Tag Archives: Terms of Endearment

Rush 7×6: Bear with us ‘cause we’re old and stupid.


The Temple of Doom.

“Rush” is another one of those Season 7 episodes the plot of which I only ever vaguely remember, never mind that I’ve seen it three or four times. Even now, thanks to the rewatch, that I’ve seen it five or six, I don’t expect that to change.

What I do remember from when this episode first aired was the nagging, gnawing worry in the pit of my stomach. We’re five episodes in and Season 7 has yet to produce an X-File that’s magic from start to finish. Are there magical moments? Of course! But they’re moments. I want to be excited for the whole episode.

But there I go complaining again when I’m actually still enjoying myself. “Rush” has nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a solid offering from writer David Amann who previously gave us “Terms of Endearment” (6×6) and “Agua Mala” (6×14). I have to say that this third script of his, though emotionally not my favorite of the three, is actually the best in terms of consistent storytelling.

“Rush” is the most recent installment in The X-Files’ Teenage Dirtbag tradition. The first and the best was, of course, “D.P.O.” (3×3). After that, things took a memorably downward turn in “Schizogeny” (5×9). But “Rush” is an upward turn in this genre’s trajectory. All the disparate elements that an X-File needs to succeed seem to be here: an unexplained phenomenon, a gruesome death and a couple of suspiciously well-dressed F.B.I. agents. Throw in an inexplicably and unreasonably ornery local law enforcement official and it’s borderline classic. There’s really nothing wrong with it, and the production is, as always, beautifully done.

If there’s a glitch in the Matrix, it’s that I have a tough time feeling either sympathetic toward or repulsed by the teenagers that make up the heart of this story. I was a teenager myself when I first watched this episode and I felt even more ambivalent about them back then. On the surface, they’re pitch perfect. Pseudo-villain Max Harden is especially well played by Scott Cooper.

But perhaps that’s the problem. These characters feel like a paint-by-numbers rendition of teenage angst. We have the bad boy who rebels because he’s bitter that the authority figures in his life overlook his potential. On his arm we have the gum-cracking, eye-rolling Moll. And then, of course, there’s the innocent new kid eager to be corrupted. If these roles had been something more than stereotypical I think it would have elevated this episode. As it stands, their characters service the job but nothing more.

The most interesting part of “Rush” isn’t the characters or The Matrix style special effects, it’s the focus on how painfully slow the progress of time is for the young. I was just reminiscing with someone recently about how wonderfully long summers used to drag. Remember when time moved slowly? When it took forever to get from your birthday to Christmas and back again? Now I wish Father Time would get back to hobbling and give up jogging.

I say all that to say that I wish “Rush” had spent a little more time focusing on why these kids were addicted to speed, how life at a normal pace is unbearable as it is when you’re that age, let alone after having a taste of the fast life.

Verdict:

Good. Solid. Standard. Those are the adjectives that come to mind when I think of “Rush”. I know that’s not very exciting sounding, but “Rush” isn’t a particularly exciting episode. Compared to its fellow teenage angst themed episodes, it’s much more coherent than “Schizogeny” but markedly less memorable than “D.P.O.” Don’t let it’s name fool you.

And this is the problem I remember having with Season 7 when it first aired and that I’m starting to have again. We’ve had a few solid episodes all in a row, but nothing that inspires my imagination to keep thinking about it afterward. I know I’m about to sound like a petulant child, but where’s the magic? “D.P.O” probably isn’t as good of an episode technically. But you’d be hard pressed to forget the way Jack Black’s character dies in that one. Images… emotional images like that stick with you and elevate a meat and potatoes, typical sort of episode into something worth watching again and again.

I’m not complaining… per se. Okay, maybe this is a complaint, which makes me feel bad because on the surface, The X-Files is doing everything right. Just please don’t make me start belting out “The Thrill is Gone.”

B

Lingering Questions:

Here’s something that puzzles me. When we get a glimpse of what these supercharged teenagers see when they’re “high”, the world seems to be moving in a painfully slow fashion. If anything, wouldn’t their super speed only serve to make the already slow world they move in seem slower than ever? You would think their ability would heighten the sense that time is running like molasses, not alleviate it. But the ending where a recovering Tony Reed watches the clock hand inch forward, doomed to spend the rest of his life slow-poking around now that the cave is gone, would indicate otherwise.

Lingering Comments:

I was also listening to The Doors at that age.

Is it just me or is Scully looking more and more uninterested with each passing episode?

For some reason I remembered that cute, flirty moment where Scully plays with Mulder’s tie as a lot cuter and flirtier than it actually is.

My new favorite moment of this episode is right at the end when Mulder says, “What if we’re too old?” to Scully and she makes the most pathetic face.

If Hardin had all those fractures and injuries he would have to have been treated long before the events of this episode and someone would already have been suspicious as to what he was up to or not. If he hadn’t, fast or slow, he wouldn’t have been able to move. Period.

The speed effect that’s used here looks an awful lot like the effect they’ll later use in “Requiem” (7×22).

Man, those The Matrix style special effects were ubiquitous a decade ago.

This is one of those rare cases where Mulder’s initial theory is completely off. I love it when that happens.

It seems that the character of Chuck Burke was missed. This marks his second appearance in six episodes after having been AWOL for a good long while.

Best Quotes:

Max Harden: [To Scully] You must have been a Betty back in the day. [He leaves]
Scully: A “Betty”?
Mulder: Back in the day.

——————–

Scully: Well, you and I were both in there and nothing happened to us. We’re still slow-poking around.
Mulder: What if we’re too old?
Scully: [Sad Face]

Hungry 7×1: I don’t believe in monsters.


The New Atkins Diet

Leave it to Vince Gilligan to give us a mutant with an eating disorder.

I swear, I don’t know how I watched unaware of these patterns back in the day, but this rewatch has gotten to the point where I can think ahead to episodes I haven’t even rewatched yet, the credits of which I’ve never before paid attention to, and successfully match up the writer to the story. Their signatures are that distinctive sometimes and Vince Gilligan is by far the quirkiest of them all. (Love you, Vince.) In “Hungry” he gives us something that The X-Files has been threatening to give us since “Leonard Betts” (4×5): A Monster of the Week episode from the Monster’s point of view.

“Leonard Betts” was the first episode to show us a reluctant mutant, with the camera occasionally choosing to follow the eponymous monster and his story instead of Mulder and Scully. Later on, “Terms of Endearment” (6×6) would half-heartedly attempt to make its audience identify with villain Wayne Weinseider. But the episode’s perspective waffled too much between Wayne’s point of view and, well, everyone else’s. That schizophrenia made it less successful than it could have been. Combine the reluctant killer of “Leonard Betts” with the decisive camera perspective that “Terms of Endearment” was looking for and voila, “Hungry”.

I have to take my proverbial hat off to Chad Donnella of the charming voice crack for being able to carry this episode all on his skinny shoulders as Rob Roberts. That’s a hard enough job when the fill-ins for Mulder and Scully are familiar and beloved characters like Skinner or the Lone Gunmen or even the Cigarette-Smoking Man. “Travelers” (5×15) is largely ignored by fans for daring to replace Mulder with his spiritual progenitor, Arthur Dales. For a stranger and a villain to fully take over the role of protagonist is unprecedented on this show and Donnella does a great job. I wonder if it’s merely a coincidence that he goes on to star in famous X-Files alumns Morgan and Wong’s Final Destination. Hmm.

And I must say, maybe it’s because of Vince Gilligan’s now infamous skill when it comes to characterization, but probably the best thing about this episode is how recognizable Mulder and Scully are even when viewing them from the outside. I get a smug satisfaction from being able to tell what they’re thinking, and successfully surmise what kind of conversations they’ve been having at the coroner’s office based purely on their expressions. If Season 7 has an angle, it’s that it openly celebrates the glorious routine of Mulder and Scully’s partnership. “Hungry” starts that trend in a quiet way by highlighting how by the numbers their investigations have become, and well it should because routine has its own charm.

Speaking of the way we see Mulder and Scully, I’ve never appreciated how frightening it must be to be on the wrong side of them. Mulder especially is more than a little intimidating and the camera highlights that fact. For instance, there’s a great moment in Rob’s apartment building when Mulder and Scully seem to gang up on him from either side of the stairs, one above and one below him. It has the effect of watching two Jack the Rippers slowly advance toward you – there’s no escape. And later on in the scene where Mulder and Scully interrogate Rob Roberts they’re shot from right over Roberts’ shoulder. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen both of them, in the same shot, head on like that before. It’s almost startling to see them so clearly from someone else’s point of view. Usually the audience is more of a fly on the wall, that is if we’re not seeing things clearly from Mulder and/or Scully’s perspective, so this is a fun departure for me.

I quite like this episode, but I can’t seem to love it as much as I do respect its uniqueness. Despite this episode’s best intentions and my best attempts to stay open minded, fifteen minutes into the action and the inevitable always happens. I can’t help it. I miss Mulder and Scully. I said above that Chad Donnella carries this episode well and I meant that but… I still miss them.

Really, The X-Files is just doing what it’s done for the last couple of seasons right after an emotional season premiere – it takes a step back from the Mulder and Scully dynamic, possibly to give the audience a breather. Since Season 5, we usually have to wait a couple of episodes until we get a sort of emotional coda to the events of the premiere. Season 5 it was “Detour” (5×4), Season 6 it was “Triangle” (6×3), and this season it’ll be “Millennium” (7×5). Me, personally, I don’t need a breather. Go ahead and suffocate me with Fangirl emotion.

Still, my viewing of “Hungry” would work out perfectly if not for one thing. Maybe if I could I could fully sympathize with Rob Roberts the way I’m supposed to. Maybe if he had shown enough control not to kill Sylvia, or even if he had struggled with it more, if he had cried right before he killed her instead of looking determined and unapologetic. Maybe then I could have felt bad for him when he died and I could love “Hungry” the way I want to.

Everyone he kills previous to Sylvia is a jerk so I don’t begrudge him those moral lapses. But Sylvia was warm, friendly, and relatively helpless. Outside of the therapist, she’s the only person we see show Rob some genuine kindness. And whereas the therapist is somewhat vapid in her Hallmark Card sweetness, Sylvia is engaging and somewhat vulnerable thanks to that hilarious little snippet she shares about her ex-husband. After that last kill, I agree with Mulder and with Rob himself. He can’t help himself. He has to go.

Verdict:

Ostensibly, this episode’s message is that you can’t be something you’re not. Ostensibly. Rob Roberts is what he is and nothing can change that. This makes Mulder almost villainous in his determination to stop this man who’s only following nature’s orders.

Yet in the end, doesn’t Rob prove that he’s more than merely his biological drive with his dying act, his suicide by cop? Whatever his instincts, his conscience, his humanity is what won out, causing him to prefer death to fighting a losing battle against his impulses. It’s more honorable to die a righteous man than live to be an evil one, right? If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better to enter heaven with one eye than sink down to hell with both.

Rob’s death is ultimately an act of self-control, ironically a character trait he’d been desperately seeking this entire episode. And if we do have sympathy for Rob, it’s for this reason. If he had accepted who he was from the beginning and relished his killer instinct a la Tooms, we wouldn’t be able to identify with him at all. “You can’t fight Bi-o-lo-gy,” he says. But it’s Bi-o-lo-gy he overcomes in the end.

I guess after all he’s his own man, and he controls everything he does.

B+

I’ll Have Fries with That:

I don’t know how it took me so many years to recognize this dude, but this rewatch my subconscious just wouldn’t let go until I Googled. The actor who plays Donald Pankow, the customer service nightmare who’s killed in the teaser, is Chase Hampton formerly of The Party fame. I know I’m not the only one here who was watching The All New Mickey Mouse Club back in the day. MMC like what.

Speaking of the teaser, this is one of my favorite openers of the season. I love that creepy Lucky Boy mascot.

Mulder’s intuition is in overdrive… again. A proboscis? Really?

I know I don’t usually go there, but Scully looks amazing this episode. I’m digging the longer hair after all this time. It makes me feel nostalgic for Season 3 Scully.

Meanwhile, does Scully always look this bored?

Lingering Questions:

Wouldn’t there have been surveillance cameras that captured the entire attack at Lucky Boy’s?

If Mulder knows Rob Roberts is the killer and he knows he kills out of compulsion, why in the heck does he keep putting himself in a position to be alone with him? Has Mulder gotten that cocky? I know he baited Tooms back in “Tooms” (1×20) but that was in public, not it the privacy of the killer’s apartment where he could take you without anyone seeing.

How much blood could Rob Roberts possibly have gotten on that shirt?

Best Quotes:

Mulder: What if this man’s brain was eaten? It’s not sociologically unheard of. There are certain tribes in New Guinea that consider human brains a delicacy.
Scully: Yeah, but Mulder, we’re in Orange County.
Mulder: Yeah, what’s your point?

———————–

Mulder: Oh. Hello. Look at this. Does that look like blood to you?
Scully: Yes, looks like it.
Mulder: What is that? Next to it. Is that, uh… oh my… ugh. Is that brain? Is that brain matter there?
Scully: No, I’d say that’s ground beef.

———————–

Derwood Spinks: Uh, since this is farewell, when nobody was looking… I used to dip my boys in the cole slaw. Bon appetit!

———————–

Rob Roberts: I’m sorry, but this is like good cop… insane cop.

———————–

Rob Roberts: I, I guess it’s the taste I respond to the most, salty and juicy… kind of buttery. The, the texture of it inside of your mouth… You know you, your teeth just sink into it like this juicy cloud, and it tastes so good you don’t, you don’t even want to swallow it. You just want to work it around your taste buds until your eyes roll right back into your head… Anyway, it’s a real problem.

———————–

Sylvia: He said I was too fat to ride in his sports car, that I’d just mess up the springs. So, I sat on the hood and I bounced. And I didn’t stop until the police showed up.

Monday 6×15: Any moment I’m about to burst into song.


Can’t trust that day.

Oh, Mulder, Mulder, Mulder… I feel your pain.

I mean, I’m laughing at your pain. But still.

Really, you never should have trusted a mysteriously appearing waterbed. That’s like something out of a Fractured Fairy Tale. What if an evil MIB put a curse on it??

I’d say that writers Vince Gilligan and John Shiban have outdone themselves this time. But they flash their brilliance at us so often it’s beginning to become run-of-the-mill. I guess we’ll have to wait for them to take us by surprise with a tedious hour of television because “Monday” isn’t it.

One of the more striking features about this episode is that so much of it happens from the point of view of a character that we never do know much about. Actually, we never get much by way of concrete fact about either Pam or her bomb-happy boyfriend Bernard. And that’s okay because all that we really need to know about them is cleverly revealed in the way they’re presented.

Scruffy boyfriend who won’t go to work? Check.
Jittery girlfriend with a do-it-yourself dye job? Check.
Ratty apartment that they’ll lose their security deposit over? Check.

I think it’s safe to say that neither character has much by way of either education or prospects and that either may quite possibly be nursing a drug habit. And my spidey sense is telling me that Bernard may have hit Pam a time or two in the past. There’s no overt indication of it, but Pam is definitely intimidated by him and I don’t think it’s just because he happens to have a bomb strapped to his chest on this particular day. She’s clearly under his thumb. Whether or not there’s any physical abuse going on, we’re given the distinct impression that their relationship is already dysfunctional. Not absolutely devoid of affection, mind you, but not at all healthy.

Vague though it is, their relationship is all-important because the events of the episode hinge on Pam’s ability to overcome her practiced passivity and stand up to Bernard. Oh sure, she claims she tried to stop him innumerable times. But her efforts were all passive aggressive: stealing his keys, drugging him, etc. Does she boldly confront him with what he’s about to do? Run into the bank ahead of him to warn all the innocent patrons of what’s coming? Shoot him? Surely going to jail for murder would be better than being trapped in the hellish loop she’s in. For that matter, Pam could have run over Mulder to prevent him from entering the bank if she were really desperate. She didn’t have to kill him. Just break a leg.

No, instead Pam opts to focus her efforts on convincing everyone else to change. She whines, she begs, she gives frustratingly obscure warnings. She goes from Skinner to Mulder to Scully in hopes that one of them can fix the situation by altering their actions. Not once does it occur to her that maybe she should be the one changing. That by altering her own actions she could “be the change she wishes to see in the world.” In the end, only she can stop Bernard from killing everyone and end this vicious cycle. No one else can.

The irony is that this endless series of repeats only begins because Bernard is desperate for change. This is a little guy who’s sick of being a little guy. He’d rather go down in history as a mass murderer than eke out a monotonous life as a janitor. I guess going back to school or making a career change would be too time consuming. He could’ve started with a shave. That would’ve worked.

But I’ve gone off topic. Anyway. Bernard is so eager to change both his and Pam’s fates that he takes a decidedly proactive… and immoral… step. How different a personality he is from paralyzed Pam who only becomes progressively less proactive as the Mondays go on. It’s a good thing that Mulder, spurred by his miraculous intuition, pushes her to action. From there, she instinctively takes it the rest of the way, at long last standing up to Bernard in one final, empowered act. If there’s a message here, it’s to take control of your own life and your own choices. As much as lies within you… try.

However, I prefer to think that there is no message. Why weigh down perfectly good entertainment with depth and profundity?

Verdict:

I love “Monday” and the more I think about it the more I wonder why it’s not a fan favorite. I love the use of the waterbed from “Dreamland II” (6×5). I love watching Scully fight back her emotions as Mulder dies in her arms. And I love, love, love the unique format of the storytelling.

And before you say it, no. This isn’t an homage to Groundhog Day… which is an interesting surprise. Gilligan got the idea for “Monday” from an episode of The Twilight Zone, which when you think about it, is the perfect place to glean inspiration for The X-Files. But fun though it is, watching Mulder repeat the same day over and over again could have easily turned tedious. Kudos has to go to director Kim Manners for filming it in such a way that the loop doesn’t make us loopy like a slowly dripping faucet. Mulder’s routine picks up speed as the story progresses, finally culminating an a silent montage of shots.

This episode may be proof more than any other that The X-Files could be both hilarious and gripping in the same breath. Unlike “Agua Mala” (6×14) where the creepiness of the case was undermined by an overabundance of comedy or “Terms of Endearment” (6×6) which can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be funny or serious, “Monday” is the perfect blend. You can laugh out loud at an X-File and still take it seriously. It doesn’t have to be either or. If this is “X-Files Light”, sign me up for another helping.

A+

Leftover Nags:

During one scenario, Mulder definitely has the opportunity to shoot Bernard in the head before he flips the switch. So why doesn’t he? Sure, the bomb may go off inadvertendly, but it’ll absolutely go off otherwise.

Dangit, Pam, stop dropping vague hints and allusions and spell it out for Mulder. Write him a letter if you have to.

Wasted Opportunity #1,785: How about just telling Skinner that Bernard has a bomb, huh Pam?

Leftover Comments:

How much do I love Fox Mulder right now? Comforting hysterical women on the fly. Go on with your sensitive self.

So Darren Burrows, the actor who plays Bernard, is the son of Billy Drago who guest stars in “Theef” (7×14).

And the family connections continue. Carrie Hamilton, who plays Pam, is the daughter of Carol Burnett. You can see the resemblance, right? Sadly, Miss Hamilton died in 2002 at the age of 38.

Best Quotes:

Scully: What are you doing down here, Mulder?
Mulder: Having the best damn day of my life. Any moment I’m about to burst into song. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.

———————

Scully: Look, I got to call you something, right? How about Steve? It’s a nice… honest name. Steve.
Bernard Oates: Bernard.

———————

Scully: Since when did you get a waterbed?
Mulder: I might just as easily not have a waterbed and then I’d be on time for this meeting. You might just as easily have stayed in medicine and not gone into the F.B.I., and then we would never have met. Blah, blah, blah…

———————

Mulder: I mean, I woke up, I opened my eyes, I was soaking wet… It’s a long story, but I had the distinct sensation that I had lived that moment before.
Scully: Well, you may have. Did you do a lot of drinking in college?

Terms of Endearment 6×6: Hey, come on, you’re makin’ me feel weird.


Sympathy for the Devil

This is one of those episodes, and it won’t be the last this season, that I’m not really sure how I feel about. The issue isn’t that I don’t enjoy it because I do. It’s that “Terms of Endearment” is somewhat schizophrenic; this episode isn’t sure whether it’s an homage to Hitchcock, a Rosemary’s Baby knockoff, a comedy, a tragedy, or an X-File. It’s also undecided as to whether its protagonist is an F.B.I. agent with an uncanny mind, a demon with an identity crisis, a naïve wife or a diabolical one.

Yes, the point of view changes so often in this episode that rather than what evil the demon villain is up to, the main mystery is which character is actually the protagonist. Whose perspective are we supposed to be seeing the story through? Ultimately, I believe the protagonist is meant to be Wayne Weinsider. In a twist on Rosemary’s Baby, the story is told from the viewpoint of the devil rather than that of the hapless female. However, the references to Hitchcock’s Suspicion, such as the glowing glass of poisoned milk Wayne carries up the stairs to his wife, and consequently the audience’s identification with the wife who doesn’t know if her protector is actually her destroyer, causes some confusion. Throw scenes with Mulder and his uncanny intuition into the mix and it’s hard to hold out for a hero… as there isn’t one. This is almost an ensemble piece.

The main source of confusion, however, lies with the demon character of Wayne Weinsider himself. This is one of the rare X-Files where the guest star is actually the protagonist. Actually, it may even be the first depending on how you think of previous episodes such as “Leonard Betts” (4×14). Yes, it’s a joy to have Bruce Campbell, previously of Hercules, Xena and now Burn Notice fame, on board for an X-Files adventure and as much as lies within him, he does an excellent job with the role. But there’s weakness in the Wayne Weinsider character that has nothing to do with how he’s played.

The way the character is written it’s hard to either hate him or love him. He’s neither an underworld nemesis worthy of an exorcist nor is he a sympathetic soul in his quest for normalcy. He’s doing the unspeakable, killing his own children, and yet he’s so harmless a few mere bullets can incapacitate him. Tell me, what kind of demon is felled by bullets?? They’re not even silver bullets! You just shoot the devil’s minion a couple of times and he goes down? That’s all it takes? Where’s the holy water? Yegads.

It’s inevitable that the devil loses his impact when there’s no God for him to rebel against. Rosemary’s Baby pulls this off, depicting a fight against the king of evil without claiming any standard of good, but it can do that because the claustrophobic nightmare of its heroine, her rape and the ongoing violation of nourishing within her own body a monster not of this world, is enough to convince anyone of the evil of her enemy. Here Mulder is so unimpressed by Wayne Weinsider that he baits him, teases him, and initiates a campaign of harassment against him all without any fear of being pulled into the lake of fire.

I also wonder if the homage to Rosemary’s Baby, the decision to depict Wayne’s true demon identity in a distinctly 1960s style, may have been lost on the audience. Those horns, those rubbery looking hands, they’re hardly the stuff of horror in recent years. The demon that a 1990s audience would nightmarishly conjure up at the food of their beds wouldn’t be so… Harryhausen-esque. The demon baby too, with its claws peeking out over the car seat in a direct reference to the earlier film, I fear isn’t as impactful as it could be. Perhaps this is all too stylized for primetime television. Perhaps the elemental horror of the Rosemary’s Baby storyline keeps the special effects from being perceived as hokey and “Terms of Endearment” doesn’t have that built in fail-safe.

There was a golden opportunity here to turn an insurance salesman into something more nefarious than his job already makes him, but I suppose that wasn’t the point. The point was to have a sympathetic villain. The problem is, since when is the devil sympathetic? How do you make him a well-rounded character? He loses all his power that way. He’s supposed to be the devil, dang it. Turning him into a sentimental family man is laughable. And yet, this isn’t a comedy. Neither is it a horror story despite the brooding gothic manor Wayne resides in. It falls into the nether regions in between – a fate that also awaits first time writer David Amann’s sophomore attempt, “Agua Mala” (6×14).

I say this isn’t a comedy, but I don’t mean to say that it isn’t funny or that the laughs are all unintentional. I enjoy watching David Duchovny and Bruce Campbell play in the same sandbox. And I can’t deny that my 14-year-old self and her best friend giggled for days over Wayne being blindsided by wife number two and the cool factor of her subsequent joy ride. The use of the band Garbage’s music in the soundtrack didn’t hurt either.

And the Verdict is…

Too bad the devil isn’t so easy to identify with. If he had been, this could have been a rousing success. Turning his nefarious plans back on him in a twist ending isn’t quite enough to create sympathy for the devil, though his decision to give life back to his victimized wife comes close. Then again, I would have preferred it if it had been completely, well, devilish. If he had been an unapologetic villain along the lines of Eugene Victor Tooms I could have relished the story more.

But now that I’ve poked my fingers in all of this episode’s open wounds, let me also attest that I do enjoy it and I find most critiques of “Terms of Endearment” to be unduly harsh. This isn’t the first X-Files episode to fall slightly short of its promise and it won’t be the last, that doesn’t mean it’s a dismal failure. By no means is it “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18).

We have a very talented guest lead, some memorable visuals, funny moments and taboo subject matter – All the makings of an X-File. The disparate elements are here, if only they worked in concert.

B+

Demon Seeds:

How would you prosecute a demon for killing his demon spawn? Is that even a crime?

I realize much has been made about Mulder’s “I’m not a psychologist” comment and it’s hard to defend since Scully introduces Mulder to the audience as an “Oxford-educated psychologist” way back in the “Pilot” (1×79). But though this offhand comment may smack of discontinuity, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I can’t excuse it by claiming that Mulder was being sarcastic since his tone doesn’t bear evidence of that, but does it really matter? Besides, it’s not like he went to graduate school in the field.

How does Betsy know just where to find Mulder and Scully in the middle of the night? If demons read minds, surely Wayne would have better avoided detection… and would have picked up on his wife’s duplicity.

I see you, Mark Snow, throwing in that Gregorian chant.

Maybe Bruce Campbell’s just too funny. It’s hard not to interpret his actions as comic because he’s so naturally hilarious.

Best Quotes:

Deputy Stevens: I know this went right into your caseload but I never imagined you would get here so soon, Agent, uh…
Mulder: Oh, Mulder. Fox Mulder. Though I ask you not to make that known to anybody. The F.B.I. likes to keep our work on these cases very hush-hush. [He holds a shredded report that’s been taped back together]
Deputy Stevens: Sure, of course. But I would like to thank Agent Spender.
Mulder: Oh. No, no, no. I’ll thank him for you because I have to call in my, uh, progress report.

——————–

Mulder: Scully, this is a classic case of demon fetal harvest, what they called in the middle ages “atum nocturnem,” the impregnation of an unwitting woman by a dark lord of the underworld…
Scully: As host for his demon seed.
Mulder: Exactly.
Scully: I saw Rosemary’s Baby on cable the other night, Mulder.

——————–

Mulder: [Carrying out a large container of dietary fiber supplements] Whatever else we find, I know everybody in this house is regular.

How the Ghosts Stole Christmas 6×8: I just gave myself chills.


The romance is the first thing to go.

I have had a revelation. It only took thirteen years and several cups of coffee.

“How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is essentially the story of what happens when Mulder tries to romance Scully in his own strange, Mulderish way. Back in the day, I used to think he’s merely lonely and wanting for company, but he plans this evening. This isn’t a spur of the moment outing brought on by boredom. And then he tries to impress Scully with the spooky atmosphere of his story the way that normal men take their dates to scary movies in hopes that their ready arms will look more masculine and appealing when their date has no place else to run to. Why else take her on a scary Christmas Eve rendezvous traditionally taken by lovers?

Notice the way writer and director Chris Carter chooses to shoot both characters from the back as Mulder weaves his winter’s tale in the dark car. No sooner does he start discussing the story of Maurice and Lyda than Mulder and Scully are framed in a rather romantic looking portrait. Oh, yes. Brooding hero Maurice is Mulder and Lyda of the sublime beauty is Scully. Perhaps as a Christmas present to the fans, Chris Carter doesn’t even attempt to be subtle about it. Thank you, Chris.

Mulder: His name was Maurice. He was a… a brooding but heroic young man beloved of Lyda, a sublime beauty with a light that seemed to follow her wherever she went. They were likened to two angels descended from heaven whom the gods could not protect from the horrors being visited upon this cold, grey earth.

Yeah, methinks Mulder was trying to get his mack on. Well, sorta. I’m not trying to say that Mulder was about to put the moves on Scully. But does he know what he’s saying when he tells her the story of Maurice and Lyda? Oh yeah. He’s acting the teenage boy here, no doubt about it, and that’s the backdrop for our story at hand. Any excuse to bring television legends Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin into The X-Files family is just fine. They’re supposed to steal the show here and indeed they do.

Actually, Ed Asner was originally intended for the role of Clyde Bruckman in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4), but glory be, Peter Boyle owned that character and we still get to relish Ed Asner’s charm in the role of Maurice. See? Everyone wins.

Already Season 6 has set itself apart with an impressive list of guest stars. Bryan Cranston before he was famous in “Drive” (6×1), Michael McKean and Nora Dunn in “Dreamland” (6×4) and “Dreamland II” (6×5), Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin here, next up will be Bruce Campbell in “Terms of Endearment” (6×6) closely followed by Victoria Jackson in “Rain King” (6×7), and it won’t end there.

To what do we owe the pleasure? It has to be the move to L.A. Now there are all sorts of actors willing to share screen time with Mulder and Scully who wouldn’t have been available for the trek to Vancouver. And I suppose it doesn’t hurt that Season 6 was the heyday of a television phenomenon. Who doesn’t want to be a part of history? It’d be like turning down a guest spot on Star Trek.

Whatever the sentimental loss over the built-in atmosphere of Vancouver and the original production crew that turned The X-Files into the legend it became, we can’t deny that the move to L.A. has not only brought great side benefits like impressive actors, the production quality hasn’t suffered in the least. The set of “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is absolutely stunning; it’s a character unto itself. This is especially important because ninety percent of the action happens in this one place with only four actors involved, the smallest cast of any episode of the series. The cast is so small and the action so relegated to one spot that it feels very much like a stage play. And if going off with the family to watch a staged performance isn’t Christmas, I don’t know what is.

If I’m to be honest (there’s no need to be but it’s Christmas so why not?), I never much cared for this episode before this rewatch. Not to say that I didn’t like it, but I always felt that something was missing, that it was a little soulless, perhaps. I didn’t see that it had a point. And it doesn’t, really. It’s a festive frolic, a Christmas card to the fans, and that’s all it’s meant to be. And why not? Episodes previously had acknowledged the Christmas season, “Beyond the Sea” (1×12), “Christmas Carol” (5×5), but neither of those had ever acknowledged the audience on the other side of the television screen. Now The X-Files has reached its zenith and is understandably a little self-conscious about its legion of fans, enough that rather than scare them it deems it better to send a little Christmas spirit their way. An episode like this couldn’t have been attempted in any season previous except possibly Season 5; it’s too meta for a show that doesn’t know its own power.

There’s another element of this episode that The X-Files never would have attempted before it was an official piece of pop culture history. Back in the not so distant day, a Shipper had to hunt for little romantic gems in an episode. A brief hand-hold here, a golden moment of banter there… it was a game looking for these affirmations of the Shipper faith since it wasn’t as though the writers were putting them there on purpose. We had to take what we could get. Now, however, the game has changed completely and after the events of the movie, Chris Carter & Co. could no longer believably ignore either the mounting anticipation of their audience or the romantic tension that they inadvertently created between their two lead characters. So, what to do, what to do? They had no choice, really, but to officially script the MSR* subtext into the series. Now Shippers no longer have to hunt for sustenance like wild animals, it’s being fed to us in golden bowls like house pets.

If that sounds like a complaint, please know that it’s not. As I said, I don’t see how the show could have believably evolved any other way. What could Chris Carter have done? Turned back the clock and pretended that millions of people had never seen that scene outside of Mulder’s apartment? Or worse, should he have taken character development back a few seasons in order to halt the progression of this budding romance between his leads? Never. Looking back it was inevitable that the romantic undertone of the series would become more overt. And however people may complain that it made The X-Files look silly, it would have looked a heck of a lot sillier if they had stubbornly ignored the obvious. As it is I believe the writers did an excellent job of utilizing the MSR subtext without relying on it. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” works because it’s funny. If you happen to understand the layer of meaning just beneath the surface then so much the better.

I must admit, though, that watching this episode when it originally aired was my first “Danger, Will Robinson” moment. Why? I’m glad you asked.

First there was “Triangle” (6×3), a lighthearted tale meant to cleanse the palette after the high emotional tension of “The Beginning” (6×2) and to reward the fans whose hopes were thwarted during that infamous hallway scene in Fight the Future. It was incredibly well done and almost universally praised. Do you see a problem there? No? I didn’t think so.

Directly after that was “Dreamland”. Sure, two lighthearted episodes in a row is unheard of on The X-Files but production order gets switched around sometimes and besides, “Triangle” wasn’t really a comedy. Ah, but then we have “Dreamland II” which of course must follow part 1. We can’t find fault with that, can we? It just so happens that having three of these episodes in a row is the way things played out.

But now we’re at “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” and a disturbing pattern begins to emerge. Yes, I’ve already said that I appreciate that the show was willing and able to do something fun for Christmas for once. I’m all for it. And yet… part of me is starting to worry. No, nothing has been bad by any means. This string of episodes has been fabulous! Still, my spidey sense is atingle: where are the X-Files? At what point does the show become too self-conscious?

Verdict:

A quick word of caution about this episode: the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek. Yes, that seems obvious and why would I warn you about that? But I fear that the pop psychology invoked here, the witty observations of Maurice and Lyda that Chris Carter never intended to be taken as gospel truth, has been accepted a little too literally over the years. Read the fanfic, don’t let it corrupt you.

Yes, Mulder is prone to a self-centered form of tunnel vision. But a narcissist? Hardly that. And while Scully may enjoy a good intellectual tête-à-tête with Mulder, who would believe that she’s spent so many years with him risking life and limb merely for the right to say “I told you so?” Part of the point of this episode is that Maurice and Lyda misread Mulder and Scully, assuming that they’re much lonelier and less balanced than they actually are.

However, if you want to take away anything about the psychology of the characters please note that Scully does admit she really wanted to be out there hunting things she doesn’t even believe in with Mulder. Yet again Chris Carter sets up the tension between Scully’s overt desire for normality and her unacknowledged desire to travel a bumpier road with Mulder. For some reason, Scully has a hard time understanding herself and why she’d rather suffer with Mulder than live out her life in peace with anyone else.

A-

P.S. Speaking of Christmas, I suppose you already know what day it is. So allow me to wish a very Merry Christmas to you and yours! A huge thank you to all of you who follow along because you make this a blast. See you in the new year!

Armchair Psychology:

How can Mulder possibly be surprised that Scully doesn’t believe in ghosts? Wasn’t he there for the events of “Shadows” (1×5)?

Did anyone else catch the moment where Mulder pauses during the telling of his gothic tale to wiggle his eyebrows?

I love that telltale heart moment.

The shot where you can see Scully’s face through that hole in Maurice’s head still impresses me. I wonder how much that cost…

So, Chris Carter knows exactly what Mulder and Scully gave each other for Christmas and he refuses to tell. Scrooge.

*MSR – Mulder/Scully Romance

Best Quotes:

Scully: I see. The dark, gothic manor the, uh, omnipresent low fog hugging the thicket of overgrowth… Wait… is that a hound I hear baying out on the moors?
Mulder: No. Actually that was a left cheek sneak. {Editor’s Note: I JUST got that. Sometimes I wonder about myself.}

———————-

Maurice: You drink? Take drugs?
Mulder: No.
Maurice: Get high?
Mulder: No.
Maurice: Are you overcome by the impulse to make everyone believe you?

———————-

Maurice: My specialty is in what I call soul prospectors, a cross axial classification I’ve codified by extensive interaction with visitors like yourself. I’ve found you all tend to fall into pretty much the same category.
Mulder: And what category is that?
Maurice: Narcissistic, overzealous, self-righteous egomaniac.
Mulder: Wow, that’s a category?
Maurice: You kindly think of yourself as single-minded but you’re prone to obsessive compulsiveness, workaholism, antisocialism. Fertile fields for the descent into… total wacko breakdown.
Mulder: I don’t think that pegs me exactly.
Maurice: Oh, really? Waving a gun around my house? Huh? Raving like a lunatic about some imaginary brick wall? You’ve probably convinced yourself you’ve seen aliens. You know why you think you see the things you do?
Mulder: Because I have seen them?
Maurice: ‘Cause you’re a lonely man. A lonely man, chasing paramasturbatory illusions that you believe will give your life meaning and significance and which your pathetic social maladjustment makes impossible for you to find elsewhere. You probably consider yourself passionate, serious, misunderstood. Am I right?
Mulder: Paramasturbatory?
Maurice: Most people would rather stick their fingers in a wall socket than spend a minute with you.
Mulder: All right, now just, uh… Just back off for a second.
Maurice: You spend every Christmas this way? Alone?
Mulder: I’m not alone.
Maurice: More self-delusion.
Mulder: No, I came here with my partner. She’s somewhere in the house.
Maurice: Behind a brick wall? How’d you get her to come with you? Steal her car keys?
Mulder: [Guilty silence]

——————–

Scully: Not that, uh, my only joy in life is proving you wrong.
Mulder: When have you proved me wrong?
Scully: Well… Why else would you want me out there with you?
Mulder: You didn’t want to be there? Oh, that’s, um… That’s self-righteous and… narcissistic of me to say, isn’t it?
Scully: No, I mean… Maybe I did want to be out there with you.