Tag Archives: Skinner

The Gift 8×11: Are you calling Mulder a liar?


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Sniffle.

We’ve had a string of episodes I don’t care for and they culminate in this, “The Gift”. I warn you here and now that I have mixed feelings about it. That said, maybe because I’ve been so bored lately, or maybe because I missed Mulder more than I realized, but seeing his face in the opening teaser is such a joy and relief. In fact, I may have teared up a little.

I used to think I hated “The Gift” but I realize now that isn’t true. I only have one problem with the gift, it’s just a really, really big problem: The entire premise rests on a storyline I despise. That’s right. Not only is Mulder missing, even if he weren’t missing, he’d be dead or dying. Mulder has a deadly brain disease that he never saw fit to tell a soul about. So go ahead, steal Mulder back from the aliens. His eventual death remains inevitable.

I’ve already expressed my opinions on this ridiculous, horrible, abomination of a distraction from the primary plot in my review for “Within” (8×1). It went a little like this.

“It’s not enough that Mulder’s gone, you’ve gotta ruin the memories too? Stop retroactively killing what little joy I found in Season 7! He was happy in Season 7! This doesn’t even fit the timeline!

Let me try to get this straight. In Season 7, Mulder and Scully are sleeping together, but she has no idea he’s traveling nearly four hundred miles round trip every weekend. Mulder’s dying of an incurable disease, but devastated as he was when his mother killed herself after hiding her illness, he plans to keep his disease a secret from Scully. Scully and Mulder are happy as clams almost all of Season 7, but what we didn’t know was that Mulder was merely hiding his suffering. He was showing “clear signs of decline” but they didn’t catch that when Mulder went to the hospital in “Signs and Wonders” (7×9) and “Brand X” (7×19), just to name a couple of times. Things are so dire that he already had his name etched on the family grave stone. And all this he manages to hide from Scully, a doctor so brilliant she can diagnose nearly any disease from a single symptom despite never having practiced medicine.

I call revisionist BS.”

My feelings remain unchanged.

So now we’re back to that, are we? Doggett has suddenly and conveniently remembered that X-Files assignment aside, he’s still charged with the task of finding Mulder. He remembers just as the audience is starting to grow restless… though I’m sure the timing of this episode and bringing David Duchovny back had nothing to do with that… or with February sweeps.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The thought of Mulder dying makes me cranky, that’s all.

Let me focus on the positives because, as I said, I don’t hate this episode the way I thought I did.

Like #1: Skinner and Doggett make a good team.

Every thundercloud has its rainbow and the rainbow in the storm of Mulder’s disappearance is Skinner. Our dear A.D. needed to get out more and it’s good to see him investigating a case again. This is a trend that started towards the end of Season 7 with “Brand X” and “Requiem” (7×22) and I see no reason for it to stop. Besides, he and Doggett have more onscreen chemistry than Scully and Doggett. They genuinely challenge each other instead of just assuming the position.

If we’re going to lose Scully for an episode and have an abundance of untempered testosterone, then I’m glad it went down like this. I would hate to see her absence wasted.

Like #2: The monster is unsettling.

And so are the monstrously selfish humans. Yes, the monster is gross, but more than anything it makes you wonder how far you yourself would go if you found yourself incurably ill, if you could live with saving yourself at the expense of someone else’s pain. Are the suffering entitled to the sin-eater’s help? Is their desperation excusable?

There’s a Christlike allegory in here somewhere…

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a Man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5 (NIV)

The difference is that while Christ died willingly, the sin-eater has no choice. He’s dying a constant death because no one is brave enough to bear their own suffering, not when there’s someone else who can pay the price instead.

It may sound like I’m pulling this out of nowhere, but I think this is actually a parallel that writer Frank Spotnitz wanted us to see, especially in the scene of Mrs. Hangemuhl’s deliverance.

Watching the sin-eater stretch its mouth to eat her alive while her husband recites The Lord’s Prayer in the background, I’ll admit it’s pretty disturbing. It’s supposed to be.

Like #3: Mulder makes sense.

His dying makes no sense, but if he were dying, it would be completely in character for Mulder to destroy the means of his own salvation if by doing so he could save someone else.

One thing the series has lost sight of as of late is the original vision Chris Carter had of Mulder and Scully as romantic heroes, and I do mean romantic in the literary sense. Their main purpose is to seek the truth and to do right even if it costs them. To that end, Scully was originally imbued with a strong sense of justice, Mulder with compassion. Sometimes Mulder empathizes with victims to an almost frustrating extent, but that’s who he is. He’s a compassionate human being who would rather die than force someone else to suffer for him.

Heck, when Scully was dying in “Redux II” (5×2) he wouldn’t let her take the blame for his killing a man who was spying on him. He wouldn’t let her reputation suffer for him even though she wouldn’t be alive to feel it. That’s my Mulder.

Like #4: Doggett bonds with Mulder.

This is The X-Files. You don’t ever have to have met to develop a spiritual connection.

Somehow, despite having been a confirmed skeptic as recently as the last episode, Doggett puts together the pieces of this case so well you would think he was reading from Mulder’s playbook. While that does move my eyebrow up toward my hairline a tad, I’m glad that if Doggett finally experienced the paranormal in his own person, it’s Mulder who led him there. Mulder is the emotional and spiritual center of the X-Files, which started out as the expression and fulfilment of his own passion, the vehicle for his quest. He’s the one who initiated Scully on this journey of discovery, and it’s only fitting that he should initiate Doggett, even if it’s in his absence.

Doggett also finishes what Mulder was trying to do. Through Doggett’s death he saves the sin-eater. Ah, there’s that cycle again: death – resurrection – salvation.

In saving the sin-eater an emotional link is created between Mulder and Doggett. Mulder shoots it to save it, Doggett stands up for it and is shot. I’ve avoided this episode for so long that I didn’t remember the ending. I had forgotten that Doggett died and came back. I like it.

Mulder’s a good man. John Doggett’s a good man too.

Verdict:

I’m both relieved that they brought Mulder back and more than slightly resentful that they brought him back this way and to serve the purposes of this storyline. But it is what it is and if it has to be, at least “The Gift” makes better use of the characters than the last several episodes.

Well, most of the characters. Mulder could’ve remained completely unseen and the story wouldn’t have suffered at all.

For the love of all that is Scully, stop wasting David Duchovny’s eleven episodes!!!

A-

The Peanut Gallery:

All this time and no one had given Mulder’s apartment a proper search before?

So, in order to be healed, you get eaten and come back as monster vomit.

The monster vomit and the yellowish underground caves remind me of “Gender Bender” (1×13). That was my very first episode of The X-Files.

We’re getting so much of the Lone Gunmen this season that I’m starting to feel spoiled. Another silver lining to the Mulder is Missing rainbow.

There’s a great shot director Kim Manners does in the hospital scene. We can see Mr. and Mrs. Hangemuhn lovingly celebrating her recovery in Doggett’s reflection. That’s a beautiful shot.

That rustic woman’s accent throws me off.

Best Quotes:

Byers: We learned what we could. This is somewhat short notice, of course.

Frohike: And a little outside our area of expertise.

Langly: Plus the fact we were sleeping.

Doggett: You wearing pants, Langly?

Langly: Uh… yeah.

 

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Via Negativa 8×7: Mondo Bizarro.


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Because I couldn’t bring myself to post one of those “third eye” pics.

I remember being good and truly freaked out by this episode the first time it aired, and I’m not easily disturbed. This rewatch too, I made sure to watch it with the lights on and my door open. Sure, we’re used to creepy paranormal happenings on The X-Files, but these are some dark, dark images. It’s so dark that I had never watched it again until now.

The good news is, that meant that other than knowing it was dark, I had no preconceived notions or solidified memories of it. I came to “Via Negativa” with an open mind.

Uncle Frank wrote this one. And by “Uncle Frank” I mean Frank Spotnitz. Why do I call him “Uncle Frank”? I think it’s some kind of awkward outlet for my tightly governed affections.

When it came to The X-Files, Uncle Frank had a funny way of bringing out the best in everybody else. He was Chris Carter’s right hand man for the mythology episodes, also co-writing Fight the Future and I Want to Believe with him. When he wasn’t making a point of keeping me guessing with the mythology, he was busy cracking me up as part of the John Gillnitz trio (John Shiban – Vince Gilligan – Frank Spotnitz) who specialized in writing crazy goodness. His own solo offerings have been tragically few and far between, but so far I’ve loved all of them: “End Game” (2×17), “Our Town” (2×24), and “Detour” (5×4). So how did the two of us wind up here, Frank, with me sucking my breath through my teeth in the heaviness of horror?

It seems it’s Doggett’s turn to have the best brought out of him; Doggett who’s had a rough time of it being forced to take Mulder’s spot in the X-Files division. It’s time to give him something to do other than be wanting in comparison to Mulder and be rescuing Scully all the time. Here he’s on the trail of a killer who can’t be caught because if you catch him, it really means he’s caught you.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t completely understand this plot. But I don’t think it’s about the plot. The plot is a vehicle to bring us the imagery. I don’t understand the imagery either. Except that it’s dark and evil and one can only take so much of it. I couldn’t have sat through it for more than a one hour episode of television. I could barely do that.

Doggett: Just ’cause I’m assigned to the X-Files you want me to think like Scully or Mulder would. You got the wrong guy. I need facts, not wild ideas.

Doggett doesn’t really understand what’s going on either, but he too is disturbed. Yes, he’s a different type of investigator than both Mulder and Scully. His isn’t the ordered scientific mind nor the disordered mind of the fanatic. But one trait he does share in common with Mulder is that he trusts his own instincts. In this case, his instincts lead him to a conclusion that his mind can’t process: Cult leader Tipet is psychically killing people in their sleep.

I’m still not sure why Tipet is killing. I gather that he accidentally reached a lower rather than a higher state of consciousness, or that “Via Negativa” is telling me that those two states are one in the same. It’s suggested that he kills to prevent others from reaching that cursed state, but while that makes sense for his followers, it doesn’t make sense for the two F.B.I. agents, the homeless man or Doggett. Tipet seems reluctant to kill, yet somehow he must. Another thing I’m not sure about is where the threat of Doggett killing Scully came from. Are his visions of her death meant to induce Doggett to kill himself?

If so, he very nearly succeeds. Doggett nearly goes mad trying to figure out what’s a dream and what’s reality. Or does he nearly go mad? Maybe he just dreamed he did.

That whole dream sequence was wonderfully acted by Robert Patrick who finally gets to do something other than just be a good guy. It’s good to see Doggett discombobulated and uncomfortable instead of collected and capable. And I’m glad his first up close and personal experience with the paranormal happened when Scully wasn’t around. This way, she didn’t prompt him to come to certain conclusions. Actually, she seemed to talk him out of his conclusions right there at the end, so I’m not sure if Doggett’s growth has been partially undone or if he’ll be taking this experience with him into the future.

Verdict:

The nice thing about episodes that are low on Mulder and Scully is that some other of our favorite characters get to come to the forefront. So, see? There’s a silver lighting to every cloud. Okay, so Doggett isn’t most people’s favorite. But who isn’t a fan of Skinner? And who doesn’t like the Lone Gunmen? If that’s you, please don’t answer. Some secrets are best kept.

Skinner seems to be drinking the “I am Fox Mulder” Kool-aid which does make me roll my eyes a little. But it’s still good to see him interact with Doggett one on one. I enjoyed that scene they had together in “Without” (8×2) as well and I think they have good chemistry. We’re so used to Mulder and Scully that we don’t get to see two strong male leads share the same screen space very often and it’s a nice refresher.

Doggett also gets introduced to the Lone Gunmen, and while that’s a cute scene, color me confused. I thought Langly’s first name was Ringo? Or maybe it is Richard, nickname Ringo? As in Richard Starkey, Ringo?

Anyways, “Via Negativa” is a risky, shocking, effective episode. It’s a trip down memory lane I’m not sure I’ll ever take again willingly, and I’m quite sure I won’t be taking any acid trips to reach a higher plane. But I must say that Robert Patrick’s looking pretty darn good.

A-

Comments:

Another way Doggett uses his instincts: Checking the hospital register for Scully’s name.

On that note, it’s sweet of Doggett to be so concerned about Scully’s welfare right after his own near death experience.

Watching a man take a razor blade and slice his forehead open is not something I ever want to do again.

At the time, memories of the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult were still fresh, so this kind of story resonated.

Our first look at Doggett’s place – the first X-Files agent with a house.

Those aren’t the footprints of someone who’s walked in blood. Those are the footprints of someone whose shoes are bleeding.

So Scully really is going to be in the hospital every other episode this season.

Yo, 1013. If there’s nothing wrong with the baby, don’t make us think there’s something wrong with the baby. The welfare of The Scully Spawn automatically trumps in importance anything that might happen in a one-off episode. A plot point that major shouldn’t be used as a distraction or, worse, a way to merely get rid of Scully. Thanks. Peace.

Curiosities:

Since when would Mulder consult the Lone Gunmen on paranormal cases? Did I miss something? Am I wrong or did he not use Chuck Burke for that?

Agent Crane is working under Skinner now?

I don’t get Kersh. I don’t get him at all. First he wants real world answers. Then he doesn’t care if he gets any answers. Is he really acting on someone else’s orders or does he just have a psychological disorder? Right now he’s being difficult just to be difficult, and that isn’t the behavior of a character acting logically within his universe but a character who’s being used to create a problem whenever a problem needs to happen.

Why Doggett turns off the lights after having a vision like that is a mystery that will never be solved.

Best Quotes:

Doggett: A third eye?

Frohike: We all have a third eye. If we could open it, we’d see a new reality, one closer to God. At least that’s what Kesey told me on the bus back in ’64.

Langly: You were not on the bus with Kesey in ’64.

Frohike: Hey, I got the pictures to prove it, my long-haired friend.

Langly: Before or after you partied with the Stones at Altamont?

Frohike: Don’t be a boob, Altamont was in ’70s.

Langly: Whatever.

——————–

Doggett: What if Tipet could invade his victims’… consciousness in their sleep? I mean, that’s why you’d be afraid to fall asleep, right? If you thought your nightmares might come true?

Byers: You believe that?

Doggett: No… but if Tipet does… he’ll need more drugs… to keep killing. [Leaves]

Frohike: That’s not bad for a beginner.

 

Without 8×2: You say you want to find Mulder but you won’t do what it takes.


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Because Skinner does need to get out more.

We’re back to the mythology…. and we’re back to the voiceovers. But we’ll focus on the mythology.

I’m happy to see Skinner and Scully both getting their hands dirty in the search for Mulder. They get a lot of action in “Without” if not a lot of answers. Actually, I said we’re going to discuss the mythology, but even as I think about discussing it I realize that there isn’t much to discuss. Have we learned anything besides the fact that the Alien Bounty Hunters are keeping watch over Mulder for some unknown reason that never will be known?

What are the aliens doing to Mulder and why are they doing it? We were lead to believe in “Requiem” (7×22) that the aliens are trying to eliminate human test subjects who, it’s implied, were successfully turned into alien hybrids or something close to it. Mulder himself said the abductees wouldn’t be coming back this time.

Well then, why torture Mulder? Why not kill him and get it over with? I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with assuming that the aliens want more information from his body, and that Chris Carter wanted an excuse to strap David Duchovny naked to a cold chair for hours. Because.

Another plot device that makes me scratch my head is the inexplicable cliff jump.

Doggett has an Alien Bounty Hunter cornered in front of a steep cliff, an Alien Bounty Hunter that he didn’t know was an Alien Bounty Hunter because it was disguised as Mulder, not that he would have believed it was an Alien Bounty Hunter regardless. The Alien Bounty Hunter has a hold of Gibson Praise, living proof of alien life, evidence of which the Alien Colonists are systematically trying to destroy. Since Alien Bounty Hunters can’t be stopped by mere guns, but only by an exact kill shot to the back of the neck, I trust I wasn’t alone in assuming that our next shot of Doggett would be him wallowing on the ground as the Alien Bounty Hunter escaped with Gibson.

That would make sense, but sometimes Chris Carter forgoes making sense and skips straight ahead to improbable plot points. Suffice it to say, instead of killing Doggett or at the very least knocking him down, the Alien Bounty Hunter lets go of Gibson, his prize catch, and runs away from Doggett by jumping off the cliff. Because.

I guess it was just too soon to lose Doggett.

Doggett gets time to grow… eventually. For this episode, his main purpose is to trigger Scully’s spontaneous combustion into Mulder. Scully, having once been much like Doggett herself, a firm believer in facts and evidence, is a little embarrassed at times having to give voice to Mulder’s theories in front of Doggett. She’s not used to having to defend the crazy.

I do get it. Scully’s grieving and is trying to compensate for the loss of Mulder by keeping him alive through his theories, which is why when she’s not acting embarrassed and unsure of herself she’s defensive and defiant.

It’s nice to see some emotions from Scully other than her usual poker face. She’s all over the place mentally: confident, confused, scared, angry, suspicious, frustrated. She’s determined to find Mulder, who is frustratingly closer than she knows, but she doesn’t know where to start. She’s so desperate, she resorts to wandering the desert in the dark calling his name. If she keeps this up, she really will turn into Mulder, at least the unbalanced part of him.

Anyway, this new plot gives Gillian Anderson more to do and I’m glad for that. Though it must be said that Scully Tears will get old past a point.

But hey, at least she has a new partner to help her dry those tears! Despite Chris Carter’s initial protestations, Mulder is replaced. Doggett is officially assigned to the X-Files by the end of the episode, whereupon he immediately starts making sweet overtures of peace to Scully. I know Scully’s shocked and horrified face speaks for us all.

Verdict:

I’m tempted to say, and I will say, that this was much ado about nothing. No progress whatsoever has been made in the search for Mulder. We’re really just rehashing the Alien Bounty Hunter idea and milking it for all it’s worth, not that I at all mind the chance to see ABH Scully and ABH Skinner. Those tense scenes of suspicion where no one knows who the impostor is are the best parts of the episode. And Scully and Skinner haven’t had the chance to face off with guns since “Paper Clip” (3×2).

But the lack of any kind of progression leads me to believe that there will be no all-encompassing search for Mulder this season. If there were, Carter would have had Scully employ the talents of the yet still living Gibson Praise. After all, he’s a human homing device. No, it looks like we’re not on the hunt but instead we’re settling down for a wait.

If that final scene between Scully and the Alien Bounty Hunter tells us anything, it’s that she can’t be running around like this anymore. She has Mulder’s baby spawn to think about. She’s also come to realize, maybe after wandering the desert at night, that even if by some miracle she stumbles upon Mulder’s spaceship, what then? I guess the thing to do is to settle back into a routine working on the X-Files and see what new clues drop into our laps.

There is one tantalizing mythology tidbit, though. Doggett is likely being set up to fail by Kersh. And we already suspect that Kersh is obeying orders from somebody. So who is it who wants Mulder hunted down but not found, and why?

I’m not overly impressed by all this shuffling of the feet without any forward motion. But I am curious, which is more than I could say for all of Season 7.

And you know that creepy shot of all those Alien Bounty Hunters surrounding Mulder’s torture chair? Enjoy it. You’ll never see Mr. Bounty Hunter again.

B+

Question:

How did Gibson Praise’s hideout miraculously cover itself back up with sand after his friend Thea went down in it? For that matter, what kind of secret hideout has a door you can’t hide? And just because Thea is deaf doesn’t make her stupid. I can’t believe she traveled for miles to a secret den because of an imminent threat, yet never once looked behind her to see someone following her in the open desert.

Best Quotes:

Scully: I promise. I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.

Gibson Praise: You said that to me once before.

 

Hollywood A.D. 7×18: Is this a real fake or a fake fake?


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Champagne and strawberries. That’s my man.

Is it the year of Hollywood or the year of our Lord? Or is it the year of Walter Skinner?

Well, it’s definitely the episode of Walter Skinner, since seeing him act silly for once is about all I need to get by. About all I need. Not quite all I need.

“Hollywood A.D.” is David’s second outing as both writer and director on The X-Files, but it lacks the focus of his earlier effort, “The Unnatural” (6×20). “The Unnatural” was a story about belonging and bonding as brought to you by baseball. This is more of an end of the year keg party on film. I can’t view it as an X-File, only as an act of gleeful self-effacement.

There’s a story within a story within a story, here. We have the X-File of the Lazarus Bowl, The X-Files as a show, and then the Hollywood machine behind The X-Files. David Duchovny is smart so, plot-wise, it’s surprisingly easy to follow considering how complex it is. What’s confusing for me is figuring out what’s important. Is there a theme here? What’s sincere and what’s a joke? Is there a point? Am I supposed to take seriously that bit at the end about Hollywood taking real people’s stories and rendering them meaningless? Is something meant to be significant or are we just having fun?

Fun is good, but if it’s fun we’re meant to be having than the potentially serious themes about religion, belief, and faith as a form of insanity are distracting. There are things just tossed into the script, like gnosticism and latin phrases, that he can’t actually expect the audience to understand the meaning and implications of unless they have a religious or academic background in such things. The resurrected Micah Hoffman throws his, “Noli me tangere, baby.” at Scully like it’s an in-joke that would take too much time to explain.* It’s an in-joke extravaganza.

Going over the heads of the unfamiliar is one risk, offending those who are familiar is another. I won’t get into that but I’m sure there were irritated fans out there. The relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus can be a touchy subject. *cough* The Da Vinci Code *cough!* And those pictures in Micah Hoffman’s studio were a bit much…

If he had explored those religious ideas and made a serious episode out of them, we might have something more to talk about. As it stands, I think it’s best to ignore the religious themes completely and focus on the comedy, because the situational humor and the one liners are basically all this episode has going for it.

“Hollywood A.D.” is probably the most meta The X-Files ever got. It’s like David Duchovny threw a house party and invited the cast, the crew, his family and his friends and they’re sending a home video of them waving to the fans. It does make for some memorable moments. I personally find the little rib nudges about David as Mulder having a crush on his then real-life wife, actress Téa Leoni, absolutely adorable. Dang it, I loved them together.

The parade of friends is so long it would take the entire review to name them all, but I am going to shout out David Alan Grier. It was completely age inappropriate but I used to love him on In Living Color back in the day. Oh, the 90’s. Good times.

Another highlight is watching Scully teach Tea Leoni how to run in heels. And they just keep going in the background while Gary Shandling quizzes Mulder about his dressing habits. That bit cracks me up every time.

And, of course, who could forget the three-way bathtub conversation? Because that really is all kinds of hilarious.

The bottom line is that the parts of it that are funny are really, really, funny. But as an episode, it’s disjointed.

Verdict:

I wish this had been an out-and-out comedy instead of a comedy burdened down by an X-File that was never fully explored. We never do find out the whole story. Micah Hoffman was resurrected, then died again. He wasn’t Jesus then, I take it? Who was the corpse Scully autopsied???

But I’m not here to moan and gripe. The only question for me is, is it worth it?

Is it worth it? Well, Scully’s face as she watches Hollywood Scully and Mulder make out on screen is pretty much priceless, so… yes?

B-

P.S. I’m in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

P.P.S. Mitch Pileggi isn’t far behind.

Them bones, them bones, them dry bones:

So… Scully’s Catholic again?

Speaking of Scully, she would have freaked out so much more during that autopsy. Anyone in their right mind would have lost their mind.

All that talk about Richard Gere and the guy who plays Micah Hoffman actually looks like him to me.

I heard Heisenberg! Another X-FilesBreaking Bad connection.

Heck, he even brought back Chuck Burke. Thank you for that, David Duchovny.

Forgive me if my skepticism is showing, but I can’t see Skinner and Wayne Federman being buddies. Ever.

Why do I see palm trees outside a Washington, D.C. cafe?

That shot of the Nokia phone is also making me feel nostalgic.

That moment when an almost complete stranger intimates to Mulder that Scully and Skinner are having a fling.

*This is the Latin version of what Jesus said to Mary Magdelene after His resurrection in John 20:17 – “Touch Me not…”

Best Quotes:

Wayne Federman: She: Jodi Foster’s foster child on a Payless budget. He’s like a… Jehovah’s Witness meets Harrison Ford’s “Witness.”

————–

Wayne Federman: How about the Shroud of Turin?

Cardinal O’Fallon: No, afraid not, but we do have the Bathrobe of St. Peter.

Wayne Federman: You’re kidding?

Cardinal O’Fallon: Yes, I am.

————–

Wayne Federman: I like the way you guys work– no warrants, no permission, no research. You’re like studio executives with guns.

————–

Mulder: Well, you know, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.

Wayne Federman: Well, fiction is quicker than truth and cheaper. You want my advice? You’re both crazy.

Mulder: Well, why do you say that?

Wayne Federman: [To Mulder] Well, you’re crazy for believing what you believe. [To Scully] And you’re crazy for not believing what he believes. I’ll leave you with that. Thank you.

—————

Scully: You’ve seen this movie 42 times?

Mulder: Yes.

Scully: Doesn’t that make you sad? It makes me sad. {Editor’s Note: What would Scully think of us?}

 

Brand X 7×19: They say these things kill people.


 

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I’m having War of the Coprophages flashbacks.

I was really excited to watch “Brand X” again. Honestly, my memories of the last few seasons are a lot fuzzier than the early parts of the series. (You can probably guess which episodes I watch more often.) The hidden blessing in that is getting to relive episodes afresh. And what I did remember of “Brand X” was good. Very good.

We have Skinner in play, and he so rarely gets to move from behind his desk. I think Mitch Pileggi was brought on the court mainly because Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were still busy in post-production for “all things” (7×17) and “Hollywood A.D.” (7×18) respectively, but I’ll take any excuse to see more of Skinner.

I also haven’t seen a Half-Caff episode in nigh forever and I’ve missed them. For those who don’t know, Half-Caff is my own obsessive-compulsively subclassed category of X-File that involves a newly discovered science or technology with world-changing implications. Here-to-fore, however, they’ve also included a government conspiracy to get a hold of or control said science. “Brand X” is slightly different since there’s no government conspiracy, only a corporate one. But I’m counting it because I can.

Morley Tobacco takes the place of the government this episode and so is appropriately shady and secretive. Except for the good Dr. Voss, who shows signs early on of wanting to switch allegiances to the good side of the Force. He smirks in response to Mulder’s sarcasm at the conference table, anyway. But Dr. Voss has a problem. He and Dr. Scobie’s noble experiment, to genetically engineer a tobacco plant that wouldn’t cause cancer when smoked or inhaled, backfired. Oh sure, they developed a non-toxic plant. However, the tobacco beetles evolved to match the new supply and now their eggs are being inhaled along with the smoke. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty picture when the eggs hatch. Just ask the late Dr. Scobie.

Initially, we think Dr. Scobie’s been killed because he’s a whistleblower and the company didn’t want him revealing their nefarious secrets to the world. Whistleblowers were a hot topic in the 90’s and so was Big Bad Tobacco. I wonder if generations of X-Philes to come will recognize the plot of The Insider buried in all this. Even if they don’t, in a world where the GMOs vs. Non-GMOs debate has only gained traction over the years, this episode is oddly still relevant. Can we make nature better? Will we kill ourselves trying?

For first time writers on the show, Steve Maeda and Greg Walker give us a pretty classic X-File, the anomaly of Skinner being out in the field not withstanding. Steven Maeda will go on to write several more episodes including one of my later season favorites, “Audrey Pauley” (9×13).

There are lots of little moments, especially in the beginning, that I enjoy about this episode. I love the opening shot of smoke billowing out of a chimney and how it subtly introduces our subject. Seeing Dr. Scobie’s glass of icy water with pinkish swirls of blood floating around in it gives me a delicious sense of foreboding. It also warms my Philish heart to see Mulder and Scully coming to Skinner’s aid. I realize he’s their boss and technically they have to show up whether they want to or not, but it’s nice that they want to. Oh, and it’s the first time, probably all season, that I’ve felt like either Mulder or Scully were in real danger. “Signs and Wonders” (7×9) didn’t convince me. This actually feels like Mulder’s on the verge of death.

The atmosphere, particularly in the indoor scenes where they could block out the L.A. sunlight, is perfect. (The X-Files was gorgeous.) The villain is vile. (That’s right. You go ahead and smoke your neighbors to death. ‘Cause this is America, man. E pluribus uh…) The deaths are disgusting. (And I take perverse viewing pleasure in that.)

Everything’s moving with tense, expectant energy and then… the ending flattens like Coke in a cup.

Sigh. It pains me to admit it, but the 4th act starts to fizzle right when it should sizzle. It’s a sad reminder of what happened to “Theef” (7×14), another episode this season that was leading somewhere good and then choked right at the climax.

In particular, that scene where Skinner can’t make up his mind to take down Daryl Weaver goes on two minutes too long. I mean, I get it. If Daryl keeps on living he’ll keep on smoking and more people will inhale tobacco beetle eggs and die. And if Daryl dies then the doctor’s may not get the scientific answers they need to save Mulder and anyone else who might get infected. But Skinner is an Assistant Director at the F.B.I.. I’m pretty sure he knows how to shoot a suspect so as to disable them rather than kill them, especially when that suspect is standing still. His hesitation, no, procrastination doesn’t make sense. Not to mention, Daryl’s bad guy speech would have been much more effective cut in half.

Verdict:

Is it too late to create a “Coulda’ been a contender” category? Because “Brand X” had the potential to be a classic. Instead it’s just a really solid offering. Warts and all it’s still a far sight more entertaining than most of what I’ve seen this season.

B+

Bugs:

Skinner makes the idea of killer bugs sound so fantastic. Wasn’t he around for “Zero Sum” (4×21)? I know, I know. The bees carried a virus. They still behaved abnormally.

Are those pencils in the office ceiling the same ones from “Chinga” (5×10) or does Mulder still get bored often?

Correction, Scully. If Mulder were to pick up that pack of Morley’s he wouldn’t be taking up smoking, he’d be falling off the wagon. Mulder smoked back in “Travelers” (5×15).

If the situation was dangerous enough that Skinner needed to put a detail on Dr. Voss’ family for their safety, why did he let Dr. Voss travel home alone?

Is there any particular reason we’re supposed to believe Morley Tobacco would go so far as to kill Dr. Scobie for testifying against them? When did the mafia take over Big Tobacco?

PSA: It was implied by this episode but never directly stated that the smoke and tar from tobacco plants causes cancer, not nicotine. The smoke chronically irritates the lungs, leading to cancer and a whole other host of issues. Cigarette smoke also contains over forty known carcinogens, marijuana smoke over thirty. Though whether or not marijuana directly leads to lung cancer is still under debate. It’s been linked to testicular cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer and leukemia in the babies of women who smoked while pregnant, though.

Actor Tobin Bell, who plays Daryl Weaver, is our second Goodfellas alumnus of the season and our second 24 alumnus. Or at least, he’s the second of each that I’ve recognized and counted.

The actors must have killed themselves coughing from this episode.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: [Looking at a gruesome picture of Dr. Scobie’s corpse] Can’t blow the whistle with a mouth like that.

———————–

Mulder: Mr. Weaver, did you see or hear anything unusual last night?

Daryl Weaver: Little Korean fellow down the hall dresses like Wonder Woman. But that’s every night.

———————–

Daryl Weaver: Toodles.

 

S.R. 819 6×10: At least you didn’t get your ear bit off.


Call Dr. Scully.

I’m in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

And I know I’m not the only one. For all those who have gone into withdrawal after the admittedly extended period of light-hearted antics that make up the first third of Season 6, we’re about to have four heavy-duty episodes in a row. Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more.

Krycek was a deceiver ever. And the official battle between him and Skinner has begun, though it’s been brewing since “The Blessing Way” (3×1) when Krycek and Luis Cardinal put a hurtin’ on Skinner in the stairwell of a hospital. It escalated after Skinner handcuffed Krycek to his balcony in “Tunguska” (4×9) and left him to suffer from exposure. See why revenge is never the answer?

Not that the stoically upright Skinner is a vengeful kinda guy, though it’s clear from his introspective soliloquies in this episode that he doesn’t consider himself any sort of hero.

Well, I do. And Scully’s right, Skinner judges himself too harshly.

Yes, he had to compromise himself early on in his relationship with Mulder and Scully, but it’s obvious Cigarette-Smoking Man had an unpleasant hold on his career, perhaps even wielding blackmail as a weapon. But no sooner does he get the chance than Skinner bucks CSM’s authority and aids Mulder in his quest as early as “Ascension” (2×6). Even before that he showed signs of sympathy. Remember his, “This should have been an X-File” comment in “The Host” (2×2)?

He proved to be Mulder and Scully’s protector in episodes like “End Game” (2×17) where he pummels Mulder’s location out of Mr. X in an effort to save his life and in “Paper Clip” (3×2) when he extorts the safe return of Mulder and Scully out of CSM by threatening to release classified information on the conspiracy. In fact, it’s that episode where Skinner officially crawls out from under CSM’s nefarious shadow. Too bad his hard-won independence doesn’t last long. By the time we reach “Avatar” (3×21), CSM has cooked up a cold dish of revenge framing Skinner for murder. And while Mulder and Scully… and his soon to be ex-wife… deliver Skinner out of that trap, he willingly walks back into CSM’s clutches in “Memento Mori” (4×15) in order to, what else? Save Scully. By “Zero Sum” (4×21) he’s a patsy again, but though his position may be compromised his loyalty never is.

Despite not being much older than they are, Skinner plays the harsh but protective father to Mulder and Scully. He’s willing to get his hands dirty so that they don’t have to, not because his conscience is seared but because the soldier in him is willing to sacrifice to win the war. If Skinner were to die now he would not die in vain. Mulder and Scully would have been dead long ago if not for him.

But not once did it occur to me that Skinner might actually die, no more than I though Mulder might really be dead at the end of “Gethsemene” (4×24), which is the best evidence I can give of Skinner’s unofficial status as the third lead on The X-Files; so indispensable has this character become, this character that was never intended by Chris Carter to be a major role, that it’s hard to take the threat of his death seriously.

I never believed they’d do it, but Chris Carter & Co. did consider it. Mulder and Scully no longer worked under Skinner so he was no longer absolutely vital to the plot and because he had changed over the years from a mysterious and potentially dangerous figure to a stalwart ally, he had become too predictable, too reliable. Fortunately for Skinner lovers, the plot potential in this new hold Krycek gains over Skinner convinced The Powers That Be that interesting things could still be done with the character. Thank heavens because can you imagine Season 8 with no Skinner? ::shudders::

The question is, how does a man as self-sufficient as Skinner, who has already escaped the clutches of CSM himself, wind up with his life in the hands of Ratboy? I confess, I never really understood the plot till now so for those fans as slow on the uptake as I am, here’s a rundown:

It all starts with Tunisia. And if that sets off bells of recognition in your head, it should. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there were some oblique implications here that Syndicate leader Strughold who, as we see in Fight the Future, has his base of operations is in Tunisia, is behind the S.R. 819 conspiracy. That would also explain how Krycek originally got involved since last we saw him in “The End” (5×20) he was working for the Syndicate under the authority of Well-Manicured Man. Since Well-Manicured Man is now deceased (sniffle), it’s safe to say Krycek’s loyalties within the organization have moved on. Or safer to say that his only real loyalty is to himself.

Krycek is working on his own in keeping Skinner alive. We can assume he wants him alive and at his mercy so that he can use him for his own agenda later. The Syndicate has a man at the F.B.I. in Jeffrey Spender, now Krycek has his own man on the inside, reluctant though he may be.

The original plan was to export this potentially dangerous nanotechnology to Tunisia, and possibly into the hands of Strughold and the Syndicate, under the guise of the World Health Organization. Before that happened, S.R. 819 had to pass inspection by scientist Kenneth Orgel and the F.B.I.’s own Skinner, a safeguard that was usually a mere formality. However, Orgel understands the potential consequences of the nanotechnology falling into the wrong hands and goes to warn Skinner, but is infected to keep him from talking. Skinner too is infected and is supposed to be killed but Krycek intervenes.

From what Mulder says to Skinner at the end of the episode and the surprised look on Scully’s face when Skinner claims not to be able to recognize the bearded man who tried to kill him, it looks like Mulder and Scully are aware that Krycek is behind all this. But they still don’t know what he’s up to and they certainly don’t know why Skinner refuses to give him up. As in the first Skinner-centric episode, “Avatar”, Mulder and Scully’s concern for their former boss is touching. As before, they drive the investigation to save Skinner only this time to better effect because Skinner doesn’t sit passively, fatalistically by while they work. The determination he starts this episode with must make it especially grating on him to have to slip right back into his old compromising ways.

Verdict:

I can’t say I love “S.R. 819” the way I love Skinner himself because though there’s a tangible sense of urgency, the plot is a little obscure and aside from Skinner’s pulsing veins, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But I do appreciate the potential mythology implications and I welcome the return of Krycek with open arms. I was one of those taken by surprise when he reappeared. Maybe even “Stevie Wonder would see that one comin’”, but I didn’t.

If my memory serves me correctly, and that’s by no means a guarantee, this was the series’ final Skinner-centric episode. That’s rather surprising considering there are three more seasons to go but it makes it all the more irritating that there’s no resolution to what happened to Skinner’s wife Karen, a character both introduced and discarded back in “Avatar”.

I wasn’t looking for anything detailed. A brief mention from a hospital orderly would have sufficed. “The patient is Walter Skinner. Widowed. Works for the F.B.I.” or “Walter Skinner – Divorced. No known relatives. In case of emergency contact Special Agent Dana Scully.” See how easy that would have been?

My only consolation is that I think there could be a cleverly veiled reference to “Avatar” here:

Mulder: This morning, you woke up…
Skinner: I woke up.
Mulder: Alone?
Skinner: Yes. Alone.

Then again, that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

B+

The Peanut Gallery:

While I don’t think anyone fell for it, those opening moments of the episode where they would have us believe that Mulder is the F.B.I. agent about to die are well done. I quite like the idea of scaring the audience. If only that silly episode preview hadn’t ruined the surprise…

We haven’t seen Senator Matheson since “Nisei” (3×9) and the truth is, I don’t even remember him in it. The connections in congress Mulder so famously depends upon in the “Pilot” (1×79) have all but become obsolete in the current stage of the mythology. However, I’m glad they brought Matheson back one last time, if only to drive home the point that Mulder has fewer people he can trust than even he once believed. That makes the fact that one of his allies is now seriously compromised… and that he doesn’t know it… even more poignant.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if Senator Matheson were secretly a member of the Syndicate?

It makes me a little sad to think the ear-biting references might be lost on this new generation.

Mulder and Scully are forbidden any contact with Skinner. Don’t they know there are cameras at the F.B.I.?

Parts of the movie score are recycled several times in this episode. And there’s an overhead shot of the highway that looks recycled as well – there’s no way that shot was in a television budget.

I’ve never read the fanfic, but I’m sure the Skinner/Scully Shippers had a field day with this episode.

That abandoned warehouse set is striking. I especially enjoy the lighting when Mulder walks in on the Senator.

I recently found out that Nicholas Lea (Krycek) is about to guest star on Supernatural. That’s an interesting coincidence since both Steven Williams (Mr. X) and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) have guest starred on that show for a series of episodes. Ah, when fate binds souls together…

This reminds me of the good old days when Scully often stared in wonder and computer screens looking at scientific data that shouldn’t exist.

I dig the “Chinga” (5×10) reference, John Shiban. I dig it.

Best Quotes:

Skinner: I was boxing. I must’ve gotten tagged.
Nurse: Yes, you did. At least you didn’t get your ear bit off. That’s something, right?

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, the good news is… your dilation’s back to normal. Plus you still have both your ears.
Skinner: I heard that one.

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, you’re lucky. He’s on a government HMO – no one’s even bothered to handle the samples yet.

Avatar 3×21: I’m not signing those papers.


Little Red Riding Hood.

“Avatar” is one of those few episodes where we open with one of our stars instead of just an X-File itself. A rare honor indeed and here it is bestowed upon Skinner so relatively early in the series. He also bears the dubitable honor of participating in the first real sex scene on The X-Files in said intro. Needless to say, things quickly go awry and he wakes up next to a beautiful blonde who looks like she just crawled out of The Exorcist.

Ah, Skinner. Finally a follow up look at his inner workings heretofore only briefly hinted at in “One Breath” (2×8). Here’s a silent yet sensitive man who is reluctant to give up on his marriage, so instead of signing his divorce papers he goes for a drink… and sleeps with a strange woman… because he’s reluctant to give up on his marriage.

Wait. Skinner’s married?

That’s right. Walter Skinner has been married for 17 years. It looks like the reason he has Scully down as his emergency contact in “Apocrypha” (3×16) is because he and his wife have been separated for some months. Skinner/Scully shippers may suffer vain imaginations at their own peril. From the sound of things the only reason for the separation is the typical “he doesn’t talk to me anymore” issue. The prostitute doesn’t come in until later…

…the prostitute that CSM hired through one of his minions. It’s nice to see that the bad blood between CSM and Skinner is still festering; it adds a sense of continuity to the episode. That and the fact that Skinner further elaborates on the story of his near-death death experience that he first told Mulder about in “One Breath”. It turns out that along with nearly walking into the white light, he had a bit of a visitation. Which leads me to the crux of this little review.

I used to wonder why this episode is called “Avatar” which in Hindu mythology is a human incarnation of a deity when the paranormal star of the episode is a “Succubus.” Thanks to a single sentence of insight in an IMDB review I think I finally figured out the connection.

The old woman that Skinner keeps seeing is not a sexually possessive and dangerous succubus as Mulder initially suggests, she’s his wife, Sharon… who is actually an avatar. She’s his protector. She protected him from death in Vietnam, now she’s protecting him from the machinations of CSM. It’s the same creature, but for years she either was or took the form of his wife. Once his wife was separated from him, she came to him in dreams. It isn’t until they separate that she begins coming to him in dreams again. When he sees the old woman at the police station, it’s because Sharon has shown up. When he wakes up on the couch to see the old woman screaming, the police come to the door to tell him that Sharon’s been in an accident. This is why Sharon somehow knows what CSM has been up to and what Skinner needs to do to stop the man who framed him.

See how simple that sounds when it’s all laid out? Yeah, it’s too bad the episode doesn’t do that.

Now, we all know that The X-Files likes to err on the side of vagueness and that’s what we love about it. But take it from “Gender Bender” (1×13), leaving the audience completely nonplussed is never the way to go. The plot goes well right up through where Mulder’s succubus theory enters the picture, but there’s no follow-through after that. Which is why most are generally left with the incorrect impression that Mulder was right in his assumption even though he briefly mentions in passing that he must have guessed wrong.

And finally…

The lingering question is what happened to Sharon Skinner? I would say that she died. Whether or not they intended to imply that at the time, I don’t know. But nothing else could explain why she never shows up again even though Skinner puts his ring back on at the end of the episode. Besides, would you divorce your guardian angel? Not only that, but even within the context of the episode her sudden, miraculous awakening goes unnoticed by the hospital staff who would have been monitoring her from the nursing station. More than likely this is a moment only visible to Skinner because she’s his personal avatar. There’s a deleted scene that takes place just before Skinner spills his guts to an unconscious Sharon that would lend credence to the theory that she was all set to recover. But if so, where did she go? Her disappearance equals a de facto death regardless.

Overall, this episode is much, much better than I remembered. However, it’s still too convoluted to be called “great” and there isn’t much by way of scares or revelations. Also, as we’ve already gone over, little to nothing of the plot is clear by the end.

Mitch Pileggi does an admirable job here, though, and he deserved a Skinner-centered episode. Apparently, this was David Duchovny’s idea as a way of giving himself a break for a week, though it turns out his character is still in almost every scene. He and Howard Gordon teamed up for the story and while I don’t hate the finished product, I do wish that Skinner felt like more of a headliner and less of a bystander in his own story. Most of the episode is spent watching Mulder and Scully solve the case while he sits idly by and watches his world unravel. But hey, at least he’s the hero in the end.

B-

Comments:

This is yet another episode where Mulder’s theory is completely off. She’s not a succubus, she’s an avatar. So there. There are so few of these moments that I have to keep track.

Once again, despite all evidence to the contrary, once Mulder has faith in someone he refuses to let go. The man is inherently trusting. I’m telling you.

Like “Oubliette” (3×8), this is another episode where the supernatural element isn’t evil. In fact, this time it’s a force for good, albeit a slightly frightening one.

Best Quotes:

Lorraine Kelleher: I don’t know what to say.
Scully: Well you can start by telling us if she was working last night and if she was, who paid for her company.
Lorraine Kelleher: I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Mulder: I guess that would hurt future book sales, huh?
Lorraine Kelleher: You’d be surprised who some of my clients are.
Mulder: No, I don’t think I would be.
Scully: I also doubt that they’d want to get entangled in a homicide investigation
Mulder: Look, we just need one name from you. Who hired Carina Sayles?
Lorraine Kelleher: Let’s just say you both work for the government… and so do I.

———————

Skinner: I got through that experience like most eighteen-year-olds. By numbing myself with whatever was around. I was no choir boy. I inhaled.

———————

Mulder: They used us to do it, didn’t they? They used the X-Files.
Scully: How’s you know?
Mulder: Cause I think Skinner’s been outmaneuvered, Scully. They found a weakness and they’re exploiting it.
Scully: But why?
Mulder: To keep us it check. You remove Skinner and you weaken us.

———————-

Skinner: I had to tell you, Sharon, before anything else happens. I’m not signing those papers. For a lot of reasons. Most of them I’m just realizing myself for the first time. Some of the things I’ve seen, the violence and the lies that I’ve witnessed men inflict on one another… I could never tell you that. Not that I ever stopped believing in the work, but there were contradictions that I, that I couldn’t reconcile, which meant shutting down part of myself just to do my job. I never told you what I should have told you… that what really got me through each day was knowing that I’d be sleeping next to you that night. Knowing that I had a reason to wake up in the morning. I’m not sure if you can even hear me now or if it even makes a difference to you anymore, but I at least wanted you to know that.