have been hijacked by the government for a controlled experiment designed to test chemical weapons of war on unsuspecting citizens.

I could buy that, really I could, if only I understood how it was all going down. This episode suffers from a syndrome I like to call “But If That’s the Case, Then…”

For example, citizens subjected to the chemical LSDM are receiving messages through electronic devices. Or are they? Judging from the scene is Mrs. McRoberts’ kitchen, these messages may not be real. Mulder glances at her microwave a second after Mrs. McRoberts does and sees nothing. And it doesn’t make sense that if these messages were visible to all, no one else would have seen them. It’s also hard to believe that someone is somewhere typing all these in at precisely the right moment addressing precisely the right phobia. The question is then, if these messages are in their heads, why do they only see them in machines? Why not in the clouds or in their mother’s meatloaf?

On the side of the messages being real, Mulder directly states that the government is using some sort of subliminal messaging system to control people once they’ve been exposed to the LSDM. But if that’s the case, how do they know what these people’s fears are in order to tailor their messages? In Funsch’s case, how did they know he was afraid of blood and not, say, needles? It’s not as though he’d been to a psychiatrist to be diagnosed, he hadn’t been to the doctor in years. And if someone is spying on these people, then how? Satellites? Can they see through buildings? How on earth can they control every single computer or TV? If they have that much power, surely they could have done a better job of covering up their conspiracy.

The only conclusion I can come to is that there are subliminal messages that somehow, only people who have been exposed to LSDM can see. And somehow, the government is powerful enough to control every electronic device… everywhere. They know just where you are, just what screen you’re in view of, and just what phobia button to push. Far-fetched? Most definitely.

If the story isn’t quite logical, that’s because it’s about the absence of logic. It’s all about paranoia. “Blood” is playing off of our own latent fears as a society. Technology isn’t a useful tool, it’s a weapon used to spy on you. That quaint, small town you’re driving through is actually home to The Stepford Wives. The government that claims to be protecting you with pesticides and preservatives? It’s using you as a guinea pig.

Conclusion:

This episode is about government conspiracy in its purest form. There are no aliens and no signs of the paranormal. I can’t think of a single Season 1 episode that falls into this category except for Ghost in the Machine (1×6) so it’s a nice break from the greater mythology and the typical Monster of the Week. In a way, it’s a forerunner to John Shiban’s awesome “The Pine Bluff Variant” (5×18), which is another reason why I can’t be mad at it.

Even so, for an episode written by Morgan and Wong, “Blood” is at the lower end of the success spectrum. It’s not particularly intense or insightful. In fact, the plot is confusing and even the audience can’t be sure of what’s happening. Are the messages real or imagined? Did the government plan this or is it just a series of unfortunate events?

Exploring personal phobias and societal fears are both great concepts for The X-Files, but they probably should have stuck to one or the other. This episode tries to cover too much. There are government plots, spree killings, uncontrolled paranoia and even machines that talk to you. How many darts can you throw at one board?

Because of all these variables, it’s hard to catch hold of what’s happening. Even in the end, we’re not sure whether the mechanical messages people were seeing were real or imagined. The plot took a back seat to casting vague suspicion on the government. If not the government in particular, a group of nameless, faceless men willing to inflict torture on their fellow citizens without so much as a qualm. With such an unflattering picture of the Federal government, you can tell that Chris Carter et al. grew up in the Nixon era.

It’s not all sturm and drang, however. The Lone Gunmen make a clever return and Frohike’s crush on Scully is intact. Mulder gets in some good quips and Funsch’s freakout on the bus is absolutely great. I can’t really rally behind this one but it’s not a waste of time. Watch it for the highlights rather than the whole.

C+

Best Quotes:

Sheriff Spencer: Played softball with this guy over Labor Day. He was one of those nice guys. Couldn’t play and didn’t bitch about being stuck in right field.
Mulder: What’s wrong with right field?
Sheriff Spencer: Always the first one to shake hands at the end of the game, didn’t matter whether he won or lost.
Mulder: Gotta have an arm to play right field.
Sheriff Spencer: Bought a round of beers afterwards even though he didn’t drink.
Mulder: I played right field.

———————

Frohike: So, Mulder, where’s your little partner?
Mulder: She wouldn’t come. She’s afraid of her love for you.
Frohike: She’s tasty.

———————

Mulder: Hey, Frohike, can I borrow these?
Frohike: If I can have Scully’s phone number.

———————

Mulder: He’s probably one of those people that thinks Elvis is dead.
Scully: Mulder, I was wrong. Exposure to the insecticide does induce paranoia.
Mulder: I think this area is being subjected to a controlled experiment.
Scully: Controlled by who? By the government, by a corporation, by Reticulans?