Monday, August 31, 2015

Mytharc is dead, they say

Long live mytharc!

As you might imagine, I've been reading a lot of X-Files reviews lately. After every episode I watch, I get curious what other people have to say about it, and how their opinions compare and contrast with my own. I gave up (twice) on the first blog I started to follow, because it seemed that their reviewers hated every episode I liked, and liked every episode I hated, and it was getting frustrating to read.

I found a couple others to fill up the space, though - both of which I like better so far. One of them is written by a shipper, although she has a proper appreciation for other aspects of the show (including the mythology), so her reviews are generally thoughtful, and fun to read. The other one is written by a pair (I think) of fans with what reads like professional writing talent (for a change). Their reviews are very edifying to read, although they're oddly grouped into sets of three (or so).

But I've noticed something - not exclusively on that last website, although it turns up there - that a lot of people who do seem to be mythology fans (I called them "conspiracy nuts" in a previous post), when reviewing the earlier mythology episodes (and, these all being diehard fans, they've seen all or most of the series before), have a tendency to take the mythology's disappointing evolution and eventual conclusion out on those earlier episodes. It's like they've been jaded, and they can't properly appreciate the mythology any longer, even when it was good.

I find that unfortunate, because I haven't given up on the mythology yet, and I still find these early mythology episodes to be extremely compelling. And I don't care, even if the mythology's resolution is disappointing. If it's true that the mythology eventually collapses under the weight of its own complexity - proving that Chris Carter wrote us all a check that he couldn't cash - it doesn't change all the fun we've had before the repo men came to take away all our hopes and dreams.

So even if the mythology hasn't "aged" as well as the standalone episodes (a statement I don't necessarily agree with - although it may be true for the later seasons), I still consider those mythology episodes the raison d'etre of the series. I haven't become so jaded as to forget (or write off in spite) how exciting they were (and still are), and that they are the reason I (and many others, I'll wager) ever became X-Files fans in the first place. They're what made the series so exciting and so much fun to watch. I may yet become jaded during my re-watch (especially as I go through the last couple of seasons after I gave up on the show the first time around), but nothing will change that fact.

The X-Files - S3:E10 "731"

[ S3:E9 "Nisei" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E11 "Revelations" ]

Spoiler Warning: This episode concludes the two-parter started in the last episode, and is chock full of significant revelations related to the overarching mythology of this show. As such, it will contain massive spoilers.

731 opens provocatively with the military mass execution of the inmates of what appears to be an extraterrestrial concentration camp, but is labeled as a Hansen's Disease Research Facility (Scully's later discovery of the death pits is heartbreaking - whether or not they were human). Its connection to the train Mulder hopped in the cliffhanger at the end of the last episode will gradually become clear, as this episode answers an awful lot of questions. Among other reasons, this episode is remarkable also because it is one of the few - and only the fourth so far, if I recall correctly, after The Erlenmeyer Flask, Ascension, and Anasazi - that replaces the phrase "The Truth Is Out There" in the opening credits. This time, it's switched out for "Apology Is Policy", which I've mentioned before.

While Mulder is racing against the last episode's assassin to get into the suspicious train car, Scully learns that the Japanese scientist we've been introduced to, under the alias Dr. Shiro Zama (Robert Ito), is one of the Axis power scientists (like Victor Klemper in Paper Clip) that received asylum after WWII to continue his human testing under the protection of the U.S. government. He utilized a leper colony - the Hansen's Disease Research Facility - as a cover to continue these tests. But where the others failed to successfully create a super soldier (or an alien-human hybrid, depending on who you talk to) Dr. Zama finally succeeded. He was trying to smuggle that discovery back to Japan, which is why the U.S. government is on cleanup duty.

But that's not all. Dr. Zama is also responsible - as suggested in the last episode - for conducting alleged "alien abductions" in train cars very much like the one in the Alien Autopsy video, as well as the one Mulder gets inadvertently locked inside with the assassin (whom he learns is an NSA Agent), and an unidentified test subject (last episode's living E.B.E. - ostensibly). Scully confirms this herself, when a member of the Smoking Man's Syndicate - the raspy-voiced man who seems to be known among fans as the Elder or Elder #1 or First Elder (it's hard keeping track of all these characters that are never named on the show, sometimes not even in the credits) - decides, in an exciting move, to open up to her. She also discovers that the implant that she removed from the back of her neck is some kind of "neural net", potentially capable of some serious espionage. But the chip is destroyed during testing.

This is a thrilling episode, featuring that breathless combination of revelatory answers and high-risk endeavors - the train car Mulder is locked inside is rigged with a bomb (gasp)! I said the same thing in the last episode, but I love how X swoops in at the eleventh hour to save Mulder's life, looking all "I don't get paid enough for this shit." You can tell he has a hard decision to make when he realizes he doesn't have time to save both Mulder and the test subject. I liked Deep Throat, but X is such a fun character. After parting ways with Mulder on less-than-amiable terms in Soft Light, and not showing up at all throughout the entire merchandise trilogy (although I could believe that those events were too sensitive for X to risk ignoring his self-preservation instinct in order to help Mulder [likely try to get himself - or X - killed]), you could be forgiven for starting to wonder at this point if he was done with Mulder. Yet, when push comes to shove, there he is - for better (Mulder), and worse (himself).

It remains inconclusive whether the test subjects in this episode - who look an awful lot like the bodies Mulder found in a train car in Anasazi - are truly alien-human hybrids, or just poor, innocent humans who had been subjected to terrible diseases and radiation poisoning, all in the name of mad science. Mulder still believes, but Scully has been fed a plausible alternative explanation by the Elder - that it is a smokescreen used to disguise an uglier, yet less sensational, truth. (Clearly, I underestimated just how early in the series this whole "believe the lie" business got started - you can read my discussion of it here). Meanwhile, the full consequences of Scully's abduction will be explored further in later episodes. And, I can say that - after the events of the merchandise trilogy which brought him to the forefront - the Smoking Man is back to his usual, shadowy, silent, self-righteous puffing again.

Memorable quotes:

X: There are my knowledge.
Scully: I don't have time for your convenient ignorance.

(You can almost sense X's trepidation when he pauses in the middle of that sentence - something that Deep Throat said once, shortly before he was killed, all because he chose to get involved in Mulder's quest).

Mulder: There's something on this train, but it's not a bomb.

Mulder: Put your hands in the air.
NSA Agent: This bomb could be wired to anything in the car. The smallest concussion could set it off. If you use that weapon, you take your chances.
Mulder: I'll take my chances.

Scully: What is this place?
Elder: This was one of the most frightening places on the Earth. A place where society sent its monsters to live in shame and isolation. Now, their disease is all but conquered. Science has eliminated thousands of years of misery.
Scully: I've seen your methods of "elimination".

Elder: The ruler of the world is no longer the country with the bravest soldiers, but the greatest scientists.

Scully: What I am saying, Mulder, is that there is no such thing as alien abduction. It is just a smokescreen, happily created by our government to cover up the biggest lie of all.

Scully: Two weeks ago, the president made a public apology for secret radiation tests that have been conducted on innocent citizens up until 1974. Only guess what?
Mulder: Those tests never ended.

NSA Agent: You're gonna die, you know that?
Mulder: What do you care? You were trying to kill me, anyway.

Mulder: Scully, let me tell you, you haven't seen America 'til you've seen it from a train.
Scully: Dammit, Mulder, what happened?!

Mulder: We'll have to wait and see.
Scully: We're not waiting for anything, Mulder. We gotta get you out of there as fast as we can.
Mulder: I'm fielding all offers and suggestions.

Mulder: We're both gonna die in here. The difference is I'm gonna die quickly. As an employee of the National Security Agency, you should know that a gunshot wound to the stomach is probably the most painful and the slowest way to die. But I'm not a very good shot. And when I miss, I tend to miss low.

NSA Agent: Ask yourself, my friend: what could be more valuable than Star Wars? More valuable than the atomic bomb? Or the most advanced biological weapons?
Mulder: A standing army immune to the effects of those weapons!

Mulder: And that thing in there, that's no innocent civilian. It's not a leper, either. It's an alien-human hybrid, isn't it?
NSA Agent: Then again, if that were true, you'd have expected someone would have been here by now to save it, wouldn't you?

(Oh, The X-Files. always immediately following every answer with a critical reason for doubt. And yet, much of these do end up being answers, despite their difficulty to swallow. It's like you wanna say, "yeah, you're probably right, that's too ridiculous to be true." But in The X-Files, more often than not, it is true).

Mulder: What are you watching?
Scully: Your alien autopsy video.
Mulder: You mean I might get my $29.95's worth, after all?

Mulder: They're gettin' away with it, Scully.
Scully: They've gotten away with it, Mulder. The bodies at the leper colony have all been removed.
Mulder: I know what I saw in that train car - it wasn't a leper, and it wasn't human.
Scully: And I know what I saw at the research facility. It was barely recognizable as human. Don't you see, Mulder, you're doing their work for them. You're chasing aliens that aren't there, helping them to create a story to cover the shameful truth. And what they can't cover they apologize for! Apology has become policy.
Mulder: I don't need an apology for the lies. I don't care about the fictions they create to cover their crimes. I want them held accountable for what did happen. I want an apology for the truth.

The X-Files - S3:E9 "Nisei"

[ S3:E8 "Oubliette" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E10 "731" ]

Spoiler Warning: This review contains significant spoilers from this two-part mythology episode. (I don't know, there's something about these mythology episodes that compels me to cover every scene from start to finish, instead of just glossing over the highlights. It's probably because they were so memorable, and left such an impression on me, that I want to record every beat for posterity. Also, it helps in putting the pieces of the mythology together).

This is another one of my all-time favorite sets of mythology episodes (apparently, the mythology was really strong in the second and third seasons). It's not as far-reaching as the merchandise trilogy, but it's thrilling, and it does provide a follow-up to some of the unanswered questions from those episodes. Mark Snow's excellent and atmospheric music sets the mood - as usual, but this is one of the episodes where it made the most lasting impression on me.

Funnily enough, it starts with Mulder examining a video very similar to the Fox network's Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction (a similarity that Scully herself makes note of, in one of the more excusable instances of product placement in television history). The idea that this video could actually be genuine, and that it could, as in Mulder's case, lead one to intercept a top government secret is a sci-fi geek's wet dream.

In the teaser, we are introduced to a train car in which a group of Japanese scientists are operating on some...thing...that apparently has green blood. All of it is being recorded on a surveillance feed, which a MUFON member is tapping into by satellite (which is how Mulder gets his hands on it), but, like Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, what's interesting about this tape is how things don't go according to plan - like, when some kind of black ops SWAT team rushes in just before the feed ends. When Mulder and Scully track down the man who intercepted the footage, they find his house raided - apparently they arrived only moments too late to witness his execution.

All stereotypes aside, I love that the Japanese guy Mulder chases through the neighborhood knows karate, and uses it to kick Mulder's gun out of his hand. I also love the writers' knowing wink when Mulder pulls out a second gun strapped to his ankle and says, "I get tired of losing my gun." (See, here's an example of self-referential humor used in a mythology episode that's completely straight-faced, but no less effective than the lampooning that goes on in Darin Morgan's episodes). While the suspect gets off on diplomatic immunity (but is unable to evade an unnamed assassin, played by a perfectly cast Stephen McHattie, with his grim voice, and unforgettable face), Mulder swipes just enough evidence from him to keep the case open.

This is where the agents split up. Scully investigates a MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) member named Betsy Hagopian, who may also have been targeted for execution. In a chilling scene, she basically walks in on an abductee therapy group, only to have them claim that they already know her - from her abduction experience. This is one of the creepiest things about alien abductions, apart from the abduction itself - the idea that you have this terrifying experience hiding in the back of your mind, and that you must sooner or later come to terms with it.

Scully is aware that she was taken, but as yet, she doesn't know the full extent of what was done to her, or what the consequences will be. The implications don't look good, however, as Betsy Hagopian is dying of an incurable form of cancer, that the abductee group is convinced is the inevitable result of her abductions. On the other hand, Scully finds evidence that the men responsible may be all too human - the implant she took out of the back of her neck in The Blessing Way appears to be a computer chip, and she recognizes one of the Japanese scientists on Mulder's tape as one of the men who experimented on her during her abduction.

Meanwhile, when Skinner washes his hands of Mulder's meddling in international affairs, he turns first to The Lone Gunmen, and then to his Senator friend - whom we haven't seen since the second season premiere, Little Green Men - to find out what the Japanese scientists are up to. Satellite photos indicate that they were tracking a ship transporting a UFO recovered from the sea floor (more on that in a later episode). But when the officer at the naval yard gives Mulder the runaround, he goes into full-on spy mode. He eventually tracks down another train car onto which a similar group of Japanese scientists are escorting what appears to be a living E.B.E.! X shows up at the eleventh hour to warn Scully not to let Mulder get on the train, but he makes the leap anyway, in a thrilling cliffhanger that will be resolved in the next episode.

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Scully: What are you watching?
Mulder: Something that just came in the mail.
Scully: That's not your usual brand of entertainment. What is it?
Mulder: According to the magazine ad I answered, it's an alien autopsy. Guaranteed authentic.
Scully: You spent money for this?

Scully: Either they can't locate an interpreter, or the interpreter they located didn't interpret the instructions and got lost somewhere, I don't know which.

Scully: Well, what do you wanna do now, drop it?
Mulder: No, I've paid my $29.95, Scully. I think I'm entitled to a few more answers, don't you think?

Penny: Oh my God, she's one.
Scully: One what?
Lottie: One of us.

Skinner: Whatever you stepped in on this case is being tracked into my office, and I don't like the smell of it.

Senator Richard Matheson: A good chess player knows which pieces to sacrifice - and when.

Mulder: Why do you refuse to believe?
Scully: Believing's the easy part, Mulder. I just need more than you - I need proof.
Mulder: You think that believing is easy...

(I feel like he's not so much asking her, here, but reflecting sadly on her statement in light of his lifelong struggle to believe. Excellent reading of the line, David).

The X-Files - S3:E8 "Oubliette"

[ S3:E7 "The Walk" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E9 "Nisei" ]

This is a bit of a frustrating episode. The subject is abductions - but not the alien kind. It starts out in a Washington state high school. A photographer's assistant gazes at a pretty teenage girl (the radiant Jewel Staite) for a moment too long, as if to let the audience know that he's a creep (groan). And, sure enough, he proceeds to kidnap the 15 year old little girl (make sure you say "little" a few times so the audience gets the point -ed) from her bed at night, right in front of her terrified younger sister.

Mulder joins the case when a previous kidnapping victim starts experiencing "empathic transference", linking her to the most recent abduction. For once, he is more sensitive than Scully towards the plight of a woman in a man's world. But when Scully brings up the issue of Mulder's sister (in a perfect example of writing that's "too on the nose"), he rightly argues that it's a bit of a leap in this case. This is a rare example of Mulder and Scully being out of phase - not just disagreeing about what conclusion the evidence points to; they're nearly at each other's throats here. It's not fun to watch.

Neither are the episode's protagonist, nor its antagonist. The kidnapper is an uncommunicative subhuman with no clear motive (beyond animal instinct - except all he does is keep girls locked up in his basement) who serves only to put an innocent girl in jeopardy. The previous survivor has the potential to be a morally complicated character, as Mulder has to balance his sensitivity toward the victim of a serious trauma, with the possibility that if he pushes her a little, she might be able to rescue another girl from harm. But her reticence to help goes largely unexplored, and so she comes off rather unsympathetically, as a textbook definition of "damaged goods".

The episode has some creepy moments, but altogether it feels too contrived, like a case of forced sensitivity to the issue of kidnapping, almost as an apology for the show's questionable approach toward the issue of rape in last season's Excelsis Dei. In conclusion, Oubliette is best forgotten.

Memorable quotes:

Kidnapper: Nobody's gonna spoil us.

Lucy: So what's your point?  All of us kidnap victims gotta stick together?
Mulder: No.

(Actually, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what the script is saying).

Scully: I hate to say this Mulder, but I think you just ran out of credibility.

Scully: You don't see what you're doing, do you, Mulder? You are so close to this that you just don't see it.
Mulder: What don't I see?
Scully: The extreme rationalization that's going on. Your personal identification with the victim - or in this case, the suspect. You're becoming some kind of an empath yourself, Mulder. You are so sympathetic to Lucy as the victim - like your sister - that you can't see her as a person who's capable of committing this crime.
Mulder: You don't think I've thought of that? I have, and not everything I do and say and think and feel goes back to my sister. You of all people should realize that sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one single childhood experience.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E7 "The Walk"

[ S3:E6 "2Shy" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E8 "Oubliette" ]

Mulder and Scully investigate the case of a war vet who, after multiple attempts at suicide, is convinced that some kind of ghostly presence is preventing him from dying. Scully thinks it's a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder - until the General calls their investigation off, piquing her curiosity. Scully suspects some kind of military coverup, but Mulder connects the paranormal dots and concludes that some kind of phantom killer is involved. The plot thickens further when we're introduced to a rather moody quadruple amputee (an unhinged Ian Tracey), who Mulder believes may be capable of astral projection. Nevertheless, it is Scully who really takes point in this episode, driving the case forward like she has a grudge to settle. There's a pool scene that reminded me of Poltergeist III, and a boiler room-like scene that had shades of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the closing reflections on the psychological aftermath of war ultimately left me feeling a little cold.

Memorable quotes:

Therapist: We all know how you feel.
Leonard: No, you don't. How the hell could you possibly know how I feel? There's only one way you could ever know, and I can only pray to God that he'll come down, and take your legs and your arms away, and give you a little taste of what it feels like!

Mulder: You really think the General's got something to hide?
Scully: No. I think he's got everything to hide.

Scully: That's insane!
Mulder: Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity.

Leonard: Now if you're through questioning me, I'd like to get a little shut-eye.
Mulder: No sleepwalking.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E6 "2Shy"

[ S3:E5 "The List" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E7 "The Walk" ]

If you read the synopsis for this episode - "the agents hunt for a killer who uses the internet to attract his victims" - it sounds like it's going to be a pretty straightforward episode, that may or may not be horribly dated (in truth, these headlines still make the news, but the internet landscape has changed a lot in the past twenty years). But, of course, this is The X-Files, and, lest you forget that, the killer - as seen in the "teaser" that opens the episode, and precedes the credits - kills his victims with such disgusting, over-exaggeratedly mucus-y kisses, and then leaves their bodies an utterly unrecognizable goop, that you know it's some kind of weird freak or mutant or parasite that we're dealing with here. And indeed, this is another mutant episode, of which this series is so fond.

Timothy Carhart makes for a creepy killer - calculatingly sweet to his victims, awkwardly distant to everyone else, including his clingy landlady, and her blind daughter (an adorable Aloka McLean). The latter of which, during Scully's sensitive interrogation, offers some rare insight (for this show) into the tragic consequences of all these largely impersonal murders we witness, episode after episode. You can see in her face a young girl trying futilely to cope with (spoiler, albeit a predictable one) the senseless slaughter of her own mother. I don't mention this often enough, but as much as the writing contributes to this show, the different actors' abilities to nail their parts - not just in the delivery, but even down to their facial expressions - goes a long way in making for such captivating television. This is mainly true of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, but also frequently filters down to the guest actors on this show. For an episode I didn't have very high expectations for, it was pretty entertaining.

Memorable quotes:

Detective Cross (in reaction to Scully performing the autopsy herself): Look, I'm not being sexist here, I'm just being honest.

(And sexist. Though I appreciate his candor - it certainly beats being all sneaky and passive-aggressive about it. Scully handled this uncomfortable situation well).

Ellen: Do you think this is easy for me? I finally connect with someone I like, who seems to like me. I'm scared enough to meet him for the first time without you telling me he's Charles Manson.

Scully: Where are you going with this?
Mulder: Okay, it's not yet the finely detailed insanity that you've come to expect from me - it's just a theory. But what if he's not doing this out of a psychotic impulse but rather out of some physical hunger?

(Your typical X-Files monster-of-the-week episode in a nutshell! Lol).

Scully: I don't know too many scorpions who surf the internet.

(The great thing about this sentence is that it makes perfect sense in the context of the conversation, but it just sounds so ridiculous when you take it out of context).

Incanto: When you look at me, you see a monster. But I was just feeding a hunger.

Incanto: The dead are no longer lonely.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E5 "The List"

[ S3:E4 "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E6 "2Shy" ]

Mulder and Scully visit a Florida state penitentiary to investigate a series of murders after a death row inmate who believes in reincarnation makes a frightening prophecy just before he fries in the electric chair, avowing that five men will be killed in retribution for the suffering he's experienced. It's a dramatic scene, but the pathos isn't quite as sweet as it was in a similar scene in Beyond The Sea, after we'd had time to get to know the unlucky prisoner. The premise also vaguely recalls another episode from season 1 - Young At Heart - which also featured an allegedly dead man getting revenge from beyond the grave. Genre loyal Ken Foree (who starred in George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead) costars in this episode written and directed by Chris Carter. The episode is shot stylistically in sickly shades of green, giving the prison a really creepy atmosphere. I recommend it.

Memorable quotes:

Neech: Gotta go now.

Warden: Neech Manly. Smart man. Very smart man. Fact if he'd stayed outside I would've figured him for a Nobel prize. But, he made a mistake. Paid for it with his life. Now, you take a man of that intelligence, you put him inside for ten or eleven years, you're gonna have to pay for it.
Scully: What do you mean?
Warden: Well, there's nothing but bitterness and resentment in here. Seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. It gets honed to a real fine point.
Mulder: So you're saying that Manly planned this, and is carrying it out with the help of someone else?
Warden: Elaborate as Shakespeare.

Mulder: Imagine if it were true, Scully. Imagine if you could come back and take out five people who had caused you to suffer. Who would they be?
Scully: I only get five?
Mulder: I remembered your birthday this year, didn't I, Scully?

Scully: A woman gets lonely. Sometimes she can't wait around for her man to be reincarnated.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E4 "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"

[ S3:E3 "D.P.O." <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E5 "The List" ]

This is one of those non-mythology episodes that a lot of people call one of the series' all-time greats. I have to admit that it didn't particularly stand out to me the first time I watched the series, but then I've always lived for the mythology episodes, and this one comes pretty close on the heels of a mythology-heavy three-parter, itself one of the greatest moments of the series. But in hindsight, it is a pretty memorable episode, and also a very good one. It was written by Darin Morgan, so it's got some humor, but it's largely a subtler and more effective sort of humor than we saw in Humbug. But it's also a very morbid, even philosophical episode, that ruminates on the inevitability of death, and the depressing implications of determinism.

In this episode, Mulder and Scully hunt a fortune teller killer with the reluctant help of a psychic. Peter Boyle is excellent in the role of the titular character, a life insurance salesman cursed with the ability to foresee people's deaths - yet he can't even predict the winning lotto numbers. Of all the supernatural phenomena The X-Files vindicates, it hasn't been very favorable to psychics so far. Even Mulder routinely dismisses them as hacks (which, considering that most of them are, shows that Mulder isn't stupid - he's suggestible, but he's not gullible). However, this episode contrasts the typical show biz psychic - depicted by Jaap Broeker's "The Stupendous Yappi", a total publicity hound - with Clyde Bruckman's more down-to-earth psychic ability.

Basically, this episode posits the question: what if someone really could foresee people's deaths? What would that be like? And would it be as cool as people think, or would it actually be kind of traumatic and depressing? And the answer, demonstrated by the character of Clyde Bruckman, is the latter. I'm hesitant to heap too much praise on Darin Morgan, since he only penned a few episodes for this show, and yet they consistently rate as fan favorites, despite often not feeling like typical X-Files episodes. It's true that I like to buck popular trends, but it just seems to me that if all your favorite episodes are the funny ones, then are you really watching the right show? A lot of my favorite episodes were written by - ahem - Chris Carter.

That having been said, the quirky humor of Humbug aside, if Darin Morgan can write a compelling monster-of-the-week episode, then he deserves credit for that. And this episode plays intelligently with the audience's expectations, often to comedic effect - like when a group of detectives basically describe Mulder, but are unexpectedly referring to somebody else; or when the psychic detects negative energy, and initially focuses in on Scully, only to ultimately trace it back to Mulder. Effects-wise, Clyde Bruckman's periodic visions of death are suitably gruesome and scary. Plus, there's a satisfying reference to season 1's Beyond The Sea (another great monster-of-the-week episode), which also featured a man with dubious psychic abilities. I have no problem rating this as one of the must-see monster-of-the-week episodes of the series.

Memorable quotes:

The Killer: I think I've somehow caught a glimpse of my own future - myself. And I see me doing things that...they just seem so out of character for me. I mean, these are things that, not only do I not wanna be doing, but I can't even imagine myself capable of doing. And yet, there I am...doing them.
Fortune Teller: Mister - please, you're hurting me.
The Killer: I know. I know. And I'm sorry. But you're a fortune teller. You should've seen this coming.

Mulder: His leads are so vague as to be practically useless, yet easily interpreted to be correct after the fact.

Detective Cline: It's kinda creepy, isn't it? Stupendous Yappi said "the first victim's body has been dumped somewhere." Then we find it in a dumpster.
Mulder (mockingly): Ooh, I just got a chill down my spine.

Scully: This guy's performing the same routine as The Stupendous Yappi; he's just doing it in a different style.
Mulder: No, something told me, Scully, something is telling me this guy's for real.
Scully: Oh, so now you're psychic?

Mulder: Mr, Bruckman, can you tell us why the killer is murdering people in the way that he is?
Clyde Bruckman: Why does anyone do the things they do? Why do I sell insurance? I wish I knew. Why did this woman collect dolls? What was it about her life? Was it one specific moment where she suddenly said, "I know - dolls." Or was it a whole series of things, starting when her parents first met, and somehow combined in such a way that, in the end, she had no choice but to be a doll collector?

Scully: The human mind naturally seeks meaningful patterns and configurations in things that don't inherently have any. Given the suggestion of a particular image, you can't help but see that shape somewhere.

Clyde Bruckman: How could I see the future if it didn't already exist?
Mulder: But if the future is written, why bother to do anything?
Clyde Bruckman: Now you're catching on.

Clyde Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified one than autoerotic asphyxiation.
Mulder: Why are you telling me that?
Clyde Bruckman: Look, forget I mentioned it. It's none of my business.

Mulder: I'm glad I could bring a little smile into your life, Mr. Bruckman.
Clyde Bruckman: I'm not smiling, I'm wincing.

Mulder: If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?
Scully: That's one to pose to the psychic philosopher.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E3 "D.P.O."

[ S3:E2 "Paper Clip" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E4 "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" ]

Honestly, I love the mythology episodes, but after the tour de force that was "the merchandise trilogy", I'm kind of looking forward to settling in for a string of easy, monster-of-the-week episodes. And this is a pretty straightforward one, starring Giovanni Ribisi as an aimless youth who has gained some unusual powers after being struck by lightning in an Oklahoma town. (I'm beginning to think "freak-of-the-week" is a far more frequently accurate term). Also appearing in this episode is a young Jack Black. The stylistic opener channels Stephen King's Christine, with the music, and the car, and the pizza delivery punk who gives off a bit of a greaser vibe. This is one of those episodes that's fun for a watch, but isn't super memorable otherwise.

(As an aside, this is probably a normal thing for FBI agents, having to step in on what often start as local cases, but in a lot of these episodes Mulder and Scully have to go through the town sheriff in the course of their investigations, and it's just interesting to see the different kinds of sheriffs they encounter. All of them have different personalities, but they mainly come in two categories: those that are friendly, and willing to bend over backwards to help out the agents, and those that are very territorial, and resent the FBI stepping on their toes. This episode's sheriff is definitely the latter, as is apparent when he gleefully rips into Scully for not doing her "homework" on the town's local lore).

Memorable quotes:

Zero: Aw, man, you should'na done that.

Scully: I don't understand.
Sheriff: Well that's as clear as glass.

Mulder: This is the first lightning strike I've ever seen that left behind a footprint.

Scully: So you're saying that he's some kind of a lightning rod?
Mulder: No, I'm saying that he is lightning. And we've gotta get to him before he strikes again.

Scully: You said yourself, sheriff, even science can't explain how lightning works.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

To Believe or Not To Believe

or Contemplating the "Merchandise", Mythology, and Hoaxes in The X-Files

Spoiler Warning and Introduction: The following discussion contains spoilers from The X-Files, up to and including the season 2 finale, and also involving the events of the season 4 finale (and possibly its resolution in the beginning of the fifth season). I imagine you'll get the most benefit from it if you read it after you've seen up through at least the end of the fourth season of The X-Files (and I'll definitely link back to it when I get there). I'm probably jumping the gun here, but I've discovered that it's always most lucrative to write when you feel inspired. If you wait until the perfect moment (like after you've seen that certain episode, for example), you may find that the words have escaped you. That's the philosophy I used with An Analytical Observation on The X-Files, and it's the one I'm using here.

I've mentioned before The X-Files' tendency to give-and-take with the revelations it offers the audience. Furthermore, as embodied in the vital conflict between Mulder's belief and Scully's skepticism, a lot of what we see vis-à-vis extraterrestrial life is not free from critical doubt - and it's not as though this series doesn't condition the audience to be paranoid, to the point of even doubting their own suspicions about what the government may be covering up. This factor is played upon to excellent effect in the fourth season finale revelation that I keep referencing. At the risk of spoiling it now (it goes to show how provocative it is that I can't wait - although I've tried - until I've rewatched the episode to talk about it), the central question that the revelation brings up is this: everything that we've seen so far, is it all just an elaborate hoax?

And The X-Files does a pretty good job of carefully rationing out the evidence, such that even after seeing so much (and this might go a long way in explaining Scully's stubborn skepticism), the audience can still hold on to a doubt in the back of their minds that any of it is genuine. For example, we don't know if it was actually aliens that abducted Scully in Ascension, or just the government. Even the alien abductions in the pilot episode itself are not conclusive. Granted, some of the evidence is harder to discredit than others. So far, one of the most convincing examples is in just the second episode of the series, Deep Throat, when Mulder witnesses up close a military aircraft with unbelievable technical capabilities. Still, who can say that top secret military technology is not just that far advanced beyond what the public knows about? How can you say without a doubt that the technology is truly extraterrestrial in origin?

Then you have things like the alien fetus Scully sees in the first season finale, The Erlenmeyer Flask. This is pretty damning evidence, but can you say with 100% certainty that it's not a fake? Indeed, that's what turns out to be the case with the discovery in the fourth season finale. True, it's hard to believe a hoax that turns out to be as elaborate as the conspiracy itself - if not more so. If ever there was a reason to believe, it's the incredulity of the notion that the government would be so invested in having people believe in extraterrestrials (to which end their conspicuously total denial would ostensibly serve), that they would go to the trouble of fabricating so much false evidence. What would they have to gain from this absurd belief? Yet E.B.E. is a perfect example of this. This episode is so highly suggestive, and yet, unlike The Erlenmeyer Flask, nothing is revealed in the end, except for an empty bed. This is the episode in which Deep Throat even admits to lying to Mulder and fabricating fake evidence in order to lead him on!

But, of course, this being The X-Files, it's safe to assume that there will really be aliens involved in the end. And, crucially, it's the scientific stuff that best holds up to scrutiny. Like when Scully gets confirmation from a chemist in The Erlenmeyer Flask (who is subsequently killed, and the evidence confiscated) of living tissue that matches nothing on this Earth. Then there is the shape-shifting Alien Bounty Hunter in Colony/End Game. While it can't be concluded that he really is an alien (he never appears in any form other than human) - and who's to say that the clones are really alien/human hybrids and not just fallout from Russian genetic experiments, as the CIA agent claims (who probably, but not definitely, was the Alien Bounty Hunter in disguise) - his remarkable ability to shape-shift, and the nature of his toxic, green blood (not to mention his imperviousness to bullets), is highly suggestive of an extraterrestrial explanation.

Finally, we come to the events of the season 2 finale. When The Thinker handed off the "MJ Documents" to Mulder in Anasazi, he prefaced them in such a way as to lead us (both Mulder and the audience) to believe that they contained information about the government's contact with extraterrestrial life. And what we saw of the conspirators' reaction to those documents being leaked confirmed that they were indeed genuine, and of a particularly sensitive nature. But, being encrypted in Navajo, the documents require some effort to be translated. Even allowing for the fact that The Thinker was a genius hacker, and may have been up to the task of cracking the code, he himself admitted that he had not had much time to look them over, as he knew as soon as he got them that the government would be after him.

Yet, what little information Scully and Albert Hosteen were able to interpret from the documents pointed not to alien subjects, but to a series of human (or rather, inhumane) experiments conducted during or after WWII - which, though not as groundbreaking as evidence of extraterrestrial contact, could very well account for the behavior of the conspirators (even Mulder's father). What modern day agent of the state would want it found out that his government (if not he, himself) had been directly involved in the kind of sick experiments the Nazis were known for? Especially if he (and that government) were still involved in similar experiments to this day! Now, the tantalizing possibility that what we're dealing with is experiments that involve alien-human hybrids - in a sense, testing on humans using alien DNA, like what was done in Red Museum - has been suggested. But can we be sure?

The answer to that question is no. It may yet prove to be the case. But, if I'm not mistaken - and this discussion may ultimately turn out to be moot, when and if this issue is eventually resolved - evidence from a later mythology episode may point to a different, and rather more terrestrial (if not less horrifying), explanation. At the same time, all of the conspirators' reactions are justified, regardless of whether the explanation goes one way or the other. It just goes to show that in this series, you can never be too sure of anything. There is always doubt, which engenders a lot of paranoia, and one can never be completely sure that anything of real substance has been discovered - anything that can be taken to the media and used to blow the lid off this whole conspiracy. It results in a good deal of confusion, no doubt, and I'm sure this is the cause of many fans' disillusionment with the mythology of the show. But I'm not sure it's an example of excessive retconning so much as a deliberately subtle and careful rationing of information, some of it intentionally deceptive, in a fictional (yet not so unrealistic) world where no one can be trusted.

Dirty Girl (2010)

Curiously, Dirty Girl is a gay drama disguised as a teen sex comedy. Why they advertise it using a slinkily-dressed Juno Temple is beyond me, unless it's an intentional bait-and-switch, in which case, a lot of straight guys may be lured into watching this movie only to be disappointed by its subject matter. That having been said, if you're not a homophobe, it's still an entertaining movie, with a good balance of fun and emotional drama. And, Juno Temple is still smoking hot, portraying Danielle, the class whore at an Oklahoma high school in 1987 (although it looks an awful lot like the '70s). Despite her best wishes, she gets paired up with Clarke, an overweight, barely-closeted gay guy (a very likable Jeremy Dozier) for a school project simulating the challenges of parenthood (you know, the kind of project where the kids in class pair up and pretend to be married, and take care of a bag of flour and pretend it's their baby).

But, as I said, there is as much drama in this movie as comedy. Danielle doesn't like her Mormon soon-to-be-stepdad, and Clarke is on the verge of being outed to his very unsympathetic (and abusive) father. So, they both run away from home and head to California, where Danielle hopes to track down the father she never met. I think that ultimately the movie works better as a drama than a comedy, but you do really get to like the two main leads, and you feel sympathetic toward their mothers' struggles, as well. Interestingly, considering its subject matter, the movie doesn't really have any positive male role models. And, in the end, after being lured into believing that maybe this would be a movie celebrating promiscuous teen sexuality, it seems to settle on a rather more conservative moral stance - that Danielle has been acting out sexually because of her daddy issues. It's a sexy film, but I wouldn't quite describe it as a sex-positive film. At least it doesn't beat you over the head with it, though. At any rate, it's a fun movie, and it's worth a watch.

The X-Files - S3:E2 "Paper Clip"

[ S3:E1 "The Blessing Way" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E3 "D.P.O. ]

Spoiler Warning: This episode concludes what I've always lovingly referred to as "the merchandise trilogy". There will be major spoilers in this review.

This episode opens with a symbol of hope - the birth of a sacred white buffalo. Yet, despite being tasked with wrapping up the story threads from the last two episodes, there is still much excitement to be had before it's all over. Of these three episodes, I think the first one was the most memorable - the acquiring of the classified documents, and the alien things in the boxcar. But the following two episodes have been so thrilling, and so filled with exciting, memorable scenes - the drama doesn't let up at all from start to finish. I was actually starting to lose my breath by the end of this episode, from gasping at all the unbelievable events and revelations - it's just one remarkable scene after another.

After the opening credits, we return to the tense standoff between Scully and Skinner that ended the last episode, which is defused only by the unexpected return of Mulder. The good news is that Skinner appears to still be on the side of justice - Mulder and Scully could really use an ally. While Skinner struggles to finagle a deal with the reluctant Smoking Man, Mulder digs into his father's past, to try to learn about his connection to the conspiracy - and, with the help of The Lone Gunmen, to identify some of the other conspirators from an old photograph found among his father's things. Deep Throat is in the picture, and so is an ex-Nazi who was given asylum by the U.S. government in return for his scientific knowledge.

Meanwhile, Scully learns that her sister was shot in her place. You really have to feel sorry for Mrs. Scully - having to deal with the loss of her husband, and then the near loss of her daughter, and now the loss of her other daughter. If nothing else, the events of these episodes have proven that these conspirators are not just playing games, and are willing to kill to keep their secrets. As a result of the mistaken assassination, though, the Syndicate begins to catch wind of the Smoking Man's lies, when he assured them previously that he had the situation under control. Now to save face, he'll have to put the hammer down and wrap things up post haste. It's a little bit cathartic to see the Smoking Man so desperate for once.

As an aside, you know, I was willing to take the Smoking Man's word in Anasazi that Krycek was acting independently in the murder of Mulder's father, but I guess I was giving him too much credit. Krycek's involvement in the Scully shooting in The Blessing Way would seem to suggest that he is indeed still an agent of the Smoking Man, and his procuring of the DAT tape in this episode makes it official. However, probably as a result of the Scully debacle, the Smoking Man double-crosses him - but he survives the assassination attempt and makes off with the tape. This, after all, is where he finally goes rogue! It's kind of satisfying to see an independent agent mark the Smoking Man as an enemy, but this is Krycek we're talking about, so it's not like there are going to be any "enemy of my enemy is my friend" alliances with Mulder anytime soon...

Following up on their lead, Mulder and Scully head to an abandoned mine in rural West Virginia. Inside they find tunnels upon tunnels of file cabinets filled with medical records and tissue samples. Scully's file is in there, and so is Mulder's sister's, except that it was originally supposed to be his. Before they can figure out what it's all for, the facility is visited by a gigantic UFO - Mulder hasn't been this close to one since the military UFO in the episode Deep Throat (and this time his mind doesn't get wiped!) - and we see a group of diminutive beings that look (in the dark) similar to the bodies from the boxcar - except alive. Following hot on their heels is a hit squad that cuts the agents' investigation short.

They do get some answers in a followup meeting with the Well-Manicured Man, but Scully is afraid he is just telling Mulder what he wants to hear. He leads Mulder into believing that the Nazi scientist was trying to make alien/human hybrids, and storing medical information (with tissue samples possibly collected during abductions) on thousands of citizens toward that end. He also feeds Mulder lines about his father threatening to expose the project when he learned what it was for. But the most chilling revelation is one that is even more personal, and is exactly the thing Mulder's father was alluding to in his posthumous visitation in the last episode. After interrogating his mother, Mulder confirms that his father had made a choice, whether it was to be Fox or his sister that was abducted all those years ago...

Heavy stuff. And still so expertly rationed out - to make it feel like we're getting tons of information, yet much of it lies in doubt. Especially when the answers are coming from people who patently can't be trusted. But at the same time, we do get a small but important piece of information, and after each mythology episode, if we add it up with everything else we've learned, we get one step closer to the truth - which is out there, just like Samantha. In the mean time, Skinner presents Mulder and Scully with a hard decision - whether or not to hand over the DAT tape for their safety (and job security). It's telling that we've hardly learned anything more from the documents themselves since Anasazi.

Do they blow the conspiracy wide open at the risk of their lives? Or concede this battle so that they can continue to wage the war? Since this is just the beginning of the third season, and not the end of the series, you can guess what their decision will be. Still, amidst all the tragedy, it's a more hopeful conclusion than we've seen from mythology episodes of late, which have often ended with Mulder or Scully missing or lying on a hospital bed. It's a strong start to the third season (and a more confident one than we had last season, with Mulder and Scully separated, and the X-Files project on hold). Thus concludes one of the greatest moments in the entire series - this is The X-Files at its peak. The show will return to its monster-of-the-week format in the next episode.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: I was a dead man. Now I'm back.

Skinner: What is on this tape?
Mulder: Defense Department files that weren't supposed to exist. The truth about our government's involvement in a global conspiracy of silence about the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Byers: Are you familiar with a post-World War II project known as Operation Paper Clip?
Mulder: Our deal with the devil. The U.S. government provided safe haven for certain Nazi war criminals in exchange for their scientific knowledge.

Smoking Man: There was a mistake. It will be rectified.
Well-Manicured Man: By whom? By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?
Smoking Man: These men are professionals.
Well-Manicured Man: This is not a profession for men who make mistakes. My God, you presume to make us believe you can simply fix it with enough bullets?

Victor Klemper: There are some things you don't have to know.
Mulder: No - I need to know! I need to know the truth!

Smoking Man: You wanna work a deal? Is that what this is? Let me tell you something - I don't work deals!

Mulder: Lots of files.
Scully: Lots and lots of files.

Skinner: This place isn't even on the map. How'd you get here?
Mulder: You'd be surprised what's not on the map in this country, and what the government will do to keep it that way.

Albert Hosteen: My father taught me when I was a boy that this is how life is: that for something to live, another thing must often be sacrificed.

Mulder: Why are you telling me this?
Well-Manicured Man: It's what you want to know. Isn't it?
Mulder: Is there more?
Well-Manicured Man: More than you'll ever know.

Krycek (to Smoking Man): If I so much as feel your presence, I'm gonna make you a very, very famous man. You understand?

Smoking Man: You can't play poker if you're not holding any cards, Mr. Skinner. Ever wondered what it'd be like to...die in a plane crash? Of botulism? Even a heart attack's not uncommon for a man your age. Think I'm bluffing?

Smoking Man: What is this?
Skinner; This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass.

Mulder: I believe that what we're looking in the X-Files. I'm more certain than ever that the truth is in there.
Scully: I've heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The X-Files - S3:E1 "The Blessing Way"

[ S2:E25 "Anasazi" <<< Season 3 >>> S3:E2 "Paper Clip" ]

Spoiler Warning: This episode picks right up from the cliffhanger at the end of last season's finale, as well as being an important mythology episode. As such, this review will contain massive spoilers.

The last episode was thrilling, but this one puts you on the edge of your seat. It goes to show how much of an impression these episodes made on me when I first watched this series, that while listening to Albert Hosteen's opening monologue, the words just rolled off my tongue, as if I still remembered them. Picking up where Anasazi left off, Mulder has seemingly - and miraculously - vanished without a trace, pissing off the Smoking Man, who begins pulling out all the stops to find him (and, of course, the documents in his possession). Scully is no less concerned about Mulder's disappearance, but has other things to worry about when the FBI rewards her with a leave of absence, on threat of losing her job permanently.

At a low point in her life, Scully visits her mother to wallow in sorrow. Frohike (of The Lone Gunmen) pays a visit, but the evidence he brings her (an obituary describing The Thinker's execution) doesn't exonerate Mulder for the murder of his own father like she'd hoped. She does, however, make a startling discovery when she enters the FBI building as a civilian, and is forced to go through the metal detector - there is an implant in the back of her neck! She gets it removed, and it appears to be a computer chip. Following this discovery, Scully's sister (whom we will, sadly, see for the last time in these episodes), convinces her to try hypnotic regression therapy.

Elsewhere, though presumed dead, Mulder is found by the men on the Navajo reservation buried just underground, with death perilously close. They begin the "Blessing Way Chant", a spiritual ritual to save Mulder's life. Here, Mulder gets his own metaphysical, near death experience, complete with a visitation by his recently deceased father, much like Scully did in One Breath. Touchingly, Deep Throat also puts in an appearance, in what is an excellent excuse to feature him - it's nice to see him again. Mulder's father alludes to further truths that Mulder will find if he returns to life, in a great example of foreshadowing, suggesting that Chris Carter (who penned this episode) really did have a plan, and (probably) wasn't simply making things up as he went along.

We also get to witness a creepy hallucination - or memory? - of what appears to be the not-quite-human beings from the boxcar, presumably when they were first put in there and killed, gas chamber-style. Additionally, we get our first exciting look at the Syndicate of shady businessmen that the Smoking Man works with, expanding the conspiracy yet some more here in the third season. One of its prominent members, who we'll come to know as the Well-Manicured Man (John Neville), confronts Scully to warn her that she's been targeted for execution, in a chilling and highly memorable scene. The paranoia after this is palpable, and the collateral damage tragic (Krycek, you rat bastard!). Can Skinner still be trusted?

In these episodes, the pressure coming down through the ranks is so strong, that Skinner has to tread very carefully not to get wrapped up in the same troubles that Mulder and Scully love to court. I was surprised that his transition from foe to friend was so fast in the beginning of the second season, but now I recall that his loyalties are at times put into question. I do believe he's squarely on Mulder and Scully's side; however, he does have different priorities, and so sometimes his choices are predicated more upon the importance of job security and saving his agents' lives, than risking those lives to find the truth, and uncover a conspiracy guarded by very powerful authority figures.

This roller coaster of an episode ends on yet another exciting cliffhanger, making it the series' first official three-parter (although the story thread in Duane Barry/Ascension was concluded in One Breath, the latter two episodes were separated by an independent episode, and not connected via an unbroken string of "to be continued" endings, as these three episodes are). The excitement will be concluded in the next episode!

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Albert Hosteen: There is an ancient Indian saying, that something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it. My people have come to trust memory over history. Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable. While history serves only those who seek to control it, those who would douse the flame of memory in order to put out the dangerous fire of truth - beware these men, for they are dangerous themselves, and unwise. Their false history is written in the blood of those who might remember, and of those who seek the truth.

Smoking Man: Gentlemen, we have control. The files have been recovered, and the men involved in their theft have been removed without incident. There is a small matter of concern with the FBI, but we'll handle that internally, as usual. The media attention will amount to nothing more than a few, uh...scattered obituaries.

Frohike: He was a good friend. A redwood among mere sprouts. I guess this means he's passing you the torch.
Scully: Ah, I'm afraid not. I'm soon to be out of a job.
Frohike: Those sons of bitches. They're rigging the game.
Scully: And like rats, they just scatter back into the woodpile.

Deep Throat: I was first struck by the absence of time, having depended on it so completely as a measure of my self and my life. Moving backwards into the perpetual night, it consumes purpose, and deed, all passion, will. I come to you, old friend, with the dull clarity of the dead, not to beckon you, but to feel the fire and intensity that still lived in you. And the heavy weight of your burdens which I had once borne - there is truth here, old friend, if that's all you seek. But there's no justice or judgment, without which truth is a vast, dead, hollow. Go back, do not look into the abyss and let the abyss look into you. Awaken the sleep of reason and fight the monsters within and without.

Mr. Mulder: Hello, son. I did not dare hope to see you so soon. Nor ever again hope to broker fate with a life to which I gave life. The lies I told you were a pox and poison to my soul, and now you are here because of them. Lies I thought might bury forever a truth I could not live with. I stand here, ashamed of the choices I made so long ago, when you were just a boy. You are the memory, Fox. It lives in you. If you were to die now, the truth will die, and only the lies survive us.
Mulder: My sister, is she here?
Mr. Mulder: No. The thing that would destroy me - the truth I felt you must never learn - is the truth you will find, if you are to go forward.

(A chilling prophecy - all the more so if you suspect, or know, with the benefit of hindsight, to what he is referring).

Melissa: What are you so afraid of, Dana? You afraid you might actually learn something about yourself? God, I mean, you are so shut off to the possibility there could be any other explanation, except for your rigid, scientific view of the world. It's like you've lost all touch with your own intuition.

Well-Manicured Man: They'll kill you one of two ways. They'll send someone, possibly two men, to kill you in your home, or in the garage, with an unregistered weapon, which will be left at the scene. Using false documents supplied by associates of mine, they'll be out of the country in less than two hours.
Scully: You said there were two ways?
Well-Manicured Man: Yes. He, or she, will be someone close to you, someone you trust. They'll arrange a meeting, or come to your house unexpectedly. You have someplace else you might stay?

Scully: You're not protecting me, you're protecting yourself.
Well-Manicured Man: Why should that surprise you? Motives are rarely unselfish.

Scully: What kind of business are you in?
Well-Manicured Man: We predict the future. The best way to predict the to invent it.

(Already, the seeds for the first movie, "Fight The Future" - which won't come until after the fifth season - are being planted).

Scully (to Skinner, at gunpoint): You've got the rest of your life to give me answers.

Rating The X-Files

I'm having the hardest time figuring out how to rate episodes of The X-Files. I avoided rating them at first, because I'm not generally a fan of rating things. In fact, when I started this blog, I tried using a rating system, but I quickly gave it up. I find that discussing things (in this case, movies) is a lot more interesting than assigning numbers, and tastes can be so subjective anyway. Certainly, whether you like something or not is meaningful - and there are degrees to which you can like or dislike a thing - but when you start ranking things up against other things, it gets messy. "How can this and that have the same ranking, I don't like them equally!" And, "wait, what's the difference between a 6 and a 7?"

But, nevertheless, I find myself compelled to rank episodes of The X-Files, because I want to pick out the ones that are really worth watching against those that can affordably be skipped (which isn't necessarily the same thing as saying they're bad). And, to be realistic, a binary selection of "bang or pass" just isn't sufficient, because then with those on-the-fence episodes you risk either being too inclusive, or not inclusive enough. So I settled on a nice four-star rating system which I then applied to the first season (using a really neat alien emoji character I found online). Four-star episodes are the essential ones, while one-star episodes are skippable, with a two-star buffer in between, for the not great episodes that are good enough to not be immediately skippable (two stars), and the good episodes that aren't quite good enough to be worth going neck-and-neck with the episodes that mark the highlights of the series (three stars).

This system satisfied me for a little while, but having to rate the episodes in season 2 brought up an issue that's been niggling at the back of my mind. The problem with a single-scale rating system for episodes of The X-Files is that there are two very different kinds of episodes on The X-Files - mythology episodes, and monster-of-the-week episodes. And, while your opinion may vary, I feel like even mediocre mythology episodes are more essential (if not necessarily as good) as even some of the better monster-of-the-week episodes. And, after all, the main impetus for me to rate these episodes in the first place has to do with which episodes are "essential viewing" as much as which of the episodes are just really good. Which means, if you want to follow the mythology, you'll want to catch more than just the best episodes.

But, rather than just rate the "essential-ness" of the episodes from a mythology standpoint, I also want to point out which of the episodes I think are the best - which may include really good monster-of-the-week episodes, as well as indicating which among the essential mythology episodes are the best. Complicating that, I think, is the fact that a lot of my all-time favorite X-Files episodes are what I consider to be some of the most essential mythology episodes, so it becomes hard for me to separate quality from mythology importance in my mind. I thought about just splitting the mythology episodes and the monster-of-the-week episodes up and rating them separately - but rather than just rate the quality of the mythology episodes, I want to have some indication of how essential they are to the overarching mythology of the show. Plus, there are a lot of cases where the mythology episodes and the monster-of-the-week episodes overlap, especially when we take into account monster-of-the-week episodes that have incidental mythology content.

So I think that a dual-scale rating system, instead of rating mythology quality and monster-of-the-week quality independently, would have to juggle general episode quality versus the importance (or prevalence) of mythology content included in the episode (if any). I realize that there is also an official designation of which X-Files episodes in the series are canonically considered to be "mythology episodes", but as I've said, I don't want my mythology rating to be so much an "off/on" switch as a scale (even if only three point) that differentiates the major mythology episodes from the episodes that feature only incidental mythology content (and may not be official mythology episodes), and those that feature none at all. Also, there may be some mythology episodes that feel more essential than others, that is independent of the actual episode quality.

I think that maybe the key episode that was causing my previous system to fall apart was Duane Barry. As part of the Duane Barry/Ascension two-parter, and especially if you include One Breath - which is not directly connected to the previous two episodes, but finishes the story thread left open at their conclusion - it is, by all considerations, an essential episode of The X-Files. I suppose you could skip it and go straight to Ascension if you're just watching the highlights (or programming a best episodes countdown, for example), but it doesn't make a lot of sense when Ascension picks up on Duane Barry's cliffhanger. Plus, Duane Barry introduces you to this character that features prominently in Ascension, and it's an episode that features considerable (and memorable) content on the theme of alien abductions. So I do consider it to be essential viewing, and yet the quality of the episode (and the mythology content) is surpassed by the following two episodes in its story thread - which, therefore, I think deserve to have even higher ratings. But how can you have a rating higher than "essential"? So, you can see my quandary.

I think that, for the time being, and until or unless I come up with anything better in the future, I will use the following dual-scale rating system. I will retain the four-star alien head ratings, which refers solely to the overall quality of the episode, and simply add a mythology rating, denoted by this really awesome (and perfect!) cigarette symbol I found on the same site as the alien emoji. Two cigarettes denotes episodes with heavy mythology content (making them pretty much essential viewing for mythology watch-throughs). One cigarette indicates light or incidental mythology content (including monster-of-the-week episodes that feature conspiracy plots that involve, say, the Smoking Man, or feature Mulder's informant in some significant capacity, for example). No cigarettes means it's your standard issue monster-of-the-week episode.

Thus, you can go through and decide for yourself whether you want to catch only the really good episodes (regardless of mythology content), or whether you want to follow the mythology (regardless of how good the episodes are), or - what I would personally recommend - both: the mythology, and the top-notch monster-of-the-week episodes. And, if you're like me, and live for the mythology, you can average the alien and cigarette ratings, to determine whether that two-alien but two-cigarette rated episode looks more appealing than that three-alien monster-of-the-week episode without any cigs. I guess now I'll just have to see how well this system works as I make my way through season 3.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The X-Files - Season 2 (1994-5)

[ Season 1 <<< The X-Files >>> Season 3 ]

Season 2 of The X-Files is a very strong season. While the first season focused on building a rapport between the two leads, now - particularly with the drama constructed around Gillian Anderson's pregnancy (the episodes Duane Barry/Ascension and One Breath are highlights of the season - nay, the whole show) - our partners are as tight as ever. There are more recurring characters (Skinner returns, as do the Lone Gunmen, and we get more development of the Smoking Man; and then there is Mulder's new informant, X), and more recurring elements for the story to touch on.

The mythology has advanced considerably since the first season, and we are introduced to some pivotal elements (such as those in the two-part episode Colony/End Game, as well as the thrilling finale, Anasazi) that the show will continue to build upon in coming seasons. Even the monster-of-the-week episodes are improving at a rapid pace (highlights include Irresistible, Die Hand die Verletzt, Død Kalm, and F. Emasculata). I'm a little bit surprised by how good this season is - I really thought the show would take longer to heat up. While the first season tasted like an appetizer, the second season eats more like a meal.

For your convenience, here is a list of links to my reviews of each of the episodes in the second season (names in parentheses are the episodes' writers):

S2:E1 "Little Green Men" (Glen Morgan, James Wong)
S2:E2 "The Host" (Chris Carter)
S2:E3 "Blood" (Glen Morgan, James Wong; Darin Morgan)
S2:E4 "Sleepless" (Howard Gordon)
S2:E5 "Duane Barry" (Chris Carter)
S2:E6 "Ascension" (Paul Brown)
S2:E7 "3" (Chris Ruppenthal, Glen Morgan, James Wong)
S2:E8 "One Breath" (Glen Morgan, James Wong)
S2:E9 "Firewalker" (Howard Gordon)
S2:E10 "Red Museum" (Chris Carter)
S2:E11 "Excelsis Dei" (Paul Brown)
S2:E12 "Aubrey" (Sara B. Cooper)
S2:E13 "Irresistible" (Chris Carter)
S2:E14 "Die Hand die Verletzt" (Glen Morgan, James Wong)
S2:E15 "Fresh Bones" (Howard Gordon)
S2:E16 "Colony" (Chris Carter, David Duchovny)
S2:E17 "End Game" (Frank Spotnitz)
S2:E18 "Fearful Symmetry" (Steve De Jarnatt)
S2:E19 "Død Kalm" (Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa)
S2:E20 "Humbug" (Darin Morgan)
S2:E21 "The Calusari" (Sara B. Cooper)
S2:E22 "F. Emasculata" (Chris Carter, Howard Gordon)
What's in an X-File?
S2:E23 "Soft Light" (Vince Gilligan)
S2:E24 "Our Town" (Frank Spotnitz)
S2:E25 "Anasazi" (Chris Carter, David Duchovny)

Monster-of-the-week Episode of the Season: F. Emasculata
Mythology Arc of the Season: Duane Barry/Ascension/One Breath
Clunker of the Season: The popular choice would be 3, as fans remember it as one of the very few episodes in the whole series that Scully doesn't appear in, but I personally was less impressed with Aubrey.
Underrated Gem of the Season: Død Kalm - The iffy makeup aside, this is a very moody episode set on a ghost ship that references Ragnarök. What's not to love?

Heavy Mythology Content (These are the essential mythology episodes).
Light Mythology Content (These episodes feature light or incidental mythology-related content).
Must watch! (If you're short on time, or just want to revisit the highlights of the series, these are the best episodes the show has to offer).
Recommended. (While not being the best of the best, these are quality episodes; I recommend viewing them if you have the time).
Good for a viewing. (These are not essential episodes, but if you want to dig deeper into the series, they're worth sitting through).
Skippable. (Unless you are, like me, dedicated to absorbing the series in its entirety, these are the episodes that you can afford to skip).

Spoiler note: Naturally, as we advance through the seasons, reviews are going to have more of a tendency to include spoilers about events from previous episodes and seasons - especially as far as the mythology of the show is concerned. Thus, if you haven't seen season 1, for example, then you might not want to read too much into the reviews of season 2. Still, I'll try to keep you informed when reviews are going to be particularly spoilery - it just might be the case that you'll be seeing more reviews with spoiler warnings now than you have before.

The X-Files - S2:E25 "Anasazi"

[ S2:E24 "Our Town" <<< Season 2 >>> S3:E1 "The Blessing Way" ]

Spoiler Warning: As with last season's finale, this review will contain major spoilers.

Along with the Duane Barry/Ascension/One Breath plot arc, which we encountered earlier in this season, this episode kicks off another of the all-time most memorable plot arcs in the entire series for me (although its conclusion is reserved for the start of the next season). The episode opens with an earthquake near a Navajo reservation (which offers a cozier atmosphere than the Native American community in the first season's Shapes), during which what appears to be the grave site of an extraterrestrial being is unearthed from beneath the red sands of New Mexico (and if this is still Vancouver, I'll eat my hat). Then, in the opening credits sequence, the usual phrase, The Truth Is Out There, is very mysteriously rendered in Navajo ("Éí 'Aaníígóó 'Áhoot'é"), which could look like gibberish (or possibly even alien script) to the untrained eye.

Meanwhile, The Thinker - who was briefly mentioned in One Breath - has managed to hack into the Defense Department's classified files, including the hallowed "MJ Documents" (presumably referring to Majestic 12, a top secret government committee on extraterrestrial affairs), essentially the smoking gun that proves the government's involvement in a conspiracy to cover-up extraterrestrial contact. But not just the U.S. government - for the first time we get solid evidence that the conspiracy extends to an international conglomeration of political agents. And The Thinker wants Mulder to bring it all out into the light. But whereas in the past, Mulder's informants have only fed him what they wanted him to know, this time the conspirators must go on the defensive. The stakes have never been higher!

In a classic case of give-and-take, the documents are encrypted in Navajo - a military tactic used in WWII - which means that Mulder and Scully can only make sense of bits and pieces of them. Still, in the conspirators' rush to minimize their damages, we discover a shocking revelation - that the Smoking Man and Mulder's father have history together, and that the latter is involved in the conspiracy. (We also get the most plausible reason yet why the Smoking Man hasn't just killed Mulder - it's to honor his friendship with Mulder's father). In a touching scene, it seems that Mulder's father is finally ready to open up to his son and come clean, but that's cut short by the shocking return of Alex Krycek, in an infuriating attempt to frame Mulder for the murder of his own father!

Ever since dropping out of existence in Ascension, Krycek has been AWOL, and the audience could be forgiven for thinking they'd never see him again. After all, he only showed up in...what, three episodes? Thus, his return is unexpected, and the conditions of his reappearance go a long way in cementing his reputation as the weaselly sort of villain it's so much fun to hate. He makes a great counterpoint to the almost respectable villainy of the Smoking Man. It's hinted at that they're no longer working in collusion, but whether Krycek is an agent of chaos, pursuing his own vendetta, or answering to an as-yet-unidentified authority (perhaps a higher one than the Smoking Man holds, in a bid to sidestep the latter's growing sentimentality), is still a mystery.

Emotions are running high, and it's clear that Mulder is in an excitable state when he resorts to punching Skinner. It's a bad time for Mulder to be caught up in all of this, since he's running a high fever. You know he's losing it when he starts to suspect even Scully of double-crossing him. It gets so bad that Scully actually has to shoot him, although for a fully justified reason. But just when you're starting to think that Mulder's actions are too wild - as if written to drive the quickly unraveling plot - we're given a brilliantly satisfying explanation for his aberrant behavior: he's deliberately being drugged by his enemies to compromise his handling of the situation!

Things get so bad, that Mulder and Scully have to go into hiding while things cool off, and to buy some time to translate the stolen documents. By sheer coincidence, the Navajo translator they have enlisted the help of - Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman's Albert Hosteen - leads Mulder to the recently uncovered alien grave site, which is linked to legends of the mysteriously vanished Anasazi tribe. (I like that they tie alien abductions into the history of Native America, suggesting that this is not just a new phenomenon). But what one might presume to be a buried spacecraft turns out to be a rather terrestrial boxcar. Albeit one filled with heaps of the decayed remains of what, to all intents and purposes, appear to be alien lifeforms!

At the same time, Scully's assisted translation of the documents hints not at extraterrestrial matters, but rather human tests performed during World War II on subjects referred to impersonally as "merchandise". As frightening as the discovery that the U.S. government may have been involved in Nazi-like human experimentation is, it's not quite the Earth-shattering revelation we were all expecting. You definitely get the feeling that Mulder and Scully haven't deciphered the part of the documents that contains whatever it is the Smoking Man and his associates are afraid they'll learn. Although there is a mention of Scully's abduction in the most recent files, indicating that it was indeed orchestrated by the conspirators after all - although towards what ultimate end still remains unclear.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger, marking the first of the series' season finales to do so. Mulder's precise whereabouts are unknown, and his fate is in question. The subtle loyalties in this episode must have been lost on me the first time I watched it, as I was under the impression that the Smoking Man had intentionally tried to kill Mulder by burning the boxcar. This time around, however, it's clear to me that this is not the case - that he was unaware of Mulder's location, and was only trying to destroy the evidence. But what that evidence reveals - and whether or not those bodies are really alien - remains to be seen. This has been a thrilling episode (just look at how many of these paragraphs have ended in exclamation points!), with many revelations (and just as many non-revelations), but the fun is not over yet; it will continue in the next season.

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Albert Hosteen: The earth has a secret it needs to tell.

Smoking Man: Gentlemen, that was the phone call I never wanted to get.

The Thinker: If I'm correct, I got the original Defense Department's UFO intelligence files. Everything from...1940s and up.
Mulder: Everything?
The Thinker: Everything - Roswell, MJ-12, and beyond.

Mulder: You know they've always denied that these files even existed. What do you want from me?
The Thinker: I want the truth. And I want you to promise that those rat bastards answer to the people.

Mulder: Are you familiar with the Ten Commandments, Scully?
Scully; You want me to recite them?
Mulder: Just number four, the one about obeying the Sabbath - the part where God made Heaven and Earth, but didn't bother to tell anybody about his side projects.

Mulder: Is this another jerk-off assignment where I end up doing the government's dirty work?

Smoking Man: Who could have predicted the future, Bill? That the computers you and I only dreamed of would someday be home appliances capable of the most technical espionage.

Smoking Man: Regret is an inevitable consequence of life.

Mulder: I must be running a fever. Maybe it's the threat of being burned at the stake.

Mr. Mulder: You're a smart boy, Fox. Smarter than I ever was.
Mulder: About what?
Mr. Mulder: Your politics are yours. You've never thrown in. The minute you do that, their doctrines become yours, and you can be held responsible.
Mulder: You're talking about your work in the State Department?
Mr. Mulder: You're going to learn of things, Fox. You're going to hear the words, and they'll come to make sense to you.
Mulder: What words?
Mr. Mulder: The merchandise...

Mulder: You've been making reports on me since the beginning, Scully, taking your little notes!

Mulder: I'm gonna kill you anyway, Krycek, so you might as well tell me the truth.

Mulder: You shot me.
Scully: Yes, I did.

Albert Hosteen: You're lucky she's a good shot.
Mulder: Or a bad one.

Albert Hosteen: In the desert, things find a way to survive. Secrets are like this, too. They push their way up through the sands of deception, so men can know them.

Albert Hosteen: There was a tribe of Indians who lived here more than 600 years ago. Their name was Anasazi. It means "the ancient aliens". No evidence of their fate exists. Historians say they disappeared without a trace. They say that because they will not sacrifice themselves to the truth.
Mulder: And what is the truth?
Albert Hosteen: Nothing disappears without a trace.
Mulder: You think they were abducted?
Albert Hosteen: By visitors who come here still.

Smoking Man
: You're a hard man to reach.
Mulder: Not hard enough, apparently.

Mulder: Listen to me, you black-lunged son of a bitch - I'm gonna expose you, and your project. Your time is over!

Mulder: These aren't human, Scully. From the look of it, I'd say they were alien.
Scully: Are you sure?
Mulder: I'm pretty damn sure.

Smoking Man: Where's Mulder? ...He's here.
Military Officer: No, sir. If he was, he's vanished without a trace.
Smoking Man: Nothing vanishes without a trace. Burn it!