Tag Archives: Zero Sum

Kitten 11×6: He’s a good man.


 

Kitten_004.jpg

Do you see the dead person?

 

My first thought at the opening of this episode: FINALLY. A Skinner-centric X-File.

My second thought: Hey, that guy looks like a chubby Haley Joel Osment.

(!!!!!)

I guess this was just an episode for 90s reunions.

The last time we saw Kersh in “The Truth” (9×19/20), he was on our side. Color me confused. I guess when the Super Soldiers magically disappeared he began to doubt Mulder and Scully’s conspiracy theories? Weird.

What’s weirder is that I walked away from a Skinner episode without feeling like I understood Skinner any better. I mean, okay. I get that nuggets of government distrust were implanted deep down within his soul many years ago. And? So? This explains why he famously headbutted Mr. X so many years ago? This explains why he sold his soul to CSM for the cure to Scully’s cancer? This explains why he cradled a drugged and beaten Mulder in his arms on a dark and snowy night?

I know I’m being difficult and I don’t really mean it. “Kitten” doesn’t try to kid us that Skinner’s love for Mulder and Scully is primarily based on his latent doubts about the good old U. S. of A. But this just may explain why he never seemed completely at ease with CSM in his office even before he outed himself as an ally of the X-Files. Frankly, I always thought it was because he was a decent man with a moral compass who didn’t like being bossed around. I suppose it could have gone deeper.

Even so, outside of some internal emotional conflict over the war in Vietnam (and how many Americans already share those?) I honestly don’t feel like I know Skinner any better after this. He has the same moral core I always thought he did, even if his duty sometimes ran counter to his personal feelings. That, my friends, is what you call “a soldier”.

Regardless of how much we did or didn’t find out, I’m grateful for any extra attention paid to our too long unacknowledged third lead. Skinman for the win.

This episode, though… it’s just kind of “there”.

The Mulderisms are on point. Thank you for that, Gabe Rotter. But after watching and rewatching it, I can confirm that nothing much happens. Oh, a throwback to the mind-control cropdusters of “Blood” (2×3) happens, but not much else.

Wait, let me take that back. Mulder and Scully kinda sorta come to their senses without ever actually apologizing for the way they’ve treated their closest ally all season. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Verdict:

Let’s put to bed this ridiculous lack of trust Mulder and Scully have been showing Skinner lately, shall we? Because it is ridiculous. Walter Sergei Skinner has put not only his career but his very life on the line too many times for these two for them to treat him the way they have been.

The monster? Meh. It’s a half-caff episode of mythology disconnected government conspiracy mixed with a serial killer style “Monster” of the Week. Neither aspect of the mystery faired all that well.

As an episode of The X-Files, it falls flat for lack of plot. But at least it isn’t flat-out horrible.

C+

Uninventive Nicknames:

This town looks too big to only have one doctor. Just look at the number of cubbies in the morgue.

Okay, who can explain to me the tooth thing? I realize it’s a side effect of the gas. But why are all these people losing teeth without showing any symptoms of visions or violence? Have they been exposed to a more sophisticated version of the gas that the government is just waiting for the right opportunity to trigger? Was Skinner exposed before or after he came looking for Kitten? Is Kersh coming back???

If this has suddenly and understandably given you an itch for Skinner-centric episodes that you want to scratch, “Avatar” (3×21), “Zero Sum” (4×21), and “S.R. 819” (6×10) are all waiting at a Fox.com near you.

And, yes. They’re all better than this episode.

Funny, they’re all cases where Skinner’s in trouble and Mulder and (except for one instance) Scully have to save his reputation and/or his life. Pattern much?

I appreciate the diegetic use of John Cale.

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Brand X 7×19: They say these things kill people.


 

BrandX70

I’m having War of the Coprophages flashbacks.

I was really excited to watch “Brand X” again. Honestly, my memories of the last few seasons are a lot fuzzier than the early parts of the series. (You can probably guess which episodes I watch more often.) The hidden blessing in that is getting to relive episodes afresh. And what I did remember of “Brand X” was good. Very good.

We have Skinner in play, and he so rarely gets to move from behind his desk. I think Mitch Pileggi was brought on the court mainly because Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were still busy in post-production for “all things” (7×17) and “Hollywood A.D.” (7×18) respectively, but I’ll take any excuse to see more of Skinner.

I also haven’t seen a Half-Caff episode in nigh forever and I’ve missed them. For those who don’t know, Half-Caff is my own obsessive-compulsively subclassed category of X-File that involves a newly discovered science or technology with world-changing implications. Here-to-fore, however, they’ve also included a government conspiracy to get a hold of or control said science. “Brand X” is slightly different since there’s no government conspiracy, only a corporate one. But I’m counting it because I can.

Morley Tobacco takes the place of the government this episode and so is appropriately shady and secretive. Except for the good Dr. Voss, who shows signs early on of wanting to switch allegiances to the good side of the Force. He smirks in response to Mulder’s sarcasm at the conference table, anyway. But Dr. Voss has a problem. He and Dr. Scobie’s noble experiment, to genetically engineer a tobacco plant that wouldn’t cause cancer when smoked or inhaled, backfired. Oh sure, they developed a non-toxic plant. However, the tobacco beetles evolved to match the new supply and now their eggs are being inhaled along with the smoke. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty picture when the eggs hatch. Just ask the late Dr. Scobie.

Initially, we think Dr. Scobie’s been killed because he’s a whistleblower and the company didn’t want him revealing their nefarious secrets to the world. Whistleblowers were a hot topic in the 90’s and so was Big Bad Tobacco. I wonder if generations of X-Philes to come will recognize the plot of The Insider buried in all this. Even if they don’t, in a world where the GMOs vs. Non-GMOs debate has only gained traction over the years, this episode is oddly still relevant. Can we make nature better? Will we kill ourselves trying?

For first time writers on the show, Steve Maeda and Greg Walker give us a pretty classic X-File, the anomaly of Skinner being out in the field notwithstanding. Steven Maeda will go on to write several more episodes including one of my later season favorites, “Audrey Pauley” (9×13).

There are lots of little moments, especially in the beginning, that I enjoy about this episode. I love the opening shot of smoke billowing out of a chimney and how it subtly introduces our subject. Seeing Dr. Scobie’s glass of icy water with pinkish swirls of blood floating around in it gives me a delicious sense of foreboding. It also warms my Philish heart to see Mulder and Scully coming to Skinner’s aid. I realize he’s their boss and technically they have to show up whether they want to or not, but it’s nice that they want to. Oh, and it’s the first time, probably all season, that I’ve felt like either Mulder or Scully were in real danger. “Signs and Wonders” (7×9) didn’t convince me. This actually feels like Mulder’s on the verge of death.

The atmosphere, particularly in the indoor scenes where they could block out the L.A. sunlight, is perfect. (The X-Files was gorgeous.) The villain is vile. (That’s right. You go ahead and smoke your neighbors to death. ‘Cause this is America, man. E Pluribus uh…) The deaths are disgusting. (And I take perverse viewing pleasure in that.)

Everything’s moving with tense, expectant energy and then… the ending flattens like Coke in a cup.

Sigh. It pains me to admit it, but the 4th act starts to fizzle right when it should sizzle. It’s a sad reminder of what happened to “Theef” (7×14), another episode this season that was leading somewhere good and then choked right at the climax.

In particular, that scene where Skinner can’t make up his mind to take down Daryl Weaver goes on two minutes too long. I mean, I get it. If Daryl keeps on living he’ll keep on smoking and more people will inhale tobacco beetle eggs and die. And if Daryl dies then the doctor’s may not get the scientific answers they need to save Mulder and anyone else who might get infected. But Skinner is an Assistant Director at the F.B.I. I’m pretty sure he knows how to shoot a suspect so as to disable them rather than kill them, especially when that suspect is standing still. His hesitation, no, procrastination doesn’t make sense. Not to mention, Daryl’s bad guy speech would have been much more effective cut in half.

Verdict:

Is it too late to create a “Coulda’ been a contender” category? Because “Brand X” had the potential to be a classic. Instead, it’s just a really solid offering. Warts and all it’s still a far sight more entertaining than most of what I’ve seen this season.

B+

Bugs:

Skinner makes the idea of killer bugs sound so fantastic. Wasn’t he around for “Zero Sum” (4×21)? I know, I know. The bees carried a virus. They still behaved abnormally.

Are those pencils in the office ceiling the same ones from “Chinga” (5×10) or does Mulder still get bored often?

Correction, Scully. If Mulder were to pick up that pack of Morley’s he wouldn’t be taking up smoking, he’d be falling off the wagon. Mulder smoked back in “Travelers” (5×15).

If the situation was dangerous enough that Skinner needed to put a detail on Dr. Voss’ family for their safety, why did he let Dr. Voss travel home alone?

Is there any particular reason we’re supposed to believe Morley Tobacco would go so far as to kill Dr. Scobie for testifying against them? When did the mafia take over Big Tobacco?

PSA: It was implied by this episode but never directly stated that the smoke and tar from tobacco plants causes cancer, not nicotine. The smoke chronically irritates the lungs, leading to cancer and a whole other host of issues. Cigarette smoke also contains over forty known carcinogens, marijuana smoke over thirty. Though whether or not marijuana directly leads to lung cancer is still under debate. It’s been linked to testicular cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer and leukemia in the babies of women who smoked while pregnant, though.

Actor Tobin Bell, who plays Daryl Weaver, is our second Goodfellas alumnus of the season and our second 24 alumnus. Or at least, he’s the second of each that I’ve recognized and counted.

The actors must have killed themselves coughing from this episode.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: [Looking at a gruesome picture of Dr. Scobie’s corpse] Can’t blow the whistle with a mouth like that.

———————–

Mulder: Mr. Weaver, did you see or hear anything unusual last night?

Daryl Weaver: Little Korean fellow down the hall dresses like Wonder Woman. But that’s every night.

———————–

Daryl Weaver: Toodles.

 

S.R. 819 6×10: At least you didn’t get your ear bit off.


Call Dr. Scully.

I’m in love with Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

And I know I’m not the only one. For all those who have gone into withdrawal after the admittedly extended period of light-hearted antics that make up the first third of Season 6, we’re about to have four heavy-duty episodes in a row. Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more.

Krycek was a deceiver ever. And the official battle between him and Skinner has begun, though it’s been brewing since “The Blessing Way” (3×1) when Krycek and Luis Cardinal put a hurtin’ on Skinner in the stairwell of a hospital. It escalated after Skinner handcuffed Krycek to his balcony in “Tunguska” (4×9) and left him to suffer from exposure. See why revenge is never the answer?

Not that the stoically upright Skinner is a vengeful kinda guy, though it’s clear from his introspective soliloquies in this episode that he doesn’t consider himself any sort of hero.

Well, I do. And Scully’s right, Skinner judges himself too harshly.

Yes, he had to compromise himself early on in his relationship with Mulder and Scully, but it’s obvious Cigarette-Smoking Man had an unpleasant hold on his career, perhaps even wielding blackmail as a weapon. But no sooner does he get the chance than Skinner bucks CSM’s authority and aids Mulder in his quest as early as “Ascension” (2×6). Even before that he showed signs of sympathy. Remember his, “This should have been an X-File” comment in “The Host” (2×2)?

He proved to be Mulder and Scully’s protector in episodes like “End Game” (2×17) where he pummels Mulder’s location out of Mr. X in an effort to save his life and in “Paper Clip” (3×2) when he extorts the safe return of Mulder and Scully out of CSM by threatening to release classified information on the conspiracy. In fact, it’s that episode where Skinner officially crawls out from under CSM’s nefarious shadow. Too bad his hard-won independence doesn’t last long. By the time we reach “Avatar” (3×21), CSM has cooked up a cold dish of revenge framing Skinner for murder. And while Mulder and Scully… and his soon to be ex-wife… deliver Skinner out of that trap, he willingly walks back into CSM’s clutches in “Memento Mori” (4×15) in order to, what else? Save Scully. By “Zero Sum” (4×21) he’s a patsy again, but though his position may be compromised his loyalty never is.

Despite not being much older than they are, Skinner plays the harsh but protective father to Mulder and Scully. He’s willing to get his hands dirty so that they don’t have to, not because his conscience is seared but because the soldier in him is willing to sacrifice to win the war. If Skinner were to die now he would not die in vain. Mulder and Scully would have been dead long ago if not for him.

But not once did it occur to me that Skinner might actually die, no more than I though Mulder might really be dead at the end of “Gethsemene” (4×24), which is the best evidence I can give of Skinner’s unofficial status as the third lead on The X-Files; so indispensable has this character become, this character that was never intended by Chris Carter to be a major role, that it’s hard to take the threat of his death seriously.

I never believed they’d do it, but Chris Carter & Co. did consider it. Mulder and Scully no longer worked under Skinner so he was no longer absolutely vital to the plot and because he had changed over the years from a mysterious and potentially dangerous figure to a stalwart ally, he had become too predictable, too reliable. Fortunately for Skinner lovers, the plot potential in this new hold Krycek gains over Skinner convinced The Powers That Be that interesting things could still be done with the character. Thank heavens because can you imagine Season 8 with no Skinner? ::shudders::

The question is, how does a man as self-sufficient as Skinner, who has already escaped the clutches of CSM himself, wind up with his life in the hands of Ratboy? I confess, I never really understood the plot till now so for those fans as slow on the uptake as I am, here’s a rundown:

It all starts with Tunisia. And if that sets off bells of recognition in your head, it should. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there were some oblique implications here that Syndicate leader Strughold who, as we see in Fight the Future, has his base of operations is in Tunisia, is behind the S.R. 819 conspiracy. That would also explain how Krycek originally got involved since last we saw him in “The End” (5×20) he was working for the Syndicate under the authority of Well-Manicured Man. Since Well-Manicured Man is now deceased (sniffle), it’s safe to say Krycek’s loyalties within the organization have moved on. Or safer to say that his only real loyalty is to himself.

Krycek is working on his own in keeping Skinner alive. We can assume he wants him alive and at his mercy so that he can use him for his own agenda later. The Syndicate has a man at the F.B.I. in Jeffrey Spender, now Krycek has his own man on the inside, reluctant though he may be.

The original plan was to export this potentially dangerous nanotechnology to Tunisia, and possibly into the hands of Strughold and the Syndicate, under the guise of the World Health Organization. Before that happened, S.R. 819 had to pass inspection by scientist Kenneth Orgel and the F.B.I.’s own Skinner, a safeguard that was usually a mere formality. However, Orgel understands the potential consequences of the nanotechnology falling into the wrong hands and goes to warn Skinner, but is infected to keep him from talking. Skinner too is infected and is supposed to be killed but Krycek intervenes.

From what Mulder says to Skinner at the end of the episode and the surprised look on Scully’s face when Skinner claims not to be able to recognize the bearded man who tried to kill him, it looks like Mulder and Scully are aware that Krycek is behind all this. But they still don’t know what he’s up to and they certainly don’t know why Skinner refuses to give him up. As in the first Skinner-centric episode, “Avatar”, Mulder and Scully’s concern for their former boss is touching. As before, they drive the investigation to save Skinner only this time to better effect because Skinner doesn’t sit passively, fatalistically by while they work. The determination he starts this episode with must make it especially grating on him to have to slip right back into his old compromising ways.

Verdict:

I can’t say I love “S.R. 819” the way I love Skinner himself because though there’s a tangible sense of urgency, the plot is a little obscure and aside from Skinner’s pulsing veins, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But I do appreciate the potential mythology implications and I welcome the return of Krycek with open arms. I was one of those taken by surprise when he reappeared. Maybe even “Stevie Wonder would see that one comin’”, but I didn’t.

If my memory serves me correctly, and that’s by no means a guarantee, this was the series’ final Skinner-centric episode. That’s rather surprising considering there are three more seasons to go but it makes it all the more irritating that there’s no resolution to what happened to Skinner’s wife Karen, a character both introduced and discarded back in “Avatar”.

I wasn’t looking for anything detailed. A brief mention from a hospital orderly would have sufficed. “The patient is Walter Skinner. Widowed. Works for the F.B.I.” or “Walter Skinner – Divorced. No known relatives. In case of emergency contact Special Agent Dana Scully.” See how easy that would have been?

My only consolation is that I think there could be a cleverly veiled reference to “Avatar” here:

Mulder: This morning, you woke up…
Skinner: I woke up.
Mulder: Alone?
Skinner: Yes. Alone.

Then again, that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

B+

The Peanut Gallery:

While I don’t think anyone fell for it, those opening moments of the episode where they would have us believe that Mulder is the F.B.I. agent about to die are well done. I quite like the idea of scaring the audience. If only that silly episode preview hadn’t ruined the surprise…

We haven’t seen Senator Matheson since “Nisei” (3×9) and the truth is, I don’t even remember him in it. The connections in congress Mulder so famously depends upon in the “Pilot” (1×79) have all but become obsolete in the current stage of the mythology. However, I’m glad they brought Matheson back one last time, if only to drive home the point that Mulder has fewer people he can trust than even he once believed. That makes the fact that one of his allies is now seriously compromised… and that he doesn’t know it… even more poignant.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if Senator Matheson were secretly a member of the Syndicate?

It makes me a little sad to think the ear-biting references might be lost on this new generation.

Mulder and Scully are forbidden any contact with Skinner. Don’t they know there are cameras at the F.B.I.?

Parts of the movie score are recycled several times in this episode. And there’s an overhead shot of the highway that looks recycled as well – there’s no way that shot was in a television budget.

I’ve never read the fanfic, but I’m sure the Skinner/Scully Shippers had a field day with this episode.

That abandoned warehouse set is striking. I especially enjoy the lighting when Mulder walks in on the Senator.

I recently found out that Nicholas Lea (Krycek) is about to guest star on Supernatural. That’s an interesting coincidence since both Steven Williams (Mr. X) and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) have guest starred on that show for a series of episodes. Ah, when fate binds souls together…

This reminds me of the good old days when Scully often stared in wonder and computer screens looking at scientific data that shouldn’t exist.

I dig the “Chinga” (5×10) reference, John Shiban. I dig it.

Best Quotes:

Skinner: I was boxing. I must’ve gotten tagged.
Nurse: Yes, you did. At least you didn’t get your ear bit off. That’s something, right?

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, the good news is… your dilation’s back to normal. Plus you still have both your ears.
Skinner: I heard that one.

——————-

Dr. Plant: Well, you’re lucky. He’s on a government HMO – no one’s even bothered to handle the samples yet.

Zero Sum 4×21: You’ll find it’s not that easy to walk away.


Smoking Kills.

Remember the “Killer Bee” scares of the 1990s? Remember the news reports of swarms migrating through the Southwestern United States? Remember My Girl?

Bees are freaky, but The X-Files already knew that since we were first introduced to the guest stars of this episode back in the Season 4 opener “Herrenvolk” (4×1). “Zero Sum” gives them top billing this time around, however. It must be due to the rise of the union.

I’m still not sure I understand how Smallpox plays into all this, even though this aspect of the mythology storyline was introduced way back in “Paper Clip” (3×2). I now count myself thoroughly confused.

Based on what we learned in Season 3, the project, as managed by the Syndicate and a handful of unsavory Axis power scientists, uses Smallpox vaccination records to track human subjects for their alien-human hybridization experiments. This is confirmed and further explained at the start of Season 4 in “Herrenvolk” when we learn that this genetic tagging was made possible through the SEP, the Smallpox Eradication Program, and that Drones, those created by the project as something more than human but less than a hybrid, are being used to catalog and track these tags from strategic positions within the Federal government.

Check.

But why bees? And why reintroduce Smallpox into the world?

As to the bees, I think we’ve covered that. Bees are freaky and that’s enough. Using, oh, say, Chicken Pox vaccinations to conduct illegal tests on unsuspecting citizens would be duly horrifying, but not in a peak-through-your-fingers in delightful agony sort of way.

Still, why Smallpox and why now? I can only guess, and this really is a guess, that the Syndicate, having only truly come into contact with the Black Oil for the first time in Season 3, is now aware that the Black Oil will be the method of infection, the virus, the tool for turning human beings into a slave race of the Alien Colonists. Since their job is to facilitate colonization (meanwhile subverting the whole process behind alien backs), they’re trying to figure out the most efficient method for spreading the virus. The time has not yet come for colonization, the aliens I guess are taking their sweet time, so the Syndicate is giving this whole mass infection thing a dry run of sorts using an alternate virus: Smallpox.

You would think that creatures who can stop time and transcend space (see “Max”) would be fully capable of infecting a planet of backward humans without assistance, but I gather they’d prefer the process not to be messy and so have employed the Syndicate who, despite their best efforts, always seem to draw attention to themselves.

I still believe there must be a better, more efficient, less dramatic way of infecting people. But then, would there be any point in watching? No. And besides, I really enjoy this craziness.

Conclusion:

This is one of those (thankfully) rare episodes where Scully doesn’t appear and even Mulder’s role is greatly reduced. But if they have to step back, I’m glad Skinner could come forward. This is a much, much more satisfying outing for his character than “Avatar” (3×21), an episode that will probably be skipped on my next rewatch now that I’ve done my duty and reviewed it. Not that it was horrible, mind you, just dull. “Zero Sum”, despite its less personal subject matter, actually does Skinner more of a service by developing his character through his own actions rather than a quick, perfunctory speech toward the end of the episode. (Mulder and Scully did most of the legwork in “Avatar” rather than Skinner). This time, we get to learn more about who Skinner is through how he interacts with CSM and Mulder, and how thoroughly he can sanitize a crime scene. Skinner certainly isn’t one, like Mulder, to spend a lot of time analyzing the whys and wherefores of his predicament. He has a duty, he does it. If he makes a mistake, there are no excuses.

We finally see the effect of the deal with the Devil Skinner made with CSM back in “Memento Mori” (4×15); he essentially sold his soul for the cure to Scully’s cancer so that Mulder wouldn’t have to. I know why Skinner did it, but what’s in it for CSM? I suspect it’s just an exercise in power. Remember, Skinner used to be under his thumb before he rebelled and broke ties completely with that famous kiss off in “Paper Clip”. I don’t think CSM appreciated that much. Certainly, he could have used a minion that was far more experienced at covering up a crime than employing Skinner to do his dirty work. But this is something that he can hold over Skinner’s head, blackmail, to keep him in line. No more back talk from the Assistant Director.

Watching these two spar back in forth is part of the fun of this episode, which outside of the excitement the bees bring, doesn’t actually add much of anything to the mythology even though it focuses on it. In this respect, it reminds me of both “Memento Mori” and the soon to come “Demons” (4×23). In the same vein, the ending really resolves nothing, although it does ad a pleasurable twist to the proceedings. And at the very least, Mulder has even more confirmation that he can trust Skinner, a trust that will be crucial come the opening episodes of Season 5.

Believe it or not, not that one would have any reason not to, this was the first episode of The X-Files that I actually watched on Fox during it’s usual timeslot. At this point, FX was still airing Season 2 reruns and the show was on its very long summer hiatus between Seasons 4 and 5. I didn’t even know who Skinner was at that point. Still enjoyed it though.

B+

Bepuzzlements:

Is Marita really working for CSM? Her predecessor, Mr. X, ostensibly was as well. But clearly he was actually working against his boss from the inside. It remains to be seen where Marita Covarrubias’ loyalties actually lie.

Unnecessary Additives:

I really enjoy this teaser. The bathroom scene is a little reminiscent of “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) without the comical edge. And watching Skinner stroll suspiciously out of Mulder’s office in the dark, the light falling revealingly on Mulder’s nameplate, is the perfect ending.

That playground scene is a winner.

Best Quotes:

Marita Covarrubias: I’ll tell him what you want me to tell him.
CSM: Tell him what he wants to hear.

————————

CSM: Agent Scully stands to live a long and healthy life. I would hope the same for you, Mr. Skinner.

————————-

First Elder: Details are everything. Much more important than your vague assurances.
CSM: Well, you’ll have to trust my assurance that any other breaches have been handled.
First Elder: Handled by whom?
CSM: I’ve a man in place. A man with no other choice but to succeed.
First Elder: And what assurance can you give us that he can be trusted?
Second Elder: We can’t risk even the slightest exposure.
CSM: He has nothing to expose… except his own duplicity.