Tag Archives: Quagmire

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster 10×3: I forgot how much fun these cases could be.


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Yes, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for since 1996. Darin Morgan is back on The X-Files. Tell your moms. Tell your mutants.

Whether you’re an old head or a newbie Phile, if you’ve made it as far as the revival then you already know that writer Morgan is a giant among giants as far as this show is concerned, and nearly as mythical as Big Blue, considering that he all but disappeared no sooner than his genius was recognized, and in the wake of his disappearance a legend was born. After all, what is a legend but magic once witnessed and thereafter unseen?

And herein lies part of this episode’s inescapable hurdle: The expectations for it, and its writer, are so high that it will either inevitably fail to live up to the wishes of the viewer, or it will inevitably succeed in the eyes of the viewer by virtue of the legend, and either way the viewer will inevitably fail to see it for what it is.

So now that we’ve cleared up the vanity of our little exercise, let’s take a look at Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.

As much as I welcome the return of Darin Morgan, what matters to me more than anything is that MULDER AND SCULLY ARE BACK. And Scully, especially my Scully. Her attitude is back. Her facial expressions are back. Her voice is back.

Scully!! There you are! There you are!!! *sobs* Where have you be-e-en! Where were you? WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I NEEDED YOU???

This is my girl. No, she doesn’t believe this nonsense. But she’s still here. She’s still giving it her all. Why? Because Mulder. And why else? Because there are victims who need her help.

And one more thing: Scully has officially confirmed that she prefers her Mulder bat-crap crazy. Can we let that confession stand now? Can we stop feigning every so often that Scully is turned off by Mulder’s insanity instead of admitting the truth we all know, that she thrives off of it? Okthanksbuhbye.

Yet even as I celebrate Scully, I recognize that this episode is mostly about Mulder. We can call that unfair if we want to, but we all know that this quest began with Mulder, that Scully joined in and jump started a mission he was already on. And, frankly, both he and we needed some reminding that this journey on the X-Files is still about a quest, a quest in search of a reality that most mortals never get to see, a key aspect of the show that the show itself seemed to lose sight of as far back as Season 7.

This confirmation of the quest and the recommissioning of our resident believer comes at an interesting time in my personal fandom as I’ve been in an internal debate with my various selves since the premiere. Yes, much of the success of the early seasons relied on the audience vicariously experiencing Mulder and Scully’s awe and wonder with each new extreme discovery. But how much awe and wonder do Mulder and Scully still need or could they realistically still have at this stage of their lives? As every episode of the revival so far has taken great pains to remind us, they’ve been around the block more than a few times.They’re no longer the upstart non-conformists they used to be. They’re coming back, middle-aged and emotionally scarred, to the institution and authority they once ran from. Can anything still believably surprise them? And if it did, would the joy of discovery still be in it?

Thank you, Darin Morgan, for making the answer a clear “Yes.” That gleam in Mulder’s eye after he finally gets to shake hands with a prehistoric lizard man… well, it’s a gleam I haven’t seen in a very, very long time. But I’ll be a leaping lizard if I don’t still recognize it.

Earlier in the episode, Mulder quotes the Apostle Paul, musing that it might be time to put away childish things.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJV)

But he momentarily forgot that “childish” and “childlike” are two things that shouldn’t be conflated. Childlike faith, childlike optimism, childlike curiosity… suffer the little children, my dear Mulder! Go ahead and grow a brain, but don’t grow up completely. I don’t want you to grow up. I need a Monsters-R-Us kid.

Let’s say the newly skeptical side of Mulder is right. Let’s say most of what he thought and believed in the 90’s is intellectual flotsam and jetsam these days. Even if 99% of what Mulder and Scully encounter on the X-Files is bunk, that 1% can rock the world, or at least, completely change the course of Mulder’s life and give meaning to his own existence, a motivation that he at long last has recalled.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the episode not so subtly draws to our attention, he’s not the only one who needs his life infused with some meaning. Because it wouldn’t be a Darin Morgan episode if said author didn’t poke his finger in the hole of the side of the futility of human existence. The perceived futility, anyway.

Just like having no choice but to see every episode of The X-Files within the context of every other episode of The X-Files, it’s impossible to watch this episode without comparing it to Darin Morgan’s other work on the show, so I won’t try not to. Frankly, as self-referential as this is, it invites comparison. I haven’t seen this many easter eggs since I was seven and on an actual easter egg hunt. There are about twenty too many Easter eggs, if I’m being honest.

For Darin Morgan especially, it’s more than a bit on the obvious side of self-parody. “Humbug” (2×20), the pointed and pointedly underplayed comedy that started it all, opened the door to The X-Files commenting on The X-Files, but it did it in such a way that you could easily miss the elbow to your ribs. It was more like a gentle brush than a jab. “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) was much more obvious, but it also gave itself completely over to biting philosophical commentary. Now that’s a jab to the ribs. “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) was a mad world, but what it lacked in focus it made up for in laughs and memorable moments. And my favorite, Darin Morgan’s pièce de résistance as far as I’m concerned, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) was the perfect balance of everything: deep questions, deep belly laughs, and good-natured self-awareness.

How does “MASMTWM” fit into this overall picture? Well, I think if we took “Humbug’s” preference for the freakish over the mundane, mixed in a hefty dose of “JCFOS’s” spoofishness, added a dash of “CBFR’s” sentimentality and middle-aged it just right, we might approximate something close to what we have here.

We’ve arrived back again at the irrationality of humanity. Guy Mann echoes every above-mentioned episode when he tells us that human behavior makes so little sense, it’s frightening. Humans with their 9-5’s, their plans for futures they’d rather not live, their pants – they’re the freaks. The comedy here is the tragedy of the invisible question mark that hovers over most people’s heads. But whereas once, Morgan seemed to make fun of Mulder for trying to make sense of it all in “JCFOS”, he now seems to be anointing Mulder to go and make sense of it. For all our sakes.

In one of the more obvious spiritual parallels of the show, Mulder has always been out to prove that there’s something out there, something more than the banality of mundane human existence. This episode is a moment of validation to affirm that not only is that exactly what he’s doing, that’s exactly what he needs to be doing. If there’s nothing more, what in the paint-filled bag are we doing this for? So go to it, Mulder and Scully. Find a rhyme and reason for lives that seemingly have neither.

#HowMulderAndScullyGotTheirGrooveBack

All that said, and as genuinely relieved and amused as I am at this episode, it’s so loaded down with easter eggs oozing gooey chocolate that it doesn’t match the depth and profundity of Morgan’s earlier work, not that I truly expected it to, I just kinda hoped it would. And before you say it, I do realize that not everything needs to be deep or profound or even perfect. But “MASMTWM” actually attempts anchor itself in the depths of shrewd observation and winds up treading the shallow waters of long-winded exposition. A slightly more balanced “show” to “tell” ratio would have increased its impact dramatically.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s the clear best we’ve seen from the revival so far. It justifies both by its very existence and by its content the resurrection of these characters. But maybe part of the reason it’s forced to rely on in-jokes so much is because a dramatic series needs time to develop rhythms and patterns before those rules can effectively be broken in the name of comedy. Darin Morgan’s reign as a writer on The X-Files didn’t commence until the show had already firmly established its routine and its aesthetic. And as Chris Carter likes to remind us in nearly every single interview, this isn’t a reboot. This revival is a fresh creation and it’s saying and doing things the series proper never dreamed of. I suspect I would have found “MASMTWM” even funnier if it hadn’t harkened back to the old days as much as it was rooted and grounded in the new.

Verdict:

Mulder and Scully have met a Silurian from Dr. Who and I think the game is officially afoot, Watson. Mulder has his sense of wonder back and Scully her sense of adventure, two things we both historically got and desperately needed from both characters. They’ve changed, they’ve grown, they’ve endured, but at least we know we still know them. (Though I submit the show is overdoing the awkward middle-aged, post-90’s thing a little. It’s not like our two leads are pre-computer dinosaurs. Heck, they’re not even retirement age. They’re smart people and I’m sure they would have learned how to work smart phones right along with the rest of us.)

It’s funny, but it’s impossible to know yet whether this will be an enduring masterpiece. It will have to endure for us to tell. For me, it isn’t only not “CBFR”, it’s not even at a “Bad Blood” (5×12) level of funny. Then again, I was a freak who thought “Bad Blood” was only okay the first time she saw it. So take my opinion for what you will. Humans are truly the unfathomable creatures.

But if this episode gets credit for anything, besides for reigniting my love for these two characters, it’s for its note perfect tribute to the late, great Kim Manners whose aesthetics as a director, without exaggeration, were foundational in shaping the show into what it became. I’m merely one of the unprivileged masses who never knew the man personally, yet somehow I’m quite sure that he would have gotten a kick out of Mulder stealing flowers for him and getting drunk at his grave. I’m pretty sure that’s the highest known form of flattery.

B+

Comments:

I’m not going to bother with all the easter eggs because we’d be plopping them into our baskets all night. But I think the first one was the best one: The stoners from “Quagmire” (3×22) and “WOTC”.

The scene between Scully and Guy Mann in the phone store started off funny and quickly devolved into much too much. That was one of those moments that took me out of the episode.

Be-Puzzlements:

Mulder hears a panicked cry of “Monster!” but takes the time to put his shirt on so he’s presentable before he goes to investigate?

Again, Scully’s in trouble, and Mulder takes the time to put his suit jacket back on before running with the cavalry to her rescue?

How does Guy Mann know not only about Shakespeare, but about the history of folios? Did those instincts download in the bite of an animal control officer too?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: I’m just looking for some kind of internal logic.

Guy Mann: Why? There isn’t an external logic to any of it.

———————–

Guy Mann: Because if there’s nothing more to life than what we already know, then there’s nothing but worries, self-doubt, regret and loneliness.

———————–

Dr. Rumanovitch: No matter how overwhelming our anxieties might be, they will soon be resolved when we’re dead and buried for all eternity.

———————–

Annabell: They think I’m on crack.

Mulder: Are you?

Annabell: Yeah!

———————–
Scully: Mulder, the internet is not good for you.

I Want to Believe: I don’t think I’m the one who’s changed.


 

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This wasn’t the plan. Within a year of the series finale, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz were brainstorming an idea for the next installment in what everyone assumed would be The X-Files’ continuing feature film franchise. The release would be sometime in 2004. The fandom was out there.

But then, there were delays, and negotiations, and delays, and scheduling issues, and more delays… and a lawsuit. By the end of all that, Carter and Spotnitz were left to work with a small budget, an unsupportive studio, and a dwindling fan base; the cultural zeitgeist of the 90’s had passed and even if it hadn’t, Seasons 8 and 9 had laid waste to much of the public’s interest in The X-Files. Oh, and they lost all their plot notes so they had to scrap their previous ideas and start the script from scratch. Oh, and there was a writer’s strike during filming which meant they couldn’t fix any of the script’s problems.

I Want to Believe was a brainchild born under less than ideal circumstances. It’s little wonder then that it wafts whiffs of the smoke of disappointment. When I squint at it mentally, I see a middle aged man looking nostalgically back on his promising youth and trying to keep hope alive for the future.

But is it good?

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One plan that stayed alive from the beginning was to make this movie an extended Monster of the Week episode, a stand-alone, rather than write it as part of the larger mythology. This way audiences who didn’t know the series could get into it; it could generate general interest and pave the path for more films. As a fan who always leaned more toward the stand-alone episodes, I was and am all for this.

IWTB is an atmospheric, contained, pensive film. That’s what it needed to be, especially on a small budget. Personally, I wasn’t looking for loud explosions or dramatic special effects. I needed a Monster of the Week, not that was bigger and badder, but that was better than what I got in a typical episode.

To that end, the film is shot beautifully. The production went back to Vancouver and the director of photography from the series, Bill Roe, was brought back for this big screen effort so it looks like The X-Files. Someone new to the franchise would get a quick and easy idea of its trademark aesthetic. The setting, the chill, the darkness, it’s all perfect. And for a while, it convinces me I’m back home, imaginatively speaking.

But the difficulty in making this a MOTW is that it creates continuity issues for long time fans. When we last saw Mulder and Scully some six years previously, Mulder was on the run for his life after being given the death penalty by the F.B.I.. After being a part of the plan to help him escape, Scully ran off with him, and I don’t suppose she handed in her resignation either. We left them in a hotel room in New Mexico, hiding from an alien infiltrated government and on their way to Canada, ready to give everything in order to prevent alien colonization before D-Day 12/22/12.

In order for this to be a proper MOTW and still fit into the framework of the mythology, I assumed they would still be on the run or in hiding, but would somehow stumble upon an X-File, an outbreak of platonic paranormal activity or some such. I was sort of right about their being in hiding. Mulder’s hiding out in his home office while Scully lives openly, not under an assumed name, and works in a private Catholic hospital. There’s no underlying sense of urgency. (I’m sorry… when did the Super Soldiers stop posing a threat? I don’t need a mythology rundown, just a wee bit of context, please.)

After all that build up Season 9 about the government being out to kill Mulder, after Carter painted these two characters into the ultimate corner where they have no choice but to leave everything and everyone behind to take on the world by themselves, the threat is magically gone, just like Scully’s cancer, just like Mulder’s brain disease, and just like William. It’s safe for Mulder to walk into F.B.I. headquarters now. There are no Super Soldiers hiding in plain sight there. And the government doesn’t care about him one way or the other. “Just do us this favor and we’ll pretend none of it ever happened, Mulder.” Well, I’m going to do this plot a favor and pretend this issue was resolved in a much more satisfactory fashion.

In the grand scheme of things, how they get to this point is not a big deal. All that matters to me is that Mulder and Scully have an X-File to solve again. Mulder and Scully. Mulder and Scully.

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Is it too much to ask to see Mulder and Scully solve an interesting case… together? That’s all I want. That’s what I tuned into The X-Files to see every week. Instead we have Scully at first urging Mulder back into the land of the living only to retreat herself just as things get interesting. If IWTB is anything, it’s a character study, but not of Mulder, of Scully.

For first time viewers, it no doubt doesn’t matter. But for obsessive Philes, we know that Scully has a long history of being a paying passenger on Mulder’s crazy train. She’s briefly fantasized about normalcy in episodes like “Emily” (5×7) and “Dreamland” (6×4). And she’s questioned her life choices a few times in episodes like “Never Again” (4×13) and “all things” (7×17). But as in the ending of “all things”, she has reaffirmed her decision to continue tilting at windmills with Mulder over and over again. She did it, for example, in “Quagmire” (3×22), “Tooms” (1×20), “Paper Clip” (3×2), “Memento Mori” (4×15), Fight the Future, etc. etc. Scully wasn’t dragged into this quest and she hasn’t been dragged along. She’s invested in the journey.

Heck, she even reconfirmed her commitment in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). It’s a strange day indeed when I have to use TFWID as evidence of anything good and true…

Anyway, the last time we saw Scully in “The Truth” (9×19/20) she was doing what she does best after debunking Mulder’s theories and that’s keeping him in the fight, like she did in “Little Green Men” (2×1), “One Son” (6×12), and “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati” (7×4), to mention a few episodes of note. Scully is the official Keeper of Mulder’s Faith. And that’s why reading between the lines of the script, I believe ITWB was designed to turn the tables, that it’s meant to show us a weary Scully who now has to be urged back into battle herself by Mulder and by God.

This is potentially a very interesting and welcome moment of personal evolution for her character. Characters, like real people (and Scully is real), evolve and change. But if Scully’s going to jump from “Let’s fight the darkness, Mulder” to “I don’t wanna fight the darkness, Mulder” then we need some kind of context as to how and why.

I remember in the script stage talking a lot about what Scully could say and couldn’t say to [Mulder], that it couldn’t be selfish, her refusal to join him and wanting him to stop. She had to have legitimate reasons about where she was in her life. – Spotnitz, Blu-ray Commentary

Did going on the lam test her faith and her patience? Did she miss her family? Is that why she and Mulder settled down and she took a regular job again? Scully says that she and Mulder have a home and that she doesn’t want the darkness to creep back into that home. Is it that she and Mulder have finally found happiness and she doesn’t want to lose it? Or is it the relative peace that she values? ‘Cause they don’t exactly look like they’re living in non-marital bliss…

Is it that she’s rediscovered her calling as a physician? Are we supposed to understand she’s found fulfillment elsewhere now that she and Mulder aren’t chasing monsters anymore and that her work helping others has replaced the necessity of her work on the X-Files? Maybe it’s her relationship with young Christian, who is not so subtly named “Christian” and comes to represent both her lost son and the Christian faith she questions as she thinks on both her own losses and this young boy’s suffering.

If all that is the case, then I’m sad to say it doesn’t prove particularly effective as character motivation. The fate of the wide world rests on Mulder and Scully’s shoulders, but having Mulder out of the house for this case is too much for her to take? So she threatens to leave the only person who understands everything she’s been through? The person who she’s saved and who has saved her more times than she can count? Really? Well just roll me into a ball of confusion.

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When did Scully become that chick? When did she become the clingy girlfriend or the stereotypical cop’s wife for whom no emergency is worth her husband missing dinner? The woman who from the outside male perspective doesn’t appear logical, but purely hormonal? Scully’s suddenly the type to emotionally manipulate Mulder into doing what she wants by holding their relationship over his head?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a very low tolerance for onscreen relationship drama. Breakup or don’t. I have things to do.

I think the tension between Mulder and Scully would have worked much better if it had stayed centered around the case. We’re used to seeing Mulder and Scully at odds. The tension between them comes from their different perspectives, which actually work in a sort of harmony to drive the plot forward. There’s no need to force feed us marital drama. If there’s tension between them, let it be about the work itself, not their personal romance.

After all, as ever, they’re ultimately after the same thing. Scully is trying to save a life and so is Mulder. Not only is she after the same thing, she’s going after it in the same way – by exploring extreme possibilities. Even if Scully is wrapped up in what she’s doing at the hospital, there’s no legitimate emotional reason given for why she wants Mulder to give up trying to save these women and come back home and be a good househusband. (Oh, are you losing Mulder’s attention? I am so sorry.)

But that’s enough of my sarcasm because this isn’t a horrible movie. In fact, it starts off really well. There’s a creepy murder. Mulder and Scully are on a new mission – the team is back together. Mark Snow’s music is as effective as ever. It’s dark, it’s atmospheric, Mulder’s spouting mumbo jumbo nobody cares about and Scully looks worried about him. All is well in my world.

I especially like how the movie keeps us guessing as to the current status of Mulder and Scully’s relationship. Is it just that she knows how to find him for the F.B.I. or that they’re in regular contact? Are they in regular contact or is she at home in that house? Even at the end of the movie, is Scully moving out and saying goodbye or is she leaving for another day at work? See how things don’t have to be out in the open to stay interesting?

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Unfortunately, though, the movie hops over the boredom line at about the halfway mark. As the relationship drama ramps up, the mystery itself winds down. Instead of taking time to develop the villain or up the stakes of the plot, IWTB focuses on Mulder and Scully’s adventures with the peodophile priest. Father Joe is played convincingly and even sympathetically by Billy Connolly. But the overall plot is sacrificed to the themes of persistence and redemption that Father Joe represents. I love those themes, but isn’t there still supposed to be a mystery here worth solving?

Father Joe is here more than anything to be the voice of God for Scully, to convince her not to give up on young Christian or her faith. But, Scully’s like the prophet Jonah. Some people she’d rather not see God forgive. There can’t be a more unregenerate soul than a priest turned pedophile, right? If so, then the theme that absolutely anyone can be redeemed and anyone who presents themselves available can be used by God comes through loud and clear. By the end, Scully seems to have accepted the message on behalf of us all. 

As ever in The X-Files, God, Providence is at work behind the events. These are themes Chris Carter keeps coming back to, no doubt because they’re a part of him.

Verdict:

It’s not great, it’s not horrible. It’s just okay. But “okay” isn’t a satisfying comeback after six years. And “okay” doesn’t get you a third movie.

I remember seeing this in the theater for my 25th birthday. One of my best friends had come down to help me celebrate my quarter life crisis and what perfect timing! Mulder and Scully were back. After the way Season 9 ended and the amount of time that had passed, I had assumed all momentum was gone and that there would be no movie franchise forthcoming. Imagine the thrill when I found out we were getting a new movie, and a MOTW at that!

I was duly giddy with excitement, but I couldn’t help noting that we were about the only ones in the theater. And while the movie started out great, even as I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was happy to be seeing Mulder and Scully onscreen even when I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying myself, I knew even then that this wasn’t the kind of movie that spawned yet another movie. Mulder and Scully waved to me and I waved back to them (shamelessly) with the sad knowledge that this likely really was the end this time.

And then it wasn’t…

“I think we always had the desire that we would potentially do a third feature. I think we all felt that the second one that we did wasn’t necessarily the right way for us to end.” – Gillian Anderson

“I feel like we didn’t end on the right note before.“ – Gillian Anderson

I so agree. And I’m so, so grateful that it didn’t end here. If this had been a mediocre episode of the series, I could’ve shrugged off some of its failings much easier. When I thought it was The X-Files’ last gasp, it was a more painful thought. I’ve gone through ups and downs in my feelings about IWTB, but I think I’ve finally learned to accept it for what it is.  IWTB sounds like an instrument tuning back up. But you don’t listen to the orchestra tune up without then sitting through the concert. This was The X-Files getting a feel for itself again. This was the actors connecting with the characters again. This wasn’t a fully satisfying outing that left you feeling like Mulder and Scully’s journey was complete.

In the end, I’m glad IWTB wasn’t sufficient to launch another movie. In the end, the only satisfying way to finish out this series is to finish it out as a series. A couple of hours of screen time isn’t going to cut it to resolve everything that needs to be resolved. We don’t know where this new miniseries will lead, if it will lead to other miniseries. But if I can see the old team solving cases together one more time, it’ll all be worth it.

C+

Misplaced Bush Jokes:

“This stubbornness of yours… it’s why I fell in love with you.” I HATE this line. It’s the low point of the movie and one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the entire franchise. And no, I’m not surrendering my shipper card.

Enough with the free ads for Google. Google’s doing just fine on its own.

Realistically, this stood no chance being released during The Dark Knight’s massive reign.

A gay man kills innocent people to harvest limbs for transplant for his lover as part of a Russian medical conspiracy. They really thought that would work as a plot, huh?

Amanda Peet and Xzibit don’t feel like X-Files characters.

Speaking of which, what was the point of Agent Whitney’s toothless Mulder crush? I mean, other than kinda grossing me and Scully out?

Scully’s abilities as a doctor were always suspect given her resume. But when did she find time while on the run from the government to undergo training in pediatrics? And now the pathologist is poking around in the brains of the living? Scully does a quick Google search then wheels the boy into the OR for an experimental procedure the same day?

And, really? We’re going to bring Scully back to Seasons 1 & 3 with the “Samantha is Mulder’s only motivation” schtick?

THE BEARD, THO.

I can’t believe the Russians would successfully do those surgeries in those kind of unsanitary conditions.

“Write it down. Put it in a book.” – HUH???

William left me with an emptiness that couldn’t be filled either. Let’s see what happens now…

Dear Revival – As you can see, we’ve already been there, done that with the breakup idea.

Movin’ On Up:

The Skinner Hug. Squeal me.

I remember the actress who plays the missing agent from “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6). TPMP – My eternal debt to Chris Carter.

Between this and TPMP, it’s clear Chris Carter has a Frankenstein fetish.

Father Joe can’t have visions with Scully in the room. Echoes of the Stupendous Yappi in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4).

The hospital asks Scully to let go of her case, Scully asks Mulder to let go of his.

I love the effortless elegance of Scully’s hair.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: If it were me, I’d be on the guy 24/7, I’d be in bed with him kissing his holy ass.

Whitney: Father Joe’s a convicted pedophile.

Mulder: …Maybe I’d stay out of bed with him.

——————–

Scully: What is this?

Whitney: Dorms for habitual sex offenders.

Scully: Dorms?

Whitney: They manage the complex and police themselves. Father Joe lives here voluntarily with his roommate.

Mulder: Just avoid the activities room.

——————–

Scully: What are you doing?

Mulder: [Walks off] I’m trying to ignore you. {Editor’s Note: ME TOO.}

——————–

Skinner: I know Mulder. He’d get to a phone and call first. He wouldn’t do anything crazy.

Scully: [Looks at him]

Skinner: Not overly crazy.

 

Folie à Deux 5×19: See, if you’re not smiling, they can hear it.


The Natural Look

Vince Gilligan is a television genius and this episode has his sense of humor written all over it, rendering it unnecessary to even check the credits for his name. Telemarketing Zombie Grasshoppers? C’mon. We all know who’s responsible for this.

These… insects… are like something out of a 1950’s B sci-fi movie. It’s only one halting step away from the anonymous office worker who took off his hat one day and revealed an over-large pair of red compound eyes. Maybe the charm of that is lost on you, maybe it isn’t, but the zombies aren’t actually the focus of this episode anyway. They’re just a vehicle to showcase the current depth of Mulder and Scully’s partnership – I say “partnership” but it’s more like an “unbreakable psychic bond.”

Think about the way the events of the episode unfold: Mulder bewails his fate. Scully attempts to share Mulder’s fate. Mulder spares her his burden. Scully insinuates herself anyway. Mulder admits he needs Scully. Scully saves Mulder. Scully bewails her fate.

Yes, actually, I have pretty much described the entire series, I Want to Believe included.

One thing I especially love about Vince Gilligan’s episodes of The X-Files, or one person I should say, is Scully. Underneath the comedic icing of episodes like “Small Potatoes” (4×20) and “Bad Blood” (5×12) are subtly nuanced views of her character. This episode, even though the focus is ostensibly on Mulder, is no different. Where Mulder’s character falls into a foreseeable and highly anticipated decline consistent with everything he’s always been, it’s Scully who takes another imperceptible and yet vital step forward in a progression that will be significant in not only the immediately following season finale, but in the movie and the next season to come.

I bet you think this is where I explain how important and gratifying it is that Scully has come to trust Mulder, how she’s almost substituted his instincts for her own. But what’s more significant for Scully’s character is how far Mulder is now able to trust her. If Mulder’s computer-induced daydream of a roundhouse kicking Scully comes to save the day in “Kill Switch” (5×11) was just that, a daydream. Here’s the real thing.

Scully believes in Mulder so strongly that she can see what he sees. Similarly to the events of this episode but with less humor, Scully was worried about Mulder’s sanity in “Grotesque” (3×14), but she didn’t fall down the rabbit hole with him back then. Now their simpatico is such that she can’t help but adopt his psychosis. Surely, it’s not the phenomenon itself she comes to believe in, even if she does see it with her own eyes. Afterward she falters in her explanation of it before Skinner like a guilty schoolgirl. No, rather, Scully has reached the point where it doesn’t matter if what she sees is real or not, what matters is that she and Mulder are seeing the same thing.

“Folie à Deux” is a partnership-focused episode and in it The X-Files firmly establishes just how far Mulder and Scully have come in their relationship since the beginning, a not so subtle reminder right before “The End” (5×20). It’s especially significant in light of the emotional upheaval Scully’s about to experience with the advent of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Mulder just affirmed Scully’s place in his life in the most explicit terms he ever has. Does she believe him? I don’t see why she wouldn’t. Will she continue to? That’s complicated.

Scully questions why she follows Mulder back in “Quagmire” (3×22), she pouts over it in “Never Again” (4×13), she’ll complain the fruitlessness of it all innumerable times in the future, and yet she stays. Bottom Line: Scully doesn’t believe in the mission, she believes in the man.

Verdict:

If there’s one complaint, one reason why this episode doesn’t garner as many accolades as it could, it’s that those silly insects, the villains of the story, are so cheesy it’s distracting. But then, after all, how scary can a giant bug be? A spider the size of your hand, that’s scary. Once a pest passes the size of a soccer ball, it crosses the Rubicon into comical. The whole thing would have been more of a fright fest if Pincus had been a straight zombie or vampire and they had bypassed the insect angle altogether, but I don’t think that was ever Gillligan’s intent. The comedic undertones are intentional. And considering our arch-villain Pincus is a man-sized grasshopper, I think the visual effects team did an impressive job.

Dial and smile, Gary.

A-

Zombieland:

Telemarketers or zombies, what’s scarier? Their monotone scripts sound like zombie-speak anyway.

How in the round world did Scully get to Chicago so fast?? She hung up with Mulder just before he was taken hostage yet she arrives in front of the building while the SWAT team is still organizing itself. Just once, couldn’t someone write some actual time into the timeline?

Shirley Temple and Bo Jangles are on the television in one scene. Way to combine classic moments in pop culture.

Nice bit of continuity – Mulder’s finger is still broken from the last episode. Vince Gilligan was always a master of continuity nods.

It’s an episode that starts off seemingly about a crazy man holding people hostage and then turns into another thing altogether. Echoes of “Duane Barry” (2×5), anyone?

This is another classic case of Mulder manipulating Scully into an autopsy.

Why is it that every episode where Mulder “frees” Scully from having to jump into the fray with him, she ultimately refuses to stay away? “Tooms” (1×20), “Little Green Men” (2×1), “End Game” (2×17).

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Monsters? I’m your boy.

———————

Mulder: I must have done something to piss him off.
Scully: What do you mean?
Mulder: Get stuck with this jerk-off assignment. Or have I finally reached that magic point in my career where every time somebody sees Bigfoot or the Virgin Mary on a tortilla, I get called out of my basement ward to offer my special insight on the matter.
Scully: You’re saying “I” a lot. I heard “we.” Nor do I assume that this case is just a waste of our time.
Mulder: Well, not yours anyways. There’s no reason both of us should go to Chicago. I’ll take care of it. [Walks away]
Scully: Mulder?
Mulder: I’m Monster Boy, right?

———————

Mulder: Scully at the risk of you telling me “I told you so”, I think it’s time for you to get down here and help me.
Scully: I told you so.

———————

Mulder: Scully, you have to believe me. Nobody else on this whole damn planet does or ever will. You’re my one in five billion.

The Post-Modern Prometheus 5×6: Gypsies, tramps and thieves.


Rewind. Play. Stop. Rewind. Play. Stop. Rewind…

If you’ve been with me since at least “Quagmire” (3×23), you’ll know that I’ve asserted for a while now that more than sci-fi, more than paranormal fantasy, The X-Files is really a romantic literary adventure at heart. Here we have two heroes who are, erm, heroic… not because they’re faultless, but because like their predecessors in the great romantic tradition, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they refuse to give up their idealistic and foolhardy quest out of some antiquated sense of honor; their audience of fans being forced to waffle between nodding in admiration and shaking their heads in exasperation.

My arguments may ring flat to some but if you won’t take it from me, take it from series creator Chris Carter who wrote and directed this milestone episode giving us clear look into his personal predilections.

“Mr. Carter said he hoped the episode would remain true to the original story’s [Frankenstein’s] romantic roots. ‘I have always been a fan of romantic literature,’ he said. ‘In creating Mulder and Scully, I knew they could be likened to romantic heroes.’” [Editor’s Note: Told. You. So.]

Chris Carter based “The Post-Modern Prometheus” on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus), which is probably one of the most famous examples of literature produced during the Romantic movement. As an unusual of a departure as this episode is, its familiar theme, man elevating himself to the place of God through genetic manipulation, shouldn’t surprise us much.

It’s not hard to see where the Frankenstein motif has left its mark over much of the series already. From individual episodes back in Season 1 like “Young at Heart” (1×15), to the alien-human hybrid story arc encased within the larger, ongoing mythology, to the personal woes of Scully who has had her ova stolen and experimented on in the name of… well, in the name of what we’re not sure of yet.

If these fears and nightmares seem a little melodramatic, do The X-Files a favor and remember that this was the 90’s and we weren’t that far removed from Dolly the Sheep. The Human Genome had been mapped, cloning had become a reality, and not too far under the surface we all wondered just how far down the rabbit hole these new powers would take us. Could mankind be trusted with the God-like ability to remake life in its own image?

There’s a practical protection against such a danger: defining what it is, what it means to be human.

It’s not an unfamiliar subject to broach. Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation basically tried to define humanity every other episode. (Yet another example of how 90’s progress and paranoia led to pop culture perfection.) And even aside from the pressure of rapidly progressive science, myths of synthetic humans largely predate the advance of technology. Besides Frankenstein, there’s the myth of the Golem, not coincidentally a myth also addressed by The X-Files in “Kaddish” (4×12). And not to belabor the point, but why else did the Tin Man want a heart, the Scarecrow want a brain and the Cowardly Lion want courage if not to become human rather than merely humanoid?

All that is to say that what “The Post-Modern Prometheus” is really saying is that to be “human” isn’t merely to meet a genetic requirement. After all, we share so much of our genetic material with the lowly Drosophila. No, humans are required to be humane; we’re made in the image of God and we’re supposed to act like it. Here all these freaky looking townsfolk are hunting a mutant monster only to find out that not only are they uglier on the inside than he is on the outside, but the monkey really is their uncle. Literally.

Verdict:

Sometimes I’m amazed at what The X-Files makes it possible for us to enjoy without guilt. Here’s a tale about rape and animal-human hybrids, and somehow, that’s OK.

Maybe that’s because the whole episode is a Fractured Fairy Tale from start to finish. It starts and ends as a conscious piece of fiction being deliberately framed in comic book format. The gorgeous black and white cinematography, undoubtedly a feather in the cap for Director of Photography Joel Ransom, sets this episode apart as something other than an X-File and something more akin to Chris Carter’s personal fan fiction. There are also the repetitive shots, or as Chris Carter likes to call them, “visual quotes”, peppered throughout the episode, giving a disorienting sense of déjà vu to the entire story. And best of all, the wide-angle lens shots exaggerate even the most mundane moments eliminating all traces of the real world eeriness that The X-Files is famous for. It’s not a loss, it’s a welcome departure; pure escapism in a show that’s already fantastical in content.

This one was originally written for Cher and Rosanne Barr who both expressed interest in appearing on The X-Files. Rosanne Barr who was originally supposed to play Shaineh Berkowitz and Cher who was supposed to play… Cher. But at the last minute, schedule conflicts ruled out this potential clash of the titans and substitutes had to be found. I think it’s a good thing in the long run that Chris Carter didn’t get the famous guest stars he wrote the story around (except for you of course, Jerry Springer). They would have only been a distraction. This way the “The Post-Modern Prometheus” itself gets to shine.

The question is, who do we owe its success to? You’d think it’d be obvious, and yet Mulder and Scully take over the script from Chris Carter, quite literally. Interestingly enough, they’ve already done it figuratively, recreating the show in their own image despite, or perhaps because of, their creator’s best intentions. It’s all quite meta, no?

Speaking of intentions, I saw that look cross your face, David Duchovny. Mulder and Scully came this close to making Shippers everywhere collapse in spasms of geeky bliss during that final scene. As it is, there may have been embarrassingly girly squeals rising from a in front of a little television near the Everglades somewhere. I have read that there was an actual kiss filmed, but who knows if the footage still exists or if it will ever see the light of day.

That’s OK because ultimately, I didn’t need it and I still don’t. I can honestly say that’s the most purely joyful moment of television I’ve ever been graced to witness.

The End.

A+

Sweet Nothings:

The quote above from Chris Carter was surreptitiously stolen from here: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/19/arts/tv-notes-x-files-tries-frankenstein.html

Not to be blasphemous, but Marc Cohn’s original version of “Walking in Memphis” is actually my favorite. Speaking of which, does anyone remember when it was featured on VH1’s Pop Up Video? I’m aging myself, yes?

Composer Mark Snow has absolutely outdone himself. For reals. The whole score is a vaguely circus-like dream.

The looks on Scully’s face this entire episode… you can watch it with the sound off and it’s still hilarious. Her face says it all.

Recurring guest star Chris Owens is back for his 3rd appearance on The X-Files, this time as a monster that doesn’t smoke.

The Great Mutato wants to create someone just as miserable as he is so they can be miserable together. How… touching.

For once, there’s no need for Chris Carter to reign in the purpleness of his prose. It works to this episode’s fantastical advantage.

I could touch on why, yet again, Cher is presented as the sacred mother to all the outcasts and misfits of the world. But then, that’s been done.

Best Quotes:

Scully: [Reading in a deadpan voice] Dear Special Agent Mulder, I’m writing to you for help. Several years ago I had an experience I cannot explain. I was lying in my bed when I felt a presence in the room. Though I was awake, I felt that something had taken control over my body. I don’t remember much else, but I woke up three days later pregnant with my son Izzy. [Exchanges a look with Mulder] That was eighteen years ago but now it happened again. I was in bed and could swear I heard Cher singing (the one who was married to Sonny). [Exchanges another look] Then the room got all smoky and I saw some kind of monster. He had a really gross face with lumps all over his head. I was too scared to scream then I got all groggy and conked out for three days. Guess what happened when I woke up. I got your name off the TV. Some lady on The Jerry Springer Show who had a werewolf baby said you came to her house. [Yet another look] Well, I got her story beat by a mile, so maybe you’ll want to come see me too. Sincerely, Shaineh Berkowitz.
Mulder: Scully, do you think it’s too soon to get my own 1-900 number?

———————–

Mulder: I’m alarmed that you would reduce these people to a cultural stereotype. Not everybody dreams to get on Jerry Springer.

———————–

Scully: Mulder, I’m alarmed that you would reduce this man to a literary stereotype, a mad scientist.

———————–

Scully: Mulder?
Mulder: You may have been right, Scully.
Scully: What, that these people could be reduced to a cultural stereotype?

———————–

Mulder: This is all wrong, Scully. This is not how the story’s supposed to end.
Scully: What do you mean?
Mulder: Dr. Frankenstein pays for his evil ambitions, yes, but the monster’s supposed to escape to go search for his bride.
Scully: There’s not gonna be any bride, Mulder. Not in this story.
Mulder: Well, where’s the writer. I want to speak to the writer.

Unusual Suspects 5×1: Sure, baby. My kung fu is the best.


Do I look like Geraldo to you?

I have to say, as fond as I was of the Lone Gunmen, coming off of the emotional rollercoaster that was the “Gethsemene”/”Redux”/”Redux II” trilogy, I was not looking forward to sitting through an episode sans the Mulder/Scully dynamic.

It’s not that it wasn’t high time the Lone Gunmen got their own episode. Who didn’t look forward to their brief, two minute guest spots of comic delight? No, it’s just that I was dying to see what life was like now that the threat of Scully’s cancer had passed. What I wanted was a real meat and potatoes X-File and a good heart to heart between our leads a la the “conversation on the rock” scene in “Quagmire” (3×22).

Unrealistic expectations notwithstanding, I wasn’t disappointed in this episode. I was feeling impatient, yes, slightly irritated even. But that’s not “Unusual Suspects” fault. In retrospect, probably the wisest thing the 1013 Productions crew could have done was to give us a little comic fluff, a slight departure from the series’ norm in the wake of the drama that just went on. There’s no sense in trying to compete with the unrelenting tension of the previous episode.

Now we’ve covered why “Unusual Suspects” starts off as an underdog even before it airs, much like the Lone Gunmen themselves. So what does this episode have going for it?

1. The Lone Gunmen (Duh): Fans had been clamoring for a while to see the nerdy trio get their own episode. Skinner had one. Even Cigarette-Smoking Man had one. Surely the Gunmen had it coming. Honestly, their characterizations don’t disappoint. Byers was seemingly the least likely to be the focus of an episode, considering the popularity of Langly and Frohike especially, but that was a clever move from writer Vince Gilligan. Byers is the most normal of the bunch and watching him of all people turn paranoiac is satisfying and it grounds the events of the episode. In fact, it reminds me of how The X-Files is originally told from Scully’s decidedly normal point of view. That’s precisely where its sense of wonder came/comes from.

2. That Retro Swag: Maybe the desire not to compete with the emotional impact of “Redux II’ is part of why “Unusual Suspects” is not only a departure in content, it’s a departure in time. Off we go back to the days before Mulder opened is precious X-Files, back to the dark ages of 1989, when cellular phones were larger than the heads that cradled them. We even get to see Mulder whip one out in an understated moment of pure comedy. Truly this is where the Gunmen belong, surrounded by impossibly bulky and outdated computer equipment.

3. X: After just a full season, X is back. As Chris Carter famously said, “No one ever really dies on The X-Files.” X has returned to do what he does best, clean up a leak and protect a potentially dangerous advancement in science to make sure the government is the only one to profit by it. Isn’t that how we learned to love him in episodes like “Soft Light” (2×23) and “Wetwired” (3×23)? And I have to say, corny though it may seem to some, I enjoy the tie-in to the mythology here. I love that X knew Mulder long before Mulder knew him, that we get to see him when he already must have been working for Cigarette-Smoking Man, and most of all, I love that he indirectly names the Lone Gunmen.

4. Mulder’s Innocence: It seems clear from their introduction in “EBE” (1×16), though it is never directly stated, that Mulder knew the Lone Gunmen long before he met Scully. We never did question how or why. I guess I just assumed that he met them somewhere along the way, maybe in a MUFON meeting somewhere. We also knew that Mulder’s search for Samantha and his belief that she was taken by aliens was the foundation of his start on the X-Files, (You’ll note how Gilligan cleverly has Mulder make his way to the “Alien Life” themed booth), but we also knew that Mulder didn’t always believe in aliens, neither was he always such a pain in the backside of the establishment. So his hypnotic regression therapy sessions with Dr. Werber weren’t solely responsible for his mental and social downfall after all.

And the Verdict is…

Checks in the plus column aside, I’m not sure this episode is a resounding success. It’s fun, to be sure, but Susanne Modeski’s paranoia, the paranoia that was the catalyst for all the rest, is a bit of a hard sell in the end. It’s a little over the top… except for that part about not being able to trust your dentist.

Speaking of Miss Modeski, perhaps the issue is more akin to what went on in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). We have an outsider in a stand-alone episode who the audience is suddenly required to accept as an intricate piece of the mythology puzzle. Here it works better because Susanne Modeski only inspires the X-Files in an indirect way and only has the briefest contact with Mulder himself – no eternal soul pact required.

Lastly, the Modeski character brings in some fun elements of Film Noir. Even though she turns out to be one of the good guys, she still plays The Femme Fatale by leading an otherwise law-abiding man down a dangerous and morally ambiguous path. Poor Byers never had a chance.

In the end, I enjoy it and I probably enjoy it more in retrospect just to relish as much of the Lone Gunmen as I can get.

B+

Miscellaneous:

Still not so sure why Frohike recruits Langley to help with the hack. I thought he said his kung fu was already the best?

This is our first Vince Gilligan solo script since the masterpiece that was “Small Potatoes” (4×20).

Nice touch having Mulder answer the phone with, “Hey, Reggie.” No doubt this is the era when he was still working under Reggie Perdue of “Young at Heart” (1×15) fame. Vince Gilligan always was a Phile at heart – he remembered the little details.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the series. There are 201 episodes of The X-Files and this is #100. Well, technically there are 202 episodes, but that’s only because the series finale is counted double.

Why are they selling bootleg cable right in front of representatives of the Federal Government? Was that legal back then and I missed it?

That “Holly’s” daughter’s name was supposedly Susanne Modeski should’ve Byers’ first clue. Well, second after the whole sugar thing. Susanne isn’t exactly a name you heard on many little girls in 1989.

One has to wonder why X bothers to let the Lone Gunmen live at all.

And, finally, how could I ignore the nice little guest spot by Detective Munch? My how that character gets around a television set.

Best Quotes:

Munch: Start with your name and birth date.
Byers: John Fitzgerald Byers. 11-22-63.
Munch: Seriously.
Byers: I was named after JFK. Before the assassination my parents were going to name me Bertram.
Lieutenant Munch: Lucky you.

——————-

Byers: You’re talking about a premeditated crime against the United States government!
Frohike: Hey, your second today. [Removing Byers’ FCC badge] Welcome to the Dark Side.

——————-

Langley: There’s no game here.

——————-

Langly: Government hack is a snap. Last week I got into the Maryland DMV, changed my endorsement so I could handicap park. [Byers stares] I got tinnitus.

——————-

Modeski: No matter how paranoid you are, you’re not paranoid enough.

——————-

Frohike: Now I’m sorry. You’re telling me that the U.S. government, the same government that gave us Amtrak…
Langly: Not to mention the Susan B Anthony dollar…
Frohike: Is behind some of the darkest, most far-reaching conspiracies on the planet? That’s just crazy!
Langly: I mean, like this guy [Byers] works for the government!

——————-

Mr X: Behave yourselves.
Byers: That’s it? You’re just trying to intimidate us, to scare us, so we’ll keep quiet!
Frohike: [Under his breath] Byers, I swear to god, I’ll shoot you myself.
Byers: It’s all true what Susanne said about you people, isn’t it? About John F Kennedy! Dallas!
Mr X: I heard it was a lone gunman.

——————-

Lieutenant Munch: Do I look like Geraldo to you? Don’t lie to me like I’m Geraldo. I’m not Geraldo!

——————-

Byers: You want the truth?
Mulder: Yeah. I want the truth.
Byers: You might want to sit down, this is going to take a while. The truth is… none of us is safe. Secret elements within the U.S. government seek to surveil us and control our lives.
Mulder: What?!
Frohike: Tell him about the hotel Bibles.
Byers: Yeah, I’m coming to that. It all started with Susanne Modeski…

Never Again 4×13: You’d break my heart over a cheap redhead?


Walking in Memphis.

Before we start, let’s take a moment to consider what could have been:

“They had long wanted to write a story about Lincoln’s ghost haunting the White House, and thought this would work splendidly on The X-Files; finally, Mulder and Scully go to the White House! But their disappointment over the changes they were forced to make ‘Musings of Cigarette Smoking Man’ caused them to withhold the ghost story and look for something else. ‘I had done a lot of research and I had always wanted to write a feature about Lincoln’s ghost,’ Morgan said, ‘But I felt they didn’t want my heart and soul anymore, so I wouldn’t give this one to them.’

Why cast pearls before swine? Instead of Lincoln’s ghost, we got Jodie Foster’s disembodied voice. It’s a pretty even trade.

I don’t like this episode. And I know that just as much as it was hated when it first aired it’s become something of a critic’s darling over the years. Even so, I still can’t see it. I think most of this praise stems from the fact that the episode and the content thereof is admittedly daring for The X-Files. But showing us a new side of Scully’s character, while a worthy goal, isn’t merit enough for me considering the side the side of Scully they decided to show.

I think the fairest way to look at this episode is the way that writers Morgan and Wong intended it, outside of the shadow of “Leonard Betts” (4×14). These two episodes were shown out of broadcast order because The Powers That Be felt that “Leonard Betts” would be a better episode to air directly after the Super Bowl. I have to say they were right. “Leonard Betts” is a better representation of what the show is all about. “Never Again” not only could potentially alienate a large segment of fans (the Shippers), but it could leave the new audience that Fox was trying to recruit a little confused. After all, unless you know the history of Mulder and Scully’s day-to-day relationship this episode loses a lot of its power.

So for the majority of this review, I’m going to consider the episode as written: Scully has no idea that she may have cancer. Her actions have no impetus or inspiration outside of her own psyche.

There’s an interesting assumption subtly put forth here in the beginning of the episode that Mulder and Scully have a lot more cases, most of them mundane and unfruitful, than we as the audience get to see. It’s actually a great idea and would explain why Scully’s skepticism still holds sway even in the face of all that she’s seen if she’s actually seen more that can be dismissed than that can be proved. The problem is, as late as “Teliko” (4×4) Scully is typing up case report #74, which is the same as the episode number give or take a combined abduction arc or two. That would mean that up to this point in the series, what we’ve seen is all there is to see. And if Scully’s seen exactly what we’ve seen, her petulant ennui seems rather misplaced. At the very least, she shouldn’t dismiss Mulder and his informant so easily. What was that she said to Mulder way back in “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (1×23)? “I should know by now to trust your instincts.”

Sometimes I think Morgan and Wong were reading from a completely new playbook.

Not that their unfortunate characterization of Mulder is completely out of left field. He is rather self-righteous and self-absorbed. But he’s certainly proven that he can be selfless when it comes to Scully. Episodes such as “End Game” (2×17) and “Paper Clip” (3×2) are evidence enough of this. Sure, when he says obnoxiously obtuse things like, “You don’t want it to be?,” in response to Scully’s complaint that his work has become her life, he’s rather asking for a slap. But then again, hasn’t she already affirmed in episodes like “Herrenvolk” (4×1) that they’re in this thing together? Hasn’t he given her escape routes that she refuses to take in episodes like “Tooms” (1×21) and “End Game”? If Mulder is presumptuous when it comes to Scully, it’s only because she’s set herself up for it by being so faithful.

What’s more, this line always raises my eyebrow:

Scully: Refusing an assignment? It makes it sound like you’re my superior.

Reality check, Scully. I believe he is.

Oh, I don’t know if he’s technically her superior, but he’s certainly the Senior Agent having graduated from Quantico 4 years before Scully even began at the Academy. Not to mention that he’s way ahead of her in this whole paranormal gig. And as far as her holding down the fort while Mulder’s on vacation, isn’t that her job? Is she even allowed to refuse an assignment except that her close relationship with Mulder gives her leave to do so?

Considering the nature of their working relationship and the precedents she herself has set, Mulder’s annoyance at Scully’s sudden shift in behavior is somewhat justified.

“I thought Scully gets jerked around a lot by Mulder, and this is time for her to stand up for herself,” Morgan said… Sometimes friends suddenly seem troubled and you don’t know why and they won’t tell you. I think he is concerned, even though they get into a little fight… Scully doesn’t do a good job at telling him what’s wrong. She’s inarticulate about it, and I don’t think he understands what she’s trying to say. Mulder should have said, ‘Well, what’s making you feel this way?’ or ‘I don’t understand.’ But in the case of a lot of friends, he just gets frustrated, and sort of blows out. He’s a psychologist, but when it comes to his own life, it’s a forest for the trees type situation. It’s just too close to him.”

Ah, yes. The fight.

The fact that Scully doesn’t have a desk makes Mulder look like a jackass. But frankly, “Why don’t I have a desk?” is a silly question. “Why haven’t I asked for a desk?” is a better one. I’m sure she can requisition one without Mulder’s assistance. (In Morgan and Wong’s defense, this argument was inspired by internet fans whose hawk-like eyes had noticed that Scully still hadn’t earned a place to sit in 4 years).

This sudden wedge between them feels slightly artificial, especially since we know that Scully takes over the desk any old time she pleases. Without the context that “Leonard Betts” gives, it seems as though the writers are looking for an excuse to drive a wedge between our two leads.

“My understanding at the beginning of the year was that we were going to drive to a point where Mulder and Scully didn’t trust each other,” Morgan said. His own scenario for plotting out the season was somewhat different from what Carter and the other writers came up with this year, but the fundamental issue was the same: trust. “I would have slowly split Mulder and Scully up over the course of the season, then in the last episode have Scully put Mulder away for his own good, which he would perceive as the ultimate betrayal,” Morgan said. “And then the next season, they would have had an entire year’s healing to go through.”

And there it is. Yet another example of why it was so important that Chris Carter hold tightly to the reigns of his own creation. It’s not that Morgan’s plan wouldn’t have made for a good drama. And certainly, the 1013 crew did create some tension between Mulder and Scully to keep the audience on their toes. But I dare say that if such a plan had come to fruition, The X-Files would have been The X-Files no longer but some kind of sci-fi soap opera (a fate that it wouldn’t teeter close to till much later in the series).

What if Morgan and Wong’s other plans had gone through? What if Melissa Scully had become Mulder’s love interest? What if CSM had killed Frohike? What if Scully had had sex with Ed Jerse, not just permanently altering her characterization but forever changing the tone of the series? Objectively, I can see why stories like that would be more fun to write. But as a fan, they potentially would have killed my love for the show.

Speaking of sex…

I’ve said before that Mulder and Scully are heroes in the Romantic literary tradition. Humanizing them is one thing. Even Odysseus had his faults. But there’s only so, well, “gritty” you can make a hero before they lose their status altogether. If we had witnessed the same Scully who once famously said, “Hard to imagine in this day and age someone having sex with a perfect stranger,” do the deed with a perfect stranger after only a few drinks to numb her inhibitions, she would have lost her dignity.

Look at the reaction the Detectives have to finding her in Ed Jerse’s apartment the morning after. Do they take her seriously in that disheveled condition? Hardly. And as a woman in the F.B.I., Scully would have had to work hard for her reputation and for respect. A woman with so much to lose would be more cautious. To not do so could put her career at risk.

“As to why it was cut, Morgan said that Carter and the other writers felt that every other woman on television was jumping into bed, and they had worked very hard to differentiate Scully from other female television characters. Morgan’s response: ‘She’s different, but the way she is now, she’s not human.’”

It’s not human to be celibate? Or to at least hold out for a while? Scully doesn’t have to be realistic a la The Sopranos to be believable. Besides, Scully is a sentimentalized vision, as is Mulder in his own way. Scully represents an ideal of intelligent, unexploited womanhood. Taint that at your own peril.

Scully: Sometimes I wish I were that impulsive.

Ed Jerse isn’t even Scully’s type. Judging by her past and future track record in episodes like “Lazarus” (1×14) and “all things” (7×17) she’s more into the intellectual sort as a rule. This is rebellion. Pure and simple. That said, unlike Mulder and Melissa in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5), their chemistry is believable, even if it’s not of the life long sort. Besides, he doesn’t seem to be bothered when he essentially tells him that he’s nothing more than a proverbial giant pack of cigarettes to her.

But, why Ed Jerse and why now? She sees the picture in his apartment with his face burned out. She knows this man is troubled. Such reckless behavior is unlike Scully who here-to-fore has been rational to a fault.

“My gut feeling is that Scully does see Mulder as a father figure,” Morgan said… “In ‘Never Again,’ I don’t know if she’s rejecting the message, but she’s rejecting the father. At times their relationship becomes so oppressive. When I was married and unhappy, I would just go through these things where things would build up, and then I would just do something stupid. And I’d go, ‘What the hell is that? That’s not even me.’”

I’ve already made an argument for why I don’t think the comparison between Bill Scully and Mulder is on point. The details are in my review for “Quagmire” (3×22), but to summarize, just because Scully called her father “Ahab” does not mean that he was actually an Ahab-like figure the way that Mulder is. Bill Scully was no post-modern Don Quixote, unlike Mulder who wears his hopeful neediness on his sleeve. Rather, I believe that Scully sees Mulder as this tragically heroic figure, one whose quest she’s drawn to at least partially out of her own sense of awe and adventure. Again, this is why stripping Mulder and/or Scully of the Romantic aura that surrounds them would disrupt the whole course of the show.

Scully: I’ve always gone around in this, uh… this circle. It usually starts when an authoritative or a controlling figure comes into my life.

Mulder? Authoritative? Controlling? “All consuming,” I’ll give you. But despite the fact that he has a very effective puppy dog face, Mulder is certainly no puppet master. And as far as authoritative, Scully’s consistently sarcastic remarks in response to his theories would say otherwise. This is hardly a teacher-pupil relationship. Scully brings just as much to the table as Mulder. And yet, here she is painted as that same, stupid little girl sucking poison into her lungs not because she likes cigarettes, but because some perverse part of her wants to piss off the father she loves and that she knows loves her. It’s rebellion at its silliest.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Scully wants to be her own person. That’s a natural desire and it can’t be discounted. Mulder’s right, they do need to spend some time apart so that Scully can remember who she is and what she wants. If this episode achieves anything, it forces both Mulder and Scully to recognize just how entrenched their relationship has become, such that both are unsure of their identities without it.

“I feel that Mulder had come to respect that there’s more to this than just him, that Scully is now a part of his life and he’s a part of hers. I think that she learned the danger of exploring the rebellious side, and that it has to be accompanied by responsibility. What she did almost got her killed.”

Their communication skills leave something to be desired. But since the very next episode leaves the events of “Never Again” all but forgotten, I think we can safely say that no permanent damage was done. Not that they didn’t come very, very close what with Mulder making cavalier jokes about Scully’s tattoo and all.

“’I hope we helped Chris out,’ Wong concluded. ‘I think we did a good job. It was a lot of work; we basically did a season’s work in half a season, but I hope that didn’t show in the quality of our X-Files and Millennium episodes. We have very fond thoughts of the people we worked with.’”

Morgan and Wong did do an awesome job, even if much of their work on Season 4 leaves me a little wary and grateful that they decided to move on when they did. Some seasons of life are good while they last, but they shouldn’t be artificially enjoyed past their expiration date. Besides, the quality of their work has never been in doubt. It’s their X-Files philosophy that I sometimes take issue with.

Oh, I know that Mulder and Scully aren’t perfect. And they don’t act perfectly toward each other. But imperfect doesn’t automatically translate to dysfunctional. Why do we have to believe that they’re together because of some twisted and unhealthy psychological need?

There’s a far more simple and compelling, if less melodramatic explanation: They’re friends.

Verdict:

Taking this episode as it was aired, after “Leonard Betts”, everything about it is much easier to accept. Scully doesn’t know how long she has to live, so why not throw off any and all constraints? There’s always a risk of infection and allergic reactions with tattoos, not to mention the risks involved in sex with a stranger, all things that Scully, as a doctor, would be more than aware of. But if she’s dying anyway, what’s the use in being the good girl? In the light of cancer, seeing Scully suddenly question the trajectory of her life makes perfect sense. What was satisfactory a week ago when you thought you had all the time in the world to find the things you want in life suddenly looks bland and meaningless.

Yet even considering that, there’s only so “grounded” these characters can be and still be able to function in a series where the fantastic happens on the regular. Like it or not, Mulder is the Indiana Jones of the F.B.I. We can’t hate Indy and cheer him on.

I confess I still don’t understand sending Scully to the dark side without rhyme, reason or impetus. It’s hard to reconcile this new image of Scully with the fact that her biggest rebellion on record is giving up medicine… to work for the government.

B

P.S. The excerpts are from an interview with Morgan and Wong that can be found here: http://etc1013.wordpress.com/1997/10/01/cinefantastique-4/

Running Commentary:

Scully has a fight scene for the second episode in a row. Rock on, Scully.

It’s always more believable when Mulder and Scully seek and discover an X-File rather than when an X-File stumbles upon them.

Scully pieces together that the blood with the strange toxicology found in the victim’s apartment is most likely Ed’s. Ergo, she must realize there’s a good chance he’s the killer, yet she unloads her suspicions on him without any precautions as though a trip to the doctor’s office is all that’s in order. Is she just taking “innocent until proven guilty” to a ridiculous extreme? Woman, you should have had your gun in hand.

It’s interesting to note that there were some reservations about the script of “Small Potatoes” (4×20) calling for a near kiss between “Mulder” and Scully after he plies her with some alcohol. After all, no one wanted Scully to appear easy…

“In December 1996 someone on the old AOL discussion group posted that they wished Scully would get a love interest. Glen Morgan emailed the person and told her that he was writing just that, and for ‘Shippers to be afraid … be very afraid.’ This caused a heated debate among Shippers/Non-Shippers/Shipper Haters and everyone else. As a result, Morgan posted something on AOL to defend himself: ‘Well, this is almost as embarrassing as the recent Chargers-Patriots game. I swear … I have nothing against either side. Mulder and Scully may love each other, they may not. But, as in any relationship, it should be challenged to see if it is strong. Long live the debate! I love this series. I love the fans. I *HATE* Entertainment Weekly (as long as we’re being honest). Jim and I would never write anything with the sole intention of making anyone angry. If that is a reaction to an episode, however, great! It’s better than being boring. The comment that was posted was a joke. And if it was meant to be a public joke, then it would have been. My apologies if anyone was upset. Never again — Glen.’” Source: http://cleigh6.tripod.com/CTP/CTP-neveragain.html

Best Quotes:

Scully: Your contact, while interesting in the context of science fiction was… at least in my memory, recounting a poorly veiled synopsis of an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
Mulder: “Eenie Weenie Chili Beanie, the spirits are about to speak?”
Scully: Rocky and Bullwinkle are looking for an Upsidasian mine. Boris Badenov alters the road signs, which causes them to walk onto a secret military base, where they are picked up by a car with no windows and no door locks, and there are silent explosions from a compound called Hush-a-boom.
Mulder: So you’re refusing an assignment based on the adventures of… [Boris Badenov voice] “Moose and Squirrel?”

———————

Scully: Sometimes I wish I were more impulsive.
Ed Jerse: Careful what you wish for.

———————

Scully: Look, Mulder, I have to go.
Mulder: What? You got a date or something?
Scully: [Silence]
Mulder: You… you’re kidding.
Scully: I have everything under control. I will talk to you later.

———————-

Mulder: All this because I… because I didn’t get you a desk?
Scully: Not everything is about you, Mulder. This is my life.
Mulder: Yes, but it’s m…

Season 3 Wrap Up: Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?


On the Big Picture Front

Season 3 is a perennial fan favorite, for obvious reasons. It’s during this era that The X-Files went from a cult hit to a primetime sensation. Far from being a specific genre show, it proved it was capable of changing styles from week to week and still maintain consistency and continuity. One week Mulder and Scully are on the brink of discovering alien life, and the next they’re being overrun by mutant cockroaches. Season 3 is at turns a sci-fi show, a psychological drama, a comedy and a parody.

And more than anything else, it’s the Season of Darin Morgan. Sure he debuted back in Season 2 as the writer of the landmark “Humbug” (2×20) and even earlier than that he provided the story for “Blood” (2×3) and even donned a body suit to play The Flukeman in “The Host” (2×2). But three out of the four episodes he officially wrote for the series aired in Season 3. That’s not even counting his uncredited contributions to episodes like “Revelations” (3×11) and “Quagmire” (3×22), two episodes that delve deeply into the psychological background of Mulder and Scully, laying the basis for years to come for other writers who would take their characters even further.

His presence on the staff actually transformed the show into something that was pliable and therefore viable. How long would The X-Files have lasted if things had stayed as serious as they did in Season 1 and most of Season 2? I daresay there’s an audience for that, myself included, but Darin Morgan introduced an era where The X-Files could lovingly poke fun at itself; this meant that the audience didn’t have to. After all, if you bring up your faults before anyone else can, it serves as a first level of defense. “Fox Mulder is off his rocker, you say? We already know. We called him on it ourselves and beat you to it.” Once that’s out of the way, everyone can sit back and enjoy without their being an elephant in the room.

Self-parody is also a sign of success. “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) could never have happened in Seasons 1 or 2. The X-Files wasn’t set it its ways enough to exaggerate its own image. The audience could laugh at Mulder and Scully being ridiculous because they already take them seriously. And even though it’s not one of my favorites, this is a turning point in the show because from here on out, anything was game. Starting in Season 3, you can see how later episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) would evolve from this series. The writers could stretch The X-Files and it wouldn’t break.

On the Relationship Front

If you’ve been reading and watching along, you’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say. I’m no sentimentalist, but the tension that was written into Mulder and Scully’s relationship for much of this season isn’t exactly my bag. It’s true that they couldn’t go on in the hyper-idealized way that they were in Season 2, where the other could almost do no wrong. And it’s also true that a certain amount of tension and drama creates interest, and I’m all for that. But there were moments this season where I wondered why they were even partners at all since they didn’t seem to work well together. Heck, at moments they were downright antagonistic.

The good side of this is that when Mulder or Scully are divided, it almost invariably means that one or the other is about to benefit from some serious character development. Mulder moves beyond Samantha in “Oubliette” (3×8), even if he doesn’t move beyond the “Samantha Protocol”, and he shows off his criminal profiling genius in “Grotesque” (3×14), a skill that Scully can’t possess at the same emotional and psychological level. For her part, Scully matures in issues of faith in “Revelations”, a spiritual journey you’d think that Mulder would be able to relate to but instead is surprisingly antagonistic toward. And dividing them up for the mythology episodes was a wise decision. More information gets disseminated to the audience for one thing. And for another, Scully begins to develop her own methods of investigation. It’s a nice contrast watching them stumble upon parallel bits of information and come to wildly different conclusions. Neither one of them would get to the truth alone.

But after all that division, the writers reel it back in toward the end of the season and I’m forever grateful. “Pusher” (3×17) and “Wetwired” (2×23) remind us that Mulder and Scully still do have an almost spiritual bond that’s survived the losses and divisions of Season 3. It’s a sweet but brief respite, however. Season 4 will bring Mulder and Scully both closer and further apart than ever before, a rollercoaster I’m currently bracing myself for emotionally.

On the Whole

Season 3 is arguably when The X-Files hit its peak. Looking back, I’d say that it is… but it’s not when The X-Files hit its prime, a point of semantics that I’ll get into much later.

I say this is its peak because at this point, the mythology still feels as though it’s heading somewhere, that the answers we’re waiting for are just around the corner. Anticipation is at its highest point, I believe. Will Mulder lose his mother and soon be the only Mulder left? Will Scully be able to face the details of her abduction? Will they get to the bottom of this Smallpox vaccination drama? Stay tuned.

On the New Tip

I’ve decided to start handing out awards this season. So without further ado…

“Most Improved”
Revelations

“Desperately in need of a rewrite”
Syzygy

“Victim of too many desperate rewrites”
Teso Dos Bichos

“The Copycat”
2Shy

“The Sleeper Hit”
Wetwired

“It doesn’t matter how many times I see it I still won’t like it”
Oubliette

So now my question to you, dear reader, is which episode out of the Darin Morgan era is the one that speaks to you the most?  Is one the best but you hate it? Is one the worst but you love it? And if you have any awards of your own to hand out, please do so below!