Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The X-Files - S6:E3 "Triangle"

[ S6:E2 "Drive" <<< Season 6 >>> S6:E4 "Dreamland" ]

Ugh. I'm not going to enjoy critiquing this episode. Like last season's The Post-Modern Prometheus, it was written and directed by Chris Carter. Also like that episode, it is a bit of an experiment - one that is generally well-received by fans, and one that I really didn't like much at all. I hate to say anything bad about Chris Carter - he's the genius who created The X-Files, and is undoubtedly the man behind much of what makes The X-Files so good. But if this episode and The Post-Modern Prometheus came from anyone else, I'd be tempted to use them as examples that their creator doesn't really get the show. Which is hard to reconcile with the truth. Granted, Chris Carter hasn't had a great track record for freak-of-the-week episodes (going all the way back to season 1's much-maligned Space) - although that doesn't explain why fans love these later excursions. And I still think he's a genius as far as the mythology is concerned (even with his frustrating tendency to ask more questions than he answers). But if you ask me, I'd just as soon he stuck to the mythology. I don't begrudge him his opportunity to play around in the sandbox of his own creation - he's certainly earned it. I guess all I have to say is that I'm not very fond of the results.

The Post-Modern Prometheus' technical trick-of-the-week was being shot in black and white. Triangle has a trick of its own - it's shot using lots of long shots, with minimal cuts between (like The Silent House). But, as in the previous case, I fear that it feels a little pretentious - like a rookie director trying out a new toy just to see what he can do with it, rather than a talented auteur putting a rare technique to use in service of the story. As such, we get lots of long tracking shots as characters move up and down long hallways (with lots of dark corners in which to hide cuts), and instead of letting the viewer get lost in the escapism of the fantasy, it constantly draws your attention to the fact that you're watching somebody with a camera following the actors around. This is useful in found footage films, where realism is a commodity that enhances the effect of the fear, but doesn't work out so well here.

Anyhow, this is the much-celebrated episode in which Mulder washes up aboard a ship lost in the Bermuda Triangle (the stark opener isn't as tense as it should be because you know Mulder's not really going to drown at sea). But instead of the eerie ghost ship atmosphere that we got in Død Kalm (a much better - and more classic - episode, in my opinion), the ship has been displaced in time from the era of the Second World War, leading to an out-of-date period piece with Nazis. I don't want to be insensitive, but I think Nazis are kind of tacky. You can tell good stories about them, but they're such a caricature of evil that it's too easy for a writer to get lazy. And as time marches on, the thematic shorthand of the events of WWII is losing more and more of its emotional relevance to modern audiences. For better or worse, Hitler is becoming ancient history. Also, I know it seems "fun" and, above all, "patriotic", to have Mulder take advantage of the opportunity to insult the Nazis directly to their faces, but you'd think that without the safety buffer of decades of history between you and them, you'd be a bit more subtle (like the people of their time) about your hatred of the men who could easily kill you if they decide they don't like you as much as you don't like them.

I know the Bermuda Triangle is weird, and maybe in the end it's not simply a case of time displacement, but Mulder hallucinating, or an alternate dimension or something, but why have familiar people showing up with different identities in the past? Scully's there. So is Spender - and both he and the Smoking Man are Nazis. I mean, it's like the ridiculous past-life fantasy from The Field Where I Died brought to life (and that wasn't a great episode worth revisiting and expanding a thread from into an entire episode of its own). But that's not the limit of the weirdness. Why play kooky dance music during a fight scene? (Not to make another mention to The Post-Modern Prometheus, but between that and this episode, I have reservations about Chris Carter's taste in music, Songs in the Key of X notwithstanding). Scully kisses Skinner in relief in one scene, but it feels overly dramatized. For that matter, Mulder kisses alternate dimension Scully near the end of the episode, which seems to be more pandering to the shippers without giving actual ground. Except that then Mulder actually confesses his love to the real Scully (who thankfully doesn't take it seriously), and I'm thinking, what's going on with this show?

I mean, there have been episodes in the past that have felt off - Humbug, for example, which was the first "comedy" episode of the series, had the wrong tone, in my opinion. But even though I didn't like The Post-Modern Prometheus, it still felt like an X-File. And though The Field Where I Died was dreadful, there was no point at which I felt that it was anything more than a single week's flop. But with the crazy shit that goes on in this episode, in addition to the recent move to L.A., and the introduction of all these new characters - Spender, Fowley, and now Kersh, too - this is the first point in the series where I really feel like things are starting to go off the rails. I'm sure there will be better episodes in the future - especially in the next three seasons - to pinpoint as places where the series "jumped the shark", but much like how I identified Talitha Cumi as the point where the mythology was just starting to break down, I could consider this episode to be the "early warning sign" that the show is heading down hill.

Memorable quotes:

Langly: All we can do is wait and hope for the best.
Frohike: Yeah, but expect the worst.

Skinner: Use your head, Scully. It'll save your ass.
Scully: Save your own ass, sir. You'll save your head along with it.

(Okay, yeah. Skinner: good advice. Scully: not sure what the hell you're trying to say here. It's like you're trying to be clever, but it didn't really work out. It's okay, I understand you're stressed out in this scene).

Scully: You did something incredibly stupid.
Mulder: What did I do?
Scully: You went looking for a ship, Mulder. In the Bermuda Triangle.

(That about says it. Although I can't help thinking that a more traditional X-Files episode about the Bermuda Triangle could have been a whole lot more interesting).

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