Tag Archives: Soft Light

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


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It all depends on how they edit it together.

It’s not you, Vince. It’s me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours devotedly,

Salome

Verdict:

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

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

C+

Crack House Commentary:

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

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

Okay, maybe it was an adulthood dream.

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

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

Why are David and Gillian still gorgeous even on video?

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

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

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

——————-

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

Dep. Wetzel: I heard that.

——————-

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

Mulder: Yeah, I believe you.

Dep. Wetzel: Why?

Mulder: Why do I believe you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mulder: Tell me about it.

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


Do I look like Geraldo to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Verdict is…

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

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

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

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

B+

Miscellaneous:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

——————-

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

——————-

Langley: There’s no game here.

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

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.

Wetwired 3×23: You’re the only one I trust.


Mulder for a day.

I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t we already see this episode and didn’t they call it “Blood” (2×3)?

Admittedly, the two episodes are similar in premise. Both are “Half-Caff”, pseudo mythology type episodes (Which, by the way, we haven’t had all Season 3. Believe it or not, there hasn’t been one since “Soft Light” (2×23) and I’ve missed sensing CSM’s shenanigans behind these technology and science driven conspiracies). Both involve technology based mind-control experiments secretly carried on by the U.S. government.

Or do they? In “Blood” the trigger was actually a pesticide, the result was that people saw messages in all sorts of mechanical devices that drove them to violence. “Wetwired” addresses the T.V./Violence correlation specifically and doesn’t bother dragging other modes of communication into the picture. By now I’m sure you can smell the irony; a television show prone to violent images is pondering whether images on television can lead to violence in real life. Talk about self-conscious.

But when you consider the source, the subject makes sense. This episode is written by Visual Effects Supervisor Mat Beck who presided over the show’s first 5 seasons as well as both movies. Is it any wonder he’s interested in the effect of the image on the American public? But most importantly, why didn’t he write more??

Believe it or not, I actually enjoy “Wetwired” more than all the world-class mythology episodes this season. (Shock!) There’s something meaty about it. We have the Lone Gunmen, X, CSM, mind control, a paranoid Scully, and some great emotional beats on the M&S front to boot. It’s so chock full of X-Files goodies that I find myself wondering why Chris Carter didn’t add Mat Beck to the writing staff.

But enough about background and concept and on to the episode itself. You would expect that if anyone on The X-Files would go psycho it would be Mulder. And in fact he’s done it before and under similar circumstances when CSM’s forces drugged him nearly into paranoid oblivion in “Anasazi” (2×25). Mulder also trashed his apartment looking for bugs in “E.B.E.” (1×16) the way Scully does here, but she does it with more flair, don’t you think? Mulder’s always so close to the edge of insanity as it is that it’s more fun to watch cool, calm and collected Scully lose her mind for a bit. It’s more satisfying. In particular, there’s a great moment when Gillian Anderson leans into the camera, wide-eyed and chomping on ice. Classic.

That’s all fun and games but the real meat is what Scully’s paranoid about. It makes sense that Scully’s deepest fear would be Mulder’s betrayal. She’s devoted her life to this man. She’s made her quest her own and has suffered in the process. It’s not like she’s the one looking for a “white whale.” She’s still here, working on the X-Files, because she believes in Mulder, not because she believes in little green men. What a nightmare it would become if she suddenly found it was all a lie. Mulder didn’t trust her. He didn’t depend on her. In fact, he was out to get her. It’s like that moment in “End Game” (2×17) when the Bounty Hunter morphs into Mulder and attacks Scully. It’s horrible because it shouldn’t be. Mulder should be the last person, save Maggie Scully, who would ever hurt her… er, purposefully anyway.

Verdict:

This is definitely one of my favorite episodes of Season 3. It might not be as inventive as some, but it has all the necessary ingredients of a good X-File and is always, always fun to watch.

Both Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny turn in some great emotional performances on this one. And it’s nice to have the mutual importance of Mulder and Scully’s relationship confirmed at the close of a season that features a lot of loss and tension in the partnership. The Shipper in me is satisfied.

But I especially love how it ends, with that short but memorable scene between X and CSM. Now we know that X is one of CSM’s hired guns and it’s him X has been undermining in order to feed Mulder information. How long can the apprentice work against his master without being found out? When X looks into CSM’s cold, dead eyes and lies I still get an ominous chill.

A

Questions:

Even after the Lone Gunmen’s short and pithy explanation of the magic of television, we still never learn exactly how CSM & Co. are creating paranoia in the viewing public, just that something must be being transmitted through the signal. And for that matter, how far did this experiment reach? And for how long? They wouldn’t have stopped at a handful of murders.

Surely this episode calls for a follow-up with some exploration of X’s background. So what happened to it? Mulder confronts him on being too much of a coward to fight the power himself, CSM glares at him with thinly veiled suspicion… His character is just begging to be revealed at least a little.

Comments:

He’s red-green colorblind. Finally, an explanation is given for the atrocity of Mulder’s ties.

Did I mention the teaser is awesome? ‘Cause the teaser is awesome.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: It’s just you, me and the drug dealers.
Plain-Clothed Man: Well, this area’s always been known for its criminal element.
Mulder: Especially when Congress is in session.

———————

Mulder: I just watched 36 hours of Bernard Shaw and Bobbi Battista. I’m about ready to kill somebody too.

———————

Mulder: All I know is television does not make a previously sane man go out and kill five people thinking they’re all the same guy. Not even ‘Must See TV’ could do that to you.

———————

Mulder: What do you think, Scully?
Scully: I think television plays a large part in both of these murderers lives.
Mulder: As it does in almost every American home. But television does not equal violence. I don’t care what anybody says. Unless you consider bad taste an act of violence.

———————-

Scully: I was so sure, Mulder. I saw things and I heard things, and… it was just like world was turned upside down. Everybody was out to get me.
Mulder: Now you know how I feel most of the time.

———————-

Smoking Man: Have you completed your work?
Mr X: All the personnel and hardware has been removed. But Mulder still has one of the devices.
Smoking Man: That proves nothing. What about Mulder’s source?
Mr X: He’s been eliminated.
Smoking Man: And his source? Who’s he working with?
Mr X: That person remains unknown.

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


A recipe for madness.

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

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

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

Clever Villain

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

Clever Kills

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

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

Clever Agents

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

A+

Running Commentary:

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

Best Quotes:

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————-

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

Soft Light 2×23: We just handed over the A-bomb to the Boy Scouts.


Free Monk Preview.

I’m going to get it out of the way and say what we’re all thinking: It’s Monk! Yup, Tony Shalhoub is the guest star this episode. At this point in his career he was already pretty well known for his comedic role on Wings. The man is great at playing jittery, nervous little fellows. Alright, now that that’s taken care of…

Reactions to “Soft Light” tend to be a mixed bag but it’s panned by many. Thinking back to my first watch through the series, I liked it OK, but my 14-year-old self certainly didn’t appreciate its humor or the interplay between its characters. It’s not a banner episode and not at the level of the two that precede it, but it does provide a good amount of undervalued entertainment.

The opening scene where we’re introduced to Scully’s former student, Detective Ryan, is clever. It’s clever because it exists less to establish who Detective Ryan is than who Agent Scully isn’t. She isn’t the same ambitious young woman, green because she had never been in the field, who began work on the X-Files two years ago. We’re reminded that she was similar to Detective Ryan back in the beginning (though certainly more confident, cocky even). But a crash course in “Life With Mulder” has left her a little more open-minded, shall we say. She even goes so far to check the heating vent for body-manipulating mutants, a sly reference to “Squeeze” (1×2).

Mulder is spot on when he angrily asserts that Detective Ryan is no Agent Scully. Sure Scully was ambitious and proud and eager to prove herself a man among boys, but she would never put her reputation above the safety of others, which is what Ryan does over the course of the episode. Scully, however, still relates to her position as a young, female investigator making her way amongst closeted male chauvinists. She makes excuses for her almost like a big sister would. Still, I can’t help but think she needed a better protégé. Detective Ryan’s character is sufficient enough in that she serves to highlight Scully’s evolution, but she’s rather bland, don’t you think? Even when she did finally turn on Mulder and Scully she could have done it with a little more verve. Get a backbone, woman. As her character stands, her death scene is only vaguely satisfying.

::Abrupt Transition Alert::

I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how funny Mulder and Scully are together in “Soft Light.” Their comfort level with each other alone is worth the episode and the teasing is priceless. As I said in regards to “Humbug” (2×20), the humor in these earlier seasons was subdued and underplayed. This is why there are so many “blink and you’ll miss it” moments in the first few years that take a rewatch to finally notice and appreciate. Ergo, I can see an episode I’ve already watched at least six times and only on the seventh watch notice Mulder’s comedic expression as Scully hops on the elevator behind him. Please go check it out if you don’t remember what I’m talking about. I just love that the director doesn’t feel the need to play up the moment or to linger too long on their faces for a reaction.

In other news, Scully isn’t the only character study in this episode. She has to share the spotlight with Mr. X and his shadowy motivations. One line in particular stands out: “Mr. Mulder, I didn’t kill him.” After he’s just talked a good game about Mulder being his errand boy and not the other way around, why does he want to absolve himself in Mulder’s eyes? Could it be that even X feels guilt? Between this moment and the scene in “One Breath” (2×8) when he gives Mulder information on the men responsible for Scully’s abduction, I think it’s clear that X has a conscience buried somewhere deep down in him. The speech he gave in “One Breath” about once being like Mulder wasn’t just blowing smoke. Now we learn that he’s helping Mulder out of some emotional debt to Deep Throat. It would be nice if the history of their relationship had been explored a little more but that’s one giant “Alas” for The X-Files. Whatever spilled milk there is to cry over, it is fun to watch Mulder get played by X since he does have a nasty habit of assuming that others are at his beck and call.

If you add up the open window into Mulder and Scully’s partnership, the humor, the touch of Scully angst and an inexplicably destructive power, it all comes out to an enjoyable episode. The coup de grâce is that wonderfully haunting ending where we get a close-up of the vanquished Dr. Banton, a single tear running down his cheek.

Conclusion:

Here’s where I should confess that Season 2, for all its occasional missteps, is one of my favorite seasons and not just because it’s unabashedly gross. Sometimes my fellow fans complain that the episodes became too predictable early on in the series, too formulaic. To that, I say it’s true episodes like this one tend to follow certain guidelines that are easily recognizable after a while. But it’s not until you have a successful, familiar formula that you can break it. ‘Humbug” couldn’t have happened in Season 1. The later, more creative episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) and “Triangle” (6×3) would have been nonsense if episodes like “Soft Light” hadn’t already become standards in the collective consciousness of the public. It’s like there’s a mantra on repeat in your head, “This is an X-Files episode. This is an X-Files episode.” And while it’s nice to occasionally break it up with, “This is an X-Files episode?” I still enjoy hearing that broken record. Call me OCD.

I also enjoy that the series has fallen into a regular rhythm of episodes that are all at about the same level of coolness. The X-Files is now pretty consistent and if it has to be a little formulaic to pull that off, so what? Remember the jarring ups and downs of Season 1??

But I’ve digressed enough. Back to “Soft Light.”

It’s pretty good.

B+

Questions:

The most common complaint is that the science in this episode doesn’t make sense and is inconsistently applied; Banton’s shadow should consume everything, so why only humans? I take it that it only affects carbon-based life forms or something to that effect. Maybe that doesn’t make real sense scientifically, but that’s what we’re supposed to believe. Besides, the plot has built-in escape route because Banton stumbled upon a science that he doesn’t fully understand himself. He’s running from the government because he wants a chance to study himself to figure out how to stop this thing. A cop-out? Sure. But a reasonable one.

Comments:

This is the first episode penned by Vince Gilligan (swoon). More on him later.

This is our second Half-Caff episode in a row; there’s a new, powerful science that the government is trying to get its grubby hands on. It’s not paranormal, but it sure is strange.

Best Quotes:

Detective Ryan: Agent Scully, what are you looking at?
Scully: Uh, the heat register.
Detective Ryan: You don’t think anyone could have squeezed in there?
Mulder: You never know.

——————-

Scully: Spontaneous human combustion?
Mulder: I have over a dozen case files of human bodies reduced to ash without any attendant burning or melting, rapid oxidation without heat.
Scully: Let’s just forget for the moment that there’s no scientific theory to support it.
Mulder: Okay.

——————-

Mulder: Check this out. My newest tool in the fight against crime. [Laser Pointer] $49.95 at your local hardware store.
Scully: Neat trick. For your birthday I’ll buy you a utility belt.

——————-

Mulder: See this guy, he’s always here. What’s he doing?
Scully: Looking at the floor.
Mulder: Why’s he doing that?
Scully: Probably the same reason he spends his whole afternoon in the train station.

——————-

Mulder: In the videotape, Dr. Banton kept staring at the floor. I’ve been trying to figure out what he might have been looking at.
Scully: Well, maybe the exposure affected his mind. Nonsensical repetitive behavior is a common trait of mental illness.
Mulder: You trying to tell me something?

——————–

Mulder: He believes the government is out to get him.
Mr. X: It’s tax season. So do most Americans.

Young at Heart 1×15: I’d say that’s going a little out of your way.


We are Siamese if you please.

This is another example of one of my favorite MOTW sub-types, a Half-Caff X-File. Like “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) before it and “Soft Light” (2×23) after it, Young at Heart depicts a government conspiracy to control an unspeakably valuable yet potentially mankind-destroying science.  No paranormal activity, just extreme science gone horribly awry. We’ve already had two similar episodes this season with the previously mentioned “Ghost in the Machine” and even “Ice” (1×7) to a certain extent. But with “Young at Heart”, it would seem that Chris Carter has a Frankenstein fetish. (And in case this episode doesn’t make that clear enough he later writes and directs “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) just to make sure we get it.)

Season 1 spends a lot of time delving into Mulder and Scully’s past. Scully just had a go with “Lazarus” (1×14) so now, tit for tat, it’s Mulder’s turn again. One element of Mulder’s history that tends to get lost as the seasons go on is that he once held a lofty position as the FBI’s resident Boy of Promise. Mulder banished himself into the nether regions of the basement, but not before he proved he was an investigative genius. It’s during Season 1 that we see the memory of Mulder as a profiling Ace still alive and well in the Bureau’s collective consciousness. Now through his former superior, we learn just how great Mulder really was. Well, he still is great only no one but Scully knows it anymore.

His fairly recent fall from grace still seems to affect Mulder emotionally in this first year, whereas later, he’s jaded and indifferent. We see his resignation to his fate in “Squeeze” (1×2), we glimpse hurt feelings for a moment in “Lazarus” but in “Young at Heart” he has to face his former glorious past head-on. He barely flinches.

Mulder himself bears some resemblance to Dr. Ridley, a brilliant man who bucks the establishment because he single-mindedly believes in his cause. Called names by his peers, he shrugs off their disdain with self-righteousness as his armor.

Mulder’s guilt over the Barnett case? We never hear from it again. We were led to believe that part of the reason Mulder shrugs off the rules so easily in the present is that playing by the rules caused him to be responsible for two deaths, and that these deaths continue to haunt him. I suppose they eventually saw fit to haunt him no longer. Like Scully’s godson et al., these histories of Mulder’s and Scully’s fall by the wayside after Season 1.

And the Verdict is…

One of the great things about Season 1, as it progresses, is that Mulder and Scully start feeling more like a team, with Scully playing the clueless tag-a-long less often. In the very first scene after the teaser, Mulder and Scully even walk shoulder to shoulder, or more accurately, shoulder on top of shoulder. They just can’t help themselves. They don’t even know what personal space is when it comes to each other. I know I sound as repetitive as Toucan Sam but I still don’t think this is sexual. It’s just that they are inexplicably, spiritually drawn to one another.

If that weren’t enough, one by one, the writers pick off their former allies and friends. The few people at the Bureau with any admiration left for Mulder are falling by the wayside. Jerry was offed back in “Ghost in the Machine”. True, he was Jerry the Jerk, but he had to have a certain amount of respect for Mulder’s abilities to want to consult him and steal his work, right? Now Reggie, who is a mentor to Mulder, is gone just as we get to liking him. And as we shall soon see, Deep Throat’s days among the reliable are numbered as well. It won’t take too much longer before Scully is the only friend Mulder has left.

Besides being able to enjoy their now tangible camaraderie, “Young at Heart” makes for a decent episode even looking back into the abyss of Season 1 awkwardness. My one disappointment is that John Barnett was a lot more intimidating in profile and in flashback than he was in the final act. At least the ending is happily foreboding.

B

Perplexities:

Why does the defense attorney ask Mulder why he didn’t shoot? That seems an oddly placed question… unless of course you’re a writer and you want Mulder to admit in front of a crowded courtroom that people are dead and it’s his own fault.

How did Barnett snag a job fixing the piano at the cello recital? That was awfully short notice and he wouldn’t be able to fake that skill set easily.

How did Dr. Ridley figure out that Scully was looking for him, and more than that, where she lived?

Why is it that Barnett is getting younger while Ridley merely stays the same age?

Wouldn’t Barnett notice that Mulder’s at the recital too and realize it’s a set-up? It’s not like Mulder was there incognito. Truth be told, he does look back after Mulder when he’s onstage tuning the piano.

Here and There:

Mulder and Scully are such cute little youngins and they have no idea what’s coming 3, 4 and 5 seasons down the road. Am I the only one with the overwhelming urge to pinch their television cheeks?

The segue into the courtroom scene? Hilariously bad.

Agent Henderson could’ve been a fun recurring character a la Agent Pendrell.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Mulder, I know what you did wasn’t by the book….
Mulder: Tells you a lot about the book, doesn’t it?