Monday, November 16, 2015

The X-Files - S6:E21 "Field Trip"

[ S6:E20 "Three of a Kind" <<< Season 6 >>> S6:E22 "Biogenesis" ]

If The Unnatural kind of pissed on what The X-Files once stood for - by turning its mythology into a running joke - Field Trip starts off as a love letter to the classic monster-of-the-week formula. The opening segment features a gruesome death under strange circumstances (two hikers end up as skeletons embracing in the woods, in connection with some strange goo - later described as "bog sludge"), Mulder introduces Scully to the case via the classic slideshow method, and rambles on about another UFO hotspot - the Brown Mountain Lights of North Carolina (also the subject of a found footage film titled Alien Abduction), and Scully puts in her requisite time performing autopsies and looking through microscopes. But - not content to simply be a throwback episode - it takes a left turn and veers into all-new territory, making it a unique episode in the X-Files canon. It's very surreal - probably the closest this series ever got to what an episode written/directed by David Lynch would be like. I love it.

To say more would spoil much of the mystery and intrigue that this episode thrives on, so I'll limit myself to a few comments, with a warning that if you haven't seen the episode, you should stop reading this review now, as the rest of it will contain spoilers. In one scene, it appears that Mulder has been killed in the line of duty. And while we've been given enough information at this point to conclude that it is almost certainly a hallucination, it does still give the viewer a moment to reflect on how depressing it would be if Mulder really did die on one of these cases, given all the times they've put their lives in danger. How sad would it be, for Scully to have to go on without him? The show has teased this possibility in the past (like in the cliffhangers to Anasazi and Gethsemane, for example), but having something as solid as a skeleton sitting on a table...even if you do know that it's going to end up being a hallucination, it's so solid, and so real (like that gray in that other scene), that as long as it's there, it really makes you consider that possibility.

Another great thing about this episode is its exploration of Mulder and Scully's conflicting viewpoints. It's very self-conscious, but in a straight-faced, rather than humorous (à la Bad Blood) manner. In their corresponding hallucinations, Mulder is led to believe that his wildest theories are true, and Scully is forced to resort to her logical explanation as a conclusion, but neither one is fully committed to their own positions (the "weirdness" of being completely right ultimately being the key that unlocks the chemical deception - a fantasy reality more compelling than the one encountered in Kill Switch), demonstrating the vital importance of the cross-contamination of their perspectives. They each pull a little too hard in their respective directions - Mulder's crazy theories, and Scully's scientific rationalizations - when the truth is often somewhere in the middle, and they rely on each other to ultimately land there. The true explanation is frequently not the first conclusion Mulder jumps to (and it would be boring - Mulder would be too perfect - if it was), yet is often something beyond the explanation of the scientific theories Scully immediately resorts to. But that's why they work so well together.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: There's been no scientific, credible explanation, but there are those of us who believe that these strange, multicolored lights are really --
Scully: UFOs. Extraterrestrial visitors from beyond, who apparently have nothing better to do than buzz one mountain over and over again for 700 years.

Scully: Mulder, can't you just for once, just...for the novelty of it, come up with the simplest explanation - the most logical one - instead of automatically jumping to UFOs, or Bigfoot, or...
Mulder: Scully, in six years, how often have I been wrong? No, seriously. I mean, every time I bring you a new case, we go through this perfunctory dance - you tell me I'm not being scientifically rigorous, and that I'm off my nut. And then, in the end, who turns out to be right, like 98.9% of the time? I just think I've earned the benefit of the doubt here.

(Mulder has a point, and I love that the series is addressing this issue - hanging a lampshade on it, if you will. Granted, Mulder's not really right that much of the time, but the point still stands - they've encountered enough paranormal phenomena in six years that Mulder's "crazy" theories do deserve at least a modicum of respect. And whereas Mulder is quick to change his theory based on the evidence, Scully is awfully stubborn about her science. I'm not saying she should abandon her rational approach - after all, it's her job to apply science to the cases they investigate, and for good reason - but she's awfully quick to reject Mulder's theories. Rather than disregarding them only after rigorously examining their scientific credibility, she seems to almost lazily reach for the remotest possible scientific explanation that can be used to discredit them. Mulder deserves better than that).

Mulder: Scully, I want you to put aside your scientific bias for a moment, 'cause what I'm about to tell you is gonna change your life forever - your life, my life, the life of everybody on this planet.
Scully: Mulder...
Mulder: It was out there. And I found it.
Scully: What?
Mulder: The truth.

Mulder: Whatever happened to the most logical explanation?
Scully: This is it, Mulder.

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