Tag Archives: Rob Bowman

En Ami 7×15: Here’s a story to warm the cockles of your heart.


Screenshot050

The devil went down to Virginia.

The title basically gives the crux of this episode away. Is C.G.B. Spender, aka Cigarette-Smoking Man, acting “en ami,” “as a friend?” Or is he, as ever, Scully’s enemy?

When “En Ami” first aired I remember liking it alright, but overall feeling a little disappointed. I’m happy to report that it improves upon rewatching, provided one keeps one’s expectations in check; this isn’t designed to be fright fest or a fast-paced adventure or even a true mythology episode. It’s really a quiet study in psychological intrigue. Somehow or other, CSM is able to wear down Scully’s mind to the point where she believes him. Him! A confirmed liar and the father of them.

In a welcome turn, Scully is the object of everyone’s attentions and affections this episode. Though the real stars of “En Ami” are Scully’s breasts.

I kid.

No, I don’t.

A few gratuitous shots of Scully’s cleavage aside, it feels good to watch her launch her own investigation for the first time in a long time. Well, I guess it’s not really an investigation. CSM sets Scully up from the beginning by orchestrating a series of events designed to trick her into showing up at a particular meeting place, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to get his hands on the cure to his disease.

He starts by curing Jason, a little boy diagnosed with cancer whose parents don’t believe in traditional medicine for religious reasons. Jason is visited one night by “angels” who implant a chip in his neck, triggering his immediate recovery. CSM draws Scully’s attention to this little miracle, knowing that because of the chip she’d had in her own neck and her battle against cancer after she had it removed, she wouldn’t be able to ignore the implications.

Once Scully is duly intrigued, CSM announces his presence, telling Scully that Jason isn’t the first and he doesn’t have to be the last. In what feels like a clear-cut case of the devil masquerading as God, CSM claims that he has the cure to cancer and he’ll give it to Scully and only to Scully. Enough of that Mulder. He doesn’t know what’s good for him.

The feeling is mutual as Mulder is done listening to CSM and warns Scully that she shouldn’t fall for his mind games either. Here’s where Scully gets really radical, not because she decides to go on a road trip with CSM, but because she lies to Mulder and thinks she can get away with it.

Now, I’m all for Scully ditching Mulder. Heaven knows he deserves it after the untold times he’s left her flapping in the wind of ignorance while he ran headlong into danger. But did Scully really think Mulder wouldn’t catch on immediately? Mulder, who as far back as “Paper Clip” (3×2) she had a psychic connection with. Notice she can’t look him in the face and lie, she has to do it over an answering machine.

No, it seems like a battle she knew she’s lose; she was merely buying time to get away with CSM. The benefit her foolishness affords us is a great scene in Scully’s hallway between Mulder and Scully’s building super. Also, there’s a fabulous moment when Skinner is on the phone with Scully and Mulder reaches for the phone, but she hangs up rather than talk to him. Burn.

But I’m getting off topic. Back to the plot.

Scully and CSM run off together and leave Mulder pacing the floor with worry. CSM introduces Scully to another one of his success stories, Marjorie Butters, a one hundred and eighteen year old woman who doesn’t look a day over seventy. How we went from the cure for cancer to the secret of eternal life, I don’t know. But for some reason, Scully the doctor is convinced, not by scientific proof, but by anecdotal evidence. Maybe she wants to believe.

Now that she does believe, and this is a jump in logic I’m never quite able to make, CSM also convinces her that there’s a contact they have to meet who holds the science that Scully needs to save the world. I thought CSM already had the cure? No? Well, I’m going to give the plot the benefit of the doubt and assume that CSM had access to the chips, but not the (alien) science behind the technology, and that’s what he promised Scully.

Anywho, after a very skeevy moment where Scully falls dead asleep in the car and CSM puts gloves on before staring at her… dangerously, they arrive at a quaint little hotel in the idyllic middle of nowhere. Did CSM drug her? Please, for the love of applesauce, somebody tell me changed her own clothes and put herself in bed. ‘Cause Scully and I are both a little freaked out right now.

It’s over a candlelit dinner when The Girls and Scully, their co-star, are told by CSM that this technology will not only cure cancer but it’s the cure to all that ills. No one comes out and uses the word “panacea,” but I suppose that would make the idea sound farfetched. And no one wants The X-Files to sound farfetched. Perhaps, though, this explains Marjorie Butters.

The more interesting thing is that CSM spills his guts. Well, okay. I’m overstating that. But he does reveal a secret longing for human love. Supposedly, near death’s door as he is, he wants to leave behind something good. He regrets choosing a life of bitter loneliness. Whether he says this out of genuine remorse, or whether this is part of his scheme to trick Scully, or whether he has unrealistic hopes of seducing Scully, you be the judge.

We do know he’s up to something, however, as Black-Haired Man from Fight the Future is back and secretly doing his dirty work. Scully also has a secret admirer who slips her a note in the restaurant, telling her to meet him at dawn. Actually, he calls it “first light,” but we all know that’s purely for flair.

Scully goes to meet him out on the lake and he turns out to be “Cobra,” a man wanted by the federal government and who was involved in some shadow project at the Department of Defense. As Mulder and the Lone Gunmen find out separately, “Cobra” has been emailing Scully for the past six months. He thought she was emailing him back. She wasn’t. Somebody, who probably looks a lot like CSM, hacked her computer, intercepted the emails and responded as Scully. That same somebody set up this meeting at the quaint little hotel in the idyllic middle of nowhere.

“Cobra” gives Scully a disk that supposedly contains the secret to utopia on it and drops some not so subtle hints about he and Scully creating their own private utopia. He’ll have to make due with that last glance at our fair heroine, alas, as Black-Haired Man promptly shoots him from his hidden position in the woods almost as soon as he hands over the disk. He takes aim at Scully too – after all, all they wanted was the disk and Scully was merely the lure to draw Cobra out – but the shot we hear ring out kills him instead. It looks like CSM has a soft spot for Scully after all. Whether he intended to save her from the beginning… I have my doubts. But it would appear that CSM’s more emotionally attached to his sworn enemies than his minions. Funny how relationships can develop like that.

Safe and sound, Scully hands the disk over to CSM who duly gives it back to her because, after all, the whole point was to get this information into Scully’s hands. Back in Mulder’s apartment, Scully looks hopefully up at Mulder who was ready to call out the National Guard over his missing partner. The expression on his face as he looks up and away from her is priceless. He says nothing with his mouth but his eyes say, “I can’t even talk to you right now.” All’s not forgiven yet.

Scully has incurred Mulder’s ire to no avail. There’s nothing on the disk. CSM switched them somehow, giving Scully a blank disk and keeping the disk with the information on it he needs to save his own life. That’s all this was ever about. The fake office building, the fake miracles, all of it. It was an elaborate rouse to save himself.

Why, then, does he toss the disk into the water? Could it be that not everything he told Scully was a lie? Maybe he doesn’t really want to live, not if he continues to live a meaningless and lonely life.

Verdict:

Whew! I know I don’t usually recap this much. But with so much intrigue, it seemed easier to combine my comments with the plot for the most part. This isn’t a traditional mythology episode, but there are almost as many twists and turns.

The ambiguity of it all is actually one of this episodes weak points, or strong points depending on how you look at it. Back in the day, The X-Files used to leave its audience hanging on the regular. This was our first and only offering of a script from William B. Davis (heavily edited by Frank Spotnitz) who, understandably, wanted to get inside CSM’s head a little bit. And, even more understandably, wanted some more screentime with Gillian Anderson. The thing is, CSM tells us things about himself, but it’s hard to decide which lie to believe. In the end, we’re not any closer to knowing who he is. Unless, of course, like me you think he truly is a lonely man with a soft spot for Scully and Mulder.

As I said before, it’s a quiet, thoughtful sort of episode without any fireworks or mayhem. But I like it because even if it doesn’t offer concrete insight, it gives me several good laughs and moments of tension.

Hee-Haws –

  • The Lone Gunmen in drag
  • “Do you know how many people have died in there?”
  • Mulder so ticked at Scully he can’t even look in her direction

Uh-Ohs –

  • Black-Haired Man masquerades as the Mailman
  • Did CSM just see Scully naked???

There’s a bit where CSM tries to psycho-analyze Scully that I could have done without. However, at least there’s some emotional continuity with “Never Again” (4×13). Not that CSM knows Scully as well as he thinks he does, not based on her eyebrow raise after he accuses her of living “a life alone.” Hmm…

Long story not so short, I think it’s good. The plot can be a little hard to follow, it’s hard to believe Scully would fall for CSM’s lies on so little evidence, and it’s a little tame, so I’m torn between grades. With the aftertaste of “First Person Shooter” (7×13) still in my mouth, I’m almost inclined to upgrade it in comparison. But I think I’ll have to go with a:

B+

Blank Disks:

Seriously though, I love Mulder’s wounded housewife routine. “Where were you? You should have called!”

You really can’t blame CSM for taking a shot. Gillian Anderson looks especially gorgeous this episode. I’m glad they gave her the chance to dress up at least once in the series.

Scully makes secret tape recordings for Mulder. Tapes. Remember those?

That scene where Scully’s asleep in the car with CSM and he reaches over to touch her reminds me, perversely, of “Pusher” (3×17).

This was director Rob Bowman’s final episode before leaving the show.

Scully’s motivations – Maybe she falls for it all so easily because CSM knew which buttons to push. He focused on her compassion as a doctor, her sense of justice as a law enforcement agent, her curiosity as a scientist, and her empathy as a cancer survivor. No wonder he went to her and not to Mulder.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: I’ve just got to know whether it was Roma Downey or Della Reese.

————————

Scully: What the hell are you doing?

CSM: God’s work, what else?

————————

Apartment Manager: Tenant like having an FBI agent in the building. Gives them a sense of security.

Mulder: Do you know how many people have died in there?

Apartment Manager: Oh, we don’t really talk about that.

———————–

Mulder: Who the hell is Cobra? Scully would have told me about him.

Langly: Well, it looks like she’s gone to great lengths to keep this from you.

Mulder: I don’t believe that. She knows that I’d find her, no matter what. {Editor’s Note: He can back that up too, y’all.}

 

Advertisements

Orison 7×7: Every moment of every day, the Devil waits for but an instant.


Orison

You need a buff and polish.

Certainly Mulder’s unrelenting search for the truth is but a thinly veiled allegory of man’s search for God. That’s well understood. But what surprises me this rewatch is that Season 7 has the most consistent religious overtones of any season so far. Oddly enough, it mostly presents these vague spiritual musings outside of the mytharc, the mythological journey toward the truth that provided the backbone of the show for so many years.

Millennium” (7×5) dallied in psuedo-Biblical eschatology, but it wasn’t the end of the world, just the end of the Mulder and Scully’s platonic relationship.

The Goldberg Variation” (7×2) presented one question: What if there’s a rhyme and reason to seeming happenstance? And even a second: What if something or someone is working seemingly bad circumstances into something good? “Providence,” I believe the old folks called it.

Well, “Orison” is all about the problem of evil. Fitting, since it’s predecessor, “Irresistible” (2×13), delivered the frightening message that inexplicable evil exists. “Orison” asks the follow up question, “Can evil be redeemed?”

The answer?

In the opening teaser, titular character Rev. Orison tells us that we surely can be redeemed. All we have to do is repent and ask God to forgive us. He says this while hypnotizing into submission the most captive audience imaginable: a room full of prison inmates.

For all he encourages repentance, Rev. Orison doesn’t appear to factor free will into his personal theology of redemption. Are the prisoners set free from evil and delivered to good if they’re brainwashed into saying, “Amen?” Certainly they’re not committing evil acts any more. Does that mean they’re delivered? Is evil merely a behavioral problem?

Donnie Pfaster behaves. He behaves in prison because he has to. When he kills, he kills because he wants to, not because his momma didn’t nurse him and his daddy drank.

Prisoners that can’t be “converted” through hypnotism, like Donnie, Rev. Orison is ordered by God to set free and then kill. After all, if they can’t be corrected why should they sit in a Correctional Facility? Perhaps the fear of death will finally produce in them a repentant and humble heart and they can be redeemed right at the very end. Perhaps. Unfortunately for Rev. Orison, he’s encountered an evil that can be neither controlled nor killed and certainly not redeemed, at least not by him. Donnie Pfaster is evil incarnate, possessed by the Devil himself.

Now, if you ask Mulder, it’s Rev. Orison who’s continually seeking out personal redemption by killing men more evil than himself. God has nothing to do with it. Because, you see, Mulder believes in almost anything and everything but the Bible. Once again, like in “Revelations” (3×11) and “All Souls” (5×17), Scully has a religious experience and Mulder, for all his farfetched supernatural theories, meets her openness with sneering skepticism. Until he hears from God himself, that is.

Scully too would initially agree with him about Rev. Orison and Donnie Pfaster. There is evil. Donnie Pfaster is evil. But his is a human evil and there’s nothing mysterious about it. If anything, the lack of seeming reason or cause behind his evil is what makes him all the more frightening.

Scully: I promise you there is nothing supernatural about this man. Donnie Pfaster is just plain evil.

At least, that’s the conclusion we’re left with at the end of “Irresistible.” Maybe there was a question of Donnie appearing almost devil-like in Scully’s terrified eyes when he held her captive, but the frightening idea that props up “Irresistible” is that sometimes there is no deeper, mysterious, or fantastic explanation for the evil that we see other than that evil exists and it exists inside of decidedly inconspicuous looking men.

But is there an evil behind man’s evil?

Those pesky signs and that creepy song keep pointing Scully to such a new conclusion.

On the surface, the supernatural elements of this episode would seem to undermine the decidedly unsupernatural scariness of “Irresistible” and the Donnie Pfaster character. But I think it all fits together something like this: There is Evil. And that Evil acts for no other purpose than to steal, kill and destroy. It doesn’t need any deeper motive. It doesn’t need a trigger. And sometimes that Evil works through men. Usually men with two given names.

Evil, pure evil, has no desire for redemption, only destruction.

So there you go.

Verdict:

I remember being a little nervous when this first aired, because as I’ve said before, “Irresistible” is the episode that made me an X-Phile. And frankly, sequels are disappointing 90% of the time.

This fell into that 90% for me. Oh, I don’t dislike it. In fact, it’s the best episode of the season so far. But it can’t be its predecessor and it’s no Godfather II. Still, the acting is great. Scott Wilson is amazing and does a lot with relatively little screen time. And if you haven’t seen him in The Walking Dead by now, you should have. What’s wrong with you?

Nick Chinlund gets to vamp up the Donnie Pfaster character now that he isn’t posing as a regular Joe and everyone knows he’s a murderous psychopath.

Rob Bowman’s directing is cinematic and intense.

And Gillian Anderson’s expressions, as always, say everything without her having to say a word.

So I’m not jumping up and down like I did at the end of “Irresistible”. But I’m not bored. No, I’m not bored.

B+

Red Wigs:

Scully’s been through a lot… a lot, a lot… since Donnie Pfaster brought her to tears back in Season 2. I’m so glad this time around she gets to put up more of a fight. It was believable when he overpowered her the first time. But if it had happened just as easily the second time it would have been anti-climactic.

How did Mulder know what the hypnosis cue was???

Donnie’s clothing toss over the shoulder in the opening teaser is a bit heavy-handed. I would have preferred it if he just casually walked out a la Keyser Söze.

This was not a clean shooting. I feel like in the earlier days of the show Scully would have had to answer for, or at least be questioned about, killing Donnie Pfaster in subsequent episodes, even if the event did happen in a MOTW. Mulder’s, “You can’t judge yourself,” just doesn’t cut it as the final word.

Scully shooting Donnie should feel satisfying. Instead it feels anticlimactic.

Now, this has nothing to do with the problem of evil… I don’t think… but I felt compelled to post this little bit of hilarity. Here’s the original version of “Don’t Look Any Further”. You’ll never watch this episode the same way again. FYI, awesome song for hustle dancing.

 

You’re welcome.

Best Quotes:

Rev. Orison: You receive the Lord’s grace and this is your thanks.

————————

Rev. Orison: Everything has a reason, Scout. Everything on God’s earth.

————————

Scully: How do you prove that someone isn’t being directed by God? You don’t believe that it happens?

Mulder: God is a spectator, Scully. He just reads the box scores.

Scully: I don’t believe that.

———————–

Mulder: You know, it’s funny. When all is said and done there’s not much mystery in murder.

Kill Switch 5×11: He invented the internet.


You've got mail.

As a general rule of thumb, when The X-Files wanted to blow up things they called in director Rob Bowman. Even without remembering to check the credits, I could feel him all over this episode and that’s a good thing. Bowman tends to specialize in adventures, which is no doubt why Fight the Future will eventually be entrusted to him, and “Kill Switch” is accordingly a romp of a tale, barely stopping for breath in between story beats, and may I just say that’s a very good thing.

In more ways than one, this is an evolutionary upgrade from Season 1’s “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), the only other X-File to feature a plot based around Artificial Intelligence. (Both fitting episodes to watch while the world is still mourning the loss of Steve Jobs.) The main difference being, well, besides a better story, better acting, better cinematography, better technology, a better wardrobe, etc., is that the government is in no way involved this time. Unlike the typical X-File involving futuristic technology, this isn’t a matter of a super secret science being hunted down or captured for the selfish purposes of a few, here the technology is doing the hunting and has become the predator. It’s a late 21st Century illustration of survival of the fittest, Silicon Valley style.

There’s another factor that both takes me nostalgically back to Season 1 but then again reminds me of how far the show has come since then: Scully. This has to be one of my favorite Scully episodes. True, the fact that she dismisses Esther’s story so easily in spite of the evidence is a little irritating, but I’m so happy to have her sarcasm back in full form that I’m willing to let that slide. It’s almost like her character flashed back to Season 1, cracking one-liners with her trademark smug smirk. Except that now she’s even more of a force to be reckoned with, spitting out phrases such as “screwing around” and tossing roundhouse kicks like this is a Kung Fu movie.

Speaking of whose Kung Fu is the best, I’m sure many would think less of me if I explained just how satisfying it is to watch the climax to the virtual reality scenes knowing that the A.I. has picked up on the fact that in Mulder’s subconscious, Scully arriving to save the day and eviscerate his porn star fantasy makes perfect sense.

On a related note, they strike me as similar somehow, Esther and Scully. They are more than a match for each other in this episode, which I think explains some of Scully’s initial resistance to Esther, as Scully is usually the smartest and most impressive woman in the room. Maybe if they shared more similarities on the surface Scully wouldn’t have been so annoyed by her or if Esther were just an idiot Scully could have ignored her, but dealing with someone who grates on you instantly but who you can’t quite one-up, it’s a recipe for a bad attitude.

Whatever the cause of the clash, they’re both highly intelligent, willful, sarcastic, and they are both inordinately attached to one man, Esther in a romantic way and Scully… well… it’s complicated. In fact, it’s not until Esther cries over her lost David that Scully’s compassion melts her animosity and the two women finally come to a truce. But watching them both enter the A.I.’s trailer in the end, Scully to rescue her man and Esther finding hers dead and gone, Scully’s face the picture of concern and Esther’s of shocked sadness, it drives the parallel home. What are we supposed to draw from that? Probably nothing at all. But I like getting more insight into Scully out of her interaction with another character. Mulder doesn’t typically bring this side out of her.

Verdict:

This is one of those episodes that I’m not sure how other people feel about because I don’t hear it discussed much, a fact that leads me to think it may be underrated. Speaking for myself, I love “Kill Swith”, just love it. It’s exactly the type of adventure fantasy that I eat up with just a hint of MSR thrown in. It even has the Lone Gunmen for comic relief! How am I supposed to dislike it? I may even enjoy it more than it actually warrants, but I make no apologies. There’s no accounting for taste.

It’s interesting that like the previous episode written by guest writer Stephen King, “Chinga” (5×10), this one is also penned by a well-known author, or rather, two authors: William Gibson and Tom Maddox, both a part of the cyberpunk movement. Consequently, back-to-back we’ve had episodes that are somewhat of a departure for the show in theme, distinctly leaning almost point-by-point to the specialties and trademarks of these authors. I consider both episodes successful experiments, which is somewhat surprising considering one-off writers on The X-Files usually miss the mark dramatically, ex. “Schizogeny” (5×9). Maybe it’s the caliber of the writers here or the level of collaboration between them and the staff writers, I couldn’t say. Maybe like Vince Gilligan before them they were actually fans of the show before coming aboard and understood what they were getting into before they signed up for the project, which I suspect is the strongest contributing factor.

So, back to my Mulder is Scully-Crushing Theory: I rest my case.

A+

Nitpicks:

I love the teaser and I think it’s deliciously clever, but the question must be asked: Why didn’t the fool just push the button?

That scene when Scully pulls into the rest stop out of sheer frustration… how exactly does a handcuffed Esther get herself out of the car?

Leftovers:

So, did David get a chance to upload himself into the system before he died or was he being held as a virtual reality prisoner the same way that Mulder was? I lean toward the latter only because if he was a part of the A.I., I don’t see why he would have killed Gelman and why he would have attempted to kill Esther. More likely he would have tried to contact her and tell her what he had done so she could join him in a code based Happily Ever After.

The actress who plays Esther Nairn, Kristin Lehman, was on Rob Bowman’s show Castle this week. Coincidence?? I’m sure the look on my face as I studied her intently and understanding slowly dawned was comical. Who knew how hard it is to recognize someone without raccoon eyes?

This is yet another episode where Scully rescues Mulder instead of vice versa, for anyone keeping score.

Considering this is one of the rare times that The X-Files used source music in an episode’s soundtrack I will only say that the opportunity isn’t wasted. The use of Twilight Time is charming.

Best Quotes:

Byers: Jobs and Wozniak at Apple, Gates and Allan writing Basic, the Home Brew computer club’s first meetings… Gelman was there.
Frohike: Now they’re power brokers and billionaires. Back then they were just… inspired nerds.

——————-

Frohike: This is a one-off. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gelman built this?
Mulder: That may be what got him killed.
[The Lone Gunmen exchange shocked looks.]
Langly: Heavy casualty.
Frohike: A brother goes down.

——————-

Scully: No more screwing around. We need a name. Your real name.
Esther Nairn: Invisigoth. You want my address? It’s T-O-A-S-T.

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.

Unruhe 4×2: Ich habe keine Unruhe.


Scully and the Beanstalk.

The main thing that occurred to me as I sat down to watch this one is that I’m unlikely to watch anything like it again. “Unruhe”, “Tithonus” (6×9), heck, One Hour Photo… Short of finding a period piece, with the advent of digital cameras, the underlying creepiness of photography may be gone for good. Point and click cameras don’t give you that same eerie sound as they capture an image (or is it someone’s soul?). Gone is the sinister subtext of the dark room, where creepy men leer creepily at ghost like images forming on slick pieces of paper. And the Ye Olde One Hour Photo Shoppe has all but gone extinct. Instead of delivering your most personal memories to be ogled by a 40 year old man who still lives with his mother, you can print them out in the privacy of your home, should you decide to print them out at all.

Progress though this may be, it terms of entertainment, it’s a sad loss. This episode is part of the last dying gasp of film.

Fortunately for us, Vince Gilligan wrote this episode before the Revolution was complete. If Darin Morgan owned Season 3, Vince Gilligan is the stand out star of Season 4. His humor isn’t as poignant, but it’s memorable. And more than that, he could give us a classic thriller just as easily as a psychological study or a fantasy romp. He was always, always cinematic. And with “Unruhe”, true to his form, while the characters are exceptionally well written, you could squint your eyes and almost pretend you’re at you’re local theater. This story was built for Mulder and Scully and it serves them well, but you can see how they could be replaced and the story expanded to serve other needs. It’s barely contained at a 43 minute running time.

What they do manage to squeeze in is memorable and engaging. It’s amazing how an X-File really doesn’t need much fuss to be successful; A creepy idea, a villain with three names, a few memorable images, Mulder posing something ridiculous and Scully countering. It’s magic in a can. I don’t think lobotomies have been this frightening since One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Nowadays, when we think of serial killers we mostly think of men who brutalize prostitutes and crack whores. It’s a concept far more removed from the minds of everyday people than it was in the mid-90s when the collective memory of men like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer was still fresh and constantly refreshed in the media by news reports and movies like Silence of the Lambs. Gone are the days when single women watched their backs in the grocery store parking lot, but watching Schnauz stab a hypodermic needle into the flesh of an unsuspecting victim brings it all back.

Gerald Thomas Schnauz, Jr. isn’t one of my all-time favorite X-Files villains, probably because he doesn’t recognize or relish his own evil, but he more than does the job here. And for once, Scully is identifying with the victims and the killer rather than Mulder, our resident criminal profiler. It becomes more and more obvious that the case is wearing on Scully and I like that Vince Gilligan weaves in a little discomfort between her and Mulder throughout the episode, it makes the payoff of Mulder frantically trying to save her that much more satisfying.

And while I’m on the topic of Scully, did you notice the vague foreshadowing of what would come later in her Season 4 arc? It’s so quiet that it might be almost impossible to catch for the first time viewer, but that’s part of what’s so satisfying about rewatching The X-Files, being able to savor the subtleties.

I was able to make out one single word in German: Angst. Funny how that would become the theme of the season.

A

P.S. And as to Scully playing the damsel in distress, which complaints occasionally come up, I don’t even want to hear it. She just rescued Mulder in Distress the previous episode.

P.P.S. This is not the episode to watch if you’re trying to get over a fear of Dentists.

Questions:

Tsk. Tsk. Isn’t Scully supposed to ask if there are any sharp objects she should know about before she pats down somebody?

Comments:

This is the second closing field report/voiceover we’ve had in a row. I rather like that they’re trying hard to pretend that The X-Files isn’t leaving it’s early years far behind in the rearview mirror. And I missed those field reports.

More masterwork from the School of Rob Bowman. The tension in Scully and Schnauz’s first meeting is all in the way he shot it. And don’t even get me started on the glories of all that plastic tarp.

Six fingers = six headstones is rather a stretch, don’t you think?

Howard Unruh, part of the inspiration for this episode, was the first modern mass murderer. How’s that for a legacy?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Stand back, Scully. It’s loaded.

——————-

Scully: She’s been given what’s called a trans-orbital lobotomy. It used to be called an ice pick lobotomy. It involves inserting a leucotome through the eye sockets.
Mulder: So we’re looking for a doctor? Someone with training?
ER Doctor: Not judging by this?
Scully: Whoever did this, Mulder, did it wrong.

——————-

Mulder: So… which one of us gets to use the stun gun on Bruno Hauptmann back there?

——————-

Schnauz: Great. Now they’ve got you talking like Sigmund Freud.

The Walk 3×7: Nobody knows how I feel.


Tread lightly.

“The Walk” marks the first solo offering from staple of The X-Files’ writing team, John Shiban. He teams up with the man who is already arguably The X-Files’ most famous director, Rob Bowman, to give us a story taken straight out of The Age of Aquarius – The 1970s.

Oh sure, it’s the Gulf War these veterans are tragedies of, but couldn’t it just as easily have been Vietnam? What with Astral Projection and backwards recordings making a comeback, I was just waiting for Mulder to make a joke about 8-tracks and John Travolta. It never happens, which is a sad waste, but combined with the distrust of government we see in the mythology episodes that no doubt comes out of the writers having witnessed the Nixon administration, “The Walk” only sharpens any suspicions about what generation the creative heads behind The X-Files are products of.

Everything starts out beautifully with a frightening teaser and some poetically filmed opening shots. The scene where we see maimed and wounded veterans gathered for a group psychology session is notably striking. But things start to devolve from there as we’re introduced to our antagonist for the next forty minutes or so, Leonard Trimble. It’s not a name most X-Philes even remember.

I thought long and hard about why I’ve never really liked this episode despite the fact that it contains some very pleasing moments and I’ve finally narrowed it down, mostly, to Leonard. Here’s a man who has lost not one, but two legs and not one, but two arms in service to his country. Even if the audience doesn’t like him, they should be able to feel for him. Certainly, most of us are unable to empathize with such a dramatic loss, but surely we can sympathize. It would be that identification with his situation that could potentially create a powerful dissonance; we know we shouldn’t side with the villain but part of us does. We want him to have some relief. The problem is, that doesn’t happen here.

Leonard Trimble has one note that he plays over and over. He yells and furrows his brow because maybe if he does it enough times everyone will know how angry he is. He doesn’t want pity, he doesn’t want healing, he just wants everyone else to lose too. But this character needed more than anger, he needed pathos. At no point did it really feel like he was hurt or suffering. As Mulder says, his bitterness has left him devoid of humanity. But as the super soldiers prove in later seasons, an inhuman villain isn’t nearly as interesting as an imperfect one. Instead of being frightening or compelling, Leonard Trimble is a punk.

Mulder: You’re a soldier! You knew what you were getting into when you enlisted. Now you want to blame everybody else. Why do you want to blame your C.O.s?

Leonard Trimble: I blame them for what happened to all of us! You don’t know what it was like. You… you sat at home and watched the war on cable TV like it was a damn video game. You have no idea about the guys that died, about the blood and the sand and what it feels like when a hit comes. The thing is you just don’t care, do you?

Now see, there’s a wealth of emotional material right there waiting to be mined. But alas, that’s as far as the episode goes on the tracks of that train of thought. With a more emotional backstory, that indictment of the American public could have been powerful.

This episode isn’t a lost cause, however. In fact, there are positively great moments that would compel me to put a sticker by Rob Bowman’s name if he were in my Sunday School class. The scene where the phantom Leonard Trimble attacks Captain Draper in the pool is a masterful one. It’s filmed like something out of a movie instead of a 1990s TV show. Then there’s the scene where poor little Trevor learns the danger of playing too long in the sandbox; it’s disturbing but wonderfully done.

And surely all who watch this episode point their fingers at the screen and say, “Hey!” when Roach’s character is introduced. Roach is played by actor Willie Garson who has guest starred on just about every television series known to mankind. In case you thought his guest spot here was too brief, he’ll be back in Season 7 for “The Goldberg Variation” (7×2).

One last note about Scully’s characterization: Now, I love no-nonsense Scully as much as the next fangirl. But some episodes it’s as though the writers scripted lemons into her diet and it’s impossible for her to unclench her jaw or unpurse (It’s a word. I made it up.) her lips. It’s noticeable particularly now because Scully so far has had a lot more color in Season 3 than she had in Season 2, more variation. In the episodes to come she’ll branch out even more.

…And the Verdict is:

X-Files fans are already familiar with mutants and monsters that prey on others out of physical need. We saw it in “Squeeze” (1×2) and even as recently as “2Shy” (3×6). But this is a new sub-genre where we have a monster not created by nature, but from disease or injury; a monster that clings to his ailment and chooses to be a monster. This one was so-so, but The X-Files will blow this concept out of the park in “Pusher” (3×17).

This is another episode where Mulder and Scully are helpless to prevent anything, instead they decipher events as they unfold. Is that bad? Well, it would take The X-Files to a whole new level of fantasy a la Dr. Who if Mulder and Scully always found a way to put an end to paranormal phenomenon. Heck, they’re not even trained in exorcism.

I don’t think we ever really understand why Leonard Trimble’s soul was so destroyed that he would be willing to kill innocent children for the sake of revenge. Maybe an answer to that silent question would have transformed the episode.

Whatever the case, I think we’ve had enough Revenge/I Shall Smite Mine Enemies episodes for one season, don’t you?

C+

Nagging Questions:

I know it’s Mulder’s job to make eerily accurate leaps in logic, but this one is just too much for me. How did he know to look for signs of Astral Projection before he even showed up? What was it that made him think what these men were seeing wasn’t a ghost or some far more obscure paranormal phenomenon?

Random Thoughts:

What’s with the writers giving the name Trevor to young boys? They even go so far as to give a boy named Trevor his own episode. “Trevor” (6×17)

Come to think of it, what’s with the name Leonard? “Leonard Betts” (4×14)

This has nothing to do with anything, but Nick Chinlund just came on my television screen as a guest star on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and my heart went, “Donnie Pfaster! Aww!”

Best Quotes:

General Callahan: I want you to know I’ve had the Captain contact the Justice Department and let them know about the F.B.I.’s gross misconduct here.
Mulder: I guess this isn’t a good time to thank you for seeing us, huh?

——————-

Mulder: Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity.

F. Emasculata 2×22: This is Smokey and the Bandit.


Hey, Mister...

“F. Emasculata” is famous for being one of the grossest, if not the grossest episode that The X-Files has ever done. It even outdoes “The Host” (2×2). Whatever synapses are misfiring in my brain, I actually love this episode for its gratuitous distaste. I scrunch up my mouth and watch through my fingers every time.

This episode relies largely on the distrust of Big Pharma that was pervasive in the ‘90s. Who are we kidding? It still is. Somehow, it’s easy to believe that a big, faceless corporation would be willing to subject the human race to anything to build its empire. We Americans in particular are distrustful of any large concentration of power and money. I’m only touching on this lightly, but it’s exactly that collective fear that is at the heart of the mythology; there’s a small group of men hoarding their power and saving themselves at the expense of the little guy.

I have to say I had forgotten how much overlap there was in early seasons between the overarching mythology and minor, mini conspiracies perpetrated by the Federal Government. CSM is back for the first time since “One Breath” (2×8) not because extra terrestrials are involved but to give the goings on in this episode a diabolical edge. Enjoyable as it is to see him, I’m not so sure his presence serves the plot. Scully later reiterates everything he says but in a less sinister fashion and with more conviction. Regardless, once again the government is running secret tests on innocent civilians only this time they have a partner.

Those who have been following for a while know that I refer to these types of episodes as “Half-Caff” X-Files. They’re not paranormal or supernatural, instead there’s a science or technology that the government is trying desperately to control. “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) was the first of its species. I enjoy these types because they tend to be a little more scientific. “F. Emasculata” is not. The science of the disease is never explained. Why should it have been? The thrill isn’t in discovering its cause it’s in watching those horrible boils explode.

Speaking of a lack of science, how can Scully possibly be as stupid as she’s presented??? She’s a doctor. She knows that germs can be spread in a multitude of ways, yet in the face of a contagion whose method of communication is unknown, she opens up a sealed body bag with only a pair of gloves and a cheap mask. If it’s bad enough that the bodies are being incinerated, it’s bad enough that you should put on a containment suit, woman. And then she takes off her mask!! I’m incredulous, that’s what I am. If we’re going to be perfectly honest, it’s because of Scully’s recklessness that Dr. Osbourne dies.

Maybe to make up for the sheer lunacy of her actions in that scene, we later get a glimpse of Heroic Scully. Why does Scully keep from Mulder that she might be dying? Either that’s too heavy a conversation to have over the phone and/or she knows Mulder would stop what he’s doing and go to her rather than put his full effort into stopping this thing. Even if Scully’s stupid, she is sweet.

On a last film school related note, much of this episode is filmed in shadow. I know, I know. That’s pretty much every episode of The X-Files. But even more so here, when CSM first appears on the scene, he’s filmed almost entirely in the dark except for his eyes. At other moments, actors are lit from a single light source such as the fire from the incinerator or a slot through a cell door creating a heightened sense of tension and drawing our minds away from any holes the story might have. It’s no surprise that we have Rob Bowman to thank for this.

Conclusion:

How much should people know? Does the public have a right to know everything? Does knowledge always help, or can it sometimes endanger? “You can’t protect the public by lying to it.” Oh, Mulder, you know better. At least Scully is able to talk some sense into him. This means CSM was right too, for once. Could he be right when it comes to the mythology as well?? If you take it as a whole, “F. Emasculata” is arguing for full disclosure, only I’ll give it credit for acknowledging the risk involved.

Now, while I thoroughly enjoy this episode I’ll be the first to tell you that the whole premise is faulty. Mulder claims Pink Pharmaceuticals conducted this secret experiment to avoid having to go through years of FDA trials and get their drug on the market faster. The whole point of FDA trials, first of all, is that they are a line of defense between manufacturers and the American public that can’t be circumvented; you have to show proof of all your collected data. Ergo, a secret experiment is useless when it comes to getting FDA approval. But what really gets me is that I don’t know what Mulder’s on about since there’s no drug being tested at all! So what would they get approved? They’re spreading a disease just to see what it will do, to understand the science behind it (which vaguely reminds me of the Tuskeegee Experiments). It’s not a stretch to conclude that they’re creating a problem so that they’ll have a jump on the competition in learning how to solve it and eventually earn themselves revenue. But there are some serious variables involved before that can happen, as the events of this episode bear out.

I bet you think after all that griping I’m about to downgrade this episode. How could I do that when I enjoy it so much? So the plot has some pitfalls. Whatever excuse they need to bring me those boils a-poppin’ is just fine.

A-

Questions:

Wouldn’t Pink or the government have warned the U.S. Marshalls that there’s a contagion? These escaped men pose a threat to their testing as they’re outside of the focus group and unmonitored. The situation is tumbling out of control, something they don’t want because that would only draw more attention to what they’re doing. You would think that they’d make more of an effort to contain the situation by preventing others from being infected, if only so that no one would catch on to what’s actually happening.

Comments:

It’s interesting to see Dean Norris (U.S. Marshall) in his younger days before Breaking Bad, a series he stars in that’s written and created by fellow X-Files alum Vince Gilligan. Plug.

Best Quotes:

Scully: According to the briefing, prisoners escaped by hiding in a laundry cart.
Mulder: I don’t think the guards are watching enough prison movies.

——————–

Smoking Man: In 1988 there was an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Sacramento California. The truth would have caused panic. Panic would have cost lives. We control the disease by controlling the information.
Mulder: You can’t protect the public by lying to them.
Smoking Man: It’s done every day.
Mulder: I won’t be a party to it. [To Skinner] What about you?
Smoking Man: You’re already a party to it. How many people are being infected while you stand here not doing your job? Ten? Twenty? What’s the truth, Agent Mulder?

——————–

Mulder: What about you? Where do you stand?
Skinner: I stand right on the line that you keep crossing.

——————-

Skinner: Agent Mulder, I’m saying this as a friend. Watch your back. This is just the beginning.