Friday, November 13, 2015

The X-Files - S6:E18 "Milagro"

[ S6:E17 "Trevor" <<< Season 6 >>> S6:E19 "The Unnatural" ]

I'll say it right out - this episode is a rare treat. With a story by John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz, and teleplay by Chris Carter, it's a love letter to the art form of writing. It's also a dark and serious episode, but one of the more intense and artistic ones - less the formulaic monster-of-the-weeks that once made up the bread-and-butter of this show, and more the rare stand-out episodes that demonstrate what this show could accomplish in its finest hours. Honestly, I don't think I've seen an episode this affecting since season 4's Paper Hearts, and I'd even rate it on a level with Beyond The Sea. Frankly, I'm astounded to find an episode of this quality in the sixth season, but delighted to learn that the series still has it in it to churn out such a one as this. The writing is fantastic, but they really scored with the casting, as well - guest star John Hawkes is very charismatic, able to tell volumes without even saying a word. It hearkens back to a time when a good actor could single-handedly make a freak-of-the-week interesting independent of the cool factor of whatever supernatural powers he might have.

Truly, it's fascinating to see someone so overcome with passion - even if it's what causes them to do horrible things, it's still a spectacle to watch. This is how you write interesting villains - you don't even have to justify what they do, you just have to make it interesting, make it feel compelling. It took me halfway through the episode to figure out what was going on, but the mystery is part of the allure. Is this a story about a writer living out the fantasy inside his twisted mind? (I recall an offhand comment on that subject in the episode Irresistible). Taking up residence in the apartment next to Mulder's, is he writing a story using details pilfered from an as-yet unsolved case, or is he in fact the serial killer in question, the manuscript for his latest novel serving as an unlikely confession to his crimes?

There is a question, at times, of whether there is any paranormal activity at all in this episode, and it's also one of those rare episodes where Scully is more of a believer, and Mulder more of a skeptic than usual. Although it's not what I would describe as a "Scully religious episode", the subject of her faith is touched on, but only subtly (and thus very tastefully, for once). Mulder does suggest "psychic surgery" at one point, but it sounds even more ridiculous than his usual wacky theories. The crimes involve the extraction of the victims' hearts, prompting this episode's joining with Terms of Endearment as episodes from this season with truly striking and memorable visual effects. When the writer starts getting into the heads of our characters (particularly Scully), it plays on the viewer's awareness of the artifice of fiction, as if to insert the writers into their story, allowing their characters to interact with them (in a very understated and not cheesy way, less tongue-in-cheek than Darin Morgan starring in Small Potatoes in order to make jokes at Mulder's expense - to his face). This is a fantastic episode - the kind that deserves to just be watched, and not simply read about.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: This could be the perfect crime.
Scully: Well, crime is only as perfect as the man or the mind that commits it. Even if it were perfect, even if he made not one mistake, there's still his motive. You find his motive, and you find the murderer.

Mulder: I'm sure many a person's had their heart broken out here, but not quite like this.

Mulder: You're a writer. Anything I'd know?
Padgett: I don't think so. ...You're an FBI agent. Working on anything interesting?
Mulder: A murder case.
Padgett (snarky): Anything I'd know?
Mulder (coy): Possibly.

(I may be spoiling this exchange by writing it down, because much of its effect is produced by the actors' command of their lines).

Scully: Loneliness is a choice.
Padgett: So how 'bout a cup of coffee?

Padgett: Motive is never easy. Sometimes it occurs to one only later.

Padgett: By their nature, words are imprecise, and layered with meaning - the signs of things, not the things themselves. It's difficult to say who's in charge.

Mulder: No one can predict human behavior. No one can tell you what another person's gonna do.
Scully: But isn't that what you do, Mulder, as a behavioral profiler? You imagine the killer's mind so well, that you know what they're gonna do next.

(Here's a hint, Scully - phrase it in supernatural terms, and maybe Mulder will be more likely to believe you).

Padgett: But I have love in my heart.
The Stranger: Yes - as a thief has riches, a usurer money, you have it. But man's only power - only true power - is to destroy it.

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