Tag Archives: Tooms

I Want to Believe: I don’t think I’m the one who’s changed.


 

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This wasn’t the plan. Within a year of the series finale, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz were brainstorming an idea for the next installment in what everyone assumed would be The X-Files’ continuing feature film franchise. The release would be sometime in 2004. The fandom was out there.

But then, there were delays, and negotiations, and delays, and scheduling issues, and more delays… and a lawsuit. By the end of all that, Carter and Spotnitz were left to work with a small budget, an unsupportive studio, and a dwindling fan base; the cultural zeitgeist of the 90’s had passed and even if it hadn’t, Seasons 8 and 9 had laid waste to much of the public’s interest in The X-Files. Oh, and they lost all their plot notes so they had to scrap their previous ideas and start the script from scratch. Oh, and there was a writer’s strike during filming which meant they couldn’t fix any of the script’s problems.

I Want to Believe was a brainchild born under less than ideal circumstances. It’s little wonder then that it wafts whiffs of the smoke of disappointment. When I squint at it mentally, I see a middle aged man looking nostalgically back on his promising youth and trying to keep hope alive for the future.

But is it good?

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One plan that stayed alive from the beginning was to make this movie an extended Monster of the Week episode, a stand-alone, rather than write it as part of the larger mythology. This way audiences who didn’t know the series could get into it; it could generate general interest and pave the path for more films. As a fan who always leaned more toward the stand-alone episodes, I was and am all for this.

IWTB is an atmospheric, contained, pensive film. That’s what it needed to be, especially on a small budget. Personally, I wasn’t looking for loud explosions or dramatic special effects. I needed a Monster of the Week, not that was bigger and badder, but that was better than what I got in a typical episode.

To that end, the film is shot beautifully. The production went back to Vancouver and the director of photography from the series, Bill Roe, was brought back for this big screen effort so it looks like The X-Files. Someone new to the franchise would get a quick and easy idea of its trademark aesthetic. The setting, the chill, the darkness, it’s all perfect. And for a while, it convinces me I’m back home, imaginatively speaking.

But the difficulty in making this a MOTW is that it creates continuity issues for long time fans. When we last saw Mulder and Scully some six years previously, Mulder was on the run for his life after being given the death penalty by the F.B.I.. After being a part of the plan to help him escape, Scully ran off with him, and I don’t suppose she handed in her resignation either. We left them in a hotel room in New Mexico, hiding from an alien infiltrated government and on their way to Canada, ready to give everything in order to prevent alien colonization before D-Day 12/22/12.

In order for this to be a proper MOTW and still fit into the framework of the mythology, I assumed they would still be on the run or in hiding, but would somehow stumble upon an X-File, an outbreak of platonic paranormal activity or some such. I was sort of right about their being in hiding. Mulder’s hiding out in his home office while Scully lives openly, not under an assumed name, and works in a private Catholic hospital. There’s no underlying sense of urgency. (I’m sorry… when did the Super Soldiers stop posing a threat? I don’t need a mythology rundown, just a wee bit of context, please.)

After all that build up Season 9 about the government being out to kill Mulder, after Carter painted these two characters into the ultimate corner where they have no choice but to leave everything and everyone behind to take on the world by themselves, the threat is magically gone, just like Scully’s cancer, just like Mulder’s brain disease, and just like William. It’s safe for Mulder to walk into F.B.I. headquarters now. There are no Super Soldiers hiding in plain sight there. And the government doesn’t care about him one way or the other. “Just do us this favor and we’ll pretend none of it ever happened, Mulder.” Well, I’m going to do this plot a favor and pretend this issue was resolved in a much more satisfactory fashion.

In the grand scheme of things, how they get to this point is not a big deal. All that matters to me is that Mulder and Scully have an X-File to solve again. Mulder and Scully. Mulder and Scully.

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Is it too much to ask to see Mulder and Scully solve an interesting case… together? That’s all I want. That’s what I tuned into The X-Files to see every week. Instead we have Scully at first urging Mulder back into the land of the living only to retreat herself just as things get interesting. If IWTB is anything, it’s a character study, but not of Mulder, of Scully.

For first time viewers, it no doubt doesn’t matter. But for obsessive Philes, we know that Scully has a long history of being a paying passenger on Mulder’s crazy train. She’s briefly fantasized about normalcy in episodes like “Emily” (5×7) and “Dreamland” (6×4). And she’s questioned her life choices a few times in episodes like “Never Again” (4×13) and “all things” (7×17). But as in the ending of “all things”, she has reaffirmed her decision to continue tilting at windmills with Mulder over and over again. She did it, for example, in “Quagmire” (3×22), “Tooms” (1×20), “Paper Clip” (3×2), “Memento Mori” (4×15), Fight the Future, etc. etc. Scully wasn’t dragged into this quest and she hasn’t been dragged along. She’s invested in the journey.

Heck, she even reconfirmed her commitment in “The Field Where I Died” (4×5). It’s a strange day indeed when I have to use TFWID as evidence of anything good and true…

Anyway, the last time we saw Scully in “The Truth” (9×19/20) she was doing what she does best after debunking Mulder’s theories and that’s keeping him in the fight, like she did in “Little Green Men” (2×1), “One Son” (6×12), and “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati” (7×4), to mention a few episodes of note. Scully is the official Keeper of Mulder’s Faith. And that’s why reading between the lines of the script, I believe ITWB was designed to turn the tables, that it’s meant to show us a weary Scully who now has to be urged back into battle herself by Mulder and by God.

This is potentially a very interesting and welcome moment of personal evolution for her character. Characters, like real people (and Scully is real), evolve and change. But if Scully’s going to jump from “Let’s fight the darkness, Mulder” to “I don’t wanna fight the darkness, Mulder” then we need some kind of context as to how and why.

I remember in the script stage talking a lot about what Scully could say and couldn’t say to [Mulder], that it couldn’t be selfish, her refusal to join him and wanting him to stop. She had to have legitimate reasons about where she was in her life. – Spotnitz, Blu-ray Commentary

Did going on the lam test her faith and her patience? Did she miss her family? Is that why she and Mulder settled down and she took a regular job again? Scully says that she and Mulder have a home and that she doesn’t want the darkness to creep back into that home. Is it that she and Mulder have finally found happiness and she doesn’t want to lose it? Or is it the relative peace that she values? ‘Cause they don’t exactly look like they’re living in non-marital bliss…

Is it that she’s rediscovered her calling as a physician? Are we supposed to understand she’s found fulfillment elsewhere now that she and Mulder aren’t chasing monsters anymore and that her work helping others has replaced the necessity of her work on the X-Files? Maybe it’s her relationship with young Christian, who is not so subtly named “Christian” and comes to represent both her lost son and the Christian faith she questions as she thinks on both her own losses and this young boy’s suffering.

If all that is the case, then I’m sad to say it doesn’t prove particularly effective as character motivation. The fate of the wide world rests on Mulder and Scully’s shoulders, but having Mulder out of the house for this case is too much for her to take? So she threatens to leave the only person who understands everything she’s been through? The person who she’s saved and who has saved her more times than she can count? Really? Well just roll me into a ball of confusion.

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When did Scully become that chick? When did she become the clingy girlfriend or the stereotypical cop’s wife for whom no emergency is worth her husband missing dinner? The woman who from the outside male perspective doesn’t appear logical, but purely hormonal? Scully’s suddenly the type to emotionally manipulate Mulder into doing what she wants by holding their relationship over his head?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a very low tolerance for onscreen relationship drama. Breakup or don’t. I have things to do.

I think the tension between Mulder and Scully would have worked much better if it had stayed centered around the case. We’re used to seeing Mulder and Scully at odds. The tension between them comes from their different perspectives, which actually work in a sort of harmony to drive the plot forward. There’s no need to force feed us marital drama. If there’s tension between them, let it be about the work itself, not their personal romance.

After all, as ever, they’re ultimately after the same thing. Scully is trying to save a life and so is Mulder. Not only is she after the same thing, she’s going after it in the same way – by exploring extreme possibilities. Even if Scully is wrapped up in what she’s doing at the hospital, there’s no legitimate emotional reason given for why she wants Mulder to give up trying to save these women and come back home and be a good househusband. (Oh, are you losing Mulder’s attention? I am so sorry.)

But that’s enough of my sarcasm because this isn’t a horrible movie. In fact, it starts off really well. There’s a creepy murder. Mulder and Scully are on a new mission – the team is back together. Mark Snow’s music is as effective as ever. It’s dark, it’s atmospheric, Mulder’s spouting mumbo jumbo nobody cares about and Scully looks worried about him. All is well in my world.

I especially like how the movie keeps us guessing as to the current status of Mulder and Scully’s relationship. Is it just that she knows how to find him for the F.B.I. or that they’re in regular contact? Are they in regular contact or is she at home in that house? Even at the end of the movie, is Scully moving out and saying goodbye or is she leaving for another day at work? See how things don’t have to be out in the open to stay interesting?

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Unfortunately, though, the movie hops over the boredom line at about the halfway mark. As the relationship drama ramps up, the mystery itself winds down. Instead of taking time to develop the villain or up the stakes of the plot, IWTB focuses on Mulder and Scully’s adventures with the peodophile priest. Father Joe is played convincingly and even sympathetically by Billy Connolly. But the overall plot is sacrificed to the themes of persistence and redemption that Father Joe represents. I love those themes, but isn’t there still supposed to be a mystery here worth solving?

Father Joe is here more than anything to be the voice of God for Scully, to convince her not to give up on young Christian or her faith. But, Scully’s like the prophet Jonah. Some people she’d rather not see God forgive. There can’t be a more unregenerate soul than a priest turned pedophile, right? If so, then the theme that absolutely anyone can be redeemed and anyone who presents themselves available can be used by God comes through loud and clear. By the end, Scully seems to have accepted the message on behalf of us all. 

As ever in The X-Files, God, Providence is at work behind the events. These are themes Chris Carter keeps coming back to, no doubt because they’re a part of him.

Verdict:

It’s not great, it’s not horrible. It’s just okay. But “okay” isn’t a satisfying comeback after six years. And “okay” doesn’t get you a third movie.

I remember seeing this in the theater for my 25th birthday. One of my best friends had come down to help me celebrate my quarter life crisis and what perfect timing! Mulder and Scully were back. After the way Season 9 ended and the amount of time that had passed, I had assumed all momentum was gone and that there would be no movie franchise forthcoming. Imagine the thrill when I found out we were getting a new movie, and a MOTW at that!

I was duly giddy with excitement, but I couldn’t help noting that we were about the only ones in the theater. And while the movie started out great, even as I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was happy to be seeing Mulder and Scully onscreen even when I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying myself, I knew even then that this wasn’t the kind of movie that spawned yet another movie. Mulder and Scully waved to me and I waved back to them (shamelessly) with the sad knowledge that this likely really was the end this time.

And then it wasn’t…

“I think we always had the desire that we would potentially do a third feature. I think we all felt that the second one that we did wasn’t necessarily the right way for us to end.” – Gillian Anderson

“I feel like we didn’t end on the right note before.“ – Gillian Anderson

I so agree. And I’m so, so grateful that it didn’t end here. If this had been a mediocre episode of the series, I could’ve shrugged off some of its failings much easier. When I thought it was The X-Files’ last gasp, it was a more painful thought. I’ve gone through ups and downs in my feelings about IWTB, but I think I’ve finally learned to accept it for what it is.  IWTB sounds like an instrument tuning back up. But you don’t listen to the orchestra tune up without then sitting through the concert. This was The X-Files getting a feel for itself again. This was the actors connecting with the characters again. This wasn’t a fully satisfying outing that left you feeling like Mulder and Scully’s journey was complete.

In the end, I’m glad IWTB wasn’t sufficient to launch another movie. In the end, the only satisfying way to finish out this series is to finish it out as a series. A couple of hours of screen time isn’t going to cut it to resolve everything that needs to be resolved. We don’t know where this new miniseries will lead, if it will lead to other miniseries. But if I can see the old team solving cases together one more time, it’ll all be worth it.

C+

Misplaced Bush Jokes:

“This stubbornness of yours… it’s why I fell in love with you.” I HATE this line. It’s the low point of the movie and one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the entire franchise. And no, I’m not surrendering my shipper card.

Enough with the free ads for Google. Google’s doing just fine on its own.

Realistically, this stood no chance being released during The Dark Knight’s massive reign.

A gay man kills innocent people to harvest limbs for transplant for his lover as part of a Russian medical conspiracy. They really thought that would work as a plot, huh?

Amanda Peet and Xzibit don’t feel like X-Files characters.

Speaking of which, what was the point of Agent Whitney’s toothless Mulder crush? I mean, other than kinda grossing me and Scully out?

Scully’s abilities as a doctor were always suspect given her resume. But when did she find time while on the run from the government to undergo training in pediatrics? And now the pathologist is poking around in the brains of the living? Scully does a quick Google search then wheels the boy into the OR for an experimental procedure the same day?

And, really? We’re going to bring Scully back to Seasons 1 & 3 with the “Samantha is Mulder’s only motivation” schtick?

THE BEARD, THO.

I can’t believe the Russians would successfully do those surgeries in those kind of unsanitary conditions.

“Write it down. Put it in a book.” – HUH???

William left me with an emptiness that couldn’t be filled either. Let’s see what happens now…

Dear Revival – As you can see, we’ve already been there, done that with the breakup idea.

Movin’ On Up:

The Skinner Hug. Squeal me.

I remember the actress who plays the missing agent from “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6). TPMP – My eternal debt to Chris Carter.

Between this and TPMP, it’s clear Chris Carter has a Frankenstein fetish.

Father Joe can’t have visions with Scully in the room. Echoes of the Stupendous Yappi in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4).

The hospital asks Scully to let go of her case, Scully asks Mulder to let go of his.

I love the effortless elegance of Scully’s hair.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: If it were me, I’d be on the guy 24/7, I’d be in bed with him kissing his holy ass.

Whitney: Father Joe’s a convicted pedophile.

Mulder: …Maybe I’d stay out of bed with him.

——————–

Scully: What is this?

Whitney: Dorms for habitual sex offenders.

Scully: Dorms?

Whitney: They manage the complex and police themselves. Father Joe lives here voluntarily with his roommate.

Mulder: Just avoid the activities room.

——————–

Scully: What are you doing?

Mulder: [Walks off] I’m trying to ignore you. {Editor’s Note: ME TOO.}

——————–

Skinner: I know Mulder. He’d get to a phone and call first. He wouldn’t do anything crazy.

Scully: [Looks at him]

Skinner: Not overly crazy.

 

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


 

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Can you imagine how uncomfortable this must have been?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d like to know Monica Reyes, please.

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B-

Comment:

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

Question:

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

Best Quotes:

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

———————-

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

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.

Tithonus 6×9: You’re a lucky man.


The gift that keeps on giving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict:

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

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

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

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

A

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

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

Background Checks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sum Total:

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

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

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

A

P.S. “Jack. Can I call you ‘Jack?’”

Maine Lobsters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Quotes:

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

——————–

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

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

Kitsunegari 5×8: Do you think I could get some service now?


It came from the Blue Lagoon.

It makes me sad to admit it because its precursor, “Pusher” (3×17) is one of my favorite episodes of all time, but “Kitsunegari” is one of those lost opportunities that begins with a lot more promise than it fulfills in the end. I hate to say it, but this is one of those episodes I enjoy less with time.

When I say it begins with promise, I’m referring mostly to the teaser because by the time the episode begins in earnest, our ears our stuffed full with so much background and exposition on Mulder and Scully’s history with Modell that it’s a wonder there’s any room left for us to hear the rest of the story. It doesn’t help that the explanation for how Modell made it off of his deathbed sounds arbitrary. “He simply woke up” doesn’t even attempt to veil the fact that his character has been resurrected for no deeper reason than to bring back a popular villain. He’s not here again to serve the development of the characters or the series. Now, I love his character so that doesn’t bother me… much. But the fact that Modell has no real reason to still exist let alone a solid motive to drive his character forward in the plot is one of this episode’s main weaknesses and it becomes more obvious the further along we get.

Ostensibly, we’re supposed to infer that Modell is trying to stop his vengeful twin sister from taking the same path to destruction he did. But why? Last time we saw Modell, when he was conscious anyway, he was ready and willing, even eager to go down in a blaze of glory. You’re telling me that wasting away as a human vegetable in prison lessened that desire to prove himself as a “warrior” rather than increased it?

Another problem is Modell’s sister. I’ve seen the actress, Diana Scarwid, on a couple of episodes of Law & Order and I know she’s pretty good. But something about the chemistry between her character and Modell’s, and worse, her character and Mulder’s, lacks a spark. Modell and Mulder were so good together in “Pusher” that you felt they could’ve almost been friends under a different set of circumstances. Linda Bowman antagonizes Mulder but without the same charm and aplomb. I realize that she couldn’t and shouldn’t be an exact repeat of Modell, but she should at least rival him in interest if she’s going to displace him as the main villain of the story. Bowman is cunning and devious whereas Modell was bold and blatant, but it’s his very boldness that’s endearing. Boogeymen who walk steadily toward you are scarier than the ones that wait for you in the dark. Modell is a hard act to follow regardless and, unfortunately, chemistry is almost impossible to create.

Even so, I think this still could have worked well if the ending scene had played out a little differently. Now, I love me any moment where Mulder thinks that Scully is dead or dying. Give me Mulder dealing with Scully-angst any day. But it’s hard to accept Linda Bowman as Scully even though we know Mulder’s mind is being messed with. It would have actually worked better, in my opinion, if we had watched Mulder threatening to shoot Scully as Scully. No one can pull off Scully except Gillian Anderson, which is why that moment lacks some of the emotional punch it could have had. Maybe if the episode had ended on that note, I would remember it more fondly.

Verdict:

This episode feels a little incomplete, a little rushed. It’s as if writers Gilligan and Minear had the general plot worked out but had to force out a finished product before they had time to polish up the characters’ motivations.

To be honest, I was more easily satisfied as a teenager so I remember making more out of this one back in the day than it actually deserves. Not that it’s awful, it just doesn’t quite satisfy. If “Tooms” (1×20) is the high watermark for Monster of the Week sequels, “Kitsunegari” feels lackluster in comparison. Attempts to force tension between Mulder and Skinner and Mulder and Scully only emphasize the fact that the plot doesn’t have anything else to fall back on except the “Mulder’s losing it again” routine.

There are glimpses of glory. If The X-Files is known for anything it’s for its striking and memorable images and a dead man drenched in blue paint certainly fits that bill. The prison doctor’s death scene is predictable, but well done. I just wish I could say I love this episode, but I like it instead.

B+

Nitpicks:

“Budo/武道” is not the way of the warrior, that’s “Bushido/武士道.” Someone in the fact-checking department didn’t earn their paycheck.

Mulder walks into a building he knows Modell is in but doesn’t bother to call for backup after all his stringent warnings to the other agents. No wonder Modell puts the Whammy on him.

If that weren’t dumb enough, he goes alone to meet Bowman knowing how tricky she is. Brilliant, Gman.

Nothings:

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Scully in a colored suit.

If anyone else talked to their boss the way Mulder talks to Skinner they’d have a reserved seat at the unemployment office.

Maybe it’s because at the height of its success the show wanted to revisit past glories, but this season I think may set the record for bringing back old friends. So far they’ve brought back X, Melissa Scully and Modell.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Let me take a wild stab here and guess this is a clue.

———————-

Female Agent: Sir, it’s not a manifesto. It’s the same single ideogram over and over.
Skinner: Which is what?
Female Agent: Well the hand it’s in is pretty sloppy, but I think it’s supposed to be “Kitsunegari – Fox Hunt.”
Scully: Fox Mulder.
Mulder: Well, that’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?

Gethsemene 4×24: If you’re gonna go, why not go all the way?


The tears of a clown.

Last we left Mulder, he nearly killed his partner and himself in a repressed memory induced swirl of self-pity. No mention is made in this episode of the hidden secrets hinted at in the previous one, “Demons” (4×23), but judging by the unoptimistic closing voiceover delivered by Scully, it’s not an uneducated guess to think that his doubts and demons are still closing in on him. It’s in this atmosphere that Mulder gets blindsided with the biggest disappointment of all. Yes, even more disappointing than finding out your father is a chain-smoking cross between The Grinch and The Cheshire Cat and may or may have not tried to blow you to smithereens on a pile of mutant skeletons.

You see Mulder at last has to seriously consider the possibility that aliens may not be real. And if it wasn’t bad enough to find out that you’re a pathetic and delusional loser, he also finds out that the one person in the world who doesn’t think he’s a crackpot is about to die very likely because of his stubbornness. In other words, it’s an uplifting 45 minutes of television we have here.

Yes, I know that considering the inexplicable reality of both The Alien Bounty Hunter and Jeremiah Smith, it’s hard to believe that The X-Files could seriously expect us, let alone Agent Mulder to believe that there’s nothing remotely paranormal going on in this television universe. But, for me, all I can say is that I relish this chance to come at the mythology from a decidedly normal perspective.

Okay, normal with strong tints of paranoia.

Up to this point, Mulder has been almost religiously convinced as to what the truth is. His conversation on the stairs with Scully, when he asks her what she would do if someone could prove to her the existence of God, brings out into the open a theme that’s been quietly allegorical for the entirety of The X-Files’ run. Mulder’s search for aliens, his stalwart belief in them even when the rest of the world thinks he’s crazy, even though he’s never seen them, it’s all a metaphor for a single man’s search for God, his search for The Truth. Is it an accident that the title of this episode is “Gethsemene”, the name of the garden where Jesus faced his final emotional and spiritual struggle before going to the cross?

Truthfully though, it’s a testament to Scully’s influence on him that Mulder holds back as much as he does in this episode. Season 1 Mulder wouldn’t have hesitated to assume that the “alien corpse” was real. He would have been aglow with boyish excitement until the cold hard truth came crashing down. To Season 4 Mulder’s credit, he’s probably more reserved in his assumptions here than we’ve ever seen him, certainly more cautious. Indeed, this episode readily invites comparison with “EBE” (1×16), the first time Mulder wonders, “Which lie to believe,” after Deep Throat led him on an interstate wild goose chase. It begged the question then and even more so now, are these mysterious men in power merely Punking Mulder for their own amusement?

It’s not an idea without merit. I mentioned “E.B.E” where it’s clear that Mulder is being manipulated to both spread and contain disinformation. Then there’s “Anasazi” (2×25) when Mulder is drugged to discredit him by driving him to violence. And if that weren’t enough cause for doubt, all of Season 3 toyed with the question of whether Mulder’s radical or Scully’s traditional point of view is more accurate. They’re both seeing the same evidence, but is the truth that a secret group of men is hiding the existence of alien life for some nefarious purpose or that these same men are perpetuating a myth to cover up their own all too human atrocities? The idea hasn’t been revisited nearly all of Season 4 but now it’s back with a vengeance, theoretically threatening to undo all the plots that have been twisted over the course of four years of television.

I say threatening because no one in the audience seriously believes (except for me at the age of 14) that the entire mythology plotline has been little more than a hoax. There have been too many inexplicable events. And more than that, no viewer in their right mind (even me at the age of 14) believes that Mulder is dead and David Duchovny out of a job.

Just because it’s easy to refute this episode in all its glory doesn’t make it any less exciting, far from it. In fact, considering the fact that David Duchovny’s continuing contract was quite public at the time, I’m impressed that they were able to create such an atmosphere that it feels as if Mulder could/would really kill himself, even though you know it can’t happen. This is in large part thanks to the emotional notes established in “Demons”.

Verdict:

I don’t know that I ever appreciated before how over the course of this three-episode arc leading into the new season Mulder and Scully’s spiritual journeys head in distinctly opposite directions. Mulder begins affirming his faith only to be robbed of it, Scully starts out removed from her faith only to eventually confess her own neediness. It’s really quite artful now that I’ve finally noticed the parallel.

On an unrelated note, it’s easy to rag on The X-Files and particularly on our dear Chris Carter for the purpleness of its prose sometimes. And, yes, this entire episode arc is full of voiceovers that come across as a little too poetic to represent the people and situations they’re supposed to represent. However, by this point I’m so emotionally involved in these characters and the revelations that I can get caught up in the drama without concerning myself too much with whether or not Mulder would actually say things like, “Byzantine plot.” Call me too lowbrow to care. I’ve rewound this episode so many times I actually have the breaths and pauses memorized.

A

P.S. An extra thought: The smartest thing they did here was not in keeping Mulder’s death vague, but in keeping Scully’s part in all this completely up in the air. Does she really think Mulder is dead? Has she turned to the dark side? Is she blaming Mulder and turning her back on the X-Files? Those were the questions weighing most heavily on my mind come Season 5.

Unnecessary Observations:

I said it before in “Tooms” (1×20) and I’ll say it again: Scully should have been an actress. That woman lies like no other.

Blevins is back without so much as a passing comment as to why he disappeared in the first place.

Kritschgau is one of my all-time favorite guest characters. Heck, his story was so convincing, I believed him.

Is it just me, or is Scully’s denial/arrogance beginning to wear thin? How long can she go on pretending to be completely self-sufficient? Thankfully, not much longer.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Early this morning I got a call from the police asking me to come to Agent Mulder’s apartment. The detective asked me, he needed me to identify a body…
Section Chief Blevins: Agent Scully…
Scully: Agent Mulder died late last night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

———————–

Mulder: After all I’ve seen and experienced, I refuse to believe that it’s not true.
Scully: Because it’s easier to believe the lie, isn’t it?
Mulder: …What the hell did that guy say to you that you’d believe his story?
Scully: He said that the men behind this hoax, behind these lies, gave me this disease to make you believe.

———————–

Bill Scully: What are you doing at work getting knocked down and beaten up? What are you trying to prove? That you’re gonna go out fighting?
Scully: Oh, now come on, Bill…
Bill Scully: Do you know what Mom is going through? Why do you think I didn’t tell her when they called?
Scully: What should I be doing?
Bill Scully: We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves but to the people in our lives.
Scully: Hey look, just, just because I haven’t bared my soul to you or, or to Father McCue or to God doesn’t mean I’m not responsible to what’s important to me.
Bill Scully: To what? To who? This guy Mulder? Well, where is he, Dana? Where is he through all this?
Scully: …Thank you for coming.

———————–

Scully: You already believe, Mulder, what difference will it make? I mean, what, what will proof change for you?Mulder: If someone could prove to you the existence of God, would it change you?
Scully: Only if it had been disproven.
Mulder: Then you accept the possibility that belief in God is a lie?
Scully: I don’t think about it actually and I don’t think that it can be proven.
Mulder: But what if it could be? Wouldn’t that knowledge be worth seeking? Or is it just easier to go on believing the lie?

———————–

Kritschgau: That’s just like you, Agent Mulder, suspicious of everything but what you should be.

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…

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.

Guest Post – X-Files: A Shipper Guide, Part 5


*Editor’s Note: Nina is a long time X-Phile and shipper extraordinaire. (Seriously. You guys thought I was rabid.) You can find more of her humorous insights into The X-Files, Supernatural, 24 and other fandoms on her tumblr at myspecialhell.tumblr.com. Here’s the final installment of her Season 1 analysis. You can check out parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 herehere, here and here. Agree/disagree with her observations? Duke it out in the comments section. We can’t wait to hear what you guys think!

And with that, take it away, Nina!

Biased, completely personal, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Tooms

~ It’s amazing how things change, isn’t it?
 – Mulder (Tooms)

Eugene Victor Tooms is one of the most beloved mutants among the Philes, and Tooms is the episode all the Philes recall for two things mostly: the introduction of Assistant Director Walter Skinner[1], a character who would become more and more important in the show, and for the infamous conversation in the car.

Just out of curiosity: what’s the what with Mulder, Scully and stakeouts, anyway? Between Tooms and Pusher one can’t help but wonder!

I remember when I first saw Tooms and the conversation in the car. I remember that my jaw hit the floor. For a moment I really thought they were going to go at it. I mean, usually, when a scene like that happened in another show, next we knew the two lead characters were kissing like there was no tomorrow.

How naive, uh?

Even before the scene in the car, it was clear that Mulder and Scully had truly become partners  at work: there was trust, there was complicity. Scully didn’t hesitate to put herself on the line for Mulder, when talking to Skinner.

She was supposed to be the spy, she was supposed to be the tool to close the X-Files…and yet, there she was, defending Mulder.

Skinner had ordered Scully to make sure things were done by the book, and yet when she went to Mulder, while he was checking on Tooms, it wasn’t the job she was worried about. Do you remember Deep Throat? In the episode she was worried about what she was going to write in her report. She had come a long way from that night…and she showed it.

SCULLY: Mulder, you know that proper surveillance requires two pairs of agents, one pair relieving the other after twelve hours.

MULDER: Article 30, paragraph 8.7?

SCULLY: This isn’t about doing it by the book. This is about you not having slept for three days. Mulder, you’re going to get sloppy and you’re going to get hurt. It’s inevitable at this point.

MULDER: A request for other agents to stake-out Tooms would be denied. Then we have no grounds.

SCULLY: Well, then I’ll stay here. You go home.

(Mulder sighs.)

I’ve always loved how Mulder seemed genuinely concerned about Scully’s career in the scene in the car. I think that was the first time Mulder actually voiced concern about Scully’s career. He had come a long way too from the pilot episode and the infamous lines:

“So, who did you tick off to get stuck with this detail, Scully”

And

MULDER: That’s pretty good, Scully.

SCULLY: Better than you expected or better that you hoped?

MULDER: Well… I’ll let you know when we get past the easy part.

When Scully was assigned to the X-Files, she had basically zero experience on the field, Mulder had seen her becoming a good agent, one whose career he felt the need to protect, feeling his was already in the crapper. The fact that he acknowledged that he had put Scully’s career and reputation and her possible future within the Bureau in jeopardy, spoke volumes of the depth of their bond at that point.

MULDER: They’re out to put an end to the X-Files, Scully. I don’t know why, but any excuse will do. Now, I don’t really care about my record, but you’d be in trouble just for sitting in this car and I’d hate to see you to carry an official reprimand in your file because of me.

After such an opening from Mulder, it was no surprise that Scully felt the need to do the same.

(Scully sighs.)

SCULLY: Fox…

Why did she call him Fox?

Why was she embarrassed while she said his name?

They were venturing into an unknown territory. Mulder and Scully sucked at those kind of emotional displays, if we choose to consider the original timeline of the series, they had been working together for two years, yet, that was the first time either of them opened up that way. Mulder had just told Scully that he valued her work, that he valued her both as a person and an FBI agent and Scully wanted to…open up as well, by calling him Fox.

(Mulder laughs. Scully looks at him.)

MULDER: And I… I even made my parents call me Mulder. So… Mulder.

I think Mulder was panicking. He was surprised by Scully, by the shyness in her voice, and by the sudden turn that conversation was taking…so he panicked. It’s not a fanwank, it’s not fanon…it’s the only plausible explanation I’ve ever been able to give to what he said…

Although I think Mulder fell for Scully at first sight, I really don’t think he was ready to explore the feelings he had for his partner, he didn’t have the energies to focus on anything else that it wasn’t the X-Files.

I believe, I strongly believe that at the time the events of Tooms took place, Mulder was in full denial, as far as his feelings for Scully were concerned.

He had too much going on through his head, his life was devoted to a cause that was not only time consuming but demanding everything out of him. It took him a couple of tragic events to wake up and smell the coffee.

So Mulder panicked, and babbled about making even his parents call him Mulder. Scully, though, needed to tell her truth, for once.

SCULLY: Mulder, I wouldn’t put myself on the line for anybody but you.

Mulder’s look when Scully told him those words was priceless: he was floored by Scully’s admission.

In “Squeeze” Mulder had said that the need to mess with people outweighed the milestone of humiliation. While I think that he wasn’t lying to Scully when he  told her that, I also believe that at that point, Mulder needed someone to trust…and needed someone to have faith in him, to trust him.

Mulder had been alone for quite some time, whether it was willingly or not, is not important…his work on the X-Files had slowly shaped into a crusade, I’d wager Mulder felt the loneliness, the frustration that came from being unheard. I don’t think he gave a damn about what people thought of him, but the human need to be believed, especially knowing that he was telling the truth, had to be quite a burden.

He had accepted the loneliness as one of the prices to pay, to sacrifice at the altar of his faith: the truth. He hadn’t lied to Scully when he had said he had a life…the X-files were his life. However, to hear such a line, bearing an implicit trust, a commitment, and mostly faith in him, I think it floored him.

Mulder had another proof that he wasn’t alone in his search, that there was someone who would look for the truth with him, someone who, finally, believed him, believed in him.

MULDER: If there’s an ice tea in that bag, could be love.

SCULLY: Must be fate, Mulder. Root beer.

(Mulder kiddingly sighs.)

You’re delirious. Go home and get some sleep.

He reacted with humor. That’s a coping mechanism Mulder used all the time. When things got difficult he eluded fear and panic with humor.

My God, how much I still love the guy!

I don’t think Scully was hurt by Mulder’s reaction. I mean…c’mon, she had eyes! And she could read him pretty well…she knew that he had gotten the message, and she knew it was appreciated.

Maybe that’s a fanwanking…but I’ve always loved how Mulder didn’t let Scully go after Tooms. On a practical reason, I know it was because of Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, but to me that was other than a very sweet gesture, just another proof of how protective Mulder had become of Scully…especially if you compare this with such episodes as Ghost in the Machine.

The final scene let us understand that things were going to change very soon, for Mulder and Scully. Mulder watched a caterpillar cocoon and commented on how amazing it was how things changed.

He said a change was coming for them…

Of course he was talking about the X-Files…but the caterpillar cocoon symbolized their relationship as well.

The X-Files had to be shut down, their relationship had to die a little for it to really blossom.

The Erlenmeyer Flask

Aka: they’re shutting us down

~ I should know by now to trust your instincts.

Why? Nobody else does

 – Mulder and Scully (The Erlenmeyer Flask)

The Erlenmeyer Flask was a painful episode for me to watch. It was the first mytharc episode, it was the episode where Deep throat[2] died. Mulder and Scully had their first taste of hell…of the conspiracy in its glory, and they were burned by it, badly.

Scully came to a few important understandings concerning Mulder and his crusade. In the pilot episode he had told her that there were people who were trying to cover up the truth. I’ve always thought that she hadn’t really believed …not even when their motel rooms were burned down…but the episode showed Scully that there was indeed a conspiracy, that Mulder was nowhere near as paranoid as he appeared.

She witnessed things…for the first time and she felt the need to apologize to Mulder, who, on the other hand didn’t think apologies were necessary.

The look in Mulder’s eyes when Scully apologized to him, was priceless…in Tooms she had told him that she wouldn’t put herself on the line for anybody else…and in The Erlenmeyer flask, she told him she believed him, she told him that she trusted his instincts.

They had really come a long way from the pilot episode. In Ice, Mulder had told Scully that he wanted to trust her, but throughout the first season Scully had never really said anything about trust.

Of course, she had showed her trust to him, in such episodes like Young at Heart, EBE, Darkness Falls.

It was somewhat heart breaking to hear Mulder’s reply to Scully’s words: “Why? Nobody else does.”

I love how Mulder, who apparently brushed off Scully’s words, showed how he actually took them into consideration…he showed it when talking with Deep Throat and told him to cut the crap and talk already, to skip the whole Obi-wan kenobi routine…

It showed how Mulder valued Scully’s words, how important they were to him. She had been assigned to the X-Files to be a spy, but in the end she had become his only ally, the only one who would tell him the truth.

But Scully did more than telling Mulder that she trusted his instincts, she risked her career, her life, to save Mulder when he was kidnapped.

At the end of Tooms, Mulder had said he felt a change was near, and never truer words were spoken. The last scene of the first season finale…is heart breaking, the circle closed with two scenes similar to the final scenes of the pilot episode: Mulder called Scully to tell her that the X-Files had been shut down.

They’re shutting us down

There is a world in this line. As much as Chris Carter’s writing became sloppy in the latter seasons, as much as I still have issues with him, the final scene of the last episode of the first season is so powerful that it took my breath away and it still does. The scene is very dramatic, but in pure X-Files fashion is downplayed, to let the viewers absorb the blow.

“They’re shutting us down”

For Mulder, Scully had become part of the X-Files, for Mulder, Scully had become his partner. The X-Files were the core of Mulder’s life… for him to include Scully, to acknowledge her role in them, was a testament of how much she meant to him.

Scully was incredulous at the news: she had really come to love her job, she had really come to an understanding about her job, she knew that she would always be Mrs. Spooky, chasing little grey men, to people, but she knew as well that their job, was important. They had become partners and friends…and their new found strength was taken away from them.

The X-Files were closed, but their relationship was going to enter a new level very soon.


[1]              Played by Mitch Pileggi

[2]              Played by Jerry Hardin