Tag Archives: Squeeze

Hellbound 9×4: I just know I need to solve this.


 

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Can you imagine how uncomfortable this must have been?

“Hellbound” is The X-Files’ third take on the subject of reincarnation after “Born Again” (1×21) and “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). Out of the three episodes, this is definitely the best. I still don’t think it’s great, however.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what’s here, it’s what’s not here that leaves me feeling mildly disappointed. I know nothing more about Agent Monica Reyes at the end of the episode than when I first started this little showcase piece for her character. I know nothing more about her personality or her personal motivations.

All I know is that her reincarnated soul has been unsuccessfully chasing the same bad guy since the 1800s. Or rather, she chased the original bad guys and then the bad guy that they created through their evil actions. I don’t know what about these crimes in particular so compels her soul. Is it the unusual level of violence that troubles her? Does she have some kind of relationship with the perpetrators? Does she just have a strong, motivating sense of justice? If she does, I’d like to know.

I know that she feels things, but I already knew that. Other than telling her that there’s something fishy going on, do these feelings of hers ever actually solve cases? Because right now these “feelings” she gets in the presence of evil don’t have a great track record when it comes to being useful. Nothing was resolved in either “Empedolces” (8×17) or “Daemonicus” (9×3) and she barely makes a dent in the evil here.

What I don’t know is why she’s on the X-Files. I mean, yes, I know she’s there because Doggett needed an ally and he trusts her both personally and professionally. But her history with Doggett tells me a lot more about Doggett than it does about her.

And I know that her expertise is Religious Studies and that she investigated crimes with a seeming Satanic bent. That sure sounds like it makes her a good fit for the basement office. But I also know that by her own admission, she’s never seen evidence of real Satanic activity. Then why is she so interested in the X-Files? Why is it her “dream job” according to her conversation with Follmer in “Nothing Important Happened Today” (9×1)? Is she here because she’s looking to find evidence of real activity? Is she here because she does or doesn’t believe in Satan?

And further back, what brought Reyes to Religious Studies in the first place? Ironically, thanks to the Doggett-centric “John Doe” (9×7), I know she was raised in Mexico, a predominately catholic country. Did she study religion because she was a good catholic girl? Because she wasn’t a good catholic girl? How did she end up so new agey?

I’d like to know Monica Reyes, please.

Her character started off with real potential and I still like her well enough. But she’s quickly turning into a stock believer. Mulder believed because of certain experiences, certain information, and certain hypnosis sessions. He believed because he needed to. Am I to take it that Reyes believes solely because she feels things??? That’s a character cop out, 1013.

There was a lot of room for exploration in this episode for themes of sin and redemption, destiny and freewill… in other words, plenty of chances to get inside Reyes’ head and figure out what makes her tick, what motivates her, and what she thinks her purpose in life is or if she’s still trying to find one. Maybe she’s unsure of the state of her own soul and that’s why this case is so important to her.. Heck, maybe she’s on the X-Files because she wants to understand the nature of evil. How about that?

In an odd twist, I personally enjoy this episode more than Doggett’s “John Doe”, but coming straight off of that episode into this one highlights its weaknesses in the character development department.

In both episodes, our two new leads set out to discover their individual identities. Doggett has his memories taken from him and, by sheer force of will, takes back what belongs to him, pain and all. His display of character and integrity even when he’s been stripped to nothing tells us a lot about who he is as a person.

Reyes, on the other hand, finds out she had an identity she didn’t know existed. That knowledge doesn’t shock her, scare her, inspire her, drive her… she comes to a conclusion about the events of the case and then the end. The events have no bearing on the rest of her life and reveal no new side of her. I can only guess that at some point she wonders if she committed a great sin in a past life, but if she does, we don’t see any signs of an internal conflict.

Verdict:

All right. I know I’ve belabored the point. It’s just that in retrospect, I know this is Reyes’ one chance to distinguish herself as a character and I’m disappointed on her behalf.

Reyes: Whoever I was, I failed. In 1868, in 1909, in 1960… I failed. I was always there, but I couldn’t stop the killings. And he knew that. And somehow he knows my deepest fear: that I’ll fail.

I guess this is the closest I’ll come to the answers I’m looking for. Perhaps Reyes is sensitive to evil in all its forms because she’s spiritually connected to a particular evil. Perhaps her regret and fear of failure drive her forward in the pursuit of defeating evil. Perhaps?

The X-File itself is okay. Actually, I think the premise had real promise. A group of men bound together in hell, which is spiritual and physical death on repeat, want to be redeemed but aren’t allowed to be. As mentioned earlier, the themes are ripe for the plucking.

Instead, I went searching for depth and all I got was this lousy T-shirt:

Everything you ever wanted to know about skinning people but were afraid to ask.

But while it’s a unique form of death even for The X-Files and I can tell the crew worked hard, it must be said that the makeup is less gross than shocking in its completeness. And it looks like a special effects job the whole time.

B-

Comment:

I like the short scene between Scully and Dr. Mueller. It reminds me of other times Mulder and Scully consulted a retired detective about an old case. “Squeeze” (1×2), “Tooms” (1×20), “Travelers” (5×15)… There are more, I’m just too sleepy to remember them.

Question:

Reyes was able to save one soul, but the killer continues into the next life with the other victims. Is that enough to break the cycle? Reyes doesn’t need to follow him in death? I guess one of our leads killing themselves would put a damper on the show, huh?

Best Quotes:

Scully: My name is Dana Scully. I’m with the FBI. I want to ask you some questions about a John Doe you did an autopsy on in 1960.
Dr. Mueller: You honestly expect me to recall some case from way back when? I’m 84 years old.
Scully: Sir, this particular victim was skinned alive.

———————-

Dr. Mueller: The victim was a John Doe, a nobody. Carl Hobart, the county sheriff, figured he was a drifter. Hobart said he didn’t want to stir up the community.
Scully: And no one called him on that?
Dr. Mueller: I tried. The sheriff had other things on his mind, I suppose.
Scully: Why do you say that?
Dr. Mueller: Well, it wasn’t long after that he put a bullet through his head.

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Daemonicus 9×3: Like a snake eating its own tail.


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50 bonus points.

I had a theory going into this rewatch of Season 9 that it’s biggest problem was not the introduction of Doggett and Reyes and not even the flagging mythology. I thought that what Season 9 needed was to cut off the Mulder and Scully umbilical cord and let our new team fly free as the next generation.

I still believe that. But even as the voices whisper to Kobold, I’m feeling a slightly less demonic breeze in my ear. I had no idea, no, not even with my concerning level of devotion to these fictional characters, how necessary Mulder and Scully really were, as a team, to the show as a whole. With their wide-eyed sense of wonder and discovery, particularly in the early years, and their irrepressible banter, they made even the most out there concepts seem believable, even the scariest fears approachable, their shared intensity elevating the absurd. Remember the possessed sewer cats???

Scully: Oh my God, Mulder! It smells like… I think it’s bile!
Mulder: Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?

The cases weren’t great just because they were creepy, they were great because Mulder and Scully sold them.

I’ve heard The X-Files described as a supernatural police procedural, and while I get that on one level and used to agree, I now believe it isn’t. That’s why we couldn’t exchange Mulder and Scully for Doggett and Reyes so easily. If it were an endlessly continuable procedural designed to investigate an interminable parade of paranormal problems, then changing the leads wouldn’t have mattered. No, The X-Files was a quest with a distinct beginning, middle, and a forcefully dragged out end. It had a sell-by date. The truth can’t be out there in perpetuity.

Mulder and Scully had a routine, yes. But they weren’t solving cases they were exploring the universe. Many a time they didn’t solve or resolve anything, they just watched the impossible unfold around them. Other times they found answers which led to more questions with no answers. All that mattered was that I felt like I was discovering the universe with them.

I know it sounds like I’m way off topic for a review of “Daemonicus” but there’s a reason for the ramble.

I used to appreciate this episode much more. In fact, it’s long been one of my favorites of the season. It still is. Yet, it’s not too often that I like episodes less with the passage of time and the accumulation of rewatches. Maybe there is genuinely something wrong with me, but when I went to start this episode and heard Mark Snow’s “Lamenta” on the DVD menu screen I felt like crying.

For the first time, it really feels like the good old days are gone. Maybe it’s because it’s Doggett and Reyes’ first Monster of the Week episode and I was always partial to those. Maybe it was my mood after hearing such haunting music. But now I feel like I see in this forty-three minutes of still pretty well-done television why The X-Files couldn’t continue this way and why Season 9 failed.

Change is good and even when it isn’t good, sometimes it’s necessary. But while this remained in many ways a good show after the Mulder and Scully era, it was no longer magically delicious.

In order for it to become so again our two new leads have to create their own magic, but they haven’t worked out how to do that yet. I know it’s early. I do. But let’s see how promising they are.

Where Mulder used to interpret a situation. Reyes “senses” things. When she says, “Not once did I find anything to support evidence of genuine satanic activity”, what she means is that she never got really creepy vibes before. It’s good and interesting that they’re separating Reyes from Mulder even in the role of believer. But it’s much more difficult to pull off Reyes’ pseudo-psychic feelings and make them the foundation of investigation than it was Mulder’s evidenced based hunches, as hard as those stretches of plausibility were to swallow sometimes.

Not to mention, Reyes has lost the self-deprecating goofiness and awkwardness that made her so approachable when she was first introduced in Season 9. Suddenly she’s less childlike and distinctly more womanly. The jury’s still out on how well this plays in the long run.

As for Doggett, he isn’t just a skeptic. Same as last season, he’s resentful of the paranormal, resentful of its implications. Scully was frustrated and puzzled sometimes investigating with Mulder, but rarely angry. And her banter with Mulder kept the reserved Scully from coming off too cold and aloof. Doggett is marching in place as a character, and for what? What truths are frightening him?

Kobold: I’m wondering, why a skeptic such as yourself would accept an assignment to an obscure unit of the FBI devoted exclusively to the investigating of paranormal phenomena… Ordinarily men do not pursue occupations against their own inclinations unless there’s some strong countervailing reason. Seeking the love or approval of a woman, perhaps? Agent Reyes may have affection for you, but you for her…?

————————

Kobold: I’ve been thinking a lot about you, Agent Doggett… about why someone so ill-suited would draw this duty. Clearly, you have feelings for her. But you can’t compete with the long lost Agent Mulder… his easy good looks, his Oxford education… Mulder has what you can’t have. But you stumble forward, the flat-footed cop, thinking he can put handcuffs on demons. You want her, but she feels sorry for you. They both do.

————————

“I really wanted a character who could not just tell us again what the X-Files were after nine seasons, but tell us something about who Doggett, Reyes, and Scully were,” said Frank Spotnitz.

————————

“From the beginning Doggett has tremendous respect for Scully and I think that respect has blossomed into something else,” says Carter. “That was always our intention, that we would have a sort of triangle.” “From the beginning Doggett has tremendous respect for Scully and I think that respect has blossomed into something else,” says Carter. “That was always our intention, that we would have a sort of triangle.”
I think the madness speaks for itself, yes?

For her part, Scully’s back teaching at the F.B.I. Academy, a gig she had before she ever met Mulder or heard of an X-File. The move makes sense both in terms of continuity and of character. She has a baby at home to take care of and if the writers’ seem to have ignored her maternity leave benefits, then I’m glad they recognized that it’s time for a more regular schedule and a less risky job. What’s more, I’m glad to see Scully has again found her happy medium between skepticism and belief.

That said, Scully is a heavy weight that’s holding everybody down. Her presence isn’t necessary in this plot, but she’s here because Gillian Anderson is contracted to be here. Worse, her presence is a constant reminder of what no longer is when I’m trying my darndest to concentrate on Doggett and Reyes and give them a fair shake. Yet they keep going back to her like Jedi Knights to Yoda instead of learning to fly on their own.

I really think they could, you know… fly, if the right winds were blowing. I’m going to need some drive, though. And I’m not talking about romantic competition with the absent Mulder. Doggett needs to want to be here and Reyes’s take it or leave it attitude when it comes to getting definitive answers needs to go. Make me believe that it matters. Make me believe it all means something.

Verdict:

This all sounds dank and depressing, I’m sure. But I’m not mad at “Daemonicus”, I just think it needs a lift, something to shine a soft light into the darkness. But like Kobold says, Doggett doesn’t possess Mulder’s easy manners and humor. And he and Reyes aren’t two wide-eyed young agents on a journey of discovery. Still, everybody’s got their something and I want them to find theirs and fast. I need a little yeast to leaven this lump.

Visually, I think this episode is great. This is only Frank Spotnitz’s second time directing and while the direction draws more attention to itself than it did in “Alone” (8×19), I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that, like Reyes, our spidey senses are supposed to be tingling and that’s manifested in the hyper-reality of the clouds. I also think the mental hospital set is gorgeous.

It’s a good effort, ladies and gentleman.

But enough with the love triangles or quadrangles or whatever this nonsense is you have planned.

We now have Follmer pawing at Reyes, Scully pining after Mulder, and Doggett dreaming of Scully. What’s next, Reyes flirting with Doggett?

Oh.

B-

Scrabble:

I really like the black opening of riding in the car with Reyes.

So… remember that time Doggett and Reyes walked into the padded cell of a crazy man and closed the door behind themselves?

What did he just vomit up? Niagara Falls?

The checkmate ending feels… awkward.

Nest of Bile can be found here – “Squeeze” (1×2)

Possessed Sewer Cats can be found here – “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18)

Best Quotes:

Reyes: Did Dr. Richmond display any knowledge of Satanic lure, or speak of demonic possession?
Dr. Sampson: No, he was perfectly cogent. He didn’t suffer from those kinds of delusions.
Reyes: I’m not really asking about delusions. When you last spoke to him did he seem himself?
Dr. Sampson: Seem himself?
Reyes: I mean did he display a personality other than his own? Speaking tongues or in any language which he didn’t know?
Dr. Sampson: You’re asking me if he was possessed? This is the 21st Century, Miss Reyes. We stopped looking a long time ago to demons to explain mental illness.
Reyes: I’m not really talking about mental illness.

——————–

Reyes: What if it’s ectoplasm?
Doggett: Ectoplasm?
Reyes: You’ve heard of it, Agent Scully?
Scully: Agent Mulder used to refer to it as “psychic plasma”: a residual by product of telepathic communication. In theory, it would have inorganic properties that couldn’t be explained otherwise.
Doggett: So what are we talking now? The Ghostbusters?

Tithonus 6×9: You’re a lucky man.


The gift that keeps on giving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

A

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

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

Background Checks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

Chinga 5×10: I think some things are better left unexplained.


That's what it's all a-bout!

Finally, we’re here. We’ve arrived at Chris Carter’s answer to Chuckie. I say Chris Carter but I should, of course, say Chris Carter and Stephen King since the two teamed up to write this episode with Chris Carter handling the famous Mulder and Scully dialogue. I know what you’re thinking; Demonic Dolls have been done before. But they haven’t been done by The X-Files.

This is another one of those episodes that, until recently, I was blissfully unaware was disliked by many fans. All I knew was that my best friend from High School and I sure thought it was fabulous because we kept quoting it for the rest of the week after it aired, giggling like the schoolgirls we were. And when I say giggling, it may have sounded more like cackling.

Even though I now know the negativity is out there, and to each their own, I refuse to subject myself to detailed negative reviews on “Chinga” because I will not have the experience of watching it ruined for me. However, using my imagination, I’m going to try to guess at some of where this distaste comes from.

I suspect that the main source of malcontent is that some fans expected this episode to be an original Stephen King thriller, a masterstroke, a groundbreaking moment in television history when two titans, an iconic writer and an iconic television show, meet on the battlefield to dance.

I’ll be the first to say it: This is not a benchmark episode. “Chinga” isn’t even a Stephen King tale so much as it’s an X-Files episode that’s an homage to Stephen King tales. If you take it as such, you’ll be all right. If you were looking for a miniature version of Carrie or The Shining or Pet Sematary then I truly feel bad for you because your unfulfilled hopes will put a damper on this kitsch fest.

Because kitschy it is. And its kitschiness is its charm. After all, what is the thriller-horror genre if it isn’t kitschy, silly, and comfortingly predictable?

Not that I’m blaming anyone for anticipating the best, you understand. I just didn’t personally come to “Chinga” with any great expectations… well, no greater than my expectations for any other X-Files episode. When I watched this at 14 and Stephen King’s name popped up in the credits my mind went, “Cool! Stephen King!” But I didn’t really know what that meant since at 14 my Stephen King experience was limited to The Langoliers. (“Oh, Mr. Toooomey!”)

But if the story leaves something wanting, “Chinga” has enough to recommend itself on Mulder and Scully dialogue alone. One of the things I love most about “Chinga” is how it’s a reversal of roles for our two agents. What’s Mulder’s typical MO? Is it not to leave Scully hanging on the phone after he disconnects abruptly maybe after leaving her with some cryptic message? Go back in your minds to “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) for a moment and think if Scully’s character wasn’t owed an episode like this. “WotC” gave us a comical look at the way Mulder blows off Scully and “Chinga” is in a way an answer to that episode, giving Scully the telephonic upper hand for once.

Mulder’s antics while on the phone with Scully still make me laugh out loud to this day. That man has nothing going for him besides Scully. Nothing.

Not that Scully is exactly living it up without Mulder tying her down. Like in “The Jersey Devil” (1×4), all attempts by Scully to approach something akin to normalcy are eventually futile. It won’t happen. And despite her attempts to coyly play up her weekend with the mention of “Jack,” Scully is just as reluctant to admit that she can’t escape this gravitational pull, that she’s been investigating an X-File in her spare time, as Mulder is to admit that he’s bored with nothing to investigate and no Scully to investigate with.

The Sum Total:

I do love “Chinga”. I’ll say it loudly and proudly. There’s a whiff of campiness about the whole thing that saves it from the usual perils of too many clichés. And if I were to rate episodes purely based on the quality of Mulder and Scully’s banter “Chinga” could potentially take home the prize.

And even if I wouldn’t categorize it as a truly frightening X-File, it’s definitely a creepy one starting with that great opening teaser. I don’t know about you, but I find watching other people scratch their eyes out a little unsettling. Then there’s watching Miss Rapunzel nearly get scalped after getting her hair caught in the ice cream mixer. I don’t think there’s anything more quintessentially The X-Files than to take two things as mundane as a ponytail and soft serve ice cream and turn them into a match made in paranormal hell. The somewhat tongue in cheek choice to have the Hokey Pokey on repeat doesn’t hurt the atmosphere either, since I can believe in almost any kind of evil with that song in the background. It’s almost as bad as the Chicken Dance.

On a final note, who else thinks Mulder is half serious when he asks Scully to marry him? Show of hands? Because to me he has the look of a man who has just had a revelation. My Scully-Crushing theory still holds.

A

P.S. “Jack. Can I call you ‘Jack?’”

Maine Lobsters:

All I can think of when I see the actress who plays Melissa Turner, Susannah Hoffman, is the miniseries Anne of Avonlea. Anne of Green Gables – My first great love.

The wise old man who sensed the presence of evil in that doll should look familiar too. He’s the same wise old man who sensed the presence of evil in “Squeeze” (1×2) and “Tooms” (1×20) as Detective Frank Briggs.

Okay, why do we open with Scully wearing just a t-shirt when everyone who walked into the grocery store a few moments before had on heavy jackets?

I guess Scully didn’t know better in 1998 than to answer her cell phone at the gas pump.

The establishing shot of a coastal town in Maine looks suspiciously like the coastal town in Oregon used in the “Pilot” (1×79).

Speaking of the “Pilot”, I’m suddenly struck by how far the show and the characters have come. Think of Mulder and Scully’s first meeting and then look at them now, unable to properly spend a weekend apart.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: [On the phone] Yeah, well, maybe you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Scully: Like evidence of conjuring or the black arts or… shamanism, divination, Wicca or any kind of pagan or neo-pagan practice… charms, cards, familiars, blood stones or hex signs or any of the ritual tableau associated with the occult, sensory, abudan, mukamba or any kind of high or low magic…
Mulder: Scully?
Scully: Yes?
Mulder: Marry me.
Scully: I was hoping for something a little more helpful.

——————–

Scully: [Answering phone] Scully.
Mulder: Well, hey! Uh… I thought you weren’t answering your cell phone.
Scully: Then why’d you call?
Mulder: I… uh… I had a new thought about this case you’re working on. There’s a viral infection that’s spread by simple touch…
Scully: Mulder, are there any references in occult literature to… objects that have the power to… direct human behavior?
Mulder: What… types of objects?
Scully: Um, like a doll for instance.
Mulder: You mean like Chuckie!?
Scully: Yeah, kind of like that.
Mulder: Well, yeah. The talking doll myth is well established in literature, especially in New England. The, uh, Fetish, or Juju, is believed to pass on magical powers onto its possessor. Some of the early witches were condemned for little more than proclaiming that these objects existed, the supposed witch having premonitory visions and things… Why do you ask?
Scully: I was just curious.
Mulder: You didn’t find a talking doll did you, Scully?
Scully: No, no… of course not, uh…
Mulder: I would suggest that you should check the back of the doll for a… a plastic ring with a string on it. That would be my first… [Scully hangs up] Hello?

https://twitter.com/#!/marksmissus66/status/126376626618511360

Christmas Carol 5×5: She must’ve dialed 1-800-The-Great-Beyond.


Visions of Sugar Plums??

A rare glimpse into Scully’s life outside of the X-Files confirms that she’s just as reserved off the job as she is professionally. Can we blame her? The Scully family table, seen again for the second time since “Gethsemene” (4×24), isn’t exactly the warmest place in the world. You could cut the underlying tensions with the proverbial butcher’s knife.

It’s Christmas time in X-Files land. You know what that means: Ghosts.

Well, maybe not a physical one exactly.

I’ve never given much credence to the “Scully as Latent Psychic” interpretation of The X-Files, but I must say, the woman does see/hear an awful lot of dead people. First she has a vision of her father right after his death in “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), then she dreams of Mulder barely back from the dead in “The Blessing Way” (3×1), next she sees dead strangers in “Elegy” (4×22), and now in “Christmas Carol”, she’s receiving phone calls from beyond the grave care of a deceased sister who was creepier alive than she is dead.

At this rate, I’d say Scully averages about one dead vision per season. We could also count her hospital visions in “One Breath” (2×8), but then she was already half dead herself. Even so, I can’t help but think of “One Breath” when I watch this two-episode arc, not only because Melissa Scully makes a return appearance, but because they’re both lessons in death, or more specifically, conversations on whether or not it’s more humane to preserve life or allow it to end. Oh, and then there are all the “Baby Dana” flashbacks…

Speaking of “Baby Dana”, it would seem that even as a child Scully was the type to keep her thoughts to herself, at least that’s the picture that’s painted for us here. There’s a trend that started in Season 4 with Scully’s cancer where Scully is progressively characterized as isolated and even somewhat anti-social. Oh, she’s not lacking in social graces the was Mulder is, but we get the feeling as time passes that she’s a little trapped in her own head.

I’m not sure what brought this characterization on, exactly, except that it created more drama during her cancer arc for Scully to keep her emotions to herself and then it continued from there. If you look at Season 1, particularly in episodes like “Squeeze” (1×2), “The Jersey Devil” (1×4) and “Lazarus” (1×14), we get the impression that Scully likes and is liked by people. Over the course of this current two-parter, the Scully we meet acts like she’s never had a friend in the world.

So then what about Mulder? It looks like there are aspects of herself that Scully is still unwilling to share. I’m not so sure that makes her isolated and alone so much as it makes her a normal human being. How could you possibly fully explain the workings of your own heart to another living soul? We’re too complicated for that, but I digress.

Scully reverts back a little to her old ways with Mulder, wanting to reach out to him but hanging up the phone instead. Is she too proud to admit she needs help and support? Does she not want to sound crazier than he does? Probably both, but we’ll never know exactly. Scully’s relationship with Mulder is hardly the focus of this episode.

And so to the crux of the matter: I can honestly say that in my teenage naïveté I didn’t originally see the twist coming at the end, and I should have. But I must say that I believe I stifled a groan at Scully’s microwave pack of Instant Motherhood intruding into my X-Files world.

Not that the topic of Scully and motherhood is completely sudden. Ever since a carefully crafted conversation on a public bench in “Home” (4×3) the topic has been up for discussion, even more so since Mulder literally stumbled upon the secret of Scully’s infertility in “Memento Mori” (4×15).  Now that Scully’s cancer plot is behind us, it’s only right that we watch her deal with the emotional aftermath and her fertility is as good a place as any to start.

And yet… even after all these years I’m still not sold on the idea of Scully becoming a mother out of the clear blue sky. We’re not even talking about an ooey, gooey little baby that she has to accept, but a fully formed child well into her developmental years. And Emily is so lacking in interest and personality… Can Scully really feel such an instant, strong connection to a stranger? Can we as the audience feel connected enough to the child to believe that she is Scully’s? Can we even enjoy them together? I can only speak for myself when I say that later on, watching Scully’s motherhood being just as suddenly stripped away only adds to my sense that it didn’t belong to begin with.

Verdict:

This one is a bit of a Christmas fantasy of sorts. Who hasn’t wished that they could hear a lost loved one’s voice on the line one last time? Who hasn’t been afraid they’d forget the nuances, the timber of that voice before too much time had passed? For exploring that idea alone I’ll give this episode the most credit.

Okay, so “Christmas Carol” is not one of my favorite episodes of Season 5. It’s a little… subdued for my taste since, if you’ve read my reviews at all, I’m a sucker for an exciting, adventuresome X-File. Give me a romp in the deep, dark woods anytime. In comparison, this sleepy little story doesn’t make my finger twitch over the rewind button.

But another part of me is quite proud that this show can vary itself so drastically from week to week. We just went from a black and white fantasy horror fest to a quiet, contemplative and incredibly contained mystery in a mere 7 days. If that’s not good television I don’t know what is.

There’s one thing that still nags at me: Where are all the other little Emilys? Surely the Syndicate, responsible for clones upon drones, didn’t stop at one little Uber Scully.

B

Flotsam and Jetsam:

Wait, when did Scully learn she can’t have kids and more than that, when did she find out that her abduction was the cause? Mulder knew as of “Memento Mori” , but he doesn’t tell Scully about that little discovery of his until “Emily” (5×7) and even then he doesn’t explain in detail until Season 7. Sure, her doctors could have told her there was something wrong, but how did she know it was a result of her abduction and that her sterility wasn’t brought about by her cancer treatments?

I know I’m cold-hearted, but Scully giving Emily her cross so easily always irked me.

This has to be one of Gillian Anderson’s best looking episodes ever. Well, except for that jacked up weave they put on her head.

It’s comforting to know Bill Scully, Jr. was always a punk, even in childhood.

It’s amazing how streamlined the adoption process was made for Scully. Then there’s the fact that the things Scully confesses to the caseworker would have gotten her name scratched off of any respectable list. Ah, the miracle of creative license.

“Danny” still makes an appearance at this late date.

Best Quotes:

Mini Scully: This has got to be it! It’s got to be “Hotel California!”

———————–

Bill Scully, Jr.: You really think Melissa had a baby?
Scully: Yes. I do.
Bill Scully, Jr.: She called you from beyond the grave to tell you that? Sounds like something that partner of yours would say.

———————–

Tara Scully: Oh! Oh, that was a good one!
Bill Scully, Jr.: What? Is he kicking?
Tara Scully: Oh, he’s kicking! He’s kick-boxing! Well you had boys and girls, so which one kicked more?
Margaret Scully: Oh, I had some pretty tough little girls.

———————–

Scully: I don’t believe in fate. I think we have to choose our own path.
Melissa Scully: Well, just don’t mistake the path with what’s really important in life.
Scully: Which is what?
Melissa Scully: The people you’re gonna meet along the way. You don’t know who you’re gonna meet when you join the F.B.I. You don’t know how your life is gonna change… or how you are gonna change the life of others.

Leonard Betts 4×14: I think I got the toy surprise.


"Did I mention that Mr. Betts had no head?"

This is what I’ve been longing for the past seven episodes or so now, a formidable MOTW horror tale.

Not that the main plot here is something we haven’t heard before: A genetic mutant comes along whose strange evolution requires that he kill/feed off of other human beings. Leonard Betts is the most recent in a long line of Mutant Monsters going all the way back to Eugene Victor Tooms in “Squeeze” (1×2). “Leonard Betts” has two main differences from your garden variety Mutant tale, however.

First, we have a mutant that kills only reluctantly. He certainly doesn’t enjoy his position in the food chain the way that Tooms or even Virgil Incanto does in “2Shy” (3×6). This adds a certain pathos to the proceedings. Second, and most importantly, this episode reopens a mythology plot line that had been all but forgotten and reintroduces it in the most memorable way possible.

To Leonard Betts’ credit, he’s a gentle man, who apart from a Darwinian mandate would rather save people than hurt them, choosing to survive on discarded cancers until circumstances force him into a corner. But I wonder, would his behavior be excused if, say, he was a starving man who killed someone for their food? Does needing something give you the moral clearance to take it? To be sure, Betts apologizes before a kill. But the fact is he’s hardly a self-sacrificing man even if he is the most compassionate of the “Genetic Mutant” Monsters of the Week. He could, of course, choose to die rather than become a serial killer. But I guess death is less frightening when it’s someone else’s.

As interesting of a character as Betts is, he’s more of a means to an end in this episode. The writers needed a circumstance they could use to bring our minds back to this:

Scully: I went to go see those MUFON members to find out about that woman, Betsy Hagopian.
Mulder: And what did you find?
Scully: I found out that she’s dying, along with a lot of other women who claim to be dying too. All of them who say that they’ve had these implanted in them. It’s the same thing that I had removed from my own neck.
Mulder: But you’re fine aren’t you, Scully?
Scully: Am I? I don’t know, Mulder. They said that they know me, that they’ve seen me before. It was freaky! They know things about me, about my disappearance.
Mulder: That is disturbing. But I don’t think you should freak out until we find out what this thing is.

This moment in “Nisei” (3×9) was the last word we had on the potential connection between Scully’s abduction and cancer. As far as we know, she never delved any deeper into the mystery of what happened to those MUFON women. Now, suddenly, and with one of the most memorable lines ever delivered on The X-Files, Scully is forced to remember.

“I’m sorry, but you’ve got something I need.”

The look of realization on Scully’s face is beyond memorable. Not only does she know exactly what he’s talking about, but it’s clear that despite all her protestations to Mulder, she believes in what Leonard Betts is whether science can explain him or not.

And as if that shocking moment weren’t enough, we launch immediately into Scully’s first ever real fight scene. Scully kicks butt and she does it in heels. It’s almost enough to bring a fangirl tear to my eye.

I could keep going but I won’t because I’ll just end up gushing over every funny and memorable moment in this episode, of which there are legion. This is one of those episodes, like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) that are hard to watch without a blissfully empty head and a smile on my face. It’s just great television.

Conclusion:

This episode is definitely one of the highlights of Season 4, if not one of the series’ all time best. It’s the first in a long line of memorable episodes penned by the trio of Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz. The “John Gilnitz” crew will continue to create some formidable X-Files together.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Spotnitz was probably responsible for this episode’s mythology elements, Shiban for the science and Gilligan for the characterization and physical writing. But, hey, with magic like this I don’t care who did what, I’m just glad they kept going.

“Leonard Betts” was famously aired out of production schedule in order to be shown after the Super Bowl. Whatever the consequences this had on the story that would come next, can you blame them? I can hardly think of an episode that’s more quintessentially The X-Files. This is what the show does best; an inkling of scientific truth, gross imagery, gorgeous shots and dark humor. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

I wonder if Scully ever told Mulder what really happened. Doubtful. As then she’d have to admit that she believed in what Leonard Betts was. Maybe she’s not such a die-hard skeptic deep down. After all, she couldn’t cut into that head now could she?

A+

Random Thoughts:

Something about Elaine Tanner’s slavish devotion to her son has echoes of Mrs. Peacock in “Home” (4×3).

Are we sure Betts is dead? Are we supposed to assume that Scully killed him while he was too weak to regenerate?

Did Betts really have to start killing? Couldn’t he have gone a ways down the road to where no one knew him and snuck a few more brown bag lunches of cancer out of a hospital’s disposal system?

For that matter, if you were going to regenerate and live under an assumed name, wouldn’t common sense tell you to move far away from the people you knew before? So your mother’s sick. Move her too.

I know I said I wouldn’t gush over every single lovely moment, but that scene where Mulder and Scully go digging through bio-waste never quite gets old.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Let’s get a slice to go.

———————–

Mulder: Chuck, would you believe that this man’s head had been decapitated?
Dr Burks: [Laughs] Oh, come on. No way.
Mulder: Way.

———————–

Mulder: [Holds up Betts’ detached thumb] Siskel or Ebert?

———————–

Scully: But what you’re describing is someone so radically evolved that you wouldn’t even call him human.
Mulder: On the other hand, how evolved can a man be who drives a Dodge Dart?

———————–

Mulder: What did your examination uncover?
Scully: I haven’t actually performed an examination yet.
Mulder: Why not?
Scully: Well, because I… experienced an unusual degree of post-mortem galvanic response.
Mulder: The head moved
Scully: It blinked at me… I mean, I know exactly what it is. It’s residual electrical activity stored chemically in the dead cells.
Mulder: Blinked or winked? You’re afraid to cut into it. Scully, you’re not saying that it’s alive are you?
Scully: I am certainly not saying that at all.
Mulder: But has it crossed your mind that it is not quite dead, either?

Teliko 4×4: Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate.


There's a Michael Jackson joke in here somewhere...

Airplane bathrooms are scary enough without a Monster of the Week attacking you.

Unfortunately, this is the scariest moment “Teliko” has to offer. Once the “monster” reveals himself, it’s downhill from there.

I’ve mentioned before in “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and in “Hell Money” (3×19), that so-called “ethnic” legends often don’t translate well to a mainstream American audience. (I can’t really speak for the response of other countries). The problem is that the viewer has to be convinced that they should be scared in the first place; there’s no built-in point of reference as there is for say, the bogeyman that hides under your bed. The advantage an overused conceit such as The Wolfman has over The Teliko is that the audience already knows what they’re scared of and why, all the writers have to do is take advantage of their anticipation and manipulate their adrenaline. The Teliko, in comparison, is such a vague notion that it takes getting used to before you can inch your way over to being afraid of it.

All that could be overcome, however, if the monster at hand were actually frightening. In this instance, the sad fact is that he has a few things standing in his way. A few… or maybe two.

Two main problems:

  1. Samuel Aboa isn’t scary.
  2. “White Face”

In short, the X-File itself sucks.

On the problem of our villain, Samuel Aboa, is awkwardness, something the other characters don’t seem to notice, forcibly reminds me of Eugene Victor Tooms. Only he’s traded a willfully idealistic psychologist for the naïveté of an immigration counselor. Again, the benefactor only exists to be the ultimate victim. Not to mention, both monsters can squeeze themselves into small, dark places.

Alas, The X-Files keeps trying to repeat the success of “Squeeze” (1×2). “2Shy” (3×6), while it had it’s faults and in some ways wasn’t as good of an episode of television, is oddly more successful. The “Tooms Quotient” usually means that the Monster of the Week is more or less a man, an evolutionary mutant that has to kill to survive; invariably there’s something he’s… missing. We’ll see it again later on; Season 4 is kind of a 2-for-1 package deal. The motif starts to slow down after Season 5.

But enough about that. Back to Samuel. He’s just not convincing. Tooms radiates evil. Virgil Incanto in “2Shy” is sadistic and cruel. But Samuel Aboa? He’s blank. His whole set up just isn’t effective. Not to mention, if he needs melanin to survive, he very well should have kept his butt in Africa. Surely he was aware of the fact that blacks are a minority in the U.S.; picking off a small population was bound to draw attention, for all Mulder cries conspiracy.

All that being said, I could have gotten over Samuel’s generic attitude if his crimes had been sinister enough. What could undermine something as evil as paralyzing someone and then picking through their brains as they look on helplessly? “White Face.” Sigh.

Black men covered in baby powder do not albinos make. Or is it chalk? Either way, Scully’s comment, “I’m sorry, I thought you said that Owen Sanders was black”, is an eye-roll inducer. The body in the photo, the body before and all the bodies thereafter, are so obviously black that to allow for the premise that these men were unrecognizable requires a suspension of disbelief that I apparently do not possess.

Verdict:

With the exception of the actual X-File itself, this would be a solid episode. “Home” (4×3) was a welcome departure but this has all the hallmarks of a happy return home to the normal routine. It should be comfort food, and at moments it is, but ultimately, it’s like finding out your mac and cheese is soggy. The idea behind it is tried and true, but it’s not so compelling this reheat.

It’s not quite the bomb that I remembered, however. It’s nice to see Scully called in for her expertise instead of Mulder. And something about that first scene as we watch her walk into Skinner’s office makes me smile. I’m home.

Oh, and this episode contains my favorite Agent Pendrell scene of all.

I want to love it, and my estimation of its charms has improved, but it still could have been better. I’m not so sure this one deserved the honor of a changed tagline. In fact, it didn’t.

C+

Questions:

Mulder just happens to stumble upon the right construction site because of the asbestos clue? How many construction sites are there in Philadelphia I wonder?

Why is Mulder the only victim that can move his eyes?

What is this alien among us crap? What does that have to do with this story? The CDC seemed to be genuinely trying to help. The Minister tries to hide what happened in hopes that it would disappear, not out of any sinister motive. It’s like writer Howard Gordon was trying to turn this into a message on race relations, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how race actually plays a role outside of the melanin issue.

Comments:

I’m not sure what Marita Covarrubias is doing here except to remind the audience that she exists and is supposed to be important.

Mulder is at least aware of Pendrell’s feelings. What about Scully?

Ah, a welcome return to the field journal.

It’s a good thing they were near an opening in that vent. Mulder is twice Scully’s size. Modern woman or no, there’s no way she could have carried him.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: There’s a Michael Jackson joke in here somewhere but I can’t quite find it.

———————

Mulder: Scully, has it occurred to you that this might just be a little PR exercise?
Scully: I’m sorry?
Mulder: To divert attention from the fact that young black men are dying and nobody seems to be able to bring in a suspect. The perception being that nobody cares.
Scully: Mulder, not everything is a labyrinth of dark conspiracy and not everybody is plotting to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate.

———————

Agent Pendrell: Shouldn’t we wait for Agent Scully? I just don’t want to have to repeat myself.
Mulder: She’s not coming.
Agent Pendrell: Why not?
Mulder: She had a date.
Agent Pendrell: [Looks dejected]
Mulder: Breathe, Pendrell! She’s with a dead man. She’s doing an autopsy.

———————

Scully: Where are you going, Mulder?
Mulder: Off to water the seeds of doubt. Bye bye.

———————

Scully: Mulder, even if you’re right, I mean especially if you’re right, why would he leave his own country to come here?
Mulder: Free cable.