Tag Archives: Paper Hearts

X-Cops 7×12: With all due respect, what the **** are you talking about?


cap000

It all depends on how they edit it together.

It’s not you, Vince. It’s me.

I realize we haven’t talked for a while, or ever, but I believe it’s best if we’re absolutely open and honest and each other. Because good relationships, like Mulder and Scully’s, are built on mutual respect and trust.

Now, you know I’m not the touchiest feeliest type, but with all my little grinch heart I do love you. Way back in “Soft Light” (2×23) I knew there was something special about you. Maybe it was your sense of humor, your obvious love for the characters that came out in the dialogue, your well-placed touches of continuity… because you always were the King of Continuity, Vince. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I knew that you had it.

Then along came “Pusher” (3×17) and I was just gone. Maya Angelou once said that people will forget what you did but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. Well, “Pusher” makes me feel things, Vince. Happy things. Those happy, gushy, illogical feelings that you get when you’re watching really, really good television. You wrote and directed “Sunshine Days” (9×18), so I know you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve always thought your biggest strength is that you’re a fan first, a fan who can write like the dickens. As a fan then, you’ve had those moments when, for whatever reason, your favorite television show doesn’t do it for you one week. Maybe you had a cold. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe you didn’t like the guest star. Whatever. It could be anything. But it happens.

Well, it’s happened for me, Vince. It’s happened for me with you. It’s “X-Cops.” I just… can’t.

Don’t get upset! Please! I don’t want this to come between us. I’d hate like the devil for that to happen.

I know you’re a genius and I believe in your powers. But this just isn’t my brand of humor. I mean, I suppose I can do broad humor. It may have taken me a little longer than most to warm up to “Bad Blood” (5×12) but we get along fine now. And I’m a huge fan of I Love Lucy. So maybe I’m just a hypocrite. It really is me, not you.

But in my heart and in my mind, there’s broad and then there’s wide enough to straddle Manhattan. Each time “X-Cops” comes up on one of my rewatches I try my darndest to give it a fair try, but when Steve and Edy come on the scene, you lose me. They make The Birdcage look like an exercise in dramatic restraint.

I’m not insulting your taste because I worship the ground you walk on. I do. Or at least I imagine I would if I were anywhere near the ground you walk on… and if worshiping you weren’t blasphemous… and psychotic.

But you know how Chris is famous for saying The X-Files is only as scary as it is real? Well, if you get really real it ain’t scary either. Not that you meant for this Boggart – because that’s what this Monster of the Week effectively is, a Boggart – to be truly frightening. Still, when you take Mulder and Scully out of their alternate universe and drop them in mine, something feels off. Really off.

Frankly, you did too good of a job. The creativity and accuracy in this one is impressive. Actually, this feels so much like an episode of Cops, down to the impeccably done intros and outros, that I’ve lost the sense of mystery and wonder that I’m used to getting week after week…. not that I’ve been getting it very much recently. Season 7’s been rough on me. I’ve kinda been losing the loving feeling. So, like I said, it’s not really your fault.

But I guess I’m like your mom. I read your Entertainment Weekly interview from back in 2000 and you said when you tried to show her “X-Cops” that she left the room to do the dishes saying, “Well, turn off Cops and show me some X-Files.” I feel the same way, Vince. The truth is, you did too good of a job. As a creative exercise, “X-Cops” is impressive. I mean, it’s amazingly accurate. And your dialogue, as always, had me chuckling despite myself. I have needs, though. Emotional needs. And what I need at this point in the series is a good old-fashioned X-File. “X-Cops” just isn’t fulfilling my needs right now.

It’s not a big deal. It’s just one of those things, one of those bumps in the road that every relationship has. We’ll move past it. I still love you! I still love The X-Files! Nothing’s going to change that. Nothing’s gonna spoil us.

I know it’s hard because up until now we’ve never had so much as an awkward moment. You know how I feel about “Unruhe” (4×2) and “Small Potatoes” (4×20) especially, not to mention “Paper Hearts” (4×8) and “Drive” (6×2). And then I could go on and on about your work as part of the John Gillnitz trio, but I wouldn’t want you to think I’m sucking up. I just want you to know that my love for your work has by no means diminished.

Besides… you don’t need me, Vince. You never have. Most people love this episode! Many a time I’ve read it lauded as the best episode of Season 7, so there you go. Never mind that my heart won’t accept it as an X-File. That’s a personal problem of mine.

One day soon we need to sit down over a cup of cocoa somewhere and catch up. I know you’ve been living your life and I’ve been living mine, but I miss you. I’ve been dying to tell you how haunting I thought the Breaking Bad finale was, how much I loved the way you used the song “El Paso”, and how I saw that little nod to The X-Files in the episode “Full Measure” and grinned like an idiot over it. And every time Breaking Bad comes up in conversation… and it does a lot…. I tell people, “Vince was a writer on The X-Files,” with all the pride my voice can handle.

I’m glad to know you’re out there and busy, giving lots of people the same geeky joy you give me.

And that’s why I say it’s not me, Vince. It’s you.

Yours devotedly,

Salome

Verdict:

If I’m going to be totally honest, and why not be? When the show first aired, it was right here at this episode that I remember thinking to myself, “I’m never going to love an episode the same way ever again, am I?” 

Yes. This was my personal “Jump the Shark” moment.

C+

Crack House Commentary:

This is the first of several episodes this season that smell suspiciously like fanfic, as if the cast and crew wanted to fulfill a few guilty pleasures before the show left the air.

On that note, part of me feels this whole exercise was just someone’s (cough!) excuse to fulfill the boyhood dream of riding along in a cop car all for the sake of “professional research.”

Okay, maybe it was an adulthood dream.

How could Steve and Edy really be sure it was Chantara? I feel like in that kind of neighborhood brightly colored fake nails wouldn’t be hard to come by.

I’m not superstitious, but I’ve found over the years that crazy really does come around when the moon is full.

Why are David and Gillian still gorgeous even on video?

That really cute moment when Scully hides behind the ambulance door.

That sketch artist came up with a drawing of Freddie Kruger in less than thirty seconds. I know. I counted.

Those scenes with Steve and Edy… I don’t think Mulder’s trying not to laugh I think David Duchovny’s trying not to laugh.

If you are going to do an X-Files/Cops crossover, an invisible MOTW is a wise choice. If a monster had actually shown up in the real world it would have been all over, for both the episode and the show.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Look, Mulder, you want to talk about werewolves to me you can knock yourself out. I may not agree with you but at least I’m not going to hold it against you. But this, Mulder, this could ruin your career.

Mulder: What career? Scully, I appreciate it. You don’t want me looking foolish. I do. I appreciate that.

Scully: I don’t want me looking foolish, Mulder.

——————-

Officer: My favorite part of the job – knocking down crack houses.

Dep. Wetzel: I heard that.

——————-

Dep. Wetzel: You really believe me, huh? You really believe I saw what I thought I saw?

Mulder: Yeah, I believe you.

Dep. Wetzel: Why?

Mulder: Why do I believe you?

Dep. Wetzel: Yeah. I mean, what proof do you have what I’m saying is real? I mean, it’s not… it’s not on the video tape.

Mulder: The camera doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Dep. Wetzel: And what about your partner? Does she believe me?

Mulder: I don’t think she thinks you’re lying.

Dep. Wetzel: Yeah, but what? Maybe I’m crazy? You know, I’ve been on the job 18 months– all I ever wanted to do. Right out of the gate, I get some kind of rep like I’m crazy? I mean, you know how cops are. How’s somebody supposed to live that down?

Mulder: I don’t know. Uh, I guess just do good work.

Dep. Wetzel: It’s a hard enough job already, you know?… And it’s hard to have a fast-track career in law enforcement when everybody thinks you’re nuts.

Mulder: Tell me about it.

Tithonus 6×9: You’re a lucky man.


The gift that keeps on giving.

Oh, Vince Gilligan. Why you make me love you so???

I watched an interview not long ago where Gilligan (humbly) admitted that when it came to writing X-Files episodes, he edited other people’s stories – no one edited his. Watch “Tithonus” and understand why.

It’s been so long since the days of “Paper Hearts” (4×8) and “Unruhe” (4×2) that I’d almost forgotten Gilligan writes serious tales too, and writes them well. Similarly to “Elegy” (4×22), this is one of the few episodes in a show populated week after week by gruesome deaths that is actually about death. Or, more accurately, about life and at what point death could be preferable.

Like “Unruhe” and another previous episode, “Oubliette” (3×8), the action in “Tithonus” revolves around that unnerving staple of modernity, that casual bit of creepiness that hides in plain sight: Photography. There’s something so much more… invasive about an old-fashioned camera like the one Alfred Felig uses, something that’s been lost with the advent of the pocket digital camera, something that is fundamental to the success of stories like this where the camera is a villain in its own right – an uninvited violation, a soulless enemy. We say the lens “captures” an image and it’s a subtle way of acknowledging an unspoken discomfort. Between the blinding flash and the disorienting sound, the subject of the photograph is momentarily vulnerable. A part of them has been “possessed” by the camera whether they were willing participants in the event or not.

And who is more vulnerable than those who are already half dead? That’s where Alfred Felig comes in. The man that time forgot. In echoes Clyde Bruckman before him, this is a man saddled with a curse that anyone on the outside looking in would think is a gift, and it’s taken all the joy out of living.

Unlike the mythological Tithonus, the eponymous source of this episode’s title, who lives forever but shrivels up with age until he turns into a cricket, Felig doesn’t physically grow old and withered. But he is cursed to live forever without the heart of youth, the heart that desires, as Scully says, to learn and experience and love. Tithonus’ immortality becomes a curse because his goddess lover forgot to add eternal youth to the gift of eternal life and, abandoned by his love, he longs for death. Felig has the opposite problem in that he has a form of eternal youth without the substance of it; he’s been dead a long time, he just can’t convince his body to follow. As Agent Ritter says, “He’s always been a geezer.” He scoffs at Scully’s suggestion that love is worth living for. What use is love to him?

But what if Felig hadn’t forgotten the name of his long-deceased wife? If Mrs. Felig could have lived eternally with her husband in wedded bliss, would he still have hunted death so relentlessly? Would invincibility still feel so cold a curse?

I submit that someone who merely possessed immortality would be cursed, but someone imbued with eternal youth may feel differently. Either way, who would want to live forever in this world? Perhaps one of the greatest acts of mercy God ever bestowed on mankind was to curse them with death in the Garden of Eden; they wouldn’t spend eternity in a world corrupted by evil. Even if, like Felig, death refused to touch you, you’d live to watch generations of others suffer. No, only the disturbed are in a hurry to leave but no one in their right mind wants to stay indefinitely either. Well, except for me. But then, no one said I was in my right mind.

For her part, Scully doesn’t understand Felig because she’s still so full of energy and curiosity. You can tell from her reaction that she finds his, shall we say, unappreciative view of life a little depressing.  She hasn’t grown tired yet the way the aged do. I remember how my 90-odd-years-old grandmother used to tell me that being old was exhausting, not because she wasn’t happy to live a long life, but because at some point, living takes effort. Felig is just tired. And when he’s eventually allowed to stop, to be at peace, you can see the relief on his face. Felig’s dying moments, when he’s reunited with death, are like a master class in acting from guest star Geoffrey Lewis.

But I know what many longtime fans are wondering, will Scully ever even know what that feels like? Way back when, X-Files legend Darin Morgan penned this oft-discussed exchange between Scully and psychic Clyde Bruckman for “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4):

Scully: All right. So how do I die?
Clyde Bruckman: You don’t.

Does this mean that “Tithonus” confirmation of the long-held speculation that Scully is immortal? By looking at death in Scully’s place, does Felig cause Scully to take his place in the land of the perpetually living?

While Vince Gilligan is famous for throwing clever references to earlier episodes in his scripts and so it wouldn’t be beyond him to do something like this, the clear message of this episode is that too much life is no life at all and I suspect Gilligan loves Scully too much to make her immortal. And I can’t find the interview, but I know he’s said that wasn’t what he was implying. Besides, he would have already known that Darin Morgan never intended to hint that she was either:

“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” contained several lines of dialogue that sent fans into a frenzy pondering their meaning. The first came when Bruckman told Scully she wouldn’t die. “Some people took it to mean that Scully was immortal, but the meaning was that Clyde knows how Scully’s going to die, but he likes her so much he’s not going to tell her because telling her would ruin her life, whether she believed it or not. Telling someone they’re not going to die is one of the nicest things you can say. That’s why he says it to her. It had nothing to do with whether she was immortal or was going to be hurt in the show.”

http://web.archive.org/web/20020220130917/http://www.morganandwongonline.com/darin2.html

Though I admit that if it were true it’d be some kind of poetic justice considering everything Scully’s been through in recent years. And that’s why it makes emotional sense that this X-File was handed to Scully and not to Mulder. Scully and Felig’s interaction is all the more poignant because Scully is very aware of her own mortality, because she’s someone who wants to live and not too long ago fought desperately against the violating evil of her own cancer. Only someone who has fought so hard for life would be a fitting foil for someone fighting just as hard for death.

Verdict:

I won’t lie to you. For all that philosophizing, my favorite part of this episode is watching Mulder pout with envy. But it’s his own fault – he created a monster.

Scully, while she will ever be Scully, is far more open than she used to be. No, she’s not the instant believer that Mulder is, but after considering all the evidence she’s surprisingly willing to admit that something supernatural is at work here.  She already proved she could handle an X-File on her own back in “Chinga” (5×10), but she’s less unsure of herself in “Tithonus”. She’s so sure of herself that it’s a joy, I repeat, a joy to watch her stand up to Agent Ritter, the Anti-Mulder.

Mulder needn’t have worried. If anything, pairing Scully with Ritter only highlights the weaknesses of any other partnership but Scully and Mulder. When Scully trades places in the car with a by-the-book Ritter, I can’t help but take my mind back to “Tooms” (1×20) when her less orthodox stakeout with Mulder was far more entertaining. I also can’t help but think back to “Squeeze” (1×2) when Mulder and Scully first discover a man who has lived way beyond his years and how they similarly trace his history through low-tech means. Ritter is smart enough to realize there’s a case here, but not as brilliant… or as accepting… as Mulder and so can’t get past the surface of Felig’s situation to the real truth. Even his haircut is square. He’s like vanilla ice cream to Mulder’s Rocky Road. I mean, good grief, his name is Payton.

This is one of the rare Scully-centric episodes that I actually love. In fact, it might be the only one. Yeah, I’ll say it – This is a more well-rounded episode than “Never Again” (4×13).

A

P.S. I can’t leave without mentioning Mulder’s not so veiled threat to Ritter, ‘cause y’all know Mulder would’ve literally killed him if Scully had died, right? He says it so calmly, he’s like Michael Corleone in The Godfather. That’s how you know he means it. Ritter knows it too.

P.P.S. Mulder and Scully and the thumb war. That is all.

Background Checks:

From Cherish the Past: Undoubtedly, the biggest line item for visual effects producer Bill Millar was the postproduction transformation into black-and-white instead of color of the individuals, including Scully, whom Felig sees as doomed. “We used a technique very similar to the one used to wreck all those old movies by colorizing them,” said Millar. “In fact, it’s basically the same, only in reverse.” …Millar, who first used this method on an episode of the short-lived NBC series, Nightmare Cafe in 1992, noted that the hit movie Pleasantville, released within a week or two of the night “Tithonus” first aired, was much praised for its innovative use of decolorization, while its employment on “Tithonus” passed virtually without notice. “Interesting, don’t you think?” Millar said wryly.

If you have the DVDs, this is one of those rare episodes with deleted scenes to watch to help you extend the magic. Go ahead. Live a little.

Did you see that scene where Scully saves the hooker? Did you see it? I’m going to start thinking of her as “Slap-a-Pimp Scully” from now on.

The way the room is lit during the interrogation of Alfred Felig is absolutely stunning. It’s like something out of a Film Noir handbook.

What does Agent Ritter shoot an unarmed Felig for anyway? It’s not like you could mistake that bulky camera for a gun when the light is behind you.

Scully has a rather sentimental look in her eye when she asks Felig about love and her disappointment at his answer is obvious – don’t make me say it.

Between this and “Unruhe”, methinks Vince Gilligan has a not so secret fascination with photography.

Best Quotes:

Scully: [Answers cell] Scully.
Mulder: [In affected voice] Hi, my name is Fox Mulder. We used to sit next to each other at the F.B.I.

——————–

Agent Ritter: You know, Kersh warned me about you.
Scully: Uh, he did?
Agent Ritter: Yeah, you and your partner. God knows his reputation precedes him so I guess I should have seen this coming. You muck up my case, and Kersh’ll hear about it. Are we clear, Dana?
Scully: Scully. And we’re done with this conversation. {Editor’s Note: Bam! My girl.}

——————–

Mulder: Now we’re talking about a guy for whom the phrase “life in prison” carries some seriously weighty connotations.

Small Potatoes 4×20: Should we be picking out China patterns, or what?


The "H" is silent.

This is where Season 4 really starts picking up momentum again. It’s time for one of the all time Vince Gilligan masterpieces – “Small Potatoes”.

It’s sometimes easy to forget given his knack for writing tension filled episodes like “Pusher” (3×17), “Unruhe” (4×2) and “Paper Hearts” (4×8) that Vince Gilligan started out writing comedies for the big screen. (Does Home Fries sound familiar?) But with this outing he suddenly inherits Darin Morgan’s crown as The X-Files’ comedy genius in residence. His style is definitely different from Morgan’s, more lighthearted and less philosophical I’d say, but it’s just as memorable none the less.

We get a couple of notable guest stars in this one, the first being The X-Files’ own Darin Morgan, back this time not as a writer but as an actor, giving a memorable turn as the King of all Losers, Eddie Van Blundht. The second is actress Christine Cavanaugh as Eddie’s onetime sweetheart Amanda Nelligan, who most will remember as the voice of Babe the Pig and of Chuckie in Rugrats among many other notable cartoon series. But me, I’ll always remember her first as Mona Tibs in Salute Your Shorts. That’s classic television, folks.

But back to the story at hand.

I’ve never questioned the hilarity of this episode; it’s always been one of my favorites. And for those of you out to convert your friends into the Cult of the Phile, this is an episode that easily translates into language a new viewer can understand. It’s prime example of how well The X-Files could do anything, even comedy.

It’s only recently that I’ve started to wonder in between guffaws, why doesn’t Eddie’s crime seem as evil as it really is? If we’re going to get technical, this comedy revolves around a man raping and impregnating women without their knowledge. His only (hypothetical) defense?

Eddie: Look, I’m not saying anything one way or another. I’m just saying hypothetically, if some women wanted to have kids, their husbands weren’t…capable, and everybody was happy and no one got hurt, well hypothetically, where’s the crime?

Oh, Eddie. True, this isn’t forcible rape and maybe therein lays the only caveat that keeps this from being a comedy in poor taste. Eddie figures, these women think they’re sleeping with their husbands anyway, so no harm, no foul. But it’s less easy to excuse his actions when these women are also unwittingly impregnated with another man’s baby. That he chose women who were trying to get pregnant in particular would seem to indict him.

Not only did he realize impregnating them was a possibility, he wanted to use that possibility to cover himself. To insert himself where he was unwanted in an effort to feel like he was actually a part of society at large.

But is that really so uncommon? A man lies about having money when he doesn’t, about being single when he isn’t. A man gets a girl drunk so that she’s more likely to say “Yes.” A lie/tactic that makes a girl willing when she otherwise wouldn’t be in order to prove to yourself and the world that you are who you aren’t. Does that sound familiar? Which line crossed is the point of no return? At what point does it become criminal? Eddie here waddles over a line that’s already toed around too often, so as much as he’s justifiably locked up by the end of the episode, it’s hard to take him seriously as a menace to society.

Conclusion:

This is another one of those episodes that makes me laugh every time, and I won’t reveal the extent of my geekdom by confessing just how many times I’ve seen it. Let’s just say I haven’t quite approached Amanda Nelligan’s level of Star Warsian devotion.

There are so many memorable moments that I would get lost trying to chronicle them all and for the sake of brevity I won’t. Suffice it to say that this episode is one of my favorite performances ever from David Duchovny and the whole Eddie as Mulder bit never quite gets old. For her part, Scully’s already the straight man on this show and stoic looks are her specialty, but the look on her face as Amanda Nelligan reveals the identity of the baby’s father is a priceless moment.

Then there’s the autopsy scene. And, of course, the scene at the doctor’s office. Oh! And the seduction…

You didn’t think I’d forget that, did you?

So, I know we Shippers tend to love this one largely because of this scene, and how could we not? But I find two moments in particular absolutely hilarious:

  1. The look of panic on Scully’s face as Eddie/Mulder leans toward her: Okay, she loves Mulder, as a friend, so she doesn’t insult him by rejecting him outright, but did you catch the look that clearly reads “Oh no…” just as he starts to move in for the kill?
  2. Scully gets busted: The best part of Mulder bursting through the door is that all he does upon discovering this rather uncomfortable situation is stare at Scully. See? I cracked up just typing that.

Alright. I’m done. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? If it’s been a while, I suggest watching this episode again. If it hasn’t been a while, I suggest watching this episode again.

A+

Random Comments:

It’s not Eddie we see mopping the floor at the end of the episode, but one of the inmates that keep stealing his hats.

Best Quotes:

Nurse: Now is there anyone you need us to contact? The father of the baby?
Amanda Nelligan: I’m not sure how to get a hold of him.
Nurse: If you give me his name I can try.
Amanda Nelligan: You know, he’s not from around here.
Nurse: Is he from out of state?
Amanda Nelligan: Another planet.

————————

Amanda Nelligan: He dropped by my apartment one day and… one thing sort of led to another.
Mulder: But the baby’s father is an alien.
Amanda Nelligan: No, no, I didn’t say he was an alien. I said he’s from another planet. His name is Luke Skywalker. He’s what is known as a Jedi Knight.
Scully: Did he have a lightsaber?
Amanda Nelligan: No, he didn’t bring it. He did sing his song for me though. [Hums the theme to Star Wars]

————————–

Mulder: How would this happen?
Scully: Birds and the bees and the monkey babies, Mulder.
Mulder: Birds do it, bees do it, even educated MDs do it. All five women shared the same OBGYN didn’t they?
Scully: Well, yeah. He’s the only one in town.
Mulder: And four of the five women, the four married women, not including Amanda Nelligan, are on record as receiving insemination therapy as a means of conception.
Scully: So you’re thinking that the doctor might have something to do with it.
Mulder: So much for not putting all your eggs in one basket.

————————–

Mulder: I have a theory, if you want to hear it?
Scully: Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor then walked out the door leaving no one the wiser?
Mulder: Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?

————————–

Scully: But what are you saying? That Van Blundht is an alien?
Mulder: Not unless they have trailer parks in space.

—————————

Skinner: Which one of you wrote this?
Eddie/Mulder: I did, Sir.
Skinner: You spelled “Federal Bureau of Investigation” wrong.
Eddie/Mulder: It’s a typo.
Skinner: Twice.

El Mundo Gira 4×11: I just met a girl named Maria.


Remind anyone of their fridge?

This episode always brings back memories of El Chupacabra sightings that made the local news so often when I was in Junior High, sightings that no one outside the Latin American community seemed to take seriously. Funny, but despite its political grandstanding, this episode doesn’t take the legend seriously either.

Last time I watched “El Mundo Gira” I decided I enjoyed it. Maybe I was feeling nostalgic about the Spanish soap operas that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. I never understood them, but you didn’t need to understand Spanish to pick up on the melodrama. Or maybe I just finally decided that the Chia Pet style fungus in this episode is more satisfying than I had originally thought.

But upon a fresh rewatch and coming off of the notable success that is “Paper Hearts” (4×8), its errors are harder to ignore.

First, and most obviously, Season 4 seems to be when the team at 1013 Productions decided that along with the great power of The X-Files’ success came the great responsibility of social commentary. We saw them try to sneak it in the back door with “Teliko” (4×4) and they’ll soon try to force it in the front in “Unrequited” (4×16). Unlike a movie where they would have a couple of hours to let the story speak for itself and therefore could allow the audience to slowly put the pieces of the message together, a 42 minute running time means that in order to make their point we get heavy-handed lines such as…

Scully: Nobody’s examined the body?
Mulder: Nobody cares, Scully. The victim and many of the witnesses are illegal immigrants, migrant farm workers.

And…

Skinner: You would think that with the resources we have we’d be able to find these men. I’m not hearing a good explanation why this hasn’t happened.
Scully: Well, sir, they have a way of being almost invisible.
Mulder: The truth is… nobody cares.

And…

Scully: Mulder, I know you don’t want to hear this but I think the only aliens in this story are not the villains. They’re the victims.

The only thing Illegal Immigrants and Little Green Men have in common is a word that ties them together by sound, no longer by connotation. Giving the Chupacabra an alien shaped head does not a parallel make, and so it’s hard to choke down what they’re trying to force feed us. On top of that, such a serious pathos undermines the pseudo-comical melodrama of a Spanish soap opera that the episode is trying to imitate, resulting in a haphazard tone a la “Syzygy” (3×13).

It’s already difficult enough to take a distinct cultural legend and translate it to an “alien” audience in a way so that it carries emotional force. That experiment is rarely effective as evidenced by episodes like “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and “Hell Money” (3×19).  But combining serious political observations with the “Mexican soap opera” theme that many may find unfamiliar is a recipe for disconnect.

Conclusion:

I still enjoy this one though, despite itself. At the very least it gives us a few memorable lines. And one thing I’ve always loved about The X-Files is how it’s able to give the strange a scientific foothold. This is one of those episodes where neither Mulder nor Scully are correct but together they make a new scientific discovery.

By the end the story morphs yet again, this time into a Rashomon style fairy tale. I can’t help feeling that if they had taken that tone all the way through, it could have been more successful. But then again, “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) has already been done.

C

Randomness:

If this is a community of illegals, why report Maria’s death at all? Surely that would have brought the cops around long before Mulder and Scully came on the scene.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Witnesses described a bright flash about 30 degrees off the horizon, then a hot yellow rain fell from a cloudless sky. Fortean researchers call these “liquid falls.” Black and red rains are the most common, but there have also been reported cases of blue, purple and green rains.
Scully: Purple rain?
Mulder: Yeah. Great album. Deeply flawed movie, though.

————————-

Agent Lozano: Let’s see… Okay. We have a Jose Feliciano. We have Juan Valdez. We have Cesar Chavez. We have Placido Domingo here. But I don’t see any “Eladio Buente.”

————————-

Mulder: They think he’s the Chupacabra.
Agent Lozano: That may be. But I will tell you with a tremendous degree of certainty this guy is not Erik Estrada.

————————-

Agent Lozano: This guy is better than Erik Estrada.

————————-

Mulder: Scully, I’ve been thinking. I know that’s dangerous, but just bear with me.

Paper Hearts 4×8: Tell me about this dream.


"Tut, tut, child! Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

Writer Vince Gilligan first popped up on The X-Files’ roster with Season 2’s “Soft Light” (2×23) before breaking out with the hallmark episode “Pusher” (3×17) in Season 3. It turns out that Gilligan began as a screenwriter and was a fan of The X-Files as a regular ole’ viewer long before he came on staff. This explains both his predilection for cinematic stories and why this episode is almost unnervingly cannon in content.

For a man who claimed that mythology episodes weren’t his strong suit, Gilligan is awfully accurate about the myriad of X-Files facts that he scatters throughout “Paper Hearts”, an episode that uses the mythology as its base even though it’s certainly not a mythology episode and can barely be categorized as a Monster of the Week. It’s more a psychological study than anything else, along the lines of “Irresistible” (2×13) and “Grotesque” (3×14). But I digress. Every fact except Mulder’s birthday makes its way in here through such fleeting references as a mention of Mulder’s former mentor Reggie Perdue who was killed in “Young at Heart” (1×15) and a quote from the episode “Aubrey” (2×12). That’s not even counting the word-for-word recreation of Samantha’s abduction with adult Mulder inserted into the mix, a scene that’s perfectly done.

Clearly, “Paper Hearts” is written by a man who understands the language of fandom.

And like the fans, Vince Gilligan is well aware that the whole premise of The X-Files hinges on Mulder’s belief that his sister Samantha was abducted by aliens. If indeed she turned out not to be, the payoff wouldn’t be as grand. And indeed, eventually it wasn’t.

That’s why this episode isn’t pretending to be a legitimate explanation for what happened to Samantha but an exploration of the possibilities. What Gilligan is tapping into is that seed of doubt. Mulder himself stated back in “Little Green Men” (2×1) that he wasn’t sure if his memories of Samantha’s abduction were real, and since then he’s run into a couple of different versions of “Samantha”, or at least her clone.

What is Mulder to believe? Is she still out there somewhere? Is this whole alien conspiracy a ruse as Scully claims in “Paper Clip” (3×2) so that the men behind a set of secret and sadistic experiments can hide their crimes?  It’s an issue that will come up again for Mulder later in the season and will be explored at length in Season 5. But I digress.

Part of the reason I used to not enjoy this episode was because I could so easily dismiss the idea of a serial killer being responsible for what happened to Samantha. The main reason is that I always go into Monster of the Week Withdrawal around this point in the series. We haven’t had a really satisfying one since “Unruhe” (4×2) and “Paper Hearts”, while technically a Monster of the Week episode, is more of a character driven episode than a scary or paranormal one.

That said, it’s satisfying in its real world horror in the same way that “Irresistible” is. And it’s far more satisfying than the one note insanity of “Grotesque”. In the same vein of both of those episodes, there’s very little of the supernatural to speak of, if indeed anything of it exists at all. And that’s just fine because the implication of what Roche is doing to these little girls is worse than the vague fetishism of Pfaster in “Irresistible”.

Not only that, but similarly to what Mulder experienced with Modell in Gilligan’s other masterpiece, “Pusher”, this is an adversarial game. There’s a vast difference between having a Monster to hunt and a Monster to be outwitted. The villains that are a match for Mulder in terms of cleverness always turn out to be the most memorable. (This is why Samuel Aboa in “Teliko” (4×4) can’t pull off what Eugene Victor Tooms does in “Tooms” (2×20). For one thing, he doesn’t have three names. That’s always a tip off.)

Roche is more than just your run-of-the-mill sociopath; he’s a match for Mulder intellectually. It’s another game of which genius can outplay the other. One almost thinks Mulder and Roche could have been friends… if Roche wasn’t a sadistic pervert. At the very least they get each other. Admittedly, the “nexus” idea is a little weak as a plot device. But I suppose Gilligan had to give some sort of a name to their unusual connection. And, after all, this is The X-Files. Something has to remain unexplained.

Conclusion:

This season is low on scares but high on character development. It makes sense because the show is a major hit at this point in its run; this means that the writers are trying to keep themselves out of a rut, the audience is calling for more information on their favorite characters and the actors are looking for a way to show off their skills. It only makes sense to give Mulder and Scully more time to shine than they have on their average case.

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were more than up to the task. And that Tom Noonan as Roche… whew! He’s so cavalier that he almost transcends being creepy.

And I just love the way that Gilligan has written these characters. I particularly love Scully in his episodes as she’s almost always a woman to be reckoned with. Here her barely restrained anger is palpable and even Roche seems a little afraid of her. Her eyes were saying something along the lines of “I will drop you.” Not only that, when it comes to her partner she knows when to hold ’em and knows when to fold ’em. She chastises him when necessary and ignores his mistakes when the situation calls for it. The strength of her compassion for Mulder in this episode is memorable and considering what episode is coming up in just a few days, it’s an emotional buoy of sorts.

Now Mulder, well, what’s most interesting is that Mulder is coming to the more rational conclusion that his sister was simply kidnapped, not abducted by aliens. Yet he’s coming to a rational conclusion in the most irrational way so that at least we know he hasn’t changed… at all.

David Duchovny really should have gotten an Emmy for his performance in this one.

Scully: You’re right, Mulder. It’s not a match. It’s not her.

Mulder: It’s somebody though.

Oh, what a powerful scene. In a season that’s going to give me lots of reasons to hate Mulder, thank you, David Duchovny for reminding me that I love the heck out of this character.

In closing, I’d just like to note that this episode is another strike against the “Mulder as Jackass” stereotype that’s hijacked his legacy over time. Mulder closes a potential door to the answers he’s seeking in order to save a little girl, just as he’s closed doors and will continue to close more doors for Scully’s sake. Mulder is a deeply flawed human being, but he’s an incredibly humane one as well.

A

Questions:

The nexus theory still doesn’t explain how Roche knew what model vacuum cleaner The Mulders had in their house.

Comments:

In another point of continuity, remember the scene in “Conduit” (1×3) where Scully tries to stop Mulder from digging up the potential grave of Ruby Morris, another little girl lost. Even their positions are the same. The difference in this case is that rather than hinder him, or even just watch him break the rules, Scully puts Mulder’s emotions above procedure and digs right alongside him. I heart these two.

Yep. It’s true. David Duchovny sunk that shot on the first take.

I almost committed a travesty of justice by failing to mention The Magical Mystery Tour of Whimsy that Mark Snow’s score takes us on this episode. Consider it mentioned.

Best Quotes:

Scully: You said it yourself once. You said that a, a dream is an answer to a question we haven’t learned how to ask.

———————

Scully: Don’t you think the car might have been searched at least once already?
Mulder: Not by me.

———————

Mulder: Sixteen victims, John. How come you said there were only thirteen?
John Roche: I don’t know. Yeah, thirteen sounds more magical, you know?

———————

John Roche: How about this? Sink one from there and I’ll tell you.
Mulder: [Nothing But Net]
John Roche: Trust a child molester?

———————

Roche: This man, this man hit me!
Guard: I didn’t see it.
Scully: I did.

———————

Roche: It was Karen Ann Philiponte. She lived in a green rancher in… East Amherst, New York. Minter grew outside her window. I stood outside her window atop springs of mint. It smelled wonderful.
Scully: [Through gritted teeth] What year?
Roche: July… 1974. I had her mother on the hook for an Electrovac Argosy, but at the last minute she said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
Scully: [Drops pen in disgust]
Roche: Oh well.

Pusher 3×17: Samurais without masters have to advertise.


A recipe for madness.

“Pusher” is only writer Vince Gilligan’s second solo offering for The X-Files, his first being the solid if slightly underwhelming “Soft Light” (2×23). Legend has it that when he submitted the script to Chris Carter he predicted it would be the best work he ever did on The X-Files, an eerie declaration since, arguably, he was right. Although by the Grace of God he gave us some other episodes that might fit the bill. *cough* Small Potatoes” (4×20) *hack*

My understanding is that “Pusher” started out as an idea for a film before he translated it into an X-Files episode. You can tell. One of the features of his solo offerings on The X-Files is that his stories are like shortened movie scripts. You could almost take The X-Files’ characters out of the scenario and with some adjusting, the plot lends itself to a feature length film. “John Doe” (9×7), “Tithonus” (6×9), “Paper Hearts” (4×8), “Drive” (6×2), etc. These are the episodes you could show to someone who isn’t into the whole paranormal, supernatural, sci-fi thing and they’d still eat them up. And there isn’t a better example of one of his mini-movie episodes than “Pusher”. I was even able to show this one to my mother who would normally scoff at the likes of The X-Files. And well, she did scoff, but relatively little.

This is one of those episodes that define MOTW. As I watched this time I felt myself mentally ticking off all the boxes…

Clever Villain

I can think of less than a handful of other X-Files villains that are as memorable as Robert Patrick Modell. First off, he has three names so you know he’s bad. Only the likes of Eugene Victor Tooms, Donald Addie Pfaster and possibly The Flukeman could run against him for the title of Best Monster of the Week Ever. One thing he has over the other three is his humor and sarcasm. It’s an element of his character that makes the audience actually like him. Even in that amazing opening teaser with benign elevator music and a police raid out of nowhere, I don’t know who he is or what he’s done yet but I’m kind of rooting for him against the Police. Can you blame me? The man has style. He had to in order to be a proper match for Mulder.

Clever Kills

The first example I don’t even think he successfully killed, he just flambéed. Certain people aren’t as susceptible to Modell as others and Agent Collins resists lighting himself up to the point where it’s tragic. Oh, what a great scene as he begs and pleads for someone to stop him. It’s frighteningly convincing.

Detective Frank Burst, on the other hand, doesn’t resist. Instead he insists on listening to Modell until you can almost hear his arterial walls popping open. (No medical professionals were consulted for the making of this review.) What a fabulous, fabulous moment as Mulder and Scully are helpless to stop this man from getting himself killed. And then to hear seconds later that his death was in vain… I still shake my head every time… and there’s always a little twinkle in my eye that probably shouldn’t be there.

Clever Agents

This is one of those rare X-Files where Mulder and Scully solve the whole thing. Usually there’s a mix of investigative work and random happenings that lead them to a conclusion or, more often, a lack of a conclusion. But since “Pusher” is all about setting Mulder and Modell up for a final showdown, mano a mano, it’s important that Mulder proves he’s someone who can match this man in wits and sheer force of will. It’s a testament to the strength of Mulder’s mind that he’s able to resist Modell as much as he does in the Russian Roulette scene.

Scully isn’t exactly useless either. And while she famously shoots down Mulder’s suggestion of “The Whammy” as the cause behind Modell’s effect, she also confirms the pseudo-scientific basis for his condition. Then of course, all would have been lost if she hadn’t pulled that fire alarm in time. Scully may not always understand what’s going on, but she had enough integrity to act on the evidence.

Those are the building blocks, the DNA, of this episode if you will. But it doesn’t end there. There are all sorts of great moments sprinkled throughout such as Modell strolling into the FBI with nothing more than a piece of paper and a permanent marker as his credentials. Then there’s Skinner, another one not easily taken in by Modell, getting beaten up by a girl. And not just any girl, a mouse of a girl. Come to think of it, I’m not so sure that’s a great moment, but it’s certainly a memorable one. Didn’t Skinner just finish recovering from a bullet wound? That can be the only possible explanation for why a bear like him couldn’t take down little Holly. The man is quickly turning into a punching bag. I’m pretty sure he’s bruised in half the episodes we’ve seen him in since “End Game” (2×17).

And, of course, “Pusher” causes Shippers everywhere to rejoice. Not one, but two hand-holding scenes? I’m surprised Chris Carter let it happen. Joking aside, Scully’s concern over Mulder is nice to see and Gillian Anderson plays it with those doe eyes of hers so well. When Mulder suits up for a final confrontation with Modell she looks like a mother that has to let her son go off to war. And that single tear that comes out of Scully’s eye as Mulder points the gun at her… priceless. You can actually feel her horror as she realizes the true tragedy of the situation, that Mulder was about to be forced into the ultimate betrayal.

Verdict:

That’s Modell’s true sense of cruelty and part of why he’s such a successful Monster of the Week. He hones in on the fact that Mulder and Scully are close from the beginning and I believe it was his plan all along to force Mulder into hurting her. That they overcame that situation together is enough to warm any X-Phile’s heart. And you know they’re seriously shaken up anytime they’re willing to be openly affectionate.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve already heard read my complaints frustrations about the off and on tension between Mulder and Scully this season. I won’t repeat too much of it here. After all, my Season 3 analysis is just around the corner. But let me just say, God bless you, Vince Gilligan. There’s been so much distance between Mulder and Scully and with this one episode it’s all but forgotten.

A+

Running Commentary:

Nothing. I was too busy enjoying myself to jot down superfluous thoughts.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Hey, I think you drooled on me.
Scully: Sorry.

——————-

Modell: You and your pretty partner seem awfully close. Do you work well together?

——————-

Scully: So he’s a killer and a golfer?
Mulder: Rings a bell, huh? Let’s go G-woman.

——————-

Modell: I believe you owe me five dollars.
Mulder: Oh, your shoe’s untied.
Modell: [Looks down]
Mulder: Made you look. How do you do it?

——————-

Mulder: Well, ninjas are said to have the ability to cloud the minds of their opponents.
Scully: Are we talking kung fu movies, Mulder?
Mulder: He certainly clouded the mind of that judge, Scully.
Scully: Even if Modell could, he didn’t need to. We barely had a case against him.
Mulder: Oh, we had enough to get past a simple preliminary hearing. Modell psyched the guy out. He put the whammy on him.
Scully: Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy.

——————–

Mulder: Hey, Scully, check this out. Mango Kiwi Tropical Swirl. Now we know we’re dealing with a madman.

——————–

Mulder: I think it’s like you said. He was always such a… little man. This was finally something that made him feel big.