Tag Archives: Teliko

Familiar 11×8: That’s it. It’s too perfect.


 

btiaatjpqusp78hg3su8

Homie don’t play ‘dat.

 

Before I watched this, I had just finished “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18). I’ve been binge-watching The X-Files, but I’ll get into that later.

Anyway. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t get any cornier during the original run than “Teso Dos Bichos”, so if this episode couldn’t prove itself an improvement over that… Well.

One thing that I’ve noticed this rewatch is how, especially in the early seasons, The X-Files made its bones by treading a fine line between “now you see it” and “now you don’t.” Every case left room for plausible deniability, be it from the mouth of Scully or the U.S. government. Every resolution left everything unresolved. Every unmistakable evil could be dismissed as a relatively benign phenomenon. For instance, the possessed doll in “Chinga” (5×10) could easily be mistaken for a charming antique. And then… came Mr. Chuckleteeth. Obvious much?

First of all, who would give a child such a nightmarish doll in the first place? I mean, tell me Mr. Chuckleteeth isn’t the Devil. He makes Chucky look huggable. But, hey, no one seems to be alarmed by the faces of those Bibbletiggles either.

I’m getting my grump on not so that I can make this a rant, but so that I can get it out of the way. You know what? I’m not mad at “Familiar”. As far as the revival goes, it’s a definite hit. Of course, the revival doesn’t go very far… but let me stop.

At least this week I was actually mildly curious as to who was behind it all, which is a vast improvement over every other viewing I’ve had this season. That said, I suspected it was Anna from the beginning and between being right and her only mildly nefarious motives, the ending was somewhat of a letdown.

But again, going back to my rewatch, this episode feels mostly in line with the creepy, mysterious, small-town vibe that characterized Seasons 2 and 3 in particular. Even if I hadn’t been bingeing on the good stuff recently, I still would have been forcefully reminded of “Die Hand Die Verletz” (2×14). Here’s another town where the history of the New England witch trials run deep and practitioners of this sacrilegious heritage unleash an evil they can’t control. “Did you really expect to conjure up the Devil and expect him to behave?” And here’s another town, like in “Syzygy” (3×13) that (almost) opens with the funeral of a local boy, killed by “black magic”.

I dunno, though. Despite all the creepy smog, blue lighting, and the distinct turn in the right direction that the dialogue takes here, I can’t help but feel that there’s something still distinctly wanting. The form has returned, for which I am grateful. But I’m missing the substance. I’m still missing the heart and soul of the show somewhere.

Verdict:

Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. But Mr. Chuckleteeth isn’t the only thing that’s obvious. The X-Files was never great shakes at social commentary. “Teliko” (4×4) anyone?

I resent Mulder’s implication of “small town justice”. In other words, we’re more likely to hear of injustice in a small town where people are stupid and less sophisticated than… who? The overpaid government workers disguised as bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?

Anyway, I found “Familiar” a little too familiar, a little too “on the nose”, if you will. But “on the nose” is better than “way off the mark” or, my favorite “so far apart from the mark you never even saw it nor realized it existed.”

I’ll take it.

B+

Clown Shoes:

Looks who’s playing a police officer! It’s the dude who played a police officer in every episode of The X-Files ever. Hello, Roger Cross. 24 crossover like whaaaat.

And it’s Jason Gray-Stanford from Monk. Nice beard.

So now Mulder has a son again, huh? Thanks for that. And thanks for teaching me how not to care.

That “cauldron” joke Scully made in front of the playground, did it feel a little insensitive and out of character to anyone else?

“He’s potentially John Wayne Gacy with a monkey.” Again, this sounds like what would have been a Mulder line.

A magic circle of salt. Say it with me: “Fresh Bones” (2×15).

If the suspect was on record as a sexual predator, even if he was only guilty of youthful indiscretion with someone a little younger than he was, wouldn’t he have been forbidden to work with children? I feel like a career as a children’s entertainer would’ve been about the last thing he’d have done.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Thanks for backing me up out there.

Mulder: Yeah, you’re my homie.

Advertisements

Unrequited 4×16: There goes the neighborhood.


I fold.

If Season 4 was good for anything it was experimentation. Most of it came from the minds of Morgan and Wong who gave us the non-formulaic “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (4×7) but also the highly unusual teaser in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). In that episode, we open with the end of the story, Mulder standing alone in a field crying, feeling sorry for himself, and reading a poem. It’s not my favorite episode by any stretch, but I always appreciated how striking and memorable that teaser is. It sets up the tone and content of the entire episode very, very quickly.

“Unrequited” tries to experiment with its teaser too, it’s just less successful at it. We open at the climax of the story, but unfortunately the climax isn’t very climactic. And it doesn’t get any better when the episode begins in earnest and we work our way back to that scene chronologically. The sequence drags on to the point where all tension is lost and what’s worse, by then the audience is only watching out of obligation anyway rather than interest, the rest of the episode not living up to the implied “Hey, isn’t this exciting!” message behind the teaser.

Like “Teliko” (4×4), except much more so, this is a political X-File. Oh, there’s an undercurrent of political subtext to the mythology itself, it becoming clear early on that the men behind this show are probably products of the 1970s when Americans progressed from being suspicious of the government to being distinctly jaded. But usually those themes are in the background as implied food for thought. When The X-Files tries to turn undertones into overtones it usually either succeeds marvelously or fails miserably. “Unrequited” is one of the latter.

One of the dangers of this type of episode is finding a really good rationale for why Mulder and Scully are in on a mission like this in the first place. Hunting down militia is not exactly their area of expertise. Which leads me to the next danger: this type of episode has little to do with the paranormal or the frightening. Teager’s ability, which is poorly explored, is almost incidental to the plot. The point isn’t how scary an invisible man would be, it’s how “invisible” our soldiers have become socially and politically. A noble sentiment, but I generally tune in to The X-Files for an adrenaline rush.

Speaking of a lack of adrenaline, or a pulse, it’s official: Marita Covarrubias is useless. They needed to give her a niche, a specialty, some area of government secrets that she had particular access to. Instead Mulder comes to her for a hodgepodge of information of the most superficial sort. Something makes me think that The Powers That Be decided to make Marita Covarrubias the assistant to the Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations because they weren’t exactly sure what role she would play and they thought that having her work for an institution as broad as the United Nations would mean that she could provide Mulder with all kinds of answers. She gives him all kinds of answers all right, but it feels forced and her information is nearly useless. Every time she shows up I get the feeling the writers are trying to remind me she exists, whereas her predecessors, Deep Throat and X, were anticipated and looked for and when they showed up out of the blue it was a gratifying surprise.

Verdict:

For an episode whose scare factor had such an inherently frightening and historically successful motif to fall back on as “The Invisible Man,” this story should have worked much better. Instead, ham-fisted political overtones drag down the pace and the impact that it should have had is lost. Both the message and the story lose their power and nobody wins. The X-Files just isn’t the proper vehicle for this sort of thing. Thankfully, Howard Gordon would go on to write for 24 where politics and action make much better bedfellows. He finally got to put all those ideas to good use.

By way of finding something to put in the plus column, I’d say that at least they took Skinner out of his box so he could play, but while he’s put to practical use his history as a Vietnam veteran only earns a veiled reference at the beginning and a brief mention at the very end of the episode. Yawn and you’ll miss it… and most likely you’re yawning by that point.

If “Kaddish” (4×12) was good but quiet, with this episode the series’ gears are grinding to a halt. The X-Files needs something or someone to shake things up, someone like Max Fenig perhaps?

D

Questions:

How come Mulder and Scully’s eyes never bleed? Teager worked their blind spots often enough.

Mulder calls the circumstances of Teager’s pronounced death “inconclusive.” But dare I say that’s ridiculous? Deaths are regularly declared on nothing more than teeth when bombings and explosions are involved. The marks on Teager’s tooth could have been made in any number of ways.

On that note, the implication is that the Viet Cong staged the scene so that the American government would believe Teager, and the other soldiers, were dead. Which would mean that they planned to take them prisoner and keep it a secret, an odd thing to do in the middle of a war for a soldier of no particular political importance.

Why would Teager agree to work for the men who, while not directly involved, were responsible for leaving him behind in Vietnam? Why would he agree to kill certain Generals, knowing that by doing so he’d be covering up forever what happened to him and men like him? That connection needed much more than a passing mention because to call the situation unlikely would be generous.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Was that for the benefit of the General or have you been able to develop a real strategy?
Skinner: Right now I’m flying by the seat of my pants.
Mulder: You mean there’s no procedure outline for an invisible assassin?

———————–

Skinner: You heard his story, Mulder?
Mulder: Yeah, I found his story compelling personally, but then again, I believe the Warren Commission.

———————–

Mulder: Don’t let them do this.
Skinner: Let it go, Agent Mulder. You did your job.
Mulder: So did Nathaniel Teager.
Skinner: You found the man that you were looking for, but now he’s dead. It’s over.
Mulder: Is that what you believe? Is that what you really believe? They’re not just denying this man’s life, they’re denying his death. And with all due respect, Sir, he could be you.

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


Walking in Memphis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality check, Scully. I believe he is.

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

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

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

Ah, yes. The fight.

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of sex…

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

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

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

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

Scully: Sometimes I wish I were that impulsive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

B

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

Running Commentary:

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

———————

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

———————

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

———————-

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

El Mundo Gira 4×11: I just met a girl named Maria.


Remind anyone of their fridge?

This episode always brings back memories of El Chupacabra sightings that made the local news so often when I was in Junior High, sightings that no one outside the Latin American community seemed to take seriously. Funny, but despite its political grandstanding, this episode doesn’t take the legend seriously either.

Last time I watched “El Mundo Gira” I decided I enjoyed it. Maybe I was feeling nostalgic about the Spanish soap operas that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. I never understood them, but you didn’t need to understand Spanish to pick up on the melodrama. Or maybe I just finally decided that the Chia Pet style fungus in this episode is more satisfying than I had originally thought.

But upon a fresh rewatch and coming off of the notable success that is “Paper Hearts” (4×8), its errors are harder to ignore.

First, and most obviously, Season 4 seems to be when the team at 1013 Productions decided that along with the great power of The X-Files’ success came the great responsibility of social commentary. We saw them try to sneak it in the back door with “Teliko” (4×4) and they’ll soon try to force it in the front in “Unrequited” (4×16). Unlike a movie where they would have a couple of hours to let the story speak for itself and therefore could allow the audience to slowly put the pieces of the message together, a 42 minute running time means that in order to make their point we get heavy-handed lines such as…

Scully: Nobody’s examined the body?
Mulder: Nobody cares, Scully. The victim and many of the witnesses are illegal immigrants, migrant farm workers.

And…

Skinner: You would think that with the resources we have we’d be able to find these men. I’m not hearing a good explanation why this hasn’t happened.
Scully: Well, sir, they have a way of being almost invisible.
Mulder: The truth is… nobody cares.

And…

Scully: Mulder, I know you don’t want to hear this but I think the only aliens in this story are not the villains. They’re the victims.

The only thing Illegal Immigrants and Little Green Men have in common is a word that ties them together by sound, no longer by connotation. Giving the Chupacabra an alien shaped head does not a parallel make, and so it’s hard to choke down what they’re trying to force feed us. On top of that, such a serious pathos undermines the pseudo-comical melodrama of a Spanish soap opera that the episode is trying to imitate, resulting in a haphazard tone a la “Syzygy” (3×13).

It’s already difficult enough to take a distinct cultural legend and translate it to an “alien” audience in a way so that it carries emotional force. That experiment is rarely effective as evidenced by episodes like “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and “Hell Money” (3×19).  But combining serious political observations with the “Mexican soap opera” theme that many may find unfamiliar is a recipe for disconnect.

Conclusion:

I still enjoy this one though, despite itself. At the very least it gives us a few memorable lines. And one thing I’ve always loved about The X-Files is how it’s able to give the strange a scientific foothold. This is one of those episodes where neither Mulder nor Scully are correct but together they make a new scientific discovery.

By the end the story morphs yet again, this time into a Rashomon style fairy tale. I can’t help feeling that if they had taken that tone all the way through, it could have been more successful. But then again, “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) has already been done.

C

Randomness:

If this is a community of illegals, why report Maria’s death at all? Surely that would have brought the cops around long before Mulder and Scully came on the scene.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Witnesses described a bright flash about 30 degrees off the horizon, then a hot yellow rain fell from a cloudless sky. Fortean researchers call these “liquid falls.” Black and red rains are the most common, but there have also been reported cases of blue, purple and green rains.
Scully: Purple rain?
Mulder: Yeah. Great album. Deeply flawed movie, though.

————————-

Agent Lozano: Let’s see… Okay. We have a Jose Feliciano. We have Juan Valdez. We have Cesar Chavez. We have Placido Domingo here. But I don’t see any “Eladio Buente.”

————————-

Mulder: They think he’s the Chupacabra.
Agent Lozano: That may be. But I will tell you with a tremendous degree of certainty this guy is not Erik Estrada.

————————-

Agent Lozano: This guy is better than Erik Estrada.

————————-

Mulder: Scully, I’ve been thinking. I know that’s dangerous, but just bear with me.

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.

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.

Hell Money 3×19: I’m more haunted by the size of my mortgage payment.


Boo.

I mentioned in the last episode the fact that The X-Files had nary a success with stories that relied on an ethnic/cultural myth. There will be others that fail similarly, “Teliko” (4×4) and “Alpha” (6×16) come to mind, but none is a better example than “Hell Money”. The reason is that “Hell Money” takes what would actually be a frightening premise for your typical police procedural and attempts to turn in into an X-File by clouding it in Chinese ghost stories only to present the whole thing to an audience who isn’t actually frightened by Chinese ghost stories.

There’s a cultural disconnect when it comes to the cursed remains of ancestors in “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and fake money paid to ward off spirits here in “Hell Money”. Most often, someone who isn’t raised on these myths and legends has a hard time taking them seriously. So not only does the episode first have to educate and explain the significance of the myth, something that already takes away from it’s ability to frighten, but then it has to convince us why we should be scared. That’s a rather discouraging combination.

That’s all too bad because it takes away from an episode that could have worked wonderfully, just probably on a different show. This is one of the few X-Files episodes where absolutely nothing paranormal happens outside of a few anesthesia induced hallucinations. Like “Grotesque” (3×14) earlier in the season, the story is about human evil, except that in “Grotesque” evil possesses a man almost against his will while in “Hell Money” evil takes the form of men consciously preying on the desperate. I don’t have to tell you which picture of evil is more disturbing.

Which is why on a lot of levels this episode does work. Despite the overabundance of exposition there are moments that are frightening, just not in the paranormal sense. Certainly this idea of a lottery where kidneys and eyeballs are at stake is fabulous. (I can’t quite believe I just typed up that sentence.) And the corruption of authority, in this case, police corruption, is never too old a tale. Not to mention if the cruelty and callousness of the game doesn’t grab you there’s the whole burning men alive in the incinerator bit.

The Verdict:

This episode feels like a script from Law & Order was cut and pasted into an X-File with random lines about ghosts thrown in. With the possible exception of a frog crawling out of a corpse, there’s no moment where I say to myself, “This must be an X-File.” Why were Mulder and Scully called in to begin with? There was nothing supernatural/abnormal about the initial murders other than that they were gruesome serial killings so I don’t see why they would have peaked even Mulder’s interest. The ghost symbol wasn’t even known about till Mulder and Scully arrived on the scene.

It’s a good story and a scary story, it just suffers from being presented on the wrong platform and with an unnecessary excess of cultural baggage. I can’t say I don’t enjoy it more than a few other episodes this season.

I also have to give this episode credit for having one of the most horrific endings ever on The X-Files. It’s truly terrifying, more than enough to bump it up a grade.

B

The Comments:

This was writer Jeffrey Vlaming’s second and last episode on the show. His first was “2Shy” (3×6).

That a man being burned alive would be able to write anything at all, let alone anything legible, let alone that his last message would be some vague reference to Chinese lore…

Hsin’s motivations never completely make sense to me. Just from the nature of the game, it’s only a matter of time until you lose something more valuable than a spare kidney. Risk of death aside, if he loses both eyes, for instance, he could end up spending as much on his own care and rehabilitation as he needs for his daughter’s surgery. The same goes for everyone else in the game. But I don’t suppose we’re meant to ruin this whole schtick by imposing logic on it.

You can win a lot more than 2 million dollars in the Powerball and you don’t have to risk life and limb. I’m just sayin’.

I can’t let this episode pass without mentioning the appearances of a young Lucy Liu and a young B.D. Wong. Consider them mentioned.

The Questions:

Does Mulder purposefully skip days between shaves?

Detective Chao bled out all over the place when the “ghosts” kill Johnny Lo in the teaser, that’s why they had to replace the carpet. So why is it that he failed to replace the carpet padding? If you’re going to do it, do it right.

The Best Quotes:

Scully: His name was Johnny Lo. He moved here about six months ago from Canton, still in the INS application process. He was a dishwasher in Chinatown.
Mulder: How many dishes do you have to break before your boss tosses you in an oven?

——————-

Scully: So now we’re chasing ghosts?
Mulder: “Who you gonna call?” Ghosts or ancestral spirits have been central to Chinese spiritual life for centuries.
Scully: So you’re saying the ancestral spirits pushed Johnny Lo into the oven and turned on the gas?
Mulder: Well, it sure would teach him to respect his elders wouldn’t it?

——————–

Scully: Do you know how much the human body is worth, Mulder?
Mulder: Depends on the body.