Saturday, October 31, 2015

Introducing Aliens

The X-Files' first feature film, Fight The Future, was a turning point in the series for a number of reasons, not least of which being the final introduction of total, unambiguous aliens into the plot. (That they turned out to be something more akin to the body horror xenomorphs of Alien than the little green men from abduction stories I'm not complaining about). This, of course, is something that had been hinted at extensively, but never conclusively documented, and always with a considerable amount of room for skeptical doubt built into every apparent revelation regarding the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe making contact with Earth.

But in spite of being essentially one big tease, this actually worked out pretty well, for a number of reasons. To start with, it ensured that The X-Files would be taken (by its creators as much as its audience) as a serious and intelligent exploration into the realm of extreme possibility, instead of an outright science-fiction extravaganza, with different alien races popping up every week (I'm not going to mention any names - Star Trek). But the writers also mined that uncertainty of knowing whether the alien conspiracy was true or not for some great drama up through the series' fifth season.

"I promise you Mulder won’t see a spaceship on this show for five years."
- Chris Carter pitching the show, as reported in a TV Guide interview from May 1998

I must have heard this quote paraphrased indirectly, because I always thought he had referred to aliens specifically, and not spaceships (although it's a great irony that Mulder sees a spaceship - albeit a military one - in just the second episode). I don't think the difference is very important, though. The same conclusion can be drawn either way, and I think aliens are more fun to talk about. (Spaceship aficionados will surely want to check out the episodes Deep Throat, Fallen Angel, Paper Clip, Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space', Tempus Fugit, and The Red and the Black).

I'd like to take some time to discuss all the aliens that appeared in the series prior to the season six premiere, which followed the movie. Yes, there were aliens (unless there weren't), but you never saw them clearly. They were always hiding off-screen, or when you did see them, they took either human or non-substantial form (no doubt taking a lot of pressure off of the special effects department, especially in those early years), or could be written off as the potential hallucination of a delusional psychotic, or the deformed result of some kind of gruesome medical experiment on humans. Let's explore.

Spoiler Warning: It should go without saying - but in case it doesn't - that the rest of this post will contain spoilers from throughout the series' first five seasons.

Nearly No-Shows

Several episodes in the series deal with alien abductions, but without giving the audience so much as a peek at any actual aliens. All we see are bright lights, and the after-effects of the aliens' interference in people's lives. This is true of the pilot episode, as well as Conduit, and Fearful Symmetry (which deals with animal abductions).

In other cases, we get brief or distorted views of what we are expected to believe are aliens, such as the tall doorway silhouette in Little Green Men that shows up twice - first, in Mulder's dream of his sister's abduction, and then again, during a close encounter.

There is also a group of short, elfin figures that brush past Scully in a darkened tunnel in the episode Paper Clip, on their way to (apparently) boarding a UFO. Their connection to similar creatures witnessed in the preceding episode, The Blessing Way, is inconclusive, as evidence suggests that the latter may not in fact be truly alien (see below).

What could be considered to be a real and true alien pilot appears in the episode Fallen Angel, after its craft crash lands on Earth. But the alien is disguised by some kind of camouflage - an invisible cloaking device (like the Predators use) - so that we can't actually see it.

On the subject of aliens we don't see, there is also an alleged alien pilot being transported across the country in the episode E.B.E., but we never do get to see it - just the empty, child-sized stretcher it was allegedly carried on.

Hybrids, Hunters, Clones, and Drones

Human-alien hybrids (first encountered in The Erlenmeyer Flask, and later explored in Emily) are distinguished mainly by their green blood, which is toxic to humans. Otherwise they appear perfectly human. They exhibit different skills in different episodes, including superhuman strength, the ability to breathe underwater, shape-shifting, and miraculous powers of healing (as demonstrated in Talitha Cumi).

The Alien Bounty Hunter (introduced in Colony) - even if he is a full alien - may be considered to be a variation on this theme, as he never appears in the form of anything other than human, and has many of the same attributes.

Some of the hybrids occur in groups of clones (including Mulder's sister Samantha, seen in End Game), and sometimes as drones (which Mulder discovers in Herrenvolk) - which are stunted clones in the form of children with limited functioning, much like worker bees. Other clones are spotted in the episode Memento Mori.

A variation of the Alien Bounty Hunter appears in Patient X/The Red and the Black. These faceless rebels have engaged in self-mutilation in order to avoid contamination by the Black Oil.

Black Oil

The Black Oil is not humanoid, but does not look like a traditional alien, either. It is - as its description suggests - simply a sentient, black oil. However, it has the habit of infecting human hosts, enabling "alien" characters to again be played by human actors (with a little digital black film swimming over their eyes).

In Piper Maru/Apocrypha, the Black Oil is able to control the mind of its host, and pass from one body to another. In Tunguska/Terma, it behaves a little differently. Originating from a Martian meteorite, its infected host goes into a catatonic state. The Black Oil appears again in Patient X/The Red and the Black, exhibiting an inconsistent combination of its previous abilities. Its true significance is not revealed until the movie.

Other Species

Most non-mythology, freak-of-the-week episodes deal with organisms and paranormal entities that are more-or-less terrestrial. There are a couple, however, in the first season, that involve entities originating from outer space.

The episode Ice features a parasitic alien worm discovered in an impact crater buried under Alaskan ice. Although the show's mythology covers alien infections and lifeform-bearing meteorites, they seem to have no connection to this one-off monster-of-the-week.

The very next episode, Space, features a ghost that does not have a corporeal form, but instead chooses to possess a former astronaut haunted by the face on Mars. It has no significant connection to the show's mythology either.

Alleged Aliens

Our first glimpse of anything that looks extraterrestrial is the cryogenically frozen alien fetus in The Erlenmeyer Flask, from which source was extracted the virus used in that episode's experiments with ET gene therapy to produce human-alien hybrids. Deep Throat claims that this tissue (and presumably others like it) were recovered from a number of Roswell-like incidents.

The episode Duane Barry really gives us our first and best look at traditional grey aliens in the process of performing an abduction. We see them crowding around a man's bed at night, and later around a strange operating table while esoteric medical tests are being performed on the unlucky abductee. Occurring early in the second season, this would appear to be a blatant violation of the "no aliens" rule, except that everything we see can be written off as the hallucinations of a psychotic. Either way, it makes for some harrowing programming.

A later episode, El Mundo Gira, features a scene that interprets the Mexican legend of el chupacabra (the goat sucker) as alien visitors - but this is pretty clearly framed as the imaginative exaggeration of a suggestible storyteller.

Even more provocative, Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' ostensibly features traditional alien abductors, except this time they are revealed to be human Air Force pilots in alien costumes. One wonders if this might not be the case in previous abductions, too - such as those witnessed in Duane Barry. There is another "alien" - Lord Kinbote - but it is more of a Cyclopean monstrosity that comes not from outer space, but inner space (which, technically, makes it not an extraterrestrial). Also, it may not really be there.

In Anasazi, an earthquake uncovers a boxcar filled with corpses that appear to be extraterrestrial. Once again, the evidence here is provocative (even more so than the probably simian corpse unearthed in the pilot), but alternative explanations are provided.

By the end of the three-part myth arc, Mulder is convinced that they were the failed results of secret government testing to create human-alien hybrids. But in Nisei/731, in which similar, living creatures are encountered in what, at first glance, appears to be an alien internment camp, Scully puts forth another hypothesis - that they are merely the severely deformed bodies of humans subjected to disfiguring medical experiments by Axis power scientists given amnesty after the war.

In Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, we witness Deep Throat executing what appears to be a full-grown E.B.E., lying inactive on a stretcher. Mostly consistent with the story Deep Throat fed Mulder in the episode E.B.E., it is rather larger than what the stretcher in that episode would have been able to hold. One must consider, however, that the events of this episode may be little more than the egotistical daydreams of a megalomaniac.

Tempus Fugit/Max features a couple of alien abductions, but as previously, we don't ever see the aliens involved - except for the one that dies underwater in a UFO crash. It's dead, so it just lays there, but at least we can see more of it than the invisible form in Fallen Angel.

Finally, we come to Gethsemane, in which Mulder not only discovers an alien corpus frozen in the Canadian wilderness, but has a chance to examine it up close, while a colleague performs a full autopsy on it. This is about as damning as evidence can get, but this also happens to be the episode where Mulder learns that the entire alien conspiracy is a fabrication - an elaborate hoax designed as a smokescreen to deflect attention away from the military's expenditures.

In Redux, Mulder infiltrates a Defense Department storage facility loaded with fake alien bodies, which could explain what was seen in previous episodes such as Tempus Fugit, and The Erlenmeyer Flask. The hoax will itself ultimately turn out to be a lie, but after this level of doubt has been generated, only the direct observation of a living, breathing, unambiguously extraterrestrial biological entity will be enough to convince Mulder (and the audience) that aliens really are involved in the conspiracy somehow.

And that's exactly what Fight The Future - and the sixth season premiere - accomplishes.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The X-Files - S6:E1 "The Beginning"

[ Fight The Future <<< Season 6 >>> S6:E2 "Drive" ]

Spoiler Warning: Season premiere. Mythology episode. Expect spoilers. You know the drill.

Fight The Future pretty much ignored the events of last season's finale (to good effect) - apart from the torching of the X-Files (which Mulder is now painstakingly trying to restore) - but this season's premiere picks up the threads of both the finale and the movie (the events of which are summed up nicely during the course of another OPR panel, for those who may not have seen the movie, or don't remember it very well). This episode takes full advantage of the creature effects created for the movie (having a true monster for once arguably makes this a better monster-of-the-week than mythology episode). It ties the alien life forms from the movie to the mind-reading boy from the finale, and answers some (but not all) of the lingering questions about both. This is also the first episode of the series shot in the production's new L.A. home, and it really shows in the exteriors. The deserts of southwest U.S. are undoubtedly beautiful, in their own way, but you can't deny that it gives the show a very different - hotter, sunnier - atmosphere than the rainy woods of Vancouver. For better and worse.

The X-Files project may have been reinstated at the end of Fight The Future, but the bureaucrats are still hammering Mulder for some hard evidence of his wild allegations of alien colonization. The X-Files may be open, but Mulder and Scully are not going to be permitted to work on them - the project has been re-assigned to Agents Spender and Fowley (the latter having made a full recovery over the summer from her gunshot wound in The End), whose goals and loyalties are in serious question. Mulder and Scully, meanwhile, are being put on probation, disallowed any connection to the X-Files (we'll see how well that works out over the next few episodes, I'm sure).

The case of the week involves an employee of Roush (which you might recall having been mentioned in Redux II as being linked to the conspiracy), who accidentally infects himself while working on the alien virus. As seen in the movie, the creature gestates inside him and escapes near Phoenix, Arizona, and it's up to the Syndicate to track it down, before Mulder and Scully do (and they in turn must track it down before Spender and Fowley get to it first). They enlist the help of the boy wonder, Gibson Praise (in the midst of brain surgery - I can't decide if this is better or worse than the "brain suck" Tony Shalhoub suffered in Soft Light), who can read the alien's mind. They eventually track it to a nearby power plant, where it is hiding out.

Gibson manages to escape his captors just long enough (before being recaptured) for Mulder and Scully to perform enough tests on him to determine that he has the same DNA as the alien virus and the alien predator (whose claw they find at the scene of its birth). But so do all of mankind, allegedly - it's just that in most people it's an inactive genetic remnant. In other words, everybody is part-extraterrestrial, and the aliens may well have not only been the original inhabitants of this planet, as the Well-Manicured Man suggested in the movie, but may also have been the very progenitors of mankind (if not all life on this planet). It's a startling discovery, but it needs a little more examination, because it leaves open the question of where the hybrids fit in to all of this, if everybody is part-alien. (Not to mention the confusion about what constitutes, exactly, terrestrial and extraterrestrial biology, if alien tissues have been inside all of us all along)...

Another question raised by the movie finds its answer in this episode. One can't help wondering how these vicious predators we're seeing could possibly be related to the presumably intelligent, sophisticated race that is orchestrating the colonization plan and negotiating with the Syndicate (I'd like to eavesdrop on one of those meetings) - unless they're some kind of separate race of warrior drones or something. Of course, humanity itself provides a provocative example of instinctively violent creatures who have nevertheless cultivated civilization. But in this episode, we see that the violent predators are just a growing phase - call it alien adolescence, if you will - from which the alien sheds its skin and (like Freezer emerging into his final form) takes on the sleeker, sexier, more familiar form of the greys we've come to know (if not quite love).

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Mulder, let me remind you once again that what I saw was very little.
Mulder: Look, Scully, that excuse is not going to work this time.

Mulder: Diana, back on your feet. Guess that's the only way you could stab me in the back.

Fowley: You're not under the impression what we're looking for makes sense in any conventional way?
Mulder: No.

Scully: You're a very special boy, Gibson. You know that yourself.
Gibson: I'm a very special lab rat.

(This is one of those tough reality moments. Gibson can't possibly expect people to leave him alone, given his singular ability. Nobody could begrudge him his frustrations, but he should at least be able to respect the difference between the Smoking Man's butchering and Scully's mothering care).

Smoking Man: You can kill a man, but you can't kill what he stands for. Not unless you first break his spirit. That's a beautiful thing to see.

(It's a little concerning that Spender doesn't tell him off, but surely he must be seeing what kind of a despicable person this is).

Mulder: It'd help if you'd shut the door. It'd make it harder for them to see that I'm totally disregarding everything I was told.

Mulder: If that were true, it would mean that Gibson is in some part extraterrestrial.
Scully: It would mean that all of us are.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The X-Files - Fight The Future (1998)

[ S5:E20 "The End" <<< The X-Files >>> S6:E1 "The Beginning" ]

If you think about it, doing The X-Files on the big screen was really not that outlandish an idea. Even on television, the show had always been cinematic, right from the start. And if the freak-of-the-week episodes tended to be shorter, small-screen versions of what you might see in a science-fiction or horror movie, the mythology episodes always carried a certain dramatic weight, and never shied away from a sense of marvel, nor included any shortage of action set pieces. Moreover, since at least the second season, the mythology arcs have come almost exclusively in the form of two- (and sometimes three-) parters, so the show had already been telling hour-and-a-half to two-hour-long stories for years. Doing a movie just meant the opportunity to go bigger - and it paid off.

Thinking of it as a mythology episode, the story was written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz, and it was directed by Rob Bowman (who directed no less illustrious episodes of the TV series as End Game, F. Emasculata, Paper Clip, 731, Piper Maru, Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space', Terma, Paper Hearts, Memento Mori, Tempus Fugit, among others). In other words, just the right people for the job. One of the tricks of writing the movie, as Chris Carter has explained in interviews, was the challenge of simultaneously making it accessible to both casual fans and complete newbies, while also rewarding the die hard obsessives who'd been watching the show from the beginning (and not boring them with exposition they're already familiar with). And I think they did a fantastic job of accomplishing that.

"So much for little green men."

I don't think you need any understanding of The X-Files to enjoy this movie (despite it being a "mythology" story), although the more familiarity you do have with the series, the more I think you'll be able to get out of it. There are a number of inside references for eagle-eyed fans to pick up on, and the movie probably provides more answers to the question of what the conspiracy is up to than the entire series has to the point where the movie sits in its chronology (which is between the fifth and sixth seasons of the show). Ironically, this has the effect of giving the complete newbie more answers when he walks out of the theater than the X-Phile probably has who hasn't seen the movie yet, but has watched the series religiously for the past five years. But that's not a complaint. I'm just excited to finally get some of those answers.

While this movie could be thought of as a mythology episode of the series, it would be a mistake to assume that it could have been made on television. The crew really go all out to take full advantage of the opportunity to tell a bigger story. Not only do we get more answers than usual, but there are wilder locations (from steamy Dallas, Texas and the deserts of Tunisia, to Antarctica, the land of ice and snow) and more spectacular effects - helicopter chases, exploding cars and even a building goes up (or down) in flames! As for the aliens, we get to see more of them than ever (albeit still hidden in shadow and during blurry action scenes, to maintain their mystique - and so they don't look too much like men in costumes), learn more about their nature and their plans, and get to see the full extent of the scope of their meddling in human affairs, dating all the way back to prehistory - to the last Ice Age! In short, it's very exciting.

"Those could be giant Jiffy Pop poppers."

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson take on the starring roles of Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully - of course - but a lot of new and familiar faces show up, too. Mitch Pileggi appears as Assistant Director Skinner, and William B. Davis shows up as the leader of the shadowy conspiracy, known only as The Cigarette-Smoking Man. Other members of the Syndicate appear as well, including Don S. Davis, billed in the credits as the Group Elder, but John Neville's Well-Manicured Man takes a central role, revealing more about the conspiracy even than the man that serves as Mulder's informant in this story - Martin Landau's Dr. Kurtzweil. Jeffrey DeMunn (who was Dale on The Walking Dead) portrays Bronschweig, another agent of the conspiracy, while Terry O'Quinn plays a senior FBI agent, and Blythe Danner takes on the role of a stern superior at the FBI's Office of Professional Review. Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood, and Tom Braidwood also put in a brief appearance as The Lone Gunmen.

This is a rather different sort of alien invasion movie than, say, Independence Day (and I must admit, I thought the scene where Mulder basically pisses on a poster for this movie's unworthy rival was pretty humorous). As I've described it elsewhere, the X-Files movie is a perfect distillation of its series' mythology (and its style, including Mulder's wry humor). And it's as good a place as any for a newbie or casual fan to introduce themselves to the series. I don't know if I would call it the best programming the series ever created (I say that because I'm not sure I would, not because I doubt that I could). It may not beat the emotional drama of episodes like One Breath, and Memento Mori, for example. But it does what no small-screen episode could accomplish, and that is take advantage of the scope and grandeur of the large screen. Number one or not, it's undoubtedly among the best.

Spoiler Warning: I'm going to talk about the mythology developments in this movie now, in accordance with my efforts to work out the mythology of The X-Files as part of my entire series marathon. So, if you haven't seen the movie, and don't want to be spoiled, you should avoid reading the rest of this post.

[Spoilers!] While dispensing with most of the elements raised in season 4's finale - Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley are nowhere to be seen, and the mind-reading boy genius doesn't so much as get a mention (which is probably for the better, as I'm not super crazy about any of those plot points, anyway) - the movie picks up from the closing (and torching) of the X-Files. Mulder and Scully are at risk of being separated - not just by the bureau, but Scully sees this as her opportunity to pursue a career in medicine. In the meantime, however, they are operating on the fringes of a bomb detection task force, responding to a threat of urban terrorism in Dallas, Texas. Mulder is as much the outsider as ever, insisting on searching the building across the street from where it's expected to be found. His hunch, however, turns out to be right (as usual).

[Spoilers!] But things get weird when the leader of the task force lets the bomb blow, instead of defusing it, and a few unexpected bodies turn up in the wreckage. Mulder is contacted by a Dr. Kurtzweil, who claims to have worked with his father in the State Department, and who believes the explosion was part of a cover up. (As far as informants go, Kurzweil is a little wirey, and doesn't stand up to the likes of Deep Throat and X - I suppose that, in spite of his probable innocence in the face of smear tactics, it's kind of hard to like a guy who's rumored to be peddling kiddie porn - but he gets the job done in this movie). Mulder and Scully sneak into the morgue where the bodies are being kept (under restricted access), and discover that they were already dead before the explosion - and by most unusual causes.

[Spoilers!] The audience has already seen what killed them. The movie opens spectacularly on a scene during the last Ice Age, in which two primitive men track an alien predator into an icy cave. The predator is killed, but from its body bleeds the Black Oil, which then infects the victorious primitive. Fast forward to present day, when a group of kids stumble upon this cave (in Texas), unleashing the Black Oil from its ancient slumber. The kid and three firemen are infected before the situation is contained - these are the bodies found in the explosion. Now under quarantine, the Smoking Man visits the cave to discover that the Black Oil has mutated - it is not an agent designed to create a slave race as the Syndicate had thought, but the catalyst for a total re-population of the planet. The aliens - more like the xenomorphs from Alien than little green men from Mars - gestate inside their host, before ultimately bursting out, leaving nothing but a gelatinous, nutrient-depleted hull.

[Spoilers!] I can't overstate how huge this revelation is, but it's only the beginning. Kurtzweil leads Mulder and Scully to the site of the cave, in what the media is reporting as an outbreak of hantavirus. The cave has been covered up (literally) by the time the agents get there, but they end up tracking a group of unmarked tanker trucks through the desert. It leads them to a curious corn field, and two large bee habitats (not unlike we saw in Herrenvolk). After the bees and a couple of black helicopters chase them away, Mulder consults Kurtzweil, and comes to the conclusion that he witnessed evidence of a transportation system using transgenic crops genetically altered to carry a virus. (Remember the smallpox-carrying bees in Zero Sum that were just a "trial run")? Kurtzweil further explains that he had been recruited along with Mulder's father on a project involving biological warfare. They've been in negotiation (with aliens, one inevitably presumes) for 50 years, setting the time table for a planned Armageddon. Kurtzweil suspects that the alien plague will be deployed on a holiday, and after the president declares a state of emergency, FEMA will step up as a secret government.

[Spoilers!] The final events of the movie are precipitated by Scully being stung by a stowaway bee in her shirt collar, at the climax of an excellently choreographed scene in which, after confessing their feelings to one another (of respect, I mean - not love), Mulder and Scully get pretty much as close to kissing each other as it is physically possible for them to do without actually making contact. (Depending on your perspective, this could be considered a stab at the shippers, or the ultimate limit of shipper fan service Chris Carter is probably willing to concede in this series). The Syndicate had previously indicated their intention to take out Scully (like the Smoking Man did at the end of Sleepless, just prior to her abduction in season 2), after the Well-Manicured Man stole the Smoking Man's line about letting Mulder live to prevent turning his quest into a crusade. I doubt they would have had the powers of determinism necessary to orchestrate Scully's stinging, so I imagine they were simply pulling the strings at the FBI to get Mulder and Scully separated.

[Spoilers!] On the other hand, I wouldn't put it past them to go to those lengths (provided the capabilities), and they certainly take advantage of the situation, intercepting Mulder's 911 call and spiriting Scully away. The Well-Manicured Man, however, plays the part of the deus ex machina, and betrays his own fellows in order to give Mulder Scully's whereabouts, and the vaccine to cure her. This turnabout isn't implausible, as he's been vocal about his desires to resist the alien colonizers since The Red and the Black, and even more so now that he's learned the aliens have been lying to them about the nature of the colonization. And besides, he certainly ends up paying for his betrayal, by playing the Deep Throat role of telling Mulder to "trust no one" just before he gets killed - by a car bomb. But not before basically spilling the Syndicate's whole friggin' plot to Mulder. Let's not gloss over these revelations.

[Spoilers!] The alien virus was, in fact, the original inhabitant of this planet, and has been lying dormant, waiting for the alien race to return and use it to colonize the planet, using humans as their host. (One wonders why, if this plot goes back so many years, the aliens have waited until just this time to colonize, and if they're much further evolved than us, why they haven't just done it already. But I digress). The Syndicate have been cooperating with the aliens in order to gain access to the virus, in the hope of being able to secretly develop a vaccine (although the Russians and their Tunguska rock seem to have won that arms race). In the meantime, the only people not affected by the virus are the human-alien clones. This is, in fact, why Mulder's father let the aliens abduct Samantha - so she would survive the colonization (in some form, at least). To the extent that the Well-Manicured Man can be trusted (and he seems to be pretty sincere, although he might be buttering Mulder up about his father, due to his sentimentality regarding his own children, which he cites as the reason for spilling the Syndicate's plans), he claims that Mulder's father's hope for his son was for him to uncover the truth about the project he had worked on, and find some way to stop it - to fight the future.

[Spoilers!] Mulder follows the Well-Manicured Man's directions and ends up in Antarctica, where he finds an enormous alien spaceship buried under the ice. It's a wonder Mulder is able to find Scully among all the bodies frozen in rows there, but he does. He administers the vaccine, and Scully recovers, but the contaminant infects the whole system. (I guess now the aliens are going to know that those puny Earthlings have been working on a cure). The ship springs to life, and the bodies begin to thaw. Inside them are more of those deadly alien predators. Mulder and Scully make their harrowing escape, and barely survive as the spaceship lifts off and hovers away (it's a little too convenient, but Scully has her head buried in the snow while Mulder watches it float away).

[Spoilers!] In the conclusion, most of the evidence gets cleaned up, and the Office of Professional Review doesn't seem inclined to believe Scully's outrageous story. They do, apparently, concede that, without the X-Files, the bureau doesn't have the proper resources to investigate such claims, and the project is re-opened (with a quicker turnaround than the last time the project was in jeopardy!). It's a small step towards the ultimate goal, but Mulder should be happy that they've at least racked up enough circumstantial evidence to convince the higher-ups that the X-Files is a worthwhile expenditure for the bureau. Mulder and Scully reaffirm their faith in each other and to the project, and the Cigarette Smoking Man's associate in Tunisia (where they've set up their new crop of corn fields and bee habitats) curls his nose at Mulder's pesky meddling in top secret government affairs. I think we're perfectly set up, then, for a whole new season of The X-Files!

Memorable quotes (beware of spoilers):

Bronschweig: Sir, the impossible scenario that we never planned for - well, we better come up with a plan.

Mulder: Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise, random acts of unpredictability. If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen, or expect the unexpected, in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized, or easily referenced.

Scully: Don't think. Just pick up that phone, and make it happen!

Mulder: What do I do? I'm the key figure in an ongoing government charade - a plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It's a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down to the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet. So, of course, no one believes me. I'm an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me spooky - 'Spooky' Mulder - whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid, and now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or anyone who'll listen, that the fix is in, that the sky is falling, and when it hits, it's gonna be the shitstorm of all time.

(This scene brilliantly demonstrates just how crazy and paranoid Mulder sounds - but the thing about The X-Files is, every single thing he says here is absolutely true. Well, maybe not the fact that he's the key figure, but even that's been hinted at a little. Also, this is a great way to quickly introduce the audience - who may not be hardcore X-Files fans coming in to the movie - to Mulder and his background).

Kurtzweil: A plague to end all plagues, Agent Mulder. A silent weapon for a quiet war. The systematic release of an indiscriminate organism, for which the men who will bring it on still have no cure. They've been working on this for fifty years. While the rest of the world have been fighting gooks and Commies, these men have been secretly negotiating a planned Armageddon.

Bronschweig: So much for little green men.

Well-Manicured Man: This isn't colonization, this is spontaneous repopulation!

Well-Manicured Man: We are nothing but digestives for the creation of a new race of alien life forms. By cooperating now, we are but beggars to our own demise.

Kurtzweil: These people don't make mistakes.

Scully: Why did they assign me to you in the first place, Mulder? To debunk your work. To reign you in. To shut you down.
Mulder: But you saved me. As difficult and as frustrating as it's been sometimes, your goddamn strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You've kept me honest. You've made me a whole person. I owe you everything, Scully, and you owe me nothing. I don't know if I wanna do this alone. I don't even know if I can. And if I quit now, they win.

(See, Scully, I told you).

Well-Manicured Man: Your aliens, Agent Mulder - your little green men - arrived here millions of years ago. Those that didn't leave have been lying dormant underground since the last Ice Age, in the form of an evolved pathogen, waiting to be reconstituted by the alien race, when it comes to colonize the planet, using us as hosts. Against this, we have no defense - nothing, but a weak vaccine.

Well-Manicured Man: Survival is the ultimate ideology. Your father wisely refused to believe this.
Mulder: But he sacrificed my sister. He let them take Samantha.
Well-Manicured Man: Without a vaccination, the only true survivors of the viral holocaust will be those immune to it - human-alien clones. He allowed your sister to be abducted to be taken to a cloning program, for one reason.
Mulder: So she would survive. As a genetic hybrid.
Well-Manicured Man: Your father chose hope over selfishness. Hope, in the only future he had - his children. His hope for you was that you'd uncover the truth about the project. That you would stop it. That you would fight the future.

Well-Manicured Man: Trust no one, Mr. Mulder.

Scully: What is it you find incredible?
Cassidy: Well, where would you like me to start?

Mulder: How many times have we been here before, Scully? Right here. So close to the truth. And now, with what we've seen, and what we know, to be right back at the beginning, with nothing...

Mulder: I'm not gonna watch you die, Scully, because of some hollow personal cause of mine. Go be a doctor. Go be a doctor while you still can.
Scully: I can't. I won't. Mulder, I'll be a doctor, but my work is here with you now. That virus that I was exposed to - whatever it is, it has a cure. You held it in your hand. How many other lives can we save? Look, if I quit now, they win.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The X-Files - Season 5 (1997-8)

[ Season 4 <<< The X-Files >>> Season 6 ]

Season 5 runs about a month shorter than the four seasons that preceded it, but this is due in large part to production on the series' first feature film, released during the summer following this season. The show remains as polished as it was the previous year, but this is the first time in the series where I've felt that a season hasn't improved in quality from one year to the next. The freak-of-the-week episodes are all of a generally high caliber, but fewer of them stand out the way they did in the previous season. With fewer episodes, the mythology has less room to explore, but there is still much to get excited about.

The resolution to last season's finale in Redux/Redux II, and Patient X/The Red and the Black - a return to form which finally begins to tie some of the disparate mythology elements in the show together - are some of the highlights of the season, and fare better than when the writers resort to the kind of emotional schmaltz that worked better in the last season. We are introduced to some new recurring characters, in the form of Agents Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley. The season finale is a mixed bag, but features a heartbreaking conclusion that rightly leaves room for the upcoming movie to do the talking.

As if to counter the heavy emotional weight of the mythology episodes at this point in the series, lighter elements of humor are added more consistently to the freak-of-the-week episodes than ever before. But I'm not sure that's for the best, as I like a good, dark freak-of-the-week episode. Vince Gilligan is once again the MVP of the season. Bad Blood - a comedic approach to the Rashomon effect with vampires - is the highlight of the season, but Unusual Suspects is also an entertaining treatment of The Lone Gunmen's origin story. Travelers is another flashback episode, which explores the origins of the X-Files project in the era of Mulder's father.

Kill Switch, Mind's Eye, and The Pine Bluff Variant are all good, serious episodes, while Detour, Schizogeny, and Folie a Deux are the season's straightest examples of a more traditional freak-of-the-week approach. The Post-Modern Prometheus - an homage to Frankenstein both written and directed by Chris Carter (and filmed in black-and-white) - is highly-praised, but I found its quirky, self-conscious tone to be frankly a little off-putting. Kitsunegari brings back a popular freak from a previous season's episode, and Chinga is notable in that it was co-written by Stephen King.

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

S5:E1 "Redux" (Chris Carter)
S5:E2 "Redux II" (Chris Carter)
S5:E3 "Unusual Suspects" (Vince Gilligan)
S5:E4 "Detour" (Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E5 "The Post-Modern Prometheus" (Chris Carter)
S5:E6 "Christmas Carol" (Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E7 "Emily" (Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E8 "Kitsunegari" (Vince Gilligan & Tim Minear)
S5:E9 "Schizogeny" (Jessica Scott & Mike Wollaeger)
S5:E10 "Chinga" (Stephen King & Chris Carter)
S5:E11 "Kill Switch" (William Gibson & Tom Maddox)
S5:E12 "Bad Blood" (Vince Gilligan)
S5:E13 "Patient X" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E14 "The Red and the Black" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E15 "Travelers" (John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E16 "Mind's Eye" (Tim Minear)
S5:E17 "All Souls" (Shiban/Spotnitz; Billy Brown & Dan Angel)
S5:E18 "The Pine Bluff Variant" (John Shiban)
S5:E19 "Folie a Deux" (Vince Gilligan)
S5:E20 "The End" (Chris Carter)

Monster-of-the-week Episode of the Season: Bad Blood
Mythology Arc of the Season: Gethsemane/Redux/Redux II (although Patient X/The Red and the Black is also fantastic)
Clunker of the Season: The popular choice would be Schizogeny, but I found it to be an imaginative episode. I'd hate to vote Chris Carter's experimental The Post-Modern Prometheus, even though I didn't really enjoy it, so I'll pick All Souls - this season's "Scully is religious" episode - instead.
Underrated Gem of the Season: Schizogeny - I'm not claiming it's one of the best episodes of the season, but for all the disdain it receives, it's a perfectly enjoyable standard freak-of-the-week episode. Does nobody else appreciate the inherent cool factor in killer trees?

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).